Art and the Emergent Imagination in Avatar-Mediated Online Space


Session Title:

  • Avatars and Virtual Spaces

Presentation Title:

  • Art and the Emergent Imagination in Avatar-Mediated Online Space




  • This paper presents a framework for what is termed the emergent imagination (developed through a recent PhD thesis) that arises out of the transitional spaces created in avatar-mediated online space. Four categories of transitional space are identified in artworks developed and presented in the virtual world of Second Life: the surreal, the fictional/poetic, the emergent, and the spatio-temporal. Through the writings of Gaston Bachelard, Elizabeth Grosz, and Edward Casey, this paper examines how the contemporary notion of the virtual has changed our framing of the imaginary. It takes up the challenge laid down by Grosz suggesting what Bergson ‘did for time’ should also be ‘done for space’. Referring to the heterogeneities of space explored in virtual worlds the paper argues that as the virtual remains connected to time, the imagination becomes connected to space. The shared characteristics of the virtual and imaginary reveal a dimension of materiality to each, and further, they demonstrate that both can be seen as a field of becoming. The analysis of the imaginative effects of the artworks presented in the two virtual (and physical) gallery exhibitions of the Kritical Works in SL project demonstrates a mode of artistic exploitation of the particular combination of user-generated and avatar-mediated spaces. A further analysis of a phenomenology of practice of artists in avatar-mediated online spaces utilising a method of imaginative variation analysis reveals that the imagination is experienced as embodied. Further to this, a materiality to space is identified through an imagination of the senses that responds to the presence of the (imagined) body of the avatar. This paper argues that the conditions for the emergent imagination are best generated in avatar-mediated online spaces, where the experience of space as heterogeneous and where the plasticity of time-space relationships is articulated.

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