Avatar Lives: Developing Collaborations in Art, Technology, and Science

An Ontario College of Art and Design University, Toronto and University of Wolverhampton, UK Collaboration


Avatar Lives: Developing Collaborations in Art, Technology, and Science is a scholarly and research-creation based initiative, taking place in the spring of 2016, that will include a Roundtable, an Exhibition and accompanying print and digital publications. Avatar Lives is envisioned to explore the relationship between the physical and digital embodiment through developing/designing avatars with a focus on identity and gender, using both contemporary and historic paradigms, and state-of-the-art digital platforms for building and analysing these evolving subjectivities. The project will be hosted by OCAD University and supported by collaborators at the University of Wolverhampton, UK; Polytechnic of Viseu, Portugal; the Digital Dramaturgy Lab at the University of Toronto, macGRID based at McMaster University and Digifest 2016, Toronto. 

The aims of the project are:

(1) To explore the notion of the digital embodiment through a series of research paradigms that address the material, physical and virtual tensions that emerge from the creation and experience of the virtual body and the digital self;

(2) To experiment with inter and cross disciplinary methods in order to review concepts of gender and identity and its construction;

(3) To investigate how creative collaborative practices and methodological processes develop through
technological platforms such as virtual worlds and to consider how they can be applied to other fields
of research and practice.

Research Questions

(1) What do contemporary paradigms in feminism, gender and science studies bring to our understanding of the avatar as a digital form of the self? What novel insights can biomedical concepts bring when considering the avatar form?

(2) How can emerging forms of collaborative art practice in virtual worlds inform the construction of the self? How can they be applied to or inform other fields of research?

(3) At what point can digital creations be considered to have a life of their own?


This proposed collaboration with the Centre for Art and Design Research and Experimentation (UK) will see visiting Professor, Dr Denise Doyle and associate Professor and artist Lynne Heller working together and alongside an international team from the UK, Portugal, Norway, and Canada from the diverse fields of Digital Arts, Gender Studies, Contemporary Arts Practice, Bio-Medicine, Digital Fabrication, Science Studies, and Virtual Worlds.

Illustration of 3 people in an empty room
Digital image of a person standing in front of a street vendor cart.
Silhouetted woman standing on a table in a computer lab.
Thursday, August 13, 2015 - 8:15pm
Lab Member: 
Denise Doyle

Dobble Debate, Serious Play

Dobble Debate, Serious Play: an ongoing collaborative card game and research-creation project

Dobble Debate/Serious Play is an educational card game that uses humour and imagination to promote discussion and teach players about dis- and differing abilities.

The project was brought to OCAD University by Nina Czegledy in collaboration with Lynn Hughes of Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG), Concordia University. The project involves OCAD University’s Faculty of Design students and alumni, as well as other researchers at both OCAD and Concordia, in a stimulating, games-based project that has been presented and workshopped extensively.

The goals of the project are to use humour and imagination to look at people’s differing abilities, acquired or genetic ‘disabilities’ as they are traditionally referred to—as potentially conferring an advantage in certain circumstances. The game is played with cards and debate. It is intended to be amusing, leading to laughter as players try to make up winning arguments for why a particular ‘disability’ would be a disaster or a real advantage in any given circumstances. The goal is that players still come away with the feeling that any differing ability might be an advantage at times. Furthermore, because the overall experience of the game is lighthearted and imaginative, players are left associating ‘disabilities’ with a positive feeling. The game requires that players learn about the specifics of differing abilities.

The initial game developed for this project is intended for use in schools with students who do not have direct experience of differing abilities. Following this, the game could be used by people or groups with differing abilities for feedback that would contribute to a new revised game for future outreach. The game promotes, through its iterative and narrative methodology, understanding, cross-fertilization, knowledge mobility and community.

To learn more, please visit http://dobbledebate.com.

"THIS IS RESEARCH" Poster campaign for the project
Photograph of orange, blue and black "Dobble Debate" game cards
A photograph of the front and back of a Dobble Debate game card
Photograph of Dobble Debate workshop: a table strewn with cards and note-taking supplies
A photograph of the front and back of a Dobble Debate game card
Photograph of a participant handling two Dobble Debate cards in play
Monday, February 25, 2019 - 8:15pm
Lab Member: 
Lynne Heller


Avatar Daughters: Envisioning a Spectrum between the Material/Virtual through Feminist Theory

The hypothesis of this research is that a mother daughter relationship is a metonymy for a human to avatar affinity. This idea is explored through feminist analysis, a lyric essay and the practice of visual arts, specifically a series of comic books featuring an avatar created in Second Life, an online, user-built virtual world. Through a human connection to an avatar, the boundaries of the material and the virtual are blurred and become a seamless spectrum—a space of suspension—which can be infinitely mined but never parsed. The thesis employs both practice-based (visual art) as well as theoretical (art historical and feminist) frameworks, to explore the spectrum of the material/virtual. The corresponding relation- ship, artist/avatar is also a spectrum between self and not self— subject and object at the same time.

An avatar is envisioned by an individual creator but is also the result of a necessary collaboration with the developers of the virtual world where the avatar is digitally materialised, so thus another spectrum between the individual and the collective is delineated. By acknowledging the agency that we often confer on images, and the nature of complex identities, the avatar, though ostensibly insentient, is positioned as an animated, mercurial image that encourages a psychologically complex reaction from humans. In linking the feminist analysis of French philosopher-artist, Luce Irigaray, to an affective reaction towards an animated avatar, an argument for a new perspective on a stubbornly enduring mind/body dichotomy is offered. These ideas are poetically echoed in the included artwork and theorised in the interwoven supporting academic analysis. Art making methods, such as collage/found object, playfulness, and unstable authorship, collectively named in this writing as a methodology of poïesis, are interjected into academic discourse, and literary strategies, and employed in the creative practice to con- struct a holistic approach to art and knowledge production. De- fining the material as the physically present and the virtual as a collective imagining supported by digital materiality, tools and technology, the resulting gamut becomes an inherently fluid, un- stable and contested expanse for which binaries of subject and object, material and virtual, are wholly inadequate. It is a vast, oceanic unknown that supports different ways to dream, from the mundane to the beautiful to the sublime.

Photograph of a pink hardcover edition of Lynne Heller's PhD Thesis
Image of Lynne Heller's avatar, Nar Duell
Image of a spread from Lynne Heller's PHD thesis, including a graphic of her avatar Nar Duell
A grid of of pages from Lynne Heller's PHD thesis which include graphics of her avatar, Nar Duell
Friday, February 5, 2016 - 9:15pm
Lab Member: 
Lynne Heller