My Life as an Avatar

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My Life as an Avatar


All images of the self are iconic. As Scott McCloud discusses in his graphic novel Understanding Comics, the images that enter our minds when we think of ourselves do not contain the detailed photorealism that others experience when they see us, but remain simple, general, iconic representations. With this concept in mind, it's no wonder that the icon and the avatar have become some of the most frequent ways of representing oneself on the internet and in the digital world.

The art on this website primarily explores the ways in which users project themselves onto cyberspace and the internet, engaging with ways in which the body is represented, documented, archived, searched, sampled, and transformed in networking environments. In some instances, these representations refer to physical bodies and actions, acting as stand-ins for the user unable to physically enter the cyber world. In other cases, the digital and the physical are linked only by how the user sees himself or his ideal way of representing himself. To the user, these representations are far from arbitrary. As Andrew Bucksbarg discusses in his essay "The New Mediated (Em)Body is My Others":

"They are much more than representations of the self; they are performances or cybernetic enactments of the subject that project the body onto undifferentiated information. Yet, these avatars move beyond the metaphor of the body to produce something quite different, something other and otherwise unknowable- a psycho-physiological orbital of the subject and simulation."

Whether or not an avatar consists of an accurate representation of the physical body, it is strongly influenced by the user's personality, preferences, and self-image. An avatar is "a body that is data, a body that is changeable, but also requires change and maintenance." The avatar offers only a fractured identity, a part of a vast archive or database of self-images, existing in many (digital) locations at once. Avatars are also compressions; they exist ultimately as bits of data and voltage values, and as such give us limited ways of representing ourselves, even though the choices and permutations seem endless. As Bucksbarg observes, "Profiles and avatars in cyberspace are portals through which we move through information and simulate ourselves, and so, they are limiting as much as they are 'limbs', compressing and inorganically simplistic."

The artists whose works appear on this website engage with questions of modes of iconic representation, their limits, and their relationship to the body and the self. How are avatars indexical or not? Why does the user choose to use his or her own body in the creation of an avatar, or why does he or she choose to stray from representing the physical body? Do concepts of race and gender still exist in the world of avatars? How is the "purity of identity" affected by our fragmented digital selves? And, as Bucksbarg asks, "is this really such an open, idealized space?"

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