As an Asian Australian, there is a sense of being between cultures, as both Western and Chinese values clash, and I am unable to fully align with either culture. Belonging to neither Western, nor Chinese communities, situates my self in a space of liminality, as neither this nor that.
In response to this, virtual dressing [room] is a digital exposition on these subjectivities in navigating sino diasporic identity. Working through digital modes of fashion-influenced practice, an avatar representative of my self is created, forming the central perspective to direct this personal narrative. Through these processes of making the avatar in 3D modelling program Cinema4D, and animating to bring life to her, a sense of embodiment is felt. She becomes both me, and yet also beyond me.
This change in relational connectivity between the avatar and me, becomes an open space for transformation, as through her, the opportunity to navigate my sino diasporic identity is driven into the virtual landscape. Journeying between the virtual worlds, she finds herself similarly suspended in a sense of liminality, belonging to neither. Yet through this project, both my self and my avatar find ourselves, with a merged, hybridised sense of identity, situated in a ‘third space’.
This work at sharonli.site/honours/landing is a collection of the prototypes generated for my dissertation, accessible via the menu on the left (below for mobile).
The avatar is often examined for its functionality as a vessel for identity in gaming and art contexts, however considering the rapid integration of technology into daily activity, rarely has this been analysed with fashion theory, let alone through an ethnocultural lens. Being Chinese born in Australia, I find myself situated between the conflict of being unable to align fully with either Chinese or Western cultural values. This practice-led exegesis investigates this, through the making of a digital fashion avatar and virtual worlds to examine the functionality of avatar embodiment in negotiating identity. To bridge the connection between avatar and body, I draw from Baudrillard’s Simulation and Simulacra, as well as Haraway’s Posthumanist frameworks and Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology to examine the making of my avatar. I create virtual worlds to situate the avatar in, to mirror my sino diasporic context and propose sino diaspora as a space of ‘liminality’ (Turner 1987). Integrating Entwistle’s theory on the practice of dress, I argue how the interactions of digital avatar embodiment and dress in animation and Augmented Reality drive this liminality into a new, ‘third space’. This work is ultimately a performance of navigating sino diasporic identity in the digital space, and holds the potential in future research to further incorporate the experiences of others in diaspora.
Across digital interfaces, avatars are inherently the main body for individuals to express themselves through. Whilst there is extensive research on the immense possibilities in identity configuration, there is little coverage on making an avatar as contributing to aid in developing identity in diaspora. This research draws upon this, examining the user journey in developing a custom avatar and world, and analysing how these act as tools to aid in navigating sino diasporic identity. This focus on sino diaspora is derived from my personal experiences in exploring my Asian Australian identity, enabling myself to be the pivotal bridge between physical and digital.
This practice-led exegesis is a four-part dialectic, referred to as ‘stages’ in reference to Jean Baudrillard’s Simulation and Simulacra (1981), which shapes the foundational research established in the first stage. Each stage focuses on the avatar, generating interactive prototypes through what I term as a ‘digital fashion-influenced practice’. The prototypical outcomes are then examined with supporting theoretical frameworks, to analyse the relationships with the body, dress and identity exploration. The first two stages focus on the making of the avatar and virtual worlds, setting the stage for exploration of identity. Shifting into the latter two stages however, the outcomes transpose these into engaging digital experiences in terms of animation and Augmented Reality (AR) experiences. I intend for these immersive experiences to showcase the relational experiences of others in diaspora, examining the interactions made on these digital interfaces. As such in totality reflects the progression of my avatar (sign) to user interactive based experiences beyond her (simulacrum).
Thus, the initial stage of making an avatar takes place in the 3D modelling and animation program Cinema4D (C4D), with integration of Adobe Photoshop and C4D rendering plug-in Cycles 4D. These programs aid in the formation of an avatar to reflect myself, and becomes a direct way to examine the relationships formed between avatar and body. Posthumanist frameworks from Donna Haraway are examined to distinguish avatars as a digital body (1985), enabling Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological work to set the tone of the body being the vantage point (1962) to lead this research. To support the analysis of the relationship between my avatar and myself, I institute Baudrillard’s Postmodernist theory of Simulation and Simulacra, to elaborate on how my avatar develops its own ‘pure simulacrum’ (1981) through the processes of modelling in C4D. The second stage focuses on exporting the avatar into her own virtual worlds to explore representations of Western and Chinese cultures, modelled in C4D. Situating her between these spaces, distinguishes the expression of sino diaspora as being a space of ‘liminality’, in reference to Victor Turner’s (1987) and Arnold Van Gennep’s (1909) anthropological concepts of liminality. The compositing of my avatar and her virtual worlds takes place in the third stage, where I discuss the process of animation in C4D and Adobe AfterEffects. I refer to the relationships between avatar and worlds, as a digitally situated practice of dress using sociological frameworks derived from Joanne Entwistle (2000). I also integrate this situated practice of dress with the work on performance of identity by Erving Goffman (1956), to examine how ‘digital dressing’ denotes a performance in exploring my sino diasporic identity. In the final stage, I discuss how I use SparkAR to create AR experiences to subvert the focus from being on my avatar, to being beyond her, by allowing others to also experience this liminal space. In this stage I also discuss how this highlights the progressive development of sino diasporic identity, using Homi K. Bhabha’s (1991) sociocultural theory on the ‘third space’ to support this. A final discussion takes place, with the creation of an interactive website to summarise the findings of the research, whilst simultaneously acting as an access point for interactions with the prototypical outcomes in this research.
The basis of this research relies on the understanding of the relationship between avatar and body, as all processes of digital fashion making surround this focus. In this first stage, I establish how my avatar I will create, and myself are connected, intersecting theoretical frameworks from Donna Haraway’s Posthumanist theory (1985) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenological frameworks (1962) to examine the connections between us. I then develop the leading example of the making of my own avatar to draw and examine connections with myself as the main body. This is also the establishment of myself and my avatar as the sign in the wider scope of this dissertation, in alignment with Jean Baudrillard’s (1981) Simulation and Simulacra. In the processes of digitally modelling my avatar in Cinema4D (C4D) and Cycles, the articulation of what I continuously refer to as a ‘digital fashion-influenced’ practice, becomes more evident and refined. Supporting these processes of digital making, Baudrillard’s stages of the sign becoming simulacrum, is the reference point to analyse in detail the process of myself becoming the avatar, and further understand the relationships formed between my avatar and self. In establishing the key frameworks that underlie the relationship formed between avatar and body, the main foundations for how this enables identity negotiation is formed.
Whether literally in their visual form, or aspirationally depending on the world context they exist in, avatars share semblance to their user. In a sense, the avatar then can be interpreted as a digital body being the digitised version of their user’s body. This can be understood first with reference to Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto (originally published in 1985), where she explores her well-renowned ‘cyborg’ concept. In this, the cyborg refers to “a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality” (2016, pp.6-7). Intersecting this with the centrality of the body in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Perception Phenomenology (1962), the connection between my avatar and my body can be more easily distinguished. Thus, in this examination of the relationship between avatar and body, forms the precedents to explain the connection between myself and my designated digital body, in the digital modelling of my avatar.
Traditionally, cyborgs are perceived as autonomous machine beings that may bear semblance to humans. However, with the consideration of Haraway’s cyborg, “a hybrid of machine and organism, a creative of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (2016, p.5), presents a different approach, used to frame my avatar in this research. In this concept of the cyborg, it exists as a mergence of imagination as well as material reality (Haraway 2016). The line between human and machine in this description is blurred, with Haraway expressing that “the boundary is permeable between tool and myth” (2016, p.33) in reference to its transitory nature. Arguably, the creation of my avatar takes place in this proposed blurred boundary as it follows the progression from the image of myself, to the image of my proposed avatar within the paradigm of C4D. This posits the ‘tool’ as referential to myself, and ‘myth’ in reference to my avatar. The ‘permeable’ threshold between these is where my digital modelling takes place, which also directs the process as the making of Haraway’s cyborg. As Haraway states in her manifesto, “the cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective and personal self” (2016, p.33), and as such, the creation of my avatar, a cyborg, lends itself to an extended exploration of my subjective self.
Interpreting my avatar I create as a cyborg in reference to Haraway’s cyborg theory, elaborates on how my avatar can represent me in the digital space. However, this does not explain the tacit connection between my avatar and my body that enables shared perceptions and subjectivities between us. Given the exploration of my subjectivity is conducted with the avatar, considering how Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology centres the body as the main point from which the world is perceived (Entwistle 2000), it can be argued then, how my avatar is also a ‘body’ as well. Whilst Merleau-Ponty’s theoretical framework focuses on the physical body, in the digital making of my avatar I experience a connection being built between us, as if what she perceives is also aligned with what I am perceiving and vice versa. This experience of interchangeable and shared perceptions from either perspective of the world centred around either my avatar or myself, subjugates both myself and my avatar forming varied central points of view. Arguably then, in the becoming of my avatar through 3D modelling, she becomes a body that posits a central point of view of the world that aligns with Merleau-Ponty’s perception phenomenology. In how he discusses the lived body that,
“Our own body is in the world as the heart is in the organism: it keeps the visible spectacle constantly alive, it breathes life into it and sustains it inwardly, and with it forms a system” (1962, p.203),
Then the system in question argues for the connection between my avatar and my body (Ng 2010). In reference back to Haraway’s cyborg, my avatar is the site for experiencing furthered exploration of my subjectivity. Yet, in also being the centre of the world either of us perceive in accordance to Merleau-Ponty’s notions of the lived body, then my avatar is also a body. Furthermore, considering her existence is in the digital space specifically and her being is derived from myself, then ultimately, she is my digital body.
As the boundaries between machine and human, and the physical and digital blur in its constant motion (Haraway 2016, Turkle 1995), as do the boundaries between my avatar and my body (Gui 2015, Liao 2011, Ng 2010). Undergoing the process of modelling her to explore my subjectivity, our perceptions of the world merge and centralise between my avatar and myself. With my avatar as my digital body and a site for exploration, her existence and connection to me passes through the permeable threshold between the physical and digital, denoting the relationship between us.
Through the process of digitally making my avatar in C4D, I form my digital body. Yet as the focus shifts away from myself, to being on my avatar, the previously ascribed phenomenological frameworks falls short of explaining the development of the connection between us in this shift. Exploration of embodiment is partially touched on however, integrating Jean Baudrillard’s Simulation and Simulacra (1981) into this research more accurately analyses the system of mutually occurring embodiment and disembodiment that unfolds as I make my avatar.
The human experience is described by Baudrillard as a simulation of reality (1981). What is described by this is not that it is reality or is a falsified reality, rather he is instituting that the human experience takes to it its own form of reality. The digital making of my avatar is no different, as I am not intending to make the literal representation of me, or an aspirational self, but instead a being that is me yet simultaneously beyond me.
Baudrillard’s (1981) expression of the ‘sign’ or ‘image’ expounded in his seminal work Simulation and Simulacra, is disseminated across four ‘stages’ which describe how reality has been replaced with signs and symbols in Western society. He initiates the sign as the basis for “the reflection of a profound reality” (1994, p.6) in the first stage, yet undergoing his four stages, becomes ‘pure simulacrum’ as the connection to reality is lost. Rather, what is initially the sign in a bespoke reality, is something becoming in ‘hyperreality’, defined by “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality” (Baudrillard 1994, p.1). In my making of my avatar, I propose that in positioning myself as the sign, that through the digital making process, is a transition through these four stages, with the outcome of my avatar the creation of Baudrillard’s simulacrum.
The initial stage in Baudrillard’s work sets up the sign or image as reflecting a basic reality (1981). Arguably, with the subject as myself, referenced by the image of myself (figure 1.0). Images of myself distinguish my appearance as ethnically Han Chinese, with various notable distinctions in my appearance that can be translated to the avatar. Namely, my makeup I wear with the sharp black eyeliner, as well as red eyeshadow and blush contouring is the most distinctive as the face is the main point of reference to remember people. My tattoos that I have on my body are also distinguishing features which are translated to my avatar, as well as to the virtual worlds that are made in the second stage of the wider dissertation. In terms of the garments my avatar wears, this is denoted by the image of a previous project entitled ‘White Rabbit’ in figure 1.1. The sailor uniform with the sculptural elements are intended to be replicated onto my avatar, alongside the rabbit character which is developed in a later stage as well. These images in figures 1.0 and 1.1, currently stand as the “reflection of a profound reality” (Baudrillard 1994, p.6) in stage one.
Following this stage, stage two marks the beginning for the distortion of the image of myself into my avatar. Prior to emulating these distinguishing marks of myself, the form is created through organic modelling from primitive shapes in C4D. As depicted in figures 1.2, the foundations of my avatar form is gradually sculpted from preset shapes of cubes and polyhedrons. The body and hair are low polygon objects in these figures, however in figure 1.3, when the form is established the surface becomes smoother with a higher polygon count using a subdivision surface (SDS) cage. Bringing my avatar form to replicate instances from my original image, figure 1.4 showcases the modelling of accessories to translate the piercings I have, onto my avatar. Extending from this, to clothe my avatar, follows a seemingly digitised process of garment construction notable in figures 1.5 and 1.6. The 3D objects are draped on my avatar body and modelled to fit similar to figure 1.1, and design details such as the teeth are included in this process with figure 1.7 showcasing refinement of these sculptural elements. In this second stage, the sign is said to “mask and denature a profound reality” (Baudrillard 1994, p.6), evident in the making of the base for my avatar as it distorts from the initial sign.
Stage three in its further alterations to the image with refining the avatar, instigates an investigation into how to define reality, and if this basic reality actually exists (Baudrillard 1981). Whilst in stage two my avatar took form to begin to resemble me, it is still rooted in the obverse reality of being my avatar. However, in this third stage, this reality becomes absent with developed materials and renderings in C4D’s BodyPaint and render plug-in Cycles4D to detach her from the label of being my representative form, to being my digital body. Figure 1.8 showcases the process in refining the texture mapping of my avatar form, in UV unwrapping as the net or pattern of the body becomes 2D as it influences how the material texture is dispersed across the body. Test rendering my tattoos and makeup in BodyPaint in C4D prepares the locations to transfer it properly on the avatar body, depicted in figure 1.10. This figure follows processes of painting in Adobe Photoshop to ensure smoother texturing and detailing, and then transferred back into C4D and Cycles4D. Cycles4D is also used to render the rest of the materials, using a node-based system to graphically code the texture and materials. Thus in refining the textures and materials of my avatar, demarcates the absence of either reality from its literal representative functionality as my avatar, and the absence of a profound reality from the original image.
Finally, Baudrillard’s concept of simulacrum comes to the forefront in this final stage. As my avatar is fully formed within the paradigm of the C4D program in figure 1.12, she becomes her own pure simulacrum. She bears no relation to any reality, as whilst she has features similar to me, there is no shared basic reality with the original image. Rather, she exists beyond this, in a ‘hyperreality’ (Baudrillard 1981) as a result of her fully digital conception.
It is worth acknowledging that this dissertation also follows these four stages, with the original sign being my avatar created in this stage. From this the pervasion of reality in the second stage is formed with the creation of the virtual worlds to complement her. Absence of reality is realised with my avatar in her setting of the virtual worlds, exhibited in animation. The final stage showcases pure simulacrum as the Augmented Reality filter experience takes away the distorted reality from the main body of the virtual world, and my avatar image is replaced by the camera input. As a whole this dissertation is also an example for the shift in reality in reference to Baudrillard’s Simulation and Simulacra.
Through the making of an avatar alike to myself, I argue it as the process of creating my own digital body. With reference to Haraway’s cyborg, my avatar is indeed an extensive exploration of my subjectivity, blurring the boundaries between physical and digital, as well as social and bodily realities. Synthesising this with Ponty’s Perception Phenomenology, as the body is the central viewpoint to perceive the world, then arguably my cyborg avatar is also a body albeit a digital body. Then, in analysing the processes between each stage of modelling and texturing the avatar, is a four-part dialectic to mirror Baudrillard’s stages of the sign, simplified in figure 1.13. As my image transitions into my avatar and its fully rendered form, it is ultimately its own pure simulacrum (note figures 1.14 and 1.15). It is through these frameworks, that there exist multiple points which bridge the relationship between my avatar and my body, as my avatar both is me yet also beyond me.
Being situated in diaspora as a Chinese-born Australian, the common experience is the sense of being unable to conform fully to neither Chinese nor Western cultures (Ang 2001, Cheng and Berman 2012, Ngan and Kwok-bun 2012). Similarly, the exploration of this space in between, resonates with Victor Turner’s (1987) anthropological concept of ‘liminality’, a quality of ambiguity which describes the in-between. Its ambiguity given by how it is “neither this nor that, and yet is both” (Turner 1987, p.9). Given this, the resulting conflicting values between Chinese and Western cultures faced by Chinese-born Australians arguably form parameters for the thresholds of liminality (Ngan and Kwok-bun 2012). Whilst unable to be fully Chinese or Australian, then being between these two groups is entering a liminal space.
Thus in this second stage, I focus on these liminal qualities of my subjectivity in sino diaspora in the processes of 3D modelling the virtual world contexts to situate my avatar in. As my avatar has been made in stage one, this stage begins to distort the fabric of reality for my avatar sign, as a space is created in Cinema4D (C4D) to place her in. I intend to design the worlds in a way to have one representing Chinese culture, and another representing Western culture. Replicating my situation in liminality through making these virtual worlds, then denotes a refraction of my lived experiences navigating between Chinese and Western cultures.
The digital making process of modelling and developing two virtual worlds in C4D sets the diasporic context I experience, into the digital space for my avatar cyborg as the site for exploring this. The experiences she thus comes into contact with, is the perception from her as my digital body, an extension of my perceptions. Shaping my context of liminality I experience in C4D, I form the first virtual world to represent Chinese culture, and its roots in Confucianist philosophical beliefs (Ang 2013, Cheng and Berman 2012, Ching 1997, Ngan and Kwok-bun 2012). To contrast, I then create and examine the elements of the second virtual world, designed to represent the hegemony of Western society (Said 1978). Through this, I begin to distort the reality of my avatar with these abstract expressions of liminality.
In modelling the first virtual world, I incorporate more rounded forms to emulate the collectivist nature of Chinese culture (Ting-Toomey 2005, Ting-Toomey and Dorjee 2017). Deriving the domineering Confucianist ideologies rooted in prioritising others above self, as denoting the collectivist nature (Ang 2013, Cheng and Berman 2012, Ching 1997), reasons this abstract interpretation. Following similar methods to stage one in modelling my avatar, I use organic modelling in C4D and texturing with Cycles4D, to create the various 3D objects for this virtual world. Taking reference to previous projects I model teeth objects as noted in figures 2.0 and 2.1, as well as a rabbit character notable in figure 2.2. The rabbit character is intended to act as the navigator between the two virtual worlds, and bridge a connection for my avatar. The choice in the rabbit is referential to the White Rabbit project which also makes reference to the White Rabbit candy of my childhood, as well as the ambiguity it alludes to with the various symbolic interpretations it can carry.
Combining all these objects together the virtual world shapes up to be a majorly rounded form as noted in figures 2.3 to 2.5. This roundness is intended to translate the collectivist nature of Chinese culture as the round form lends to an interpretation of association with the semantics of collectivism. In addition to this, the eyes in this composition are used to represent the imposition of shame as the underlying antagonistic tool to maintain the Chinese cultural value system (Cheng and Berman 2012). As priority lies in maintaining social harmony with the needs of the group outweighing the individual, the eyes make reference to Michel Foucault’s (1975) ‘panopticon’ which illustrates societal pressure as a disciplinary tool. Rigging the eye objects to respond to the green wire frame in figure 2.3, functions to draw focus on my avatar as the receiver of this shame. Overall, as seen in figure 2.6, the final outcome of the design of the first virtual world, takes an abstract exposition of the main tenets in the collectivist Chinese cultural value system.
By contrast, I model the second virtual world to have sharp and pointed characteristics to reflect the individualist nature in Western cultural values. Where Chinese culture places importance on how an individual is perceived by others, Western culture imposes the self as priority and the centre of conversation (Gao and Ting-Toomey 1998). The texture in the chrome materialisation through Cycles4D in figures 2.7 to 2.9, is intended to showcase the reflective nature where the main focus is revolved around the self. The sharp motifs banded around the centre orb object as well as orbiting it, also display the individualist nature as the sharpness is intended to highlight the distinction of self in this value system. In addition to this, as “guilt and objective morality are effective methods of social control in individualistic societies” (Cheng and Berman 2012, p.112), the association of danger from the barbed wire is used in figure 2.9 to represent this consequential nature.
Whilst the objective qualities in the second virtual world do not have the same amount of detail in representing Western culture as the first, the intention is to balance it with the inherent Western hegemony in the digital space (Gonzalez 2000, Nakamura 2000, Shuter 2017, Ting-Toomey and Dorjee 2017). The process of digital making taking place in the digital space ultimately is in a Western dominated space as there is an innate pervasion of race and culture regardless of representative appearances or expressions (Gonzalez 2000, Nakamura 2000). Therefore in prioritising highlighting features of Chinese cultural values in the first virtual world, the simplified design for the second virtual world is balanced with the influence of Western-centrism in this digital space. In this dialectic, further refracts the situation of my liminality with inclusivity of the wider sociological postcolonial context.
Distorting the reality of my avatar by situating her in the virtual worlds I have constructed to be complementary to her (figure 2.12), depicts a mirror of my sino diasporic experiences being in liminality. With the first virtual world designed to reflect the collectivist nature of Chinese values in its rounded form, by contrast the sharpness of the second virtual world showcases the individualist nature of Western society. As the digital body of my avatar is the central site from which the world is perceived, then the Chinese and Western cultural conflicts I experience are translated through my avatar in the form of the virtual worlds.
With my avatar as my digital body, with reference to Haraway’s cyborg and Merleau-Ponty’s Perception Phenomenology, situated in the liminality across two virtual worlds, then the relationship between these can be further refined. Drawing from Joanne Entwistle’s Sociological frameworks of dress, I argue how this relationship depicts dress as a digital “situated bodily practice” (2000, p.325). I then integrate Erving Goffman’s (1956) Sociological frameworks explored in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, aligned with previously explored notions of embodiment from Merleau-Ponty to detail how this act of dress is a performance of identity. Through merging all these theoretical frameworks, I intend to examine how this process enables the exploration of sino diasporic identity.
Accompanying these findings, I animate a short film to depict my avatar navigating this liminality, and analyse how this represents a ‘rites de passage’ in reference to ethnographer Arnold Van Gennep (1909). The development of the animation in Cinema4D (C4D) and Adobe AfterEffects thus becomes the performance of exploring my sino diasporic identity through the avatar in a fully digital space. As my avatar is the main subject in this wholly digital space, trying to navigate between them, this stage then begins to mark the absence of a reality.
Although the act of dressing is perceived as a physical bodily practice in Entwistle’s works, the same tenets which make up this framework can also be applied to the digital body. As Entwistle derives her framework from Merleau-Ponty, then the previous argument made that my avatar is my digital body, can be reconstructed to examine how, what I refer to as, ‘digital dressing’ takes place. According to Entwistle, the body is “the site of social and personal identity” (2000, p.333), and so the practice of dress is an embodied as well as situated practice to perform identity as derived from Goffman. This takes into account the experiences of the body as well as the social structures it is situated in. Similarly, the cyborg that is my avatar also is “the site of experiencing the process of deconstructing and reconstructing...boundaries” (2015, p.59) as elaborated by Posthumanist Feminist scholar Wei Gui, in reference to Haraway’s cyborg theory. This ideates the capacity of creating an avatar to explore identity, as the boundaries of being and not being are constantly shifting, just as boundaries between social and personal in reference to Entwistle. With both Entwistle’s notions of the body, as well as my previously established digital body in reference to the cyborg as well as Merleau-Ponty’s embodied subjectivity, my avatar also undergoes an extensive process of dress in the digital world space.
The expression of digital dressing in reference to Entwistle, takes place in the interactions between avatar and virtual world objects. The continuous as well as responsive movements of the virtual worlds in accordance to my avatar, showcase that there is a relationship between them (Ng 2010). This dependence on my avatar’s movement for an object’s own course of action, depicts an extended subjectivity from my avatar. As Entwistle states in reference to Merleau-Ponty, “we grasp external space, relationships between objects and our relationship to them through our position in, and movement through, the world” (2000, p.333). Then in animation processes of rigging, motion tracking and keyframing to give animosity to each element of the virtual world space as well as my avatar, I argue, puts forward an alternative digital act of dress. The rigging of both rabbit character and my avatar in figures 3.0 and 3.1 respectively, brings them to life in that they are then able to move responsively with other objects.
Positioning them in C4D to direct their actions according to scene in figure 3.2, also begins to direct how the audience can perceive the relationships between objects as well as my relationship to them from the perspective of my digital body. Adjusting camera positioning in figure 3.3, and refining the animation filming details in figure 3.4, enable a more considered framing of my avatars movements and interactions which enact her relationships with objects. Notably then, the act of dress with reference to Merleau-Ponty forms in how the virtual worlds move in response to the avatar through animation techniques, as “the dressed body…[is] actively produced through particular, routine and mundane practices” (Entwistle 2000, p.335). The continuous, looping animations of the virtual world objects produced through keyframing and motion tracks notable in the timeline in figure 3.4, may be considered the ‘routine and mundane’ aspect if anything.
Extending on Entwistle’s examination of dress as a situated bodily practice, the specific focus on Goffman’s embodied subjectivity also derived from Merleau-Ponty, also contributes to the influence of making this animation. As depicted in figure 3.5, the outcome of the animation is exported to Adobe AfterEffects to fully edit the rendered animations with audio accompaniment. With the final material render from Cycles4D complete, then the symbolic associations with the material, form and movements to represent Chinese and Western cultures in the virtual worlds is evident, as well as for my avatar to represent myself.
Considering that “dress is fundamentally an inter-subjective and social phenomenon” (Entwistle 2000, p.337), then this is notable in how this animation displays my experiences with sino diaspora, as well as the sociological connotations of sino diaspora. The ‘inter-subjectivities’ is reflected in how the animation displays my personal experiences through the centralised perspective of my digital body, my avatar. Then, as sino diaspora as a topic in itself is encompassed by ethnocultural and sociological frameworks, the exploration of sino diaspora becomes connected to the ‘social phenomenon’ aspect Entwistle derives from Goffman. The interactions with the virtual worlds depicts the relationships with my avatar, and the association with my subjectivity adds to create a holistic framework of digital dressing.
With reference to Entwistle’s analyses of dress as an embodied practice, then the performance of negotiating my sino diasporic identity takes place in the digital dressing of my avatar encompassed by the full animated short film. Arguably what also takes place here, is Gennep’s rites de passage, as my avatar undergoes a journey through our liminality between cultures, just as the rites de passage is coined as the journey transitioning between groups or status (1909). As the body is central to perception and interaction (Entwistle 2000, Goffman 1956, Merleau-Ponty 1962), then my experiences navigating liminality and its exposition into the animation are inherently intertwined. With liminality expressing the ambiguity between stages in the rites de passage (Turner 1987), the digital dressing in the animation relays this in examining the storyboard. My avatar initially finds herself in the unfamiliarity of the first virtual world, across figures 3.6 and 3.7, where she tries to explore it but is pushed away in figures 3.8 and 3.9. Its representation of Chinese culture becomes prominent as the eye objects move to follow her, carrying group judgement and shame. Connection to identity performance in the responsive movements and how it represents Chinese culture also becomes evident.
The next scene across figures 3.10 to 3.13 follow a similar pattern where my avatar finds herself landing in the second virtual world, representing Western cultural values. The animations of the fast-moving sharp objects, build up to overwhelm and once again, reject her from this space.
Just as “cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves” (Haraway 2016, p.67), as does this final scene for my avatar in figures 3.14 to 3.17. My avatar finds herself rejected by both virtual worlds, and metaphorically, I do not feel myself fully welcomed to either Chinese or Western cultures. Yet, in the space between my avatar enters a state of introspection and tranquility (figure 3.17). In reaching the end of this journey as a rites de passage, her suspension between the two worlds poses the possible transformation towards a new, ‘third space’.
Navigating between the two virtual worlds, informs a journey through the liminality of sino diaspora, as a rites de passage. The storyboarding and final execution in a short film (figure 3.18), highlights the relationship between my avatar and the various elements in the virtual worlds to depict a digital situated bodily practice of dressing. In doing so, given the representative qualities of the elements to symbolise Chinese and Western cultures, the tacit relationship with myself and my avatar, lends this dressing to be a performance of identity. As “dress works to ‘glue’ identities in a world where they are uncertain” (Entwistle 2000, p.337), then the uncertainty in liminality is vehicled by the digital dressing as a rites de passage to negotiate identity. In undergoing the rites de passage travelling between the two virtual worlds, the outcome of potentially entering a new space is revealed in this extrapolated negotiation of identity. Moving towards this new space, my avatar is finding herself nearing the absence of a profound reality.
Entering into the final stage of this research, much like Baudrillard’s stages of the sign, this final stage examines the disconnect from the reality of the previously constructed virtual worlds as well as shifting the perspective away from my avatar. Its becoming into pure simulacrum is conducted in the emergence of a ‘third space’ in reference to Postcolonial theorist Homi K. Bhabha (1991), by utilising the transformative liminal nature of Augmented Reality (AR). In this stage, I make an AR filter in SparkAR, to continue the exploration of my sino diasporic identity with my avatar in reference to Ethnocultural scholars Lucille Lok-Sun Ngan and Chan Kwok-bun (2012)’s application of Bhabha’s third space to the Chinese diaspora. The creation of the filter diverts from the original context of the virtual world, yet is intended to open up the opportunity for others to participate and share their experiences. I ask for other members of the wider Asian diaspora to participate, by engaging with the filter. The images produced showcase their relational experiences with diaspora, in the curated framework of my filter derived from my virtual worlds.
According to Bhabha (1991), the concept of the third space denotes the emergence of a new space from merging cultural values (Ngan and Kwok-bun 2012). Ngan and Kwok-bun explore the theory behind how this third space is derived from liminality, in the context of sino diasporic identity, stating that “identity is seen as a dialectical construction with ‘the original’ as well as its counter identity, yielding a new form known as the ‘third space’ or ‘in-betweenness’” (Ngan and Kwok-bun 2012, p.176). Then my avatar being between the two virtual worlds institutes being in the third space. Carrying this into the development of an AR filter, conducts engagement with the hybridity of physical and digital with the physical surroundings augmented by the camera lens. This space between is also referential to Turner’s (1987) space of transformation, which enables the exposition of the third space from my sino diaspora to occur in the AR filter.
The AR filter stands to emulate an exploration of the third space continuing on from the ending of the film in stage three. As initially explored in this research, my digital body and cyborg, my avatar, showcases my perception of navigating the liminality of my sino diaspora in journeying through virtual worlds to represent the cultural dissonances. Simultaneously, in this nexus between these worlds, lies the opportunity to diverge from liminality in the ‘slippage’ (Ng 2010) between physical and digital, given the camera input reflecting reality yet is hosted on a digital interface. Focusing on AR through the creation of a facial recognition AR filter, takes away the framework of digital ‘reality’ previously formed by the virtual worlds. Similarly, in that the camera input of a user becomes the main focus and activates the facial recognition responses, the user thereby becomes a digital persona in lieu of my avatar. However there still lies distinctive qualities derived from the virtual worlds.
The motif object derived from my tattoo that orbited the second virtual world, is first exported from Cinema4D (C4D) and into SparkAR in figure 4.0. Using SparkAR’s patch editor, the object is programmed to render a material texture based on camera input (figure 4.1), thus creating a distortion of the face as if from the motif’s materiality. Using the object from the second virtual world enables relations to the virtual world context I have created to be maintained in this filter, as user interactivity in the filter without it will become irrelevant to the focus of the research.
Likewise, the makeup texture in figures 4.2 and 4.3 to represent my avatar, as well as the eye colour change derived from the first virtual world eye objects, hold this same function. Final editing of the user interface and filter programming is conducted in figure 4.4, to consider different combinations of these elements for the user to interact with. Then the publication of it in figure 4.5, enables wider accessibility to gather examples of user interactions. As vague references to the virtual worlds and my avatar are united into this AR space, with it carries a connotation of being a hybridity and mergence to my situation in the liminality of sino diaspora.
With identity establishment based on “the subjective experiences of any social group membership depend fundamentally on relations to memberships in other social groups (Anderson 1999)” (Ngan and Kwok-bun 2012, p.178), then calls to action the participation of others with the AR filter. The third space made through this AR filter, enables negotiation of a new space for understanding my sino diasporic identity, however a display of my relationship with others in this space aids in positioning myself in this space more accurately. With the publishing of my AR filter onto Instagram in figure 4.6 (accessible by the QR code), the opportunity for other diasporic users to participate presents itself. Collecting the images produced of the individuals who shared their interactions with the filter, showcases their relational experiences as shown in figure 4.7. As the filter displays a composition of the third space derived from my avatar situated between the two virtual worlds, then the users situating themselves as the subject of the filter is also placing them in this third space. Through this exploration for both myself, my avatar, as well as others, becomes a more interconnected and relevant expression of the negotiation of my sino diasporic identity.
As depicted through the AR filter, the third space can be formed from undergoing rites de passage in navigating liminality. In the facial recognition with the eye augmentation in the AR space through the camera lens, and with the motif object derived from the previously created virtual worlds in view on the screen, the connection enables this to form a third space. Existing then as a mergence and hybridity of selected values from Chinese and Western cultures, the filter functions to showcase a new meaning from these interstices. The user interactive interface being a camera filter, enables this to be shared with others and contributes to furthering the development of this third space. As this prototypical outcome begins to take its own autonomy, it is arguably akin to pure simulacrum, as the origins from its connection to the reality of my avatar and the virtual worlds become faint.
Undergoing the Baudrillard’s (1981) four stages from sign to pure simulacrum, I have created and examined the relationship between my physical body and my digital body through creating my avatar to become the main tool to navigate my sino diasporic identity. Yet, considering the wider scape of this research, the stages also encompass this project as a whole. Stage one set the main focus on the creation of my avatar in Cinema4D (C4D) to establish itself as the sign in reference to Baudrillard. Entering into stage two, my recreation of sino diaspora in virtual worlds representing Chinese and Western cultures, established a pervasion of reality. This pervasion manifests in the distortion of the focus from the avatar into the virtual contexts she is encapsulated in, as she is ‘digitally dressed’.
Following this, I animated a film in C4D and Adobe AfterEffects of my avatar journeying through these virtual worlds, to implicate the absence of a profound reality. As the only remaining ties to the physical world were the metaphorical and allegorical references to my experience with sino diaspora in this animation, the sign of the avatar began to mask this basic reality. Carrying these notions into the final stage, the pure simulacrum in relation to this research, became the development of the Augmented Reality (AR) filter. Although it holds ties to reality in the referencing to my avatar and the virtual worlds, with the user interactions ultimately controlling the visual outcomes, it is arguably its own pure simulacrum given its autonomy.
Transposing these prototypical outcomes from each stage, is a website available to access at <https://sharonli.site/honours/landing> (figures 5.0 and 5.1) to enable direct engagement with the outcomes in this research. Summatively, this journey traversing through these four stages in this research has outlined the exploration of my experiences with my sino diasporic identity, shifting from its ‘liminality’ towards the development of a ‘third space’.
Being between both Chinese and Western cultures, sino diaspora situates individuals such as myself in a space of liminality. Yet this liminality is not restricting, rather it is a space of transformation, and as such, through the creation of an avatar enables the ‘rites de passage’ (Gennep 1909) to navigate identity. My creation of my own avatar, embodies a mutual system of exchange in the interactions experienced by both avatar and self. Thus this research has argued, through ‘digitally dressing’ my avatar in the virtual worlds representing Chinese and Western cultures, is simultaneously a performance of identity, and negotiation with the sino diasporic aspect of it.
In stage one, I established the process of making my avatar as showcasing the relationship between avatar and body as an extended yet shared subjectivity where I instituted my avatar as my digital body similar to Haraway’s cyborg. I created an avatar in Cinema4D which resembles me with her black hair and red eyeshadow, dressed in modelled garments referencing my previous fashion works. Aligning this process with Baudrillard (1981), I argued that the progression from the image of myself into the form of my avatar through digital modelling, is the progression from the sign as myself into pure simulacrum (Baudrillard 1981). As my image is transposed into my avatar form, though she disembodies me, she is still connected to me, resulting in being beyond me. This further refined the relationship as a system of mutual embodiment and disembodiment in its extended subjectivity.
In stage two, I then connected this into the development of virtual worlds to situate her in a reflection of my experiences navigating the liminality of sino diaspora. I replicated this into the environment, through modelling a rounded form embedded with eyes to represent the collectivist nature and imposing gaze of Chinese culture. Contrasting this, I created a second virtual world with chrome textures and sharp forms to highlight and represent the individualistic nature of Western culture.
Navigating these worlds in the animation in stage three, thus is parallel to the conflicts faced in trying to align with cultural values of both Chinese and Western cultures. The interactions executed in animation are carried further beyond the experiences of my corporeal form, as this becomes an alternative digitally situated practice of dress, and my avatar enters a ‘third space’. From my avatar’s journey through virtual worlds, this process of negotiating identity, achieves an outcome wherein there is not a need to belong to either virtual world, with the emergence of this new hybridised space.
Shifting the outcomes from these findings towards utilisation on other digital interfaces, further key findings were made as engagement with other users generated new perspectives in stage four. Translating the motif element from the processes in the earlier stages, into an interactive Augmented Reality (AR) filter, invites sino diasporic users to participate. The images produced of users’ selfies interacting with the motif object and facial augmentation in the face mesh of the filter, created user embodied digital avatar-like personas. Through this, I argued that a third space can also be formed in the AR realm to explore sino diaspora, referencing a world from the previously modelled virtual worlds.
Ultimately, the findings of this practice-led research contributes to the nexus between Asian Australian cultural studies, and infinitely expansive space digital fashion practices. This research has the potential to pose as a particular case study to be reframed and reimplemented in creative Asian Australian research journals and publications. Yet, this also is where this research is limited, as the focus is limited to the specificity of Chinese Australian experiences and in the context of a single individual. Framing myself as the subject provides a consistent point of reference for the purpose of this research, however this results in the experiences of navigating identity for the wider Chinese Australian communities not being included.
Yet, whilst there are limitations to this research, this paves the pathway for future research directions. The outcomes developed in the later stages of this research, focus on user interactivity, which can be utilised to direct research in understanding the experiences of a wider group of sino diasporic individuals. The AR filter becomes the first step in enabling user autonomy for their own embodiment of an avatar, and thus along with the website, the starting point for further research. The possibilities in integrating machine learning into augmented reality prototypes on web interfaces, would also push the project to grow into its own self sufficient body. In this way, the website developed to create access to prototypical outcomes, creates the potential for future research projects to develop its own third space with user generated avatar constituents.
In this Virtual Dressing Room, the inhabitants take the form of being both the pieces which dress my avatar, as well as being this space of transformation itself. I see my avatar step out of this dressing room, clothed in a new sense of understanding. No longer situated as being in-between, neither this nor that, I am wholly, someone who is Chinese Australian.
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All figures included are generated from author and are accredited to Sharon Li, S3599750 (2020).