ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

This article focuses on the collaborative work of the artists CapCat Ragu and Meilo Minotaur in Metaverse environments. The aim is to describe and analyse their cooperative creative process from the perspective of one of the artists/authors, walking through three artistic works that were made in the Second Life ® region of Delicatessen: 'de Maria, de Mariana, de Madalena…', 'Petrified' and 'Meta_Body'. These projects reflect two aspects of the artists' work – on the one hand avatar art, and on the other the creation of virtual environments. The text also reflects on the concept of shared creativity, which the artists propose through their avatar creations.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Sousa, C. C. (2012). Mom and me through the looking glass. "Metaverse Creativity"(MECR) 2 (2) pp. 137160. doi: 10.1386/mvcr.2.2.137_1
Mom and me through the looking glass
Catarina Carneiro de Sousa, Escola Superior de Educação do Instituto Politécnico de Viseu
This article focuses on the collaborative work of the artists CapCat Ragu and Meilo Minotaur in Metaverse
environments. The aim is to describe and analyse their cooperative creative process from the perspective of
one of the artists/authors, walking through three artistic works that were made in the Second Life
region of
Delicatessen: de Maria, de Mariana, de Madalena…’, Petrifiedand ‘Meta_Body’. These projects reflect two
aspects of the artists’ work on the one hand avatar art, and on the other the creation of virtual
environments. The text also reflects on the concept of shared creativity, which the artists propose through
their avatar creations.
Avatar, metaverse, play, shared creativity , metaphorical body, virtual corporality.
We are two metaverse avatars. We are also mother and daughter; I am CapCat Ragu and Meilo Minotaur is
my mother in real life. We are both artists, and as artists it seems that all through our lives we have been
dealing with the same issues that we are now working on together in the Metaverse. When I was a little girl I
used to love the Carnival holiday. In Portugal this is a time to dress up, and to imagine ourselves as the
other… I remember my mother staying up all night working on these amazing see-through butterfly wings
for me. I think that these were the first avatars we ever made together.
During the 1980s my mother was in a handicrafts group called Gárgula, where she and her colleagues made
what I would now call clay avatars. She was a ceramist, but did not do pottery; instead she made these strange
characters inspired by the imagery of her fantasy world. This type of work was also often made collectively by
the Gárgula members, and we would never know who had made what, thus turning the collective into an
organic multi-author entity.
As I grew older I too became an artist. It was the turn of the millennium and I was very involved in activist
and feminist art, working with a feminist artistic collective called ZOiNA, which worked very much like
Gárgula did, only with different media and in a different context. We were exploring notions that are now
fundamental for me and Meilo, such as play and embodiment as an aesthetic experience. This came to the
fore in works such as ‘Ludic Zone’, which was an installation of a colourful relaxation area inhabited by an
anthropomorphic rag doll, in which a suit could be worn by the visitor to the space, and to which the wearer
could attach a wide range of props and organs creating different characters and interactions.
In my independent work I was also focusing on the body as a metaphor, questioning the perception of the
body as a formal mental scheme and our social identity as the idea that one has of one’s own body in other
words, the design of a body. I argued that in western society the reproductive systems had come to be
established as a form of social identity. It was this metaphor that I intended to underline, analysing the
individual as the reproducer of socio-cultural stigmas.
Avatars at play: Second Life
In 2008 we joined the three-dimensional world of Second Life. My mother, who entered the world as Meilo
Minotaur, was the first one to create an account, and very quickly she dragged me in as well. It was early
summer, and I went there as a kind of online vacation, just to play around. In fact, our entire engagement
with the virtual world was very much like playing with dolls at first the dolls in question being our avatars,
of course. For Beth Coleman an avatar is a ‘computer generated figure controlled by a person via computer’
(2011: 12), but she broadens the term to include any form in which people can interact with each other in real
time. For the purposes of explicitness, throughout this article I will be using the term in its more restricted
sense, referring to the representation of a resident of a three-dimensionally embodied virtual world.
Returning to my analogy above of playing with dolls, however, an important notion that I would like to
juxtapose with the avatar is ‘play’. While ‘play’ is an everyday concept for children, this becomes quite
problematic and very unstable when it comes to adults, and especially when it comes to identifying a scholarly
definition of this activity. B. Sutton-Smith has emphasized this ambiguity and the important role of ideology
in the way it is analysed, because ‘forms of play, like all other cultural forms, cannot be neutrally interpreted
[…]’ (Sutton-Smith 1997: 216).
The difference between the categories of ‘game’ and ‘play’, or of ludus and paidia (Caillois 1958 cited in Frasca
2007: 38), becomes noteworthy when this ambiguity is examined within a linguistic context: G. Frasca
suggests that the difference is that ludus games define winners and losers, while paidia games do not (2007: 39).
Tom Boellestorff notes that many scholars have underlined how virtual worlds are not goal-oriented, and he
even states that ‘assuming that theories about games and play are necessary foundations to understanding
virtual worlds leads to serious misinterpretations’ (Boellestorff 2010: 22).
Thus, in Second Life, to play by the rules does not mean to play a game. The world does have its rules, the ‘Terms
of Service’ of Second Life probably being the most important of these, but this is a legal agreement between the
residents and Linden Labs, the owners of Second Life. To add to these there are of course also social
conventions like there are in any society, and breaking them can have its consequences. None of these,
however, are game rules in the proper sense of the term, unless, as Boellestorff puts it, we trap ourselves in a
definition ‘so vague that we must include in it most of our actual lives’ (2010: 22).
Therefore, when I refer to play in Second Life, I am referring to its paidia dimension. Our dolls (our avatars)
were for dress-up games, but they were also our way of communicating with other avatars. It did not take our
‘dolls’ long to create their own personalities, perhaps as some extended projection of our own, but not exactly
the same… mine always more stable, Meilo Minotaur’s always more of a shape shifter.
For D. W. Winnicott the ‘cultural experience begins with creative living first manifested in play’. In fact, he
localizes this in ‘a potential space between the individual and the environment’ (Winnicott 1971: 135), which is
the place of experience, the place where we play around, making play, as Frasca puts it, an aesthetic genre (2007:
57). According to Frasca, ‘play events are not fixed beforehand. Instead, they are constrained and those
limitations are the elements that constitute their aesthetic dimension’ (2007: 58). Ironically, my first art project
comprised a set of limitations that I imposed upon myself. This was a road trip, a journey undertaken in
Second Life without the usual teleports, which was therefore an inversion of the typical way in which Second Life
is traversed, as a hypermedium with hyperlinks. Throughout this journey I made a photographic journal on
Flickr documenting my adventures. This was both a ‘factual and a fictional narrative’ (Schaeffer 2010), which
I undertook in order to meet new people and see new places in the metaverse. These meetings were
documented in my journal, but at the same time the pictures were a kind of storyboard of a fictional road trip,
role played by me, in places that I actually visited in the sequence of the narrative. Some people would argue
with my usage of the word ‘actually’, but as Jean-Marie Schaeffer puts it, ‘it can be said that if every fiction
results from a process of mental simulation, the opposite is not the case, i.e. that every simulation produces a
fiction’ (Schaeffer 2010). This somehow parallels the concept of Second Life itself, a mixture of the fictional
and the factual, a tension, an overlapping between the two dialectic perspectives of the world those of the
immersionist who sees Second Life as a self-contained world that is more prone to role-playing or fiction, and
that of the augmentationist who sees it as an extension of real life, another platform of social networking and
factual encounters (Bennetsen 2006).
What should probably also be mentioned is that during this journey I also developed a keen enthusiasm for
virtual photography, which became my main creative interest at this point, and I began to exhibit my
photographic work, both on Flickr and in in-world art galleries.
Meanwhile my mother, i.e. the avatar Meilo Minotaur, was more interested in building, and started working
on her own land, mainly landscaping at first, but she also very soon began to make virtual sculptures. Unlike
me, she played around with alts avatars that are, as Elif Ayiter puts it, the ‘supplementary virtual identities
through which a virtual world resident can operate, together with or separately from the main avatar’ (Ayiter
2008: 9). Many residents create these accounts to escape social engagement (Boellestorff 2010: 12834). This
is mainly what my own alt avatars are for: I use them to build, and to teach, without being constantly
interrupted by social solicitations. My mother is different in that although Meilo also has building avatars,
most of her alt avatars have their own stories and personalities; they are in fact characters she has embodied
through internal focalization (Niederhoff 2011). Playing with dolls was getting more and more complex.
Conceptualizing avatars was now becoming quite important in Meilo Minotaur’s Second Life.
In the late 1990s Frank Biocca drew attention to a process that he called progressive embodiment, which may
well apply to what Meilo Minotaur had embarked upon with her coterie of avatars:
Each progressive step in the development of sensor and display technology moves
telecommunication technology towards a tighter coupling of the body to the interface. The body
is becoming present in both physical space and cyberspace. The interface is adapting to the
body; the body is adapting to the interface […] [and] each new medium must somehow engage
the body in a new way […]. (Biocca 1997: 12)
Naturally Biocca soon starts discussing the relevance of the avatar. However, the avatar that he refers to is
not the ‘small puppet used in standard computer interfaces’; instead he is talking about a body in which shape
and boundaries are to be defined by the interface and the perceptual illusions generated by the head-mounted
display (Biocca 1997: 7). However, the kind of sensory engagement described by Biocca did not become as
ubiquitous as the researchers of the 1990s expected it to. Boellestorff stresses that ‘this notion of immersion
does not accurately characterize the dominant cultural logics at play in Second Life’ (2010: 112), and Celia
Pearce suggests that:
Enhancing and perfecting sensory inputs and so-called embodied interaction were seen as the
primary means of increasing this quality of presence. However, this and other avatar research
suggests a different conclusion: that having a representation of the self visible inside the world
may actually enhance the sense of presence, as well as the sense of embodiment. (Pearce 2009:
Nevertheless, although Biocca’s view of the third person/observed avatar (Morie 2007: 132) is rather
disparaging, it does not conflict with his overall research findings, since he too addresses the question of
social presence that Boelle`storff feels is paramount to Second Life’s sense of immersion. Thus, Biocca
distinguishes three different kinds of bodily presence in virtual environments: objective body, virtual body
and body schema. He defines them as follows:
The objective body is the physical, observable, and measurable body of the user. The virtual
body is the representation of the user’s body inside the virtual environment. The body schema is
the user’s mental or internal representation of his or her body. (Biocca 1997: 13)
Biocca also found changes to body schema even in what he calls ‘non-immersive environments, such as
television, where exposure to the idealized body shape leads to a sense of a thinner and younger body in his
subjects. This is in accordance with the findings of N. Yee and J. Bailenson, which show that virtual
environments can dramatically alter self-representation. Their studies show that one’s behaviour can change
according to one’s avatar and not only online, but in subsequent offline interactions as well. (Yee et al. 2009:
These findings have everyday life implications as the use of avatars has become increasingly pervasive. Many
video games and platforms have these ‘computer-generated figures’ that represent their users; they range from
a few pixels to very complex three-dimensional models. They exist even in games that are played individually,
but in a multi-user world they are a prerequisite, as Pearce points out. She highlights the importance of avatar
If the avatar is framed as a form of personal expression, as performance medium, it is not hard
to see the ways in which the components of the avatar kit dictate the forms of expression that
occur. (Pearce 2009: 111)
Jacquelyn Ford Morie notes that in virtual environments ‘our experience is very much influenced by how we
perceive our self, and yet, within most immersive environments, as they exist today, this choice is still made by
the VE designer’ (Morie 2007: 130). Yee and Bailenson also addressed the question of stereotype in virtual
worlds. They state that:
Researchers have also demonstrated that stereotype activation oftentimes occurs with an
automaticity that is beyond conscious control and that the presence of these stereotypes leads to
prejudicial interactions unless conscious intervention is applied. (Yee and Bailenson 2006: 147)
Second Life, in addition to giving its residents the ability to change the appearances of their avatars, has the
advantage that one can also upload content, such as textures, meshes and animations whereby avatar
appearance can be customized to an unprecedented level. Therefore, the designers of the avatars are the
residents themselves, since they can design their own avatars or can make use of what other residents share or
Thus, it is not hard to understand that as time went on and avatar conceptualization became increasingly
more important, as stated before, the appearance of the standard avatar revealed itself as simplistic and
became frustrating for us. For Meilo Minotaur and me, conscious intervention came through the output of a
fashion store called alpha.tribe in Second Life (Ayiter 2008: 11938).
alpha.tribe’s avatar creations seemed to us to highlight the way in which standard avatars were stereotypical
representations of an idealized, sexist body. When we came across alpha.tribe’s apparel a revolution happened
in the way in which we saw ourselves in the metaverse, and we were inspired to completely rethink the way
we embodied our own avatars. It was, somehow, at this time, that my avatar deviated from its humanity,
without, however, totally abandoning the human metaphor. It was shortly after this that I also began to
recreate my own avatar by using material that I developed myself either through adaptations of Creative
Commons Second Life avatar templates or through textures entirely of my own creation.
Figure 1: Building by the avatar CapCat Ragu using alpha.tribe apparel, virtual photograph, Catarina Carneiro de Sousa,
Second Life, 2009.
Avatar builders: Delicatessen and our transition to ‘Shared Creativity’
By 2009 we already had our region in Second Life, which we decided to call ‘Delicatessen’. It was a landscape
created mainly by Meilo Minotaur, where I had my photo studio in a castle that I called ‘PhotoDelicatessen’.
We gave our land this name not because of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film,
but because of the
European meaning of the word, a store for delicacies. This time we worked much more closely as builders:
we were also getting better at terraforming, and I was now also doing it and loving it: Land owners in the
metaverse can change the geography of their land altogether growing hills, carving rivers and valleys, as well
as painting them by changing the ground textures into natural or even unnatural earth coverage, ranging from
grass and dirt to geometric patterns or even fully recognizable images. Onto this geography one can then
build objects by using Second Life’s tools to create three-dimensional objects or load three-dimensional objects
made in external software, which can then be textured through visual material that can be uploaded into the
world from the computer’s hard drive. All of this enables residents to build a paracosmos, perhaps a
materialization of that potential space that Winnicott tells us about, which involves tying the self and the
common through a place of experience.
While we were building I was also experimenting with creating my own avatar skins. Consequently, we
decided to make the first avatar we ever shared with others, i.e. with the visitors to our land who could obtain
this item from a virtual vendor box. This avatar was called ‘Elfa!’, a feminine Christmas elf, and she was given
as a Christmas gift to celebrate Delicatessen. To our great joy the recipients of ‘Elfa!’ liked her and blogged
about her much more than we expected. It was this positive reception of ‘Elfa!’ that made us think of the
possibility of distributing our avatars in the future, given that we found that it was incredibly exciting to see
the ways in which others were re-implementing our work as part of their own creations. And it is this
observation that effectively brings me to the notion of ‘shared creativity’. As I suggested in the introduction
of this article, partaking of the creative process was not new either to me or to Meilo Minotaur when we
entered Second Life. In fact, it has been a method of production throughout our lives, but the new medium
revealed new possibilities and new ways of sharing. There are two different ways in which one may address
the concept of shared creativity one is through collective creation, the other is through distributed creativity.
When I address collective creation I am referring to a creative process in which all of the agents involved act as
one creative entity. The complete dissolution of one’s identity within a common one is of course utopical,
and a truly co-creative process, where everybody is an equal partner (Bauwens 2006: 3344), is a very rare
occurrence in large and even medium groups.
To work as a band, as a plural organism (or a several-headed monster), is quite common in the music world.
In the visual art world, however, this is less common, since the entire cultural structure is built for the
author/individual, from the art educational system to the museum.
Therefore, I refer to collective creativity as a process developed by a small number of co-creators, who share
a high level of intimacy. A cellular structure, an equal partnership wherein each member relinquishes his or
Caro, Marc and Jeunet, Jean-Pierre (1991), Delicatessen, Neuilly-sur-Seine: UGC Images, Constellation.
her own authorial mark in favour of the group’s authorship. This seems to me to be a good way of describing
how my mother Meilo Minotaur and I work together in Second Life. In the metaverse the three-dimensional
objects that are placed upon the world are automatically stamped with the names of authors; however, in our
case this means very little, as we often transform each other’s builds, constantly exchanging things from one
to the other and even working on the same build at the same time, whenever that is physically possible. This
kind of creative process requires, as was stressed, a high level of intimacy, complete trust and complete
openness. Trust to give up your creation to the other blindfolded, trust that the relationship will not break
when you disagree, openness to state your insecurities, fears and uncertainties and to speak your mind no
matter what. It is a companionship, not a mere association. This is the way we build our avatars. Once we
distribute these avatars, however, an entirely new process of shared creativity with the world at large then
When we deliver our avatars to the world, they go on their way, separated from us. Nevertheless, we love to
see them change and grow, becoming the avatars of others, inhabited by a different identity that will ever so
slightly or radically change it. We enjoy seeing it happen. One often hears of authors talking about how
feedback from the contemplative audience is important to them. When seen in this way we are indeed
fortunate artists, since our work is lived by others, absorbed, transformed and recreated. Although they do
not have an exchange value for the market, since we do not sell them, they appear to have a use-value for a
community of users and they are always ‘unfinished artifacts’ (Eno 1995), permanently mutable bodies… This
brings us to two emergent concepts, both of which have been born out of online communication cultures:
peer to peer (P2P) and produsage.
Michel Bauwens specifies that his conception of peer to peer (P2P) ‘does not refer to all behavior or
processes that take place in distributed networks’, but ‘specifically designates those processes that aim to
increase the most widespread participation by equipotential participants’. (Bauwens, 2006: 33)
Bauwen’s process is a utopian one that is defined as a third mode of production, governance and ownership.
This means a drift from an ‘exchange value for market’ to a ‘use-value for a community of users’, ‘governed
by the community of the producers themselves’ and in which ‘use-value is freely accessible on a universal
basis’, a ‘peer property mode’, a common property of sorts that differs from private property and public
(state) property (Bauwens 2006: 33). Bauwens also states some requirements to facilitate P2P genesis, stating
amongst them the importance of the Internet in the emergence of this new way of the common that ‘allows
for universal autonomous production, dissemination, and “consumption” of a panoply of materials and
“enables autonomous content production that may be distributed without the intermediary of the classic
publishing and broadcasting media”’ (Bauwens 2006: 34).
Axel Bruns defines the concept of distributed creativity as ‘projects which harness the creativity of a large range
of participants to build on and extend upon an existing pool of artistic material’ (Bruns 2010: 1). This can also
be seen in the online creative sharing communities that are based in the dissemination of visual output, from
Flickr pile-ups to Creative Commons collages, such as DeviantART fan art.
Bruns developed the concept of produsage to describe a new arising reality ‘emerging from the intersection of
Web 2.0 user-generated content, and social media since the early years of the new millennium’ (2010: 3),
realizing that the conventional sense of production no longer applied to ‘massively distributed collaborations
[…] constantly changing, permanently mutable bodies of work which are owned at once by everyone and no-
one’ and in which the participants easily shift users to producers and vice versa, originating a hybrid role in
between (Bruns and Schmidt 2010: 3).
de Maria, de Mariana, de Madalena…
Returning to our own specific case, however, without even knowing about the concept, produsage was
becoming a method of creation for us. So when 2010 came, after two years in Second Life, we were ready to
take a step forward.
The opportunity came early that year when the artist Carla Cruz invited us to participate in an exhibition
entitled ‘All My Independent Women’ (‘AMIW’) in its fifth edition, in Coimbra, between 21 May and 18 June
at the Casa da Esquina.
This edition of ‘AMIW’ revolved around the collective reading of Novas Cartas Portuguesas/New Portuguese
Letters (1998) by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Velho da Costa a 1972 book that was
banned by the Portuguese dictatorship, causing the famous case of the ‘Three Marias’, which became a
milestone in the history of feminism in Portugal (Barreno et al. 1998).
The publication that accompanied the exhibition re-edited a version of Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo’s preface
for the book’s third edition, which was published in 1980. Her words will help me to clarify a little more
about this book:
Such is the rupture introduced by the New Portuguese Letters that a first approach to them can only
be done in light of what they are not. They are not a compendium of letters, although it is
recognizable in them in them the style traditionally developed by women in literature.
They are not a set of sparse collection of poems, even if they become poetry in all reality portrayed.
They are also not a novel, even if the story lived by (or imagined by) Mariana Alcoforado is the main
plot. (Pintasilgo 2010: 6)
Novas Cartas Portuguesas/New Portuguese Letters is a book written in three hands, in the form of letters, and we
never know which of the three authors wrote which part of the text. The book takes it trajectory from a
much earlier text in which a nun named Alcoforado appears as the central character of a book from the
seventeenth century entitled Cartas Portuguesas/Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1998). In this early book Alcoforado
writes letters to her lover, the Knight of Chamily, from her convent in Beja. In the new book, however,
Alcoforado presents an opportunity to dissect a range of questions relating to gender and womanhood
(Alcoforado 1998).
Despite all the texts in New Portuguese Letters being called letters, not all are in fact letters in the formal sense of
the word. The subject branches out and fragments. There are multiplicities of voices, who write on behalf of
Mariana, or her mother, or her sister, or the Knight of Chamily and so forth.
Pintasilgo continues in the same preface:
It is obvious that the New Portuguese Letters would not have had the echo that we know that
they did if they did not reach a symbolic level in which one recognizes women from all
continents and social classes. In a second reading, the body, as a privileged place for denouncing
the oppression of women, goes beyond that which it represents. It works as a metaphor for all
forms of oppression hidden and not yet overcome. (Pintasilgo 2010: 6)
And it was precisely this idea of a metaphorical body that created the main point of interest for our own
Experiments by Yee and Bailenson point to the possibility of embodied perspective-taking in virtual
environments having an impact on the reduction of negative stereotyping (Yee and Bailenson 2006: 154).
Taking our inspiration from this, we invited Delicatessen’s visitors to embody themselves in women’s shapes.
For this we created three avatars that we made freely available as the fruits of a Great Tree. By touching
particular fruits on this tree, visitors received one of these avatars: Maria, Mariana and Madalena.
In their different ways all three women were the most dangerous woman on earth.
Maria was a pregnant woman. She was shorter than the usual Second Life avatars and much heavier and portly.
We were particularly proud of the skin folds on her back, which are of course very common in many women,
and her heavy breasts. All of these physical attributes were very different from those commonly used in the
Metaverse to denote feminine beauty. Her clothes were primitive, with a cloak made of sheepskin and a
necklace made out of baby’s teeth. Of the three avatars she was the only one who was armed she had a
primitive knife strapped to her thigh. She was a mother and a warrior, but one who literally came in the
proverbial sheep’s clothing. Ergo, she was the most dangerous woman alive.
Mariana was a tree. We made her while we were thinking of Bjork’s ‘Bachelorette’ verses: ‘I’m a tree that
grows hearts | One for each that you take’.
According to Cecilia Meireles, Mariana learned from spring to let
herself be cut and always bloom again (Meireles 1945). It was indeed her giving nature that also made her so
Madalena was the prisoner of the gaze. Both her shape and skin were more in line with the usual stereotypes
in Second Life tall, thin and sinuous, with firm breasts and milky skin. She was a desirable woman. Her desire
had become a mirror of the Other’s desire and therein lay her power, turning her into the most dangerous
woman on earth…
Figure 2: ‘Maria, Mariana and Madalena’, avatars by Catarina Carneiro de Sousa and Sameiro Oliveira Martins, virtual
photograph, Catarina Carneiro de Sousa, Second Life, 2010.
We did not intend to propose these avatars as stereotypes of woman as mother, the woman in love or the
desirable woman, let alone reduce women to their status as mother, bride or lover. What interested us was
precisely to problematize such concepts through the metaphorical appropriation of the body. As Griselda
Pollock remarks, ‘[…] the body, not as a biological entity, but as psychically constructed image provides a
location for and imageries of the processes of the unconscious, for desire and fantasy’ (Pollock 1996: 6). This
is consistent with Biocca’s notion of body schema and Yee and Bailenson’s findings exposed before. Pollock
continues, on the semioticized body:
The body is a construction, a representation, a place where the marking of sexual difference is
written, and it is because the body is a sign that it has been so invested in feminist politics as a
site of our resistance. (1996: 6)
Judith Butler, proceeding on Simone de Beauvoir’s famous claim ‘one is not born, but, rather, becomes a
woman’, states:
In this sense, gender is in no way a stable identity or a locus of agency from which various acts
proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time an identity, instituted through a
stylized repetition of acts. (Butler 1988: 519)
This performed and semioticized body was now completely open for metamorphosing, since the wearers of the
avatars were always free to recombine the attributes of the individual avatars, using different shapes or skins
or adding clothes or props even their own. Whoever embodied these female bodies had in their hands the
power of transformation, the freedom to reinvent their ‘self’. We were the mere distributors of some possible
signs; it was up to each person to perform and construct meanings.
As I have mentioned above, for us Delicatessen and the avatars themselves were of little value without the
input of others who became engaged with them. It was, in fact, the appropriation that each person could do
that moved us. The region was built based upon our own experiences, on our experience of gender, on our
particular references. It is natural that for us every tree, every object, had its own meaning; however, that
meaning was transformed and expanded in the reading of those who experienced the islands and wore the
avatars whilst doing so.
As the book Novas Cartas Portuguesas/New Portuguese Letters invites an erratic reading, so did Delicatessens
multiple islands. We did not offer a default route; we preferred that each person build his or her own way, by
wandering in the region.
This time the landscape was different; it did not look like a simulation of a plausible landscape. Although
there were trees, water, ground, islands, rivers, hills, nevertheless everything was unlikely… There were trees
that looked like sculptures and sculptures that looked like trees. Some were dreamy and poetic, some were
scary and dark, most of them were both at the same time, standing in that thin line between beauty and
To share the various ramifications of this project (and others that followed it) we created a group on Flickr
called SL Delicatessen where we tried to collect the images people created from our region and our avatars,
which came about as virtual photographs and as machinima. It is in this shared creativity that work begins to
make sense to us, as part of a creative flow that involves all the people who have the initiative to create
something and share it with others. Opened for recreation, reinterpretation and reconstruction, this stream is
a river full of side streams and branches through which we just passed, leaving our input open to the reusage
of others who would pass through it after us.
Figure 3:A Voadora, virtual sculpture at Delicatessen by Catarina Carneiro de Sousa and Sameiro Oliveira Martins,
virtual photograph, Catarina Carneiro de Sousa and Sameiro Oliveira Martins, Second Life, 2010.
This was our second project together and we rebuilt Delicatessen entirely for it.
The region was built around a main central island with a big bay and a pointy hill. Around it smaller islands
floated in the air and on the sea, lurking through the mist. In each of them a scene was depicted a crying
tree, a ghost forest, a girl playing the violin to a flamingo, a white dove carrying a human heart… While these
scenes did not relate directly to each other, they were bound together by a strange feeling of crystallization. In
the announcements for its opening one could read:
When the past tangles you in sweet and bitter smells
When a fly buzzing on your ear gives you shivers
When a single frame takes your breath away
When the scream in your throat doesn't make a sound
When your dreams freeze before your eyes
When you lay roots before you can leave the ground
When your body turns to salt
When your heart stops and time swells… you are petrified.
It was this idea of unfulfilled desire that motivated us throughout the project. The feeling of being frozen
during an accomplishment, just before getting there. Like Adrienne Rich’s bee described in the quote below,
locked in a place where life cannot be fulfilled:
Beginning to write, then getting up. Stopped by the movements of a huge early bumble bee
which has somehow gotten inside this house and is reeling, bumping, stunning itself against
windowpanes and sills. I open the front door and speak to it, trying to attract it outside. It is
looking for what it needs, just as I am, and like me, it has gotten trapped in a place where it
cannot fulfill its own life. I could open the jar of honey on the kitchen counter and perhaps it
would take honey from that jar; but its life-process, its work, its mode of being, cannot be
fulfilled inside this house. (Rich 1985: 78)
Trapped in a body, a house or a country… To fulfil desire is not the same as fulfilling wishes; it is the
fulfillment of a desiring vocation. It is not about possibility; instead it is about potency.
We felt this desiring vocation had petrified us. Not broken, not subdued, just frozen. All of its potency just
about to burst in our chests, but contained, on the verge of becoming.
Many things in our lives took us to that place at that time being women, being mothers and, of course,
being metaverse artists. Many aspects of our existence kept telling us that what we did was meaningless.
I believe many people who are creatively active in the metaverse share this frustration: in conversations I have
held with fellow metaverse artists, one of their biggest complaints is the feeling of not being taken seriously
by their peers in real life. In fact it seems to me that nothing is held to be ‘real’ or ‘contemporary’ in today’s
art world unless it somehow involves some kind of physical installation. My rather bold assertion in this
regard was already forecast at the end of the last century by Rosalind Krauss when she warned her readers
about this circumstance, regarding how mixed media installation had become the new Academy, to be seen at
every biennial and pervasive at every art fair (Krauss 1999: 20), seemingly bringing about the exclusion of all
other art forms from the very notion of contemporary art.
Stripped of its inaugural potency and transgression, installation is now just the way you do things in art,
ubiquitous and unquestioned. Thus, it seems to me that to do anything else (unless it is performance art) may
well end up in being considered not to be contemporary. To do it in the metaverse adds to this conundrum,
since in this case not only is your output not contemporary but it is also not really real: it is just make-believe.
The critique of illusionism toured throughout the first half of the twentieth century, leading towards
abstraction. As Clement Greenberg puts it,
The Old Masters had sensed that it was necessary to preserve what is called the integrity of the
picture plane: that is, to signify the enduring presence of flatness underneath and above the most
vivid illusion of three-dimensional space. […] The Modernists have neither avoided nor resolved this
contradiction; rather, they have reversed its terms. […] Whereas one tends to see what is in an Old
Master before one sees the picture itself, one sees a Modernist picture as a picture first. (Greenberg
1992: 756)
Although in its second half there was a ‘return of the real’, nevertheless the ‘anti-illusionist posture was
retained by many artists and especially by the art critics who were involved in conceptual, institution-critical,
body, performance, site-specific, feminist, and appropriation art’ (Foster 1996: 127). This atavistic fear of
illusionism leads to a confusion, which is not only a prerogative of the art world, but affects the word virtual
to an ever greater extent. Pierre Lévy notes that virtual does not oppose real, but instead stands in opposition
to the term actual. Therefore, it appears to me that just like desire, virtuality is not about possibility, but about
potency. ‘The realization of a possible is not a creation, in the full sense of the term, because creation implies
also the production of an innovative idea or form’ (Lévy 1996: 16). The possible is just like the real but without
an existence; the virtual, on the other hand, asks for a resolution, is problematic, complex. ‘Actualization then
emerges as a solution to a problem, which was not previously contained in the problem’s statement’ (Lévy
1996: 16). The actual is not predetermined by the virtual, as Lévy reminds us: it is not its realization, but an
answer to it. The virtual has everything to do with desire.
However, illusion was not always as disreputable as it appears to be today: Louis Daguerre and Charles Marie
Bouton loved the whole idea of illusion when they exhibited their first dioramas in Paris 1822. Daguerre
would later become famous for his discoveries in photography, but he began his career as a stage designer
and painter a profession that is devoted to the visualization of illusion and of make-believe. The diorama
was therefore a rather sophisticated design that had its origins in Daguerre’s earlier work onstage scenery.
What was new and different from traditional stage scenery, however, was that Daguerre aimed to create a
naturalistic illusion of space solely through the manipulation of light: 70×45 feet pictures were painted on
both sides of a translucent material, letting light change the picture, not only affecting its chromatic
atmosphere, but also revealing parts of the picture painted on the back of the canvas. R. Derek Wood
describes it as follows:
By light manipulation on and through a flat surface the spectators could be convinced they were
seeing a life-size three dimensional scene changing with time in part a painters 3-D cinema.
To display such dioramas with the various contrivances required to control the direction and
colour of the light from many high windows and sky-lights, as well as a rotating amphitheatre
holding up to 360 people, a large specialist building was required. (1993: 284)
Effectively, there appears to have been an attempt to create a three-dimensional immersive environment, a
simulation. Today one can see the adaptation of Daguerre’s original concept in many anthropology or natural
history museums displayed as three-dimensional scale models of natural or historical scenes. Although in
some cases the manipulation of light to bring about a state of immersion is still utilized, the genre has
extended itself to also use physical objects and artefacts. Therefore, contemporary dioramas vary a great deal
when it comes to scale, sophistication and the usage of materials, depending upon where they are realized and
to what purpose. While on the low end of the scale, one can observe artefacts such as a papier mache volcano
made by a small child for a school project, on the high end of the scale, the output can be highly compelling,
lifelike, very often also digitally enhanced dioramas, such as the ones that can be seen in museums and
exhibits, as mentioned above.
Stuffed animals inside a painting or entire city scale models… What the overall concept of the diorama makes
common to all is that they are self-contained. From very small to very large, they are an ‘all world’ or an ‘all
story’. Dioramas can also be embedded inside larger dioramas anall world within anall worldin other
words. However, even in such cases of nesting, they are nevertheless intended to function independently;
they do not need the ‘big picture’ to be understood. It should also be added that dioramas are also very close
in concept to snow globes, ships in bottles, dollhouses and pop-up illustrations. They carry the same effect of
wonder; therefore they do not even need to be immersive (in the three-dimensional virtual sense of the term)
to take us to another world. They achieve this by producing a sense of absence, given that they address the
consciousness of self in relation to the world, or the conceptualization of the world to be more precise. This
mindstate is also called extended presence, and addresses memory, imagination and the capacity to elaborate
about the future.
J. A. Waterworth, G. Riva and E. L. Waterworth distinguish three layers of presence proto presence, core presence
and extended presence. The first relates to spatiality, that is, the notions of ‘myself’ and ‘outside myself’, and it is
mostly unconscious and automatized. The second is sensory presence; it is about the consciousness of being
in the world, in the here and now, and it is thus of a perceptual nature. The last layer, extended presence, is about
conceptualization (Waterworth et al. 2003).
Unsurprisingly, when viewed within this taxonomy, dioramas are conceptualizations of the world: they can be
about the real world as scale models, or about memory, which places the viewer within historic or natural
scenes, but they can also be about fantasy, about entirely imagined worlds. In short, I would like to suggest
that they address extended presence. In a diorama, space itself is conceptualized. It is virtual space in the sense
that it does not refer to an actual space, but works towards the evocation of a potential space that resides
within our imagination.
This is also a very suitable description of how Second Life Island was built for the Petrified project. It should
also be noted that this extended sense of presence that is also to be found in dioramas had as much to do
with our process of building the islands and the clusters of digital objects that were placed within them as it
did with the finalized project. Not being standalone objects in the exact sense of the word, one could call
them installations, but they were in fact much more like dioramas that helped evoke potential spaces or
Consequently, each cluster was an open narrative conceptualization. In virtual worlds there are two perceiving
bodies, that of the avatar who is immersed inside the world, and our own, which is behind the keyboard. As I
will address further on, while we need the avatar to connect with the world and to see it from the insider’s
perspective, we are still situated outside of it. Ergo, we see the world like a child looking at a ship in a bottle.
Engaging this world takes the same effort that a child needs to muster in order to have a meaningful relation
with that ship. This effort and facility requires (and is) imagination pure and simple.
Looking at all this from yet another vantage point, the individual, isolated (and yet interrelated) scenes to be
found in Petrified looked like dioramas because they were more like frozen agents than sculptures. The
petrified human tree crying like a fountain or the ones caught in the act of trying to escape their fate of being
rooted, the strange masked man standing in his cloak, the three ghostly little girls all of them could be seen
as taxidermied avatars. Except for the circular flight pattern of the seagulls and their cries, one would say that
time stopped at Petrified, just as it does inside a snow globe.
Some of these dioramas were also inspired by images from films that we related to this feeling of muffled
potency. It should, however, be noted that these films were very different from one another, and their
perceived commonality was founded only in our interpretation of the material, which led us to infer that their
characters, at some point, were petrified and that this was somehow connected to unfulfilled desire or
shattered dreams. One of the recaptured film scenes involved the dream scene from Andrei Tarkovsky’s film
(1975) in which the protagonist’s mother washes her hair in a bowl only to find that her house
falls apart and washes away along with her hair in a torrential rain. In order to adapt Tarkovsky’s narrative to
our virtual ecology we created a cabin made out of rocks that was located under a big tree. Inside this cabin a
creature resembling a woman or a doll was seated at a table with her head and arms down, her hair dipping in
a bowl in front of her, while one could hear and see the rain inside the cabin.
At the bay, underwater, we had yet another female figure with loose hair, attired in a long black dress,
attached by a rope from her ankle to a sunken piano. She was completely still; not even her hair or her skirt
moved. Just above her, afloat, a dog and its master on a little boat seem to expect something to emerge. While
the human figure of the master had exactly the same face as the dog, further above, in the sky, on a cloud, a
translucent white woman was seated by a translucent white piano. This three-levelled scene consisting of the
two women, one immersed underwater, one floating in the sky and the man/dog duo in the middle, was a
reference to a scene from the film The Piano
(1993) by Jane Champion in which one of the protagonists, Ada,
puts her foot in the middle of a coil of rope attached to her piano while it is being thrown into the sea. Like a
black jellyfish, she floats underwater, bound to her piano, transfixed.
The sky islands were also inhabited by dioramas, some of which were also inspired by such film scenes. In
one of them, visitors could pose in bushes with a fox, while a strange couple, him human-like, she a hybrid of
a woman and a tree root, seemed to rise from the ground and the tree that stood above them. In this case we
recalled two of the famous and controversial scenes from Lars von Trier’s Antichrist
(2009), namely, the one
that involves the dialogue with the fox, in which a fox eating its own bowels tells the main character that
‘Chaos reigns’, and the scene where a couple have intercourse whilst leaning into the roots of a tree.
Tarkovsky, Andrei (1975), Zerkalo/Mirror, Moscow: Mosfilm.
Champion, Jane (1993), The Piano, Paddington: Chapman Jan Productions.
von Trier, Lars (2009), Antichrist, Hvidovre: Zentropa.
Figure 4: Ghost piano above, environment built forPetrified’ by Catarina Carneiro de Sousa and Sameiro Oliveira
Martins in 2011, virtual photograph, Catarina Carneiro de Sousa, Second Life, 2012.
Figure 5: Ghost piano below, environment built forPetrified by Catarina Carneiro de Sousa and Sameiro Oliveira
Martins in 2011, Virtual photograph, Catarina Carneiro de Sousa, Second Life, 2012.
While the Petrified landscape was at Delicatessen’s ground level, we initiated another project in a skybox, far
above in the region’s sky completely autonomous from the previously mentioned project. The project
Meta_Body was developed in response to an invitation to participate in the 2011 edition of the exhibition
‘AMIW’, its first outside of Portugal.
In its sixth edition, the exhibition was shown in Vienna, Austria, from 3 November until 3 December, in the
Austrian Association of Women Artists (VBKÖ) space.
This edition of ‘AMIW’ was largely a continuation of the 2010 edition. Its subtitle was ‘Or Rather, What Can
Words Do?’ a question quoted from the book that was the thematic basis of the previous edition, the
collective reading of the Novas cartas Portuguesas/New Portuguese Letters by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa
Horta and Maria Velho da Costa, as explained before.
The idea of the metaphorical body, approached by us before, was thus continued and expanded to its full
potential with the project Meta_Body.
Figure 6: ‘Meta_Body’, poster designed by Catarina Carneiro de Sousa and Sameiro Oliveira Martins, Second Life, 2011.
The virtual experience of the body is not exactly an experience of the flesh. Although metaverse experiences
have a perceptual and sensorial aspect, they continue to be experienced in our organic body, and not in our
avatar body. We could look at a very realistic virtual cake and salivate, but if our avatar eats it we will not taste
its flavour. We will have only the suggestion of taste… However, studies by J. Fox et al. imply that strong
feelings of presence in the virtual world may produce feelings of satiety in those who observe their avatar
eating (2009).
Biocca notes that the phenomenal body is not stable and can be radically altered by the use of media (Biocca
1997). Nick Yee, N. Jeremy Bailenson Ducheneaut and Nicolas Ducheneaut similarly conclude that virtual
environments can significantly alter self-representation. Their studies show that behaviour can change
according to the avatar, not only online but also in offline interactions. For example, individuals with taller
avatars show significantly better performance whilst negotiating with shorter avatars, and the effect persists
outside the virtual context, in subsequent face-to-face contact between the humans behind the avatars. These
and other changes in behaviour resulting from the handling of avatars the authors called the Proteus Effect (Yee
et al. 2009: 285312).
Maeva Veerapen highlights the existence of two bodies in the metaverse, the user and the avatar, one organic,
the other an image. How do you create ‘presence’ through these two bodies controlled by a single subject?
And where, in all of this, is the phenomenal body? Veerapen proposes three conceptions of the avatar: the
avatar as prosthesis, the avatar as a phantom limb and the avatar as an equal (Veerapen 2011: 81100). The
prosthesis is an object that acts as an extension of the potential of the phenomenal body. Thus, although the
user does not have direct and immediate access to the virtual world, the avatar acts as a prosthesis that
extends the frontier of the user's body. It is known that amputees still have sensations in the phantom limb.
Unlike an amputated limb, however, the avatar never was an actual part of the user's physical body, but
nevertheless can lead to feelings that are provoked other than by direct physical stimulation (activating
memory, for example). Consequently, it can be claimed that when seen as a phantom limb the avatar adds an
emotional dimension to the experience of the virtual world. By setting the conception the avatar as an equal,
Veerapen recalls that during his experience in the metaverse the user’s body could not fulfil all the tasks of a
phenomenal body, since the physical body did not have direct access to the virtual world; that this access
could only be provided through the body of the avatar. Conversely, the body of the avatar is not sensorially
or perceptually able as is the case with the physical body. Thus, between them, the physical body and the
body of the avatar meet all the qualities necessary to constitute a phenomenal body. What is noteworthy in all
of this, however, is that this does not correspond to the simple sum of the two bodies, but their symbiosis.
This bifurcation is also suggested by Morie, who reminds us that as we enter the virtual world we are entering
a world that is not completely imaginary, but is still ‘not fully based in solid physicality either (Morie 2007:
127). This is a world whose abstract and variable dimensions consist of bits, which are ruled by conditional
behaviours. Through these we experience in a metaphorical way, through simulations (Murray 2012).
G. Lakoff and M. Johnson suggest the importance of metaphors based on bodily experience, in how we think
and act upon the world. The authors consider that the ordinary conceptual system is fundamentally
metaphorical the way we think, what we experience and what we do every day is a matter of metaphor. A
significant part of our concepts is organized in terms of spatial metaphors: up / down, in / out, forward /
backward. These metaphors are rooted in our physical and cultural experience (Lakoff and Johnson 2002).
The metaphor is fundamental to the way we interact with the computer. When we drag an item from our
‘desktop’ to the ‘trash’, we are just providing a command to the computer to delete that object. Most current
operating systems work through these kinds of metaphors that, according to J. H. Murray, are fundamental in
the design of digital interaction (Murray 2012). Following from these general metaphorical attributes of the
computational medium, it hardly needs to be re-asserted that the virtual bodies that reside within the
metaverse too are metaphorical bodies and therefore a body of expression and language.
We focused on this aspect, on project Meta_Body, thinking of the avatar as a body / language that is open to
experimentation and possibility, which we tried to observe by providing eighteen avatars that were
modifiable, copyable and transferable, thus giving total freedom of use to produsers. They ranged from the
realism of ‘Godiva’ to the improbability of the ‘Chart Man’, without yet become completely abstract
without losing their metaphorical dimensions.
In this context it seems to be more appropriate to speak of produsers instead of a public, because the
relationship that the visitors to the project had with this project was one of creative participation, which was
indeed a crucial component of the project. In the note distributed with the avatars, we invited people to
participate in the project with their derivative work, by sharing it with us in the Meta_Body groups on Flickr
and Koinup. We also noted that the works to be displayed in Austria would be selected form these groups,
and we would not exhibit the "original" avatars we provided. Instead, only the derivative work of others
would be on display.
A total of 120 works were selected and presented as virtual photography or machinima, with a total of 80
people integrating the project Meta_Body in ‘AMIW’.
We tried to be as inclusive as possible in our selection, and not to base it on criteria of personal ‘taste’, instead
trying to sample the different sensibilities and cultures in the art of the metaverse and the different
approaches to the original avatars. We included both pure, unedited virtual photographs of the avatars, and
photographs edited out of world, as well as digital collages, stories based on avatars, and machinima. While
some were interpretations of the original avatars, others documented their transformation, achieved by
mixing and customizing components from the supplied avatars, and sometimes adding components external
to the project.
In Tim Deschanel’s proposal, for example, we see a mixture of one of the avatars, Chart Man, with external
components, but photographed by a third person. Eupalinos Ugajin designed this reconstruction of the
avatar, but Tim Deschanel photographed it. This image brings to the fore several questions about authorship,
originality, creative process and even the concept of a work of art. What is the work? The avatar we
distributed? Eupalinos Ugajin’s avatar? Tim Deschanel’s photography? The project ‘Meta_Body’ with a
distributed authorship? Or are all these artistic moments in themselves to be considered in isolation, or
integrated into the overall project?
Figure 7: ‘Pipiua rethinking herself’, virtual photograph, Catarina Carneiro de Sousa, Second Life, 2012.
Playing in Second Life, in its paidia dimension, for us is still very much like playing with dolls a tension
between fictional and factual, in a world were space itself is conceptualized, not referring to an actual space,
but evoking a potential space that resides within our imagination.
Here we can construct our own dolls, not only through the manipulation of the interface of a particular
software, but also by uploading our own content, which sees to it that a vast diversity of appearances comes
about. This type of highly user-dependent avatar design in the metaverse would also appear to have a great
impact on how embodiment and creativity concur. Here creativity is a shared process. For us, CapCat Ragu
and Meilo Minotaur, it happens through collective creation, brought forth through a high level of intimacy
that is part and parcel of being mother and daughter. However, there are other ways of sharing such
processes, and distributed creativity, which involves sharing one’s designs to be rebuilt by others or designing
one’s avatar through someone else’s creations, may well be one of the most potent forms in which such
activities come about by becoming what Bruns calls produsers, creators who change places between users and
producers throughout the creative process. In this way, the avatar, a performed and semioticized body, becomes
open for metamorphosing, with a potency of transformation, and the freedom to reinvent itself.
We will continue to pursue the challenges behind the looking glass of the metaverse; we will be questioning
virtual space and body and we will be joyfully sharing our experiences for others to experiment upon.
Alcoforado, S. M. (1998), Cartas Portuguesas/Letters of a Portuguese Nun, Lisboa: Assírio & Alvim.
Ayiter, E. (2008), ‘alpha.tribe’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 17:78, pp. 11938.
Barreno, M. I., Horta, M. T. and Velho da Costa, M. (1998), Novas Cartas Portuguesas/New Portuguese Letters,
Lisboa: Publicações Dom Quixote.
Bauwens, M. (2006), ‘The political economy of peer production’, Post-Autistic Economics Review, 37, p. 3344.
Bennetsen, H. (2006), ‘Augmentation vs immersion’, 7 December, Accessed 29 April 2012.
Biocca, F. (1997), ‘The cyborg’s dilemma: Progressive embodiment in virtual environments’, September, Accessed 23 April 2012.
Boellestorff, T. (2010), Coming of Age in Second Life, An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human, Nova Jersey:
Princeton University Press.
Bruns, A. (2010), ‘Distributed creativity: Filesharing and produsage’, in S. Sonvilla-Weiss (ed.), Mashup
Cultures, Vienna: Springer, pp. 2437.
Bruns, A. and Schmidt, J.-H. (2010), ‘Produsage: A closer look at continuing developments’, New Review of
Hypermedia and Multimedia, 17:1, pp. 37, doi: 10.1080/13614568.2011.563626.
Butler, J. (1988), ‘Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist
theory’, Theatre Journal, 49, pp. 51931.
CAE (2002), ‘Collective cultural action the critical art ensemble’, Variant, 2:15, pp. 2425, Accessed 22 May 2012.
Caro, Marc and Jeunet, Jean-Pierre (1991), Delicatessen, Neuilly-sur-Seine: UGC Images, Constellation.
Champion, Jane (1993), The Piano, Paddington: Chapman Jan Productions.
Coleman, B. (2011), Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Cvejić, B. (2005), ‘Collectivity? You mean collaboration’, January, Accessed 29 April 2012.
Eno, B. (1995), ‘Gossip is philosophy, wired magazine interview with Kevin Kelly’, Accessed 23 June 2012.
Foster, H. (1996), The Return of the Real, Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Fox, J., Bailenson, J. and Binney, J. (2009), ‘Virtual experiences, physical behaviors: The effect of presence on
imitation of an eating Avatar’, Presence, 18:4, pp. 294303, doi:10.1162/pres.18.4.294.
Frasca, G. (2007), ‘Play the message’, Ph.D. thesis, Copenhagen: IT University of Copenhagen.
Greenberg, C. (1992), ‘Modernist painting’, in C. Harrison and P. Wood (eds), Art in Theory, 19001990, An
Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 75460.
Krauss, R. (1999), A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, London: Thames &
Lévy, P. (1996), Qu'est-ce que le virtuel?/O que é o virtual?/Becoming virtual, São Paulo: Editora 34.
Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (2002), Metáforas da Vida Cotidiana/Metaphors We Live By, Campinas/SP: Mercado
das Letras.
Meireles, C. (1945), Mar Absoluto, Porto Alegre: Livraria do Globo.
Morie, J. F. (2007), ‘Performing in (virtual) spaces: Embodiment and being in virtual environments’,
International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 3:2 and 3, pp. 12338.
Murray, J. H. (2012), Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice, Cambridge: The
MIT Press.
Niederhoff, B. (2011), ‘Focalization’, 4 August,
Accessed 17 June 2012.
Pearce, C. (2009), Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds, Cambridge: The
MIT Press.
Pintasilgo, M. d. L. (2010), ‘Pré-Prefácio (leitura breve por excesso de cuidado)’/‘Pre-preface (brief reading
for excess of concern)’, in C. Cruz and V. Valente (eds), All My Independent Women Novas Cartas Portuguesas,
Coimbra: Casa da Esquina, pp. 36.
Pollock, G. (1996), ‘The politics of theory: Generations and geographies in feminist theory and histories of art
histories’, in G. Pollock (ed.), Generations and Geographies in the Visual Arts: Feminist Readings, New York:
Routledge, pp. 3–22.
Rich, A. (1985), ‘Notes toward a politics of location’, in M. Díaz-Diocaretz and I. M. Zavala (eds), Women,
Feminist Identity, and Society in the 1980’s: Selected Papers, Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp.
Schaeffer, J.-M. (2010), ‘Fictional vs. factual narration’, 4 May, http://hup.sub.uni- Accessed 17 May 2012.
Sutton-Smith, B. (1997), The Ambiguity of Play, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Tarkovsky, Andrei (1975), Zerkalo/Mirror, Moscow: Mosfilm.
Veerapen, M. (2011), ‘Encountering oneself and the other: A case study of identity formation in Second Life’,
in A. Peachey and M. Childs (eds), Reinventing Ourselves: Contemporary Concepts of Identity in Virtual Worlds,
Springer Series in Immersive Environments, London: Springer, pp. 81100.
von Trier, Lars (2009), Antichrist, Hvidovre: Zentropa.
Waterworth, J. A., Riva, G. and Waterworth, E. L. (2003), ‘The strata of presence: Evolution, media,
and mental states’, In Granum, E., Sørensen, G. and Livatino, S. (eds), Presence 2003, The 6th Annual
International Workshop on Presence, Aalborg, Denmark, 6–8 October, The International Society for
Presence Research: Aalborg, pp. 2778.
Wood, R. D. (1993), ‘The diorama in Great Britain in the 1820s’, History of Photography, 17:3, pp. 28495.
Winnicott, D. W. (1971), Playing and Reality, London: Routledge.
Yee, N. and Bailenson, J. (2006), ‘Walk a mile in digital shoes: The impact of embodied perspective-taking on
the reduction of negative stereotyping in immersive virtual environments’, , In Bracken, C.C. and Lombard,
M. (eds), Presence 2006, The 9th International Workshop on Presence Proceedings, Cleveland, Ohio, 2426 August,
The International Society for Presence Research: Cleveland, pp. 14756.
Yee, N., Bailenson, J. N. and Ducheneaut, N. (2009), ‘The proteus effect: Implications of transformed digital
self-representation on online and offline behavior’, Communication Research, 36:2, April, pp. 285312, Accessed 12 February 2012.
Contributor details
Sameiro Oliveira Martins is a Portuguese sculptor and ceramicist, who has participated in numerous
international group exhibitions, including Pink Lotion and Nómadas in Caldeira 213 in 2000. As an artist she
made a transition into the metaverse in 2008, where she is a very well-known artist whose creative output is
brought forth through her avatar Meilo Minotaur.
Catarina Carneiro de Sousa is a Portuguese artist who is a founding member of the artistic association
Caldeira 213 and the artistic and feminist collective ZOiNA. She has exhibited collectively since 1997 and
individually since 2005. Catarina Carneiro de Sousa joined the metaverse in 2008, where as the avatar CapCat
Ragu she has gained rapid recognition for her artistic work.
Lyrics by Sjón.
... The virtual body is a metaphorical body made up of visual forms of language and expressiveness and therefore open to experimentation and possibility. These ideas were already in the call for artworks, and have been central in several preliminary studies published (Sousa, 2012(Sousa, , 2014a. These Despite the fact that this project included calls for artworks in different phases, it should not be seen as a curatorial project as the focus was not on selection nor documentation, but rather the triggering of a participatory and creative aesthetic experience. ...
... dressing and undressing, hairstyling and generally changing the avatar (Sousa 2012), so some of these avatars were inspired by dolls, in some cases quite literally as with Ragdoll (see Figure 8D, Appendix D),, that looked like a rag doll. There were also clown doll avatars-You my ...
Full-text available
The aim of this study is to understand how a shared creative process of construction of virtual corporeality in collaborative virtual environments becomes an aesthetic experience. The research is divided into two main but correlated themes: virtual corporeality and shared creativity. It is my purpose to find the relationship between the constitution of a virtual corporeality and the new processes of creative sharing and creation in collaborative virtual environments. I also aim to relate these two aspects to the new forms of aesthetic experience emerging from these virtual contexts. Meta_Body is the main practical artwork that sustains this investigation, an ongoing project since 2011. This is a participatory art project. Initiated in Second Life and in a tangible art exhibition (All My Independent Women 6th edition, at Vienna), it now continues in the collaborative virtual environment’s creative flux. Meta_Body focuses on two aspects: first, the avatar as expressive body, open to experimentation and potency; second, avatar building as a shared creative process and as aesthetical experience. Through the practice of avatar creation, distribution, embodiment and transformation, I aim to understand the processes of virtual corporeality constitution. I interrogate the role of the body in the virtual environment, its importance in engaging with the world and in self-expression, exploring its metaphorical aspects. The method used to implement this project is a shared creative process, in which multiple subjects come to be authors along different phases of the project. Through the embodiment and transformation of avatars, the artwork’s aesthetical experience becomes itself a creative process. This research is therefore grounded on an art-based and project-based methodology, whose results can be seen not only in this written thesis, but also in the artworks themselves, and their derivatives. I accomplished my intended goals and came to a new understanding of virtual corporeality and its connection to shared creativity and aesthetical experience. I believe this work to be an important starting point for new investigations that will arise with the new turn to virtual reality.
... An art project that perhaps creates as many questions as it may answer is the work of artist Catarina de Sousa, in partnership with her mother, and focuses on the construction of embodied identity through the avatar where they have developed the concept of shared creativity through collective creation, distributed creation, and collaborative creation (Sousa, 2012). This emerging method opens up new avenues to understand and explore the construction of gender and identity in virtual worlds. ...
Full-text available
A 2013 UK study forecasting how our identities will change in the following decade noted that until now, a kind of inner narrative has provided individuals with an ongoing subjective, internal commentary, but through the growth of online social media, identity is “no longer an internal, subjective experience, but is constructed externally and therefore is much less robust and more volatile” ( Foresight, 2013 ). Arguing from the fields of literature and feminist science studies, Susan Merrill Squier observes that “no longer stable, the boundaries of our human existence have become imprecise at best, contested at worst” ( Squier, 2004, p. 7 ). This chapter concerns itself with digital embodiment and the construction of the self as avatar, and the ways in which contemporary arts practices are emerging through the exploration of digitally constructed realities on new technological platforms. This chapter argues that access to the experience of digitally constructed realities enables us reflect upon how our own privately constructed realities are also created and allows us to shed light on the distinctions between fiction and reality.
All My Independent Women (AMIW) is an ongoing artistic project based on the debate around gender issues. Its primary aim is to bring to light feminist practices, underrepresented in the Portuguese context. This project was initiated in Portugal but expanded beyond national borders, and now takes place irregularly in various parts of the world. In this article, we will focus on the importance of this international network that grows each year and the way the Internet enhances this process. The several editions have taken the form of art exhibitions that materialize the collective reading of Portuguese feminist books — first “Dicionário da Crítica Feminista / Dictionary of Feminist Criticism” and later, “Novas Cartas Portuguesas / New Portuguese Letters”, both milestones of Portuguese feminist thought. However, the project went beyond the conventional exhibition format by expanding itself in cyberspace, through the use of social media and online virtual environments: the metaverse.
Full-text available
Este artigo descreve o projeto Meta_Body, em desenvolvimento em ambiente virtual em linha, na plataforma Second Life, e na « vida real », em diversas exposições de arte contemporânea. Aborda dois eixos estruturantes deste projecto - a constituição da corporeidade virtual e o processo criativo partilhado de construção, partilha, transformação e incorporação do avatar. Explora, também, os aspetos metafóricos da corporeidade virtual e incorporação e aborda a possibilidade de um processo criativo como uma experiência estética.
Full-text available
This article is a reflection on the Kromosomer project, a storytelling performance held in both physical and virtual worlds, which was implemented and disseminated through digital, virtual and social media. The aim of the whole project was to search for an expression that could combine physical experience with virtual world. The project was also looking at how to deal with social inclusion. The motto for this enterprise was the traditional Norwegian legend characters who represent “the other,” the “not-normal,” as a pretext to address the question of alterity. These legends’ characters were re-created as avatars in the metaverse, where they were also freely distributed in virtual installations as unfinished artifacts, open to mutation. In the Second Life virtual world, participants could pick up avatars and create their own stories through snapshots, machinima, etc. The physical performance later used these participants/produsers’ interpretations and narratives of the avatars in stage design and in the storytelling performance itself. We describe and analyse the main work method used for this project — a shared creative process of collective and distributed creativity. The project encompasses different forms of expression therefore we will also focus on how metaphors constitute themselves as paramount to our way of working.
Full-text available
This paper focuses on how the body has been recontextualised in the age of digital technology, especially through the phenomenon of Virtual Reality, and specifically on fully immersive VR environments made as art or performative installations. It discusses the progress\ion in form and function from other digital media or ‘cybermedia’ to fully immersive virtual environments (VEs). This paper attempts to explicate the specialised and intrinsic qualities of ‘Being’ in immersive VEs, and how it impacts both the experience of the embodied person in the virtual environment, and our thinking about everyday reality. The unique state of Being in immersive VEs has created a paradigm shift in what humans are now able to experience, and affects how we understand our embodied selves in an increasingly digital world. Because of this, the contributions of visual and performance artists to VE's continued development is key to how we will know and comprehend ourselves in the near and far future as creatures existing in both the physical and the digital domains. The paper draws upon twenty years as a professional Virtual Reality ‘maker’ who has trained in both Computer Science and in Art, and finds fascinating affinities between these disciplines in the space of the VE where people and performers interact in new embodied modalities.
Full-text available
Summary We present an evolutionary account of the psycho-neurology of presence, highlighting three component layers: proto presence, core presence, and extended presence. We suggest that the layers emerged through evolution, but all contribute to common survival goals: distinguishing what currently lies outside the organism from that which is within, and ensuring that attention is directed towards significant external events. Different media address different layers, and the technological trend is to address all layers to some extent - as in immersive virtual environments. We suggest that the degree of experienced presence depends on how well the three layers are integrated, how focused they are on the same information (Riva and Waterworth, 2003). The three layer model of presence allows us to explain and predict the effect of different types of media on the level of presence. We interpret this in terms of varying psychological states that may arise in relation to media: absence, presence, and hyperpresence. We further suggest three ways in which mediated hyperpresence may be realised: digital participation, mediated flow, and embodied immersion.
L. J. M. Daguerre (1787-1851), originally a stage designer and scene painter,1 in April 1821 formed a partnership with Charles Bouton (1781-1853) to develop a ‘Diorama’ in Paris. As Helmut and Alison Gernsheim have said in their account of the Diorama in L.J.M. Daguerre: The History of the Diorama and the Daguerreotype, it was ‘an ideal collaboration, each gaining much from the other's exoerience’. Bouton was the more exoerienced and distingulshed painter, Daguerre the greater expert in lighting and scenic effects.2
It is well known that infants as soon as they are born tend to use fist, fingers, thumbs in stimulation of the oral erotogenic zone, in satisfaction of the instincts at that zone, and also in quiet union. It is also well known that after a few months infants of either sex become fond of playing with dolls, and that most mothers allow their infants some special object and expect them to become, as it were, addicted to such objects. There is a relationship between these two sets of phenomena that are separated by a time interval, and a study of the development from the earlier into the later can be profitable, and can make use of important clinical material that has been somewhat neglected. Those who happen to be in close touch with mothers' interests and problems will be already aware of the very rich patterns ordinarily displayed by babies in their use of the first 'not-me' possession. These patterns, being displayed, can be subjected to direct observation. There is a wide variation to be found in a sequence of events that starts with the newborn infant's fist-in-mouth activities, and leads eventually on to an attachment to a teddy, a doll or soft toy, or to a hard toy. It is clear that something is important here other than oral excitement and satisfaction, although this may be the basis of everything else. Many other important things can be studied, and they include: 1. The nature of the object. 2. The infant's capacity to recognize the object as 'not-me'. 3. The place of the object – outside, inside, at the border. 4. The infant's capacity to create, think up, devise, originate, produce an object. 5. The initiation of an affectionate type of object-relationship.