Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Dr. Carole Farber


Second Life is a virtual world accessible through the Internet in which users create objects and spaces, and interact socially through 3D avatars. Certain artists use the platform as a medium for art creation, using the aesthetic, spatial, temporal and technological features of SL as raw material. Code and scripts applied to animate and manipulate objects, avatars and spaces are important in this sense. These artists, their avatars and artwork in SL are at the centre of my research questions: what does virtual existence mean and what is its purpose when stemming from aesthetic exchange in SL?

Through a qualitative research method mixing distribute aesthetics, digital art and media theories, the goal is to examine aesthetic exchange in the virtual: subjectivity and identity and their possible shifting patterns as reflected in avatar-artists. A theoretical and methodological emphasis from a media studies perspective is applied to digital media and networks, contributing to the reshaping of our epistemologies of these media, in contrast to the traditional emphasis on communicational aspects. Four case studies, discourse and text analysis, as well as interviews in-world and via email, plus observation while immersed in SL, are used in the collection of data, experiences, objects and narratives from avatars Eva and Franco Mattes, Gazira Babeli, Bryn Oh and China Tracy.

The findings confirm the role that aesthetic exchange in virtual worlds has in the rearrangement of ideas and epistemologies on the virtual and networked self. This is reflected by the fact that the artists examined—whether in SL or AL—create and embody avatars from a liminal (ambiguous) modality of identity, subjectivity and interaction.

Mythopoeia (narrative creation) and experiencing oneself as ‘another’ through multiplied identity and subjectivity are the outcomes of code performance and machinima (films created in-world). They constitute a modus operandi (syntax) in which episteme, techne and embodiment work in symbiosis with those of the machine, affected by the synthetic nature of code and liminality in SL. The combined perspective from media studies and distribute aesthetics proves to be an effective method for studying these subjects, contributing to the discussion of contemporary virtual worlds and art theories.