top of page

Dr. Lynne Heller


University College Dublin




feminism, virtuality, materiality

Thesis Title

Envisioning a Spectrum between the
Material/Virtual through Feminist Theory


abstract |abˈstrakt|

The hypothesis of this text is that a mother daughter relation-ship is a metonymy for a human to avatar affinity. This idea is explored through feminist analysis, a lyric essay and the practice of visual arts, specifically a series of comic books featuring an avatar created in Second Life, an online, user-built virtual world.

Through a human connection to an avatar, the boundaries of the material and the virtual are blurred and become a seam-less spectrum—a space of suspension—which can be infinitely mined but never parsed.
The thesis employs both practice-based (visual art) as well as theoretical (art historical and feminist) frameworks, to explore the spectrum of the material/virtual. The corresponding relation-ship, artist/avatar is also a spectrum between self and not self—subject and object at the same time. An avatar is envisioned by an individual creator but is also the result of a necessary collabora-tion with the developers of the virtual world where the avatar is digitally materialised, so thus another spectrum between the individual and the collective is delineated. By acknowledging the agency that we often confer on images, and the nature of complex identities, the avatar, though ostensibly insentient, is positioned as an animated, mercurial image that encourages a psychologically complex reaction from humans. In linking the feminist analysis of French philosopher-artist, Luce Irigaray, to an affective reaction towards an animated avatar, an argument for a new perspective on a stubbornly enduring mind/body dichotomy is offered.

These ideas are poetically echoed in the included artwork and theorised in the interwoven supporting academic analysis. Art making methods, such as collage/found object, playfulness, and unstable authorship, collectively named in this writing as a meth-odology of poïesis, are interjected into academic discourse, and literary strategies, and employed in the creative practice to con-struct a holistic approach to art and knowledge production. De-fining the material as the physically present and the virtual as a collective imagining supported by digital materiality, tools and technology, the resulting gamut becomes an inherently fluid, un-stable and contested expanse for which binaries of subject and object, material and virtual, are wholly inadequate. It is a vast, oceanic unknown that supports different ways to dream, from the mundane to the beautiful to the sublime.



Lynne Heller is a post-disciplinary artist, designer, educator and academic. Her interests encompass both material and virtual culture, textiles, performance, graphic novels and sculptural installation. Heller completed her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004 through the department of Fiber and Material Studies and her PhD in 2016 at University College Dublin, Ireland from the department of Gender, Culture and Identity in the School of Humanities and Arts, with a research focus on feminist practice in online culture. Her research was practice-based, with a specialty in Digital Media Arts. She is an Adjunct Professor and Researcher at OCAD University, as well as co-director of the Data Materialization Studio and Reviews Editor of Virtual Creativity, Intellect Publishing.

bottom of page