Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Empyrean : Soft Skinned Space
Dr Melinda Rackham
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
University of New South Wales and College of Fine Arts
Thesis Supervisor
Mr Phillip George, Dr Vicki Kirby
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Media Arts, Sociology
Languages Familiar to Author
URL where full thesis can be found
Immersive Online Environments, Virtual Reality, Cyberfeminism, Avatars, VRML, Mailing List Culture
Abstract: 200-500 words
empyrean | soft skinned space investigates and challenges our evolving cultural constructions and perceptions of internet connected multi-user Virtual Reality environments. This work is a hybrid organism, taking three parallel and complementary paths: a concise discussion of the issues involved; the realisation of empyrean online environment; and the production of the online -empyre- forum containing publicly accessible discussions with practitioners and theorists on topics covered within this dissertation. The constructed environment empyrean, written in Virtual Reality Modeling Language, both examines and counters the dominant paradigm of hyperreal emulation online. That is, instead of reproducing a corporeally based world by creating an electronic version of familiar ‘hardspace’ architectures and geographies populated by idealised and stereotypically gendered avatars, I construct an online world which excludes many of these markers of everyday visual ‘realities’. This space, without either the direction or perspective of a horizon line or stable text, is reminiscent of the outer reaches of the cosmos, an underwater terrain or a microbiological scape. It is navigated in circular floating motions and populated by soft and translucent avatars which communicate predominantly through visual and sonic gesture rather than text-based language. The accompanying text surveys assumptions of the real and virtual and how their inherent morality is employed in the construction of Virtual Reality space. It examines feminist critiques and responses to virtual embodiment, from positions which oppose disembodiment to those that embrace virtual embodiment in a sexual and sensual manner. In addition I investigate the philosophical and socio-political manifestations of avatar embodiment, countering the stereotypical representation of online avatars which emulate narrow concepts of human form and beauty. Once liberated from this function of mirroring humanity, avatars can be conceived of as a distinctly new hybrid soft life form. By uncovering the structures of VRML programming language, often obscured by an overlay of visual familiarity, and examining the relationship between the author and the user, it becomes clear that both online or offline our behaviour is defined by specific parameter sets. Inhabiting these increasingly popular 3D worlds, we are participating in an evolutionary process of adaptation to the softspace of immersive reality.