Living between Worlds: Imagination, Liminality, and Avatar-Mediated Presence

Living between Worlds: Imagination, Liminality, and Avatar-Mediated Presence

Denise Doyle
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2961-5.ch005
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This chapter interrogates the notion of the liminal in relation to the virtual and the imaginary through a consideration of the field of art and technology and current creative practices in virtual worlds and avatar-mediated space. In particular, the art project Meta-Dreamer (2009) is considered through the manifestation of the avatar as digital object. In its attempt to explore the experience of “living between worlds,” it reflects the concerns of contemporary arts practice exploration of time and space relationships.
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In the field of Art and Technology, the ease in which we experience the liminal through virtual space is even more pronounced when the space is avatar-mediated creating an oscillating state of existence between the virtual and the physical1. Yet both consciousness and the imagination depend on this liminality of space. With a focus on the ‘threshold,’ this continual ‘about to become’ is almost a necessary condition of being. Some virtual environments (or worlds) deliberately play with this “existential overlay to the physical” (Lichty, 2009, p. 2). Working with a new framework of the emergent imagination consideration is given to the transitional spaces created in artworks in virtual world spaces where aspects of the liminal come to the fore.

The chapter considers to what extent we can examine imaginative or liminal states that are, as Edward Casey notes, “remarkably easy to enter into,” yet their “very ephemerality renders [them] resistant to conceptual specification of a precise sort” (Casey, 2000, pp. 6-7). It considers to what extent transitional spaces share similar characteristics to the liminal.

  • Does the liminal always find the point of the threshold?

  • Does avatar-mediation (re)space the imagination to a place geographically distant from the body?

  • Do we experience liminality in a similar way? Or is the liminal more closely bound to the temporal?

  • To what extent are both conditioned by the virtual?

The relationship between the transitional and liminal, and the avatar experience, sets out a particular view of the imagination and its elusive, and sometimes liminal, qualities.


A Prelude: On The Virtual, The Imaginary, And The Liminal

Casey comments in his book Imagining: A Phenomenological Study (Casey, 2000) that, at the time of its first publication in 1976, a “concerted phenomenological study of the imagination had yet to be done” (Casey, 2000, p. xi). Further, there is yet to be a substantial study in which the virtual and the imaginary are considered in relation to each other. There have been some passing associations, such as Massumi’s link to the imagination as a “mode of thought” that is most suitable to the virtual (Massumi, 2002, p. 134), or that of Levy, describing the imagination as one of the three vectors of the virtual (Levy, 1998, p. 28). Any dialogue on the virtual and the imaginary might begin by placing them in direct relation to each other (with the two terms on an equal footing). This pairing throws up some initial thoughts on what pulls or pushes them together, what attracts them, and conversely what pulls them apart. When paired together, as relatives, or at least as an associated grouping, three shared characteristics or impulses are revealed. Firstly, both terms are often associated with an ‘elsewhere’ or to a place or space not immediately associated with the real. Secondly, each appears to be multi-faceted, whose meaning changes quite dramatically when seen as an act or as a description, when a verb (imagine), a noun (virtuality, imaginary), or equally as an adjective (virtual, imaginary). Finally, each term can be as elusive and fleeting as the other.

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