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.

Creator: 
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

Overview

Friday February 5th, 2016
Photograph of a pink hardcover edition of Lynne Heller's PhD Thesis

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.

Image of Lynne Heller's avatar, Nar DuellImage of a spread from Lynne Heller's PHD thesis, including a graphic of her avatar Nar DuellA grid of of pages from Lynne Heller's PHD thesis which include graphics of her avatar, Nar Duell

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