Research and Reflection

Looking at the work of Ed Atkins

In our video meet I talked with my tutor for quite some time around my personal experience of being an Avatar in Second Life.  It is enjoyable and interesting to be able to fly, to run fast, to suddenly transport to a different space and I certainly understand the attraction for people who have disabilities that limit them in their ‘real’ life. The aspect I’ve noticed most though is that no one looks old and there’s no facial expression.  It’s really surreal to watch a video of a virtual conference at Second Life where the staff and developers discuss topics as their avatar selves but there are no non-verbal cues to give any indication of feelings. I had written that I had wanted to avoid an ‘Uncanny Valley’ effect and for my Avatar to look as human as possible and my tutor suggested I also have a look at the work of Ed Atkins. In fact, I had looked briefly at his work a while ago but have to confess that I felt slightly unnerved by his robotic face and movements and digitally altered, deadpan voice.

Below is the video suggested by my tutor:-


I spent further time looking at his work, video interviews, such as with Louisiana channel and talks,  and articles about him. With this second look I realised that I am being reminded of some of the young men I worked with in the past who would come to see me having suddenly shaved their head back to a skinhead style and/or having a vivid new tattoo to show me – rainbow crusted colours writhing over their skin. “What’s happened? Will he tell me?”, I would think to myself and wait.

Below is Ed Atkins talking about another of his works.

He refers to alienation, depression. The ‘literalising’ of a working day of a person on the edge of collapse – a disembodied, talking avatar head with a ‘real’ person at the side of him – yet with a hooded head. There is an emptiness about Atkins’s characters and he believes that “Loss, insufficiency inability, failure and in particular melancholy play a great role”. He uses so many different filmic and narrative techniques – photography, video, CGI avatars, installations and performance. I heard him say in another interview that he starts with a title first – ‘a lifeline that enables one to go mad underneath’. Even one apparently simple word such as ‘food’ can be echoed through so many other things.  His work is about what’s not there – never there – real people.

I have the Kindle edition of his first book A Primer for Cadavers (2018) which is a selection of his texts from 2010 to 2016 and below is the beginning of one of his poems Elective Mute (2014)

The afterword of the book by Joe Luna  refers to Atkins as “….. an elegiac, erotic Frankenstein for the twenty-first century”. What did I think? Well, it’s a different experience just to read the words which are like a stream of consciousness, a form of rapping, coming from someone full of words who is attempting to push through to the kernel of something far deeper where words are not enough, although their force might push him over the edge and into the abyss. I can, therefore, understand his reference to his title for a work being ‘a lifeline’.  I did feel depressed after reading through the book but, after a while another thought struck me.  When those words become part of a multi-media performance it takes the edge off them slightly, so they become more like a slowly beating heart. To me Atkins is touching upon those existential anxieties I’ve written about before  –  to be alive, knowing this isn’t permanent; to seek another, knowing that, in the end, I’m essentially alone.  In choosing to be in ‘avatar’ form Atkins is questioning what it is to be human I think

Here is just a little more of him


There’s more I want to write about – on the uses of landscape vistas in second Life and also the views of Andy Clark, professor of philosopher and Chair in Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh. I was introduced to his ideas through a blog post from my fellow student Sarah-Jane Field, and they really struck a chord with me as, to me, they follow on from Marshall McLuhan’s earlier ideas on how we model technologies on our brain networks. More to come in time then….





Atkins, E.(2018) A Primer for Cadavers (Kindle Locations 2046-2050). Fitzcarraldo Editions. Kindle Edition.







Assignment 5: Response to Tutor Feedback

Below is the main content of my Tutor’s feedback:-

Overall Comments

You have produced a voiced narration over a simulated journey through Second Life for your submission for Assignment 5 and have really pushed yourself technically into areas with which you were previously unfamiliar, applying yourself to the research with characteristic rigor.

Feedback on assignment

The personal diary or voice you have used in conjunction with CGI in Second Life allows for  an interesting reflection in the gap between reality (the ageing body) and simulation, between reality (problems for example on communicating with others, etc.) and fantasy (creating the apparently perfect avatar). I think that this strategy can work well, especially when you perhaps juxtapose the life you have in the ‘real’ world with life in a virtual environment where identity is controlled by you. You also say “although self-identity becomes more fixed as we get older we all have the capacity to take surprising turns in our lives and continually reinvent ourselves.

 I notice that in one of the comments on your work on your LL, a colleague suggests you put more of ‘you’ into it. I think this comment is very revealing as I do find it pertinent that it is after a period of ill health (and recovery, with your sight now fully restored) that you’ve moved towards this investigation of virtual life, where the confines of the physical self (the body) take second place to the imaginative leaps taken on platforms such as Second Life.

 I do think that certain images in your animation work very well when paired with your personal and very human narration: the image of the flying figure (i.e. the figure being freed from the physical constraint of the body, associations with dreaming etc., seem to work very well with the kind of ideas you are interested in exploring. Similarly, the image of the figure walking out into the landscape works well (the searching figure and the journey). Similarly, I do like your voiceover describing your surprise at coming across a herd of cows. Linking this very virtual experience back to a very early formative memory was interesting. The juxtaposition between the two things – memories of the rural and pastoral landscape of 1940s or 50s – with the hyper-simulated experiences offered up by Second Life seems to work really well.

You’ve already written well in your LL on those who for a variety reason, find life in a virtual world easier (i.e. easier to move, easier to relate to others etc.) and I do think it’s this juxtaposition (when the real meets the virtual) where the ideas become interesting. You might be interested in looking at Ed Atkin’s 3-D generated man in this respect (excerpt of Ribbons (2014):

You do explore in your reflection the journey you have made in terms of technical terms in for assignment 5 and the course as a whole: ‘Whilst I did experiment with earlier, layered forms of 3D, I haven’t as yet used the Second Life 3D modelling software…Instead I’ve concentrated on learning how to control the camera, how to actually ‘unpack’ 3D objects which were already in my inventory…most importantly how to move my Avatar. However, as a respite, I have recently downloaded Adobe Fuse and created two 3D characters which are older appearance-wise and ready to be animated when I have more time. Still not as old as me …’

It is perhaps in CGI’s very inability (or indifference) to represent the aging body that you might find your subject.

Congratulations on reaching the end of the course, Catherine. Your enthusiasm and research throughout has been impressive.

My response added to the Report itself

I was very pleased to receive such comprehensive and positive feedback together with recognition of the steep technical learning curve I have engaged with. I also enjoyed the research and was pleased I was able to ensure I kept it focused on what I was aiming to achieve.

What I enjoyed the most though was being able to link this Assignment with earlier Assignments – one of the poppy colleges I created for Ass 1 is now on a wall in my Second Life house and I was also able to link some of my “Second Life’ commentary back to Assignment 2 (the work done juxtaposing my father’s letters from 1940s Egypt with the landscapes of Egypt and Derbyshire).

Additionally I linked my Second Life experience with research on the theories and philosophy on simulacra/simulation and created a narrative from it.  Through this I have stepped along from the fairytale I created in my first Model TAoP and the male character I spoke through in C&N.  This is the kind of work that very much appeals to me where image and text work together as I like to tell stories.

CGI and the virtual world are fascinating and there is much available to explore so I am wondering how/whether I might continue engagement with it into my next Module.  It would be a shame to lose the opportunity to improve on the skills I am beginning to acquire.  I was already aware of Ed Atkins’s work but looked at it again, with more experience/knowledge to bring to bear.  It’s fascinating and I will write a little more on this when I reflect on feedback in my blog.

Reflection on Assignment 5

The title for my Assignment Living as an Avatar in Second Life:  Simulacra and Simulation in action came to me at the point of writing about it. The more I reflect on it the more I think how strange, out-of-this-world, this experience has been/is being. I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland finding myself in a parallel universe which just occasionally seems like the one I ‘know’.

Second Life is a virtual reality world where some of its (very creative) members have created locations within which others can create their own stories.  I’ve found this a very different experience from reading a book or watching a film. On the whole I’m aware of manipulating my Avatar but sometimes (and it is only sometimes) I become my Avatar and find myself behaving in, and approaching, situations as I might have done in ‘real’ life. I shouldn’t be surprised really because I have had similar experiences in role plays but I certainly didn’t expect it to happen with a virtual character that I especially chose to not look like me!

I’ve therefore been a subject in my own experiment, which includes what happens to someone’s brain when they engage in this digital world.  Something does happen and I’m guessing it’s in a different part of the brain from where reading and looking occur; maybe there’s a linkage that produces an altered state of consciousness.  In this sense I could say I am adding personal evidence towards Marshall McLuhan’s earlier belief that this new digital world would change people’s brains, as did the invention of printing) and the information reported by Marc Prensky (2001) that students were thinking and processing information in a different way from their predecessors who he termed ‘digital natives’. This can be positive or negative; concerns are often expressed about the effect on children’s brains if they engage at too young an age for long lengths of time with their computers as explained here . Whilst their brains are still very malleable, though, mine is surely more set in its ways so less susceptible to the effect of altered states of consciousness, even though I sometimes enjoy the experience of entering into them.

Technical and Visual Skills

 For this assignment my tutor suggested I create a video with voiceover. I chose to put together several clips from videos I had created in-world with the aim of depicting the entry and responses of a new Avatar in Second Life. I’ve created videos before, as can be seen in other parts of my learning blog, but there was a new challenge in using different tools for separate actions at the same time – videoing whilst manouvering my Avatar. It was also the first time I have merged video clips to such an extent. I think I did reasonably well with this and learned how to merge clips together, with fades where appropriate, so that they would synchronise. One clip is too long (where I am running) and can benefit from being shortened slightly. I also attempted something new in using two different sound tracks – one from in-world sounds and the other being my voiceover. If I had given myself a longer lead-in time for video editing I could have had more practice with the recorder.  A fellow student, has been very helpful in giving me feedback and tips on ways to improve so I feel encouraged to persevere and improve the sound quality of my current voice-over, use fades of sound more effectively, as well as do further practice with my H4n Zoom recorder.

I think my choice of an additional presentation in the form of an illustrated digital diary was a good one and the theme I chose was appropriate.  I’m pleased I sought, and took account of, feedback advice from other students and put more of my own thoughts and responses into the written parts. I will write more on this below.

Quality of Outcome

My original mind map for assignment 5 was very useful as an aid to establish different aspects/themes emerging from my earlier work during Assignment 4.  I think I communicated my ideas and experiences clearly and read and researched appropriately. My reflections on the concepts of Marshal McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard, David Chandler’s views on the latter and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave providing a sound platform for the experiential aspects. “The Uncanny Valley” was a new concept to me but it certainly fits Second Life in terms of many of the created landscapes there and, of course, many of the Avatars. Having read on this I was even more determined that my own Avatar would look more human and hopefully gain more interest from viewers.

At present, keeping to a digital presentation seems to fit the subject best and I intend to improve/extend my technical skills before formal assessment.

Demonstration of Creativity

 I have definitely used my imagination, which has been strongly exercised. I took risks in choosing to allow aspects of myself to be revealed, slowly at first and then more obviously – with encouragement from peers. I’m pleased with the way in which I’ve been able to synthesise my research and reading with an experiential approach and to have had some fun doing it.  I haven’t found the right description yet but there’s something in my head about being a digital ethnographer. I hope that my personal voice has been much in evidence within my approach to the assignment.

Whilst I did experiment with earlier, layered forms of 3D, I haven’t as yet used the Second Life 3D modelling software which is said to be more simple than Adobe software whilst being a good introduction to it. Instead I’ve concentrated on learning how to control the camera, how to actually ‘unpack’ 3D objects which were already in my inventory or the set of furniture I purchased and, most importantly how to move my Avatar. However, as a respite, I have recently downloaded Adobe Fuse and created two 3D characters which are older appearance-wise and  ready to be animated when I have more time. Still not as old as me though – why not take the opportunity to have a younger virtual body, without surgery or other treatments as I’ve enjoyed the experiences of flying and running.

I will also continue with learning Adobe Premiere Pro so that I can create more sophisticated videos.

My increasing involvement in Second Life has emerged fairly slowly due to my determination to limit the time spent there and the need to give enough time to reflection.  I believe I have behaved as a ‘digital settler’ and, in terms of ethnography, as a ‘participant observer’. As a ‘settler’ I armed myself with tools for living, as it were, through prior reading and grounding in personal/physical reality through my choice of name, something which felt important to me. I would say that, overall, I used the tools of a personal experiential action cycle – sessions in-world, followed by reflection away from my computer and then decisions on what to do next. Unexpected occurrences such as my reaction to seeing cows and interactions with two other Avatars added a more spontaneous and personal flavour which added both increased richness of experience and closer links with prior reading.

There is much more I can do within Second Life, especially having seen what other ‘residents’ do in terms of building their own locations; exhibiting art; giving poetry readings etc.  The timing hasn’t allowed that so far but it’s there as a possibility if I wish to continue it.


 I have evidenced my learning throughout the process and clearly indicated this in my blog. I know I have a tendency to get too carried away with reading/research but the original mind map supported me in finding the right balance so that the research and experiential aspects worked in tandem through the developing process of action and research and I was further able to bring my own personal experience into the mix.

More widely, in thinking of tools, technology and trends.  I gained a lot from looking at the work of Alan Warburton and David Claerbout, as contemporary artists in addition to their thinking on the uses of digital technology, and Marc Prensky on its effects on users. David Claerbout compared the evolvement of photography with that of the music industry in moving from the purely technical to “seeing the world the way it wants to be seen by us”. I found Warburton’s writing a positive confirmation on my growing view that, after all, digital technology is a just a tool like any other. As he points out technology of one form or another has been part of who we humans are for millennia. The important aspect is how we use these new tools and this is emphasised by Prensky who accepts the negative potential whilst suggesting we look at its positive aspects in terms of ‘empowerment’  – being able to do new and powerful things “in service of things that are useful both to them and to the world” rather than “just doing old things in new ways” .

Having referred to personal voice earlier, there is another aspect that might be worth further exploration. Fellow students encouraged me to be more obvious in relating my Second Life experiences to myself.  It seems to me that this could be almost like meeting a person and wanting to know more about them; looking for what’s beneath.  Thinking on this recently I have been wondering about ‘death of the author’.  Myself, as author, has been quite to the forefront despite my Avatar layer, plus more of my layers have been revealed through this exercise – even to me. The Johari Window comes to mind. I’m wondering now how far this has affected the viewer of my work in creating their own narrative and identification with the work.








Plato’s Allegory of The Cave

I think that Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a very relevant work to examine for two reasons.  Firstly, Baudrillard used the Allegory as a basis for his own theories on Simulacra and Simulation (1981) which have a direct relationship to a virtually created world such as Second Life. Secondly, Plato’s work The Republic (of which the Allegory of the Cave is a part) is concerned with the way in which people acquire knowledge of ‘Forms’ the highest and most fundamental kinds of reality, and his vision is of a particular organisation of studies which can be compared with that provided by Second Life; our past and current Education systems and the OCA.

I’m not intending to go into great detail or claim to have studied this in depth but wanted to put down the way I understand it as I’ve kept puzzling what Baudrillard means by ‘real’ within his own concepts.

The Allegory of the Cave

This allegory is part of Plato’s work The Republic which is the centrepiece of his philosophy and concerned with the way in which people acquire knowledge about beauty, justice and good. Plato uses the device of presenting his own philosophy through a fictitious conversation between his late mentor Socrates and Plato’s older brother Glaucon as to how this vision of the Republic can be achieved. Basically, he puts his own words into Socrates’s mouth which, presumably, he believed would give his own concepts a firm foundation.

The allegory is in three parts which represent the stages through which the common man attempts to face and deal with opinions and ideas that are different from those cultural and intellectual norms which make him a prisoner of convention. There are many videos on You Tube using a variety of strategies to explain the allegory.  Below is the one that struck me at this particular moment:-



The cave represents that which is known to us only through the material/physical world and through sensation. The ascent out of the cave is made by those free thinkers and intellectually liberated individuals who question the validity of their cave-bound life; see the physical world for the illusion that it is and seek enlightenment through following the highest of all studies so that by thought and rational thinking they can deduce ‘The Forms’. Plato believed that there was only one ‘real’ and good version of anything – the perfect version of that such as beauty and justice. However, those who have attained this highest level must not remain there but must return to the cave and dwell with the ‘prisoners’, sharing in their labours and honours.

Jean Baudrillard uses Plato’s Allegory as a springboard for his own concepts of Simulacra and Simulation (1994). So far as Baudrillard is concerned ‘the real’ has disappeared. Andrew Wernick (in R.G. Smith (Ed) 2010:181) suggests that, with this notion, Baudrillard is building upon Nietzsche’s fable How the ‘Real World” at last Became a Myth (1987) which traces the demise of Plato’s ‘real world’ “ – a higher reality which is the repository of truth and of which the world of appearance is only a degraded copy.  All of this is quite convoluted, as philosophical concepts often are but what I am taking from it at present is that my version of what is ‘real’ concerns that which I experience as known through the material/physical world and through sensation and not those higher ‘forms’.  This is one of the problems when the same words are used for different and sometimes contradictory concepts. I also recalled, during my current reading, that I had actually learned about Plato’s Philosophy during my studies with The Open University and been interested in this idea of external perfect truths as opposed to Aristotle’s later view that they should be searched for within the essence of things. It is because of his theory of forms that Plato believed that philosophers should rule the World – being the only ones who sseek out true knowledge and not just imitations of it (R. Ferguson, 2006).

But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he  who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed (Plato The Allegory of the Cave (2017:11)

Here I return to Plato and his views on the education of those who will attain this higher knowledge and become effective Ministers of State.

The role of education for higher knowledge

This is clarified through Plato’s dialectic approach as the discourse between Socrates and Glaucon continues following Socrates’s description of the Cave.  This education begins in childhood with children, taken from their parents at around the age of ten (by those  who have already gone through the process) so that these children ‘will be unaffected by the habits of their parents” (ibid p.34).  After some years of simple gymnastics  and sciences learned without any order there will be further selection at age 20 with more specific instruction in mathematical sciences. At age 30 there will be selection for dialectic, with philosophy to take the place of gymnastics. After five years these men (?) will be sent down again into ‘the den’ and compelled to hold military or other office to gain experience of life for about 15 years. At age 50 “they must raise the eyes of the soul to the universal light; behold the absolute good as pattern to order the State and lives of individuals – making philosophy their chief pursuit but toiling also at politics and ruling for the public good – simply as a matter of duty (not as though performing an heroic action). Then depart to the Islands of the Blest and dwell there”.

Music must be educational and stories must be carefully crafted; there is little role for the Arts. Earlier in The Republic (book IV) Plato warns against the corrupting dangers of innovative poetry to the established order because of its power to quickly transform the values of entire societies.

This concept of education comes through to me as being rigid, austere, disciplinary and creating a society where individuals are selected early on to ‘know their place’ and stay within it. It reminded me of my own education in some respects.  Yes – as a result of the creation of the Welfare State I was able, as a working-class child, to have the possibility of education in a Grammar School through the 11 plus examination.  Much has been written about Grammar and Secondary Schools and how the 11 plus examination categorised children at such a young age; to the detriment of many who still feel resentful about this as adults.  What is rarely mentioned is that there were other categories of schools such as Intermediate Schools and Technical Schools, not forgetting ‘Open Air’ schools for children with disabilities.

I should mention that I did not enjoy being at an all-Girls Grammar School with all women teachers who seemed bent on raising ‘young ladies’ so I left before taking any ‘O’ levels. I went to secretarial college given that being a teacher or being a secretary were, in any case, the only apparent future options suggested at that school anyway. It was only years later that I returned to education as a mature student.  Even now, the education system is being constantly tinkered with by Governments on the basis of prevailing beliefs about the way in which future citizens should be educated.

This compares with the approach to education offered by organisations such as OCA and the Open University which have open access and, in the case of OCA,  are geared to learning which expands creativity.  What interested me about Second Life was a similar emphasis upon opportunities for personal development, albeit through a virtual learning environment, with avatars as tutors.

Returning to Jean Baudrillard, apart from my quest to work out his notion of ‘Real’ I do think there is one important aspect missing from his concepts of Simulacra and Simulation. He doesn’t seem to allow any place for, or recognise, the use of imagination and creativity. in representations of reality.  I doubt that he would have approved of virtual worlds such as Second Life.



Baudrillard, J (1994  ) Simulacra and Simulation (English Translation) US: The University of Michigan Press
Ferguson, R (2006) Socrates and Plato: From Dialogue to Dialectic [accessed at ]
Plato The Allegory of the Cave translated by B. Jowett, 1888. Los Angeles. Enhanced Media Publishing (2017)
Smith, R.G. (Ed) The Baudrillard Dictionary: Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press



Reflection on Assignment 4: Digital Identities 1


The initial plan is here, for this Assignment and the exploratory themes agreed with my tutor were:

Exploring how I relate to ‘landscape’
Creating photographs of Bonsai trees
Exploring the landscapes in ‘Second Life’.


I was concerned that the themes were too diverse but, in retrospect, working on a few smaller projects rather than one large one helped me to make links I would not otherwise have made as one thought led to another whilst working on them concurrently .

I enjoyed creating new and different photography with the Bonsai trees  and having no other thought in mind except the photography itself.  Afterwards, when pondering why I chose to re-photograph with a polaroid camera, I realised several links – firstly with my earlier research on the art of Hokusai then, thinking about natural /replicas, indexicality and originality brought Jean Baudrillard  into my mind. I have to admit that I didn’t feel sanguine regarding the prospect of gaining a greater sense of his rather difficult writing style but my curiosity and inclination to disagree with Baudrillard motivated me to persevere.  I even had a look at him as a photographer to see how his photography reflected his views (to be written-up) and if extend my explorations of Second Life for Assignment 5 I think I may need to reflect further on how his theories link with Plato’s Cave.

Regarding Landscape   , I was pleased to be reminded that, along the way of this Module, I had actually still been out there taking photographs and experimenting with video. More importantly, thinking along the lines of “Landscape as a failed record” I realised I have been constantly attempting to capture the feelings evoked by being in the landscape and that is something that will continue into my next Module. I was also aware whilst exploring Second Life that I was seeking places where I could be alone in those created landscapes and also recognise how far they had been modelled on actual landscapes. If I decide to continue exploring Second Life I will look further into contemporary artists/photographers who are using virtual reality techniques and other technologies to portray landscape.

Avatars and the Uncanny Valley

Thoughts of dolls, robots and Avatars lead me there.  I haven’t yet seen enough Avatars in Second Life to form a view on where they might stand on the scale of ‘reality’. Second Life itself is no longer in the forefront, although I see that Linden Lab, its creator, is developing other programs such as Blocksworldf (for iPad) and Sansar a new platform for creating social VR experiences.  I have hardly set foot in the latest technologies but family members have and I experienced some different forms when I recently visited the Roya Academy Exhibition From Life .

Additional Research and Reading

Mindful of my tutor’s reminder ‘to have some fun’ I tried hard to keep the reading down as much as possible and the reading and research recorded in this post were in addition to that done for other areas of this Assignment (see the PDF of my Bibliography for this Assignment) . I do think that I have investigated several new areas, made links with previous reading and work, and discovered artists/photographers who are thinking and working around the dimensions between technology creativity, philosophy and theory;

Exploring Second Life

Beginning exploring here has been both enjoyable and frustrating. The greatest realisation (which I should have expected) is that, so far, I have behaved the same there as I do in ‘real’ life in terms of not wanting to get too involved in any form of social networking and being happy with my own company whilst realising that, even there, I am lacking in the skills needed to get the most out of it – by which I mean more advanced  technical skills.  I have been trying out new skills though in using Snagit software for screen grabs and videos and Filmora Software for processing the videos. I’m more used to using iMovie for video creation but this doesn’t have the facility for dual screens whereas there are several options in Filmora which I want to try out. I have downloaded Adobe Premiere Pro but it looks complicated as yet and I hope to get some training on it in due course.

The landscapes vary in Second Life – some recognisable and comforting in a way – such as herds of cows; waterfalls and peaceful gardens. Others, such as on New Caerleon Island, are more futuristic and I was reminded of the Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore – tree shaped yet alien in their unchanging aspect.

Where to next?

Of course, this will depend on feedback from my tutor, but at the moment I’m thinking there’s something about the polaroid Bonsai that makes me think this will be it for now as those small polaroids seem complete in themselves.  I will have to think of how I present them at Assessment though and I will continue to use a polaroid camera to photograph them as new bonsai are acquired and worked with, and also as the current trees grow into the seasons.

I talked about this Assignment at the OCA Thames Valley Group meeting last week and both the Bonsai polaroids and the contact sheet from Second Life received positive and interested comments. There seemed general agreement as well that the polaroids seem to be complete in themselves (plus some concern expressed at my ‘mishandling’ them by pinning them to a whiteboard using magnetic buttons). There was also interest in my self-assessment of how I was behaving in Second Life as I do in real life. One of my fellow students compared that with how her ten year old daughter builds amazing structures in Minecraft with no limit to her imagination.  There’s something there around how ‘self’ , ‘self-image’ and character traits become more fixed as we become older I think. Obviously, that’s a psychological aspect but there’s could be some narrative in that.

If I continue in Second Life I have already identified that I would like to learn more of the Adobe programs available to create animated characters; find the best way to present the snapshots and videos I have created with the Snagit program, and also think more regarding the links with Plato’s Cave. I intend to jot down some more ideas before I discuss with my tutor.

Overall Bibliography for Assignment – see PDF below. 

Bibliography Ass 4


Links below for all sections of my Assignment write-up

Project and Exercise Part 4.1:

Initial Plan for Assignment 4:

The Art of Bonsai:

Jean Baudrillard:

Thoughts on Landscape :

The Uncanny Valley:

Exploring Second Life:



Exploring Second Life

First steps – October 2017 to January 2018

I’ve never actually wished I was another person, although have occasionally wondered, “what if?” so the idea of Second Life website has always interested me, even though I hadn’t looked at it before reading Project/Exercise 4:1.  See my post here  where I summarise my initial reading and research. My tutor approved my suggestion that I have a deeper look into the experience of a virtual second life and so, now armed with what I though was sufficient information,  I joined Second Life, deciding to limit myself to no more than one hour a day.  After choosing an avatar I wasn’t quite sure about, I left the orientation area too soon probably because I was so excited at learning to fly! I did choose somewhere on the map to teleport to but ended up wandering around and feeling lost although I did take my first snapshot.

“Time to go back to my ‘real’ home”, I thought.

Once back in my real life I looked at You Tube videos showing how to change Avatar and decided to take out a premium subscription so that I would have an SL Linden ‘home’ – where I could go to use my inventory items in private and have my own space to return to.  You can buy land there, build your own house, even buy an island from private owners.

In addition to a ‘home’ the subscription includes a monthly amount of Linden dollars to spend on shops on the Island so off I went back there; changed my Avatar and went shopping. At first it seemed a wonderful idea – being able to decorate and furnish exactly how I wanted without having to compromise with someone else’s choices. I could buy furniture, clothes, even a new more sophisticated Avatar. It didn’t turn out like that though because I got so confused at the extent of choice not to mention feeling very nervous at the technology involved in ‘unpacking’ purchases.  I actually ended up with a lamp stuck to my hand and it took ages to find out how to unstick it. My house was still empty!

I only found one book to begin with, Second Life: The Official Guide (2008) which I  found quite hard to make sense of at first with words like ‘prims’. ‘sims’ and ‘rezzing”. ’Prims’ are objects of all kinds that have been created from solids (3D geometric shapes) which can be linked together and then made to do things by a script written in LSL – Second Life’s scripting language – for example a dog that runs and barks (2008:08). When you create a ‘prim’ you ‘rezz’ it (not slang but an official term in Second Life. Second Life is also divided into areas that can include any number of regions governed by a given set of rules which can vary by region (often referred to by residents as ‘sims’ – short for simulators). What this means in practice is that when you teleport to any region you have to look at the information about it to see what you can and cannot do – important as well if you want to take snapshots or create video (‘machinima’). You are allowed to take snapshots and film on land you actually own and in public areas of the site owned by Linden Labs, but not private areas unless a particular region grants general permission or you have requested and been given it. The Second Life site provides a list of privately owned regions where machinima are allowed; I have attempted to teleport to most of those but, unfortunately, only a few are still in existence.

It proved similarly difficult to travel to sites mentioned in academic papers. For example, I found a transcript of a presentation Where in Plato’s Cave is Second Life (Janick /Zabel 2009)  which combined a lecture, open discussion and ‘field trip’ to a 3D virtual representation created by Gary Zabel (Avatar) and his team at one of the Caerleon sims on Second Life owned by Georg Janick  (aka Gary Zabel)  I wanted to visit this Cave so I could stand there and think about Plato’s work and how it relates to Second Life which of course, it does – Second Life itself appears to have a reality when you’re there but it’s a shadow a reflection of ordinary experience for the most extent. I was disappointed though as there is no longer a representation of Plato’s Cave.

How am I doing now?

I feel a little more confident exploring Second Life even though I still haven’t worked out how to ‘unpack’ furniture.  I will though.


I bought another book Second Life for Dummies (Robbins & Bell 2008) which I’m finding easier to understand. I’ve taken more snapshots and videos using Snagit Screen Capture Software and have  just begun to process videos with Filmora video editing software which seems to offer more tools than iMovie yet is less complicated than Adobe Premiere Pro which I have yet to learn. I also think I have more of an understanding of 3D character animation and have downloaded some more Adobe programs.  When I looked at my improved version of my Second Life avatar I realised that she reminded me of a more grown-up version of the doll I used for a project in my first OCA Module so I must have been chanelling her for all this time!


My ambition would be to build a 3D character myself that would resemble both the doll and my current Avatar.

Below is a contact sheet of some of my  Second Life snapshots plus two short videos I have processed so far.


<p><a href=”″>Cows – so good to see you.</a> from <a href=””>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


<p><a href=”″>Should I say hello?</a> from <a href=””>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The videos are short and I know I need a lot more practice, particularly with the transitions which are less smooth than I would have wished; in fact less smooth than on iMovie. I’ve added music for now as I didn’t want them to be silent.

I have also kept a brief diary of visits and thoughts and, if I decide to extend this project into Assignment 5, I will utilise this into some kind of pictorial account. At present I’m playing around with the idea of a grid-based blog.





Robbins, S & Bell, M (2008) Second Life for Dummies. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing Inc.
Rymaszewski, M. et al (2008) Second Life: The Official Guide (2nd ed). Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing Inc



Notes on recent research and reading

Suggested by my tutor during Discussion on Planning

Alan Warburton

Since 2010 Warburton has worked both as an independent artist and as an animation freelancer and his CGI films have been exhibited widely. I have already written about his video Goodbye Uncanny Valley which includes work from several artists.

His blog, which he began in 2008 as a repository for thoughts, can be found here. He makes an interesting comment, ‘so further back you go, the more naive it gets’, and I appreciated that comment because it gives me some hope that I might improve too in time. If you go way back to an entry on 15 July 2015 Warburton writes on, How I got into CGI (and why the arts needs it).  He writes on the effect on him of feeling slightly different within his group; the discomfort of participating, “in a culture that privileges and normalises problematic images of gender” and being expected to decide between the two options of whether he wanted to work in commercials or film when he thought he was there to discover that. That particular blog post is well-worth a read because he has a lot more to say on the different effects of a new technology, plus

There’s a strange hypocrisy that new technology alienates us from the truth yet technology has been part of who we are for tens of thousands of years. We all feel this hypocrisy in our seemingly objective preference for marginally more primitive technologies.

That’s something I’ve been continually reminding myself on.

For relaxation I very much enjoyed his video interpretation of some of the music of composer Johann Sebastian Bach which can be found here

John Gerrard

He creates large scale works in the form of computer simulations which, “ … frequently refer to structures of power and networks of energy that have made possible the expansion of human endeavour in the past century”. He uses sophisticated computer software and algorithms to create virtual landscapes that simulate authentic sites as time passes. This video explains some of his techniques.

this is far beyond my capabilities and what I’ve seen on Second Life so far.

Artists represented by Carroll Fletcher Gallery

The two partners, Jonathon Carroll and Steve Fletcher have now restructured into two independent entities – Carroll to set up a new commercial business and Fletcher to run a non-profit named the Artists’ development Agency.  The original website  is extant though and this led me to the work of Richard Walker  who creates videos, photographs, text works, his own music, and performances to portray an obsessive relationship with landscape, “I think, or I hope, that the viewer becomes simultaneously pushed away and pulled towards the landscape”.   He used two channel video for sometimes I like you more than othertimes, 2008  and this is something I have wanted to experiment with for quite a while – different places, the same person at different times. I want to remember his work for when I begin the Landscape module.

Some other Artists

David Claerbout

I think it was my fellow student Sarah-Jane who pointed me towards this artist a while ago. Claerbout works in photography, video, sound, drawing and digital arts. In one work he creates a new film the Pure Necessity which transforms Disney’s 1967 animated movie of Jungle Book into a completely different film which dispenses with “all ‘humanization’ of the animals, even the human Mowgli, so that the animals ‘behave instead in a manner befitting their species’. Basically he ‘takes the life (animation) out of the Jungle Book animals.

He  wrote an article here  which is very relevant for me and also takes me back to Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard.  Claerbout compares the transformation of photography to that of the music industry over the last fifteen years – moving from what appears purely technical to “seeing the world the way it wants to be seen by us”.  He refers to “the radical conservatism of 3-D” – were “so many sciences would come together to form a mighty bastion of pictorial, “realistic” conservatism” – for example the way in which new techniques led to his studio resembling an animation studio which, itself, began to resemble a painting studio and so there was an ‘intense overlap between Western historical painting and cinematic techniques”. (I’m thinking perhaps of Jeff Wall here and other contemporary photograpehrs who work in a similar fashion). Claerbout points out the decisions which have to be made when working in pictorial 3-D – often created from memory, after the fact, based on documents – what season, what geographical area – pretty much like tableau painting (I also recalled Second Life when reading this).

“This total fabrication implies that we are ‘observing from memory’ and brings with it a sense of nostalgia and a feeling of loss, of having given up on a naïve perception that supposedly happened spontaneously, without thinking”. A scan, for example, ‘literally moves like a mole in the dark” without needing the daylight that is an essential condition in photography. Now I don’t entirely agree with that because a scan uses light, albeit artificial,  and, of course, some photography uses artificial light. There’s more though and I know I’ll return to this article.

Olaf Otto Becker

Becker’s project Reading the Landscape (2008-2014)  documents the changes over time in the primary forests of Indonesia and Malaysia – showing “intact nature, ravaged nature, and artificial nature”. The ravaging of methods such as deforestation and slash and burn looks so brutal.  In view of my current assignment I was particularly interested in ‘artificial nature’ –a landscape such as Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore (10/12) which looks so unreal like something out of science fiction – towering columns with vegetation growing up the column, inside a painted metallic scaffold that, itself, branches out at the top; nature trails skyscrapers containing gardens. In fact here’s a short video I found on YouTube

This is what we do – we destroy parts of nature and then re-build it in our own image.

Trevor Paglen

Paglen is an artist and geographer. He describes himself as a landscape artist – he is, but with a difference! He aims to photograph ‘the unseen political geography of our times’. – not by utilising Google images but using special lenses aimed in the sky or far off military bases.  An article in the Guardian (Tim Adams, 2017) informs me that he intends to launch his own satellite in April this year and with it, the world’s first “space sculpture” – a man-made star that should be visible for a few months. He was named one of the 2017 recipients of the MacArthur ‘genius grant’ with a stipend of £470,00 over five years, so he won’t be short of money to realise his dream and pay for his assistants.

I’m always interested in the way in which an artist’s background shapes how they see and portray the world bearing in mind that the photograph is often viewed as a self-portrait of the photographer –and Tim Adams refers to Paglen’s background in his article.  Born on an air force base where his father was an ophthalmologist; the family moving around air bases in the US when Paglen was young until they settled at an airfield in Wiesbaden, Germany. As a student Paglen studied the philosophy of religion; fine art; then a PhD in geography; also playing bass in a punk band at one point and being into the Californian surf culture. That’s a rich mix of diverse influences.

Paglen has photographed secret prisons; worked to document classified satellites and also explored the ocean floor to photograph underwater fiber optic cables. He talks his work on “The Atlas of Invisible Images” below – it’s fascinating.



I certainly couldn’t approach his depth of talent but some of his work reminded me that you don’t necessarily have to have sophisticated equipment to explore the unseen and represent what  ‘must not be represented’. His work Symbology for instance, looks at the uniform and insignia in military culture and how these depict, “one’s affiliation with what defense-industry insiders call the “black world”” of deeply-held secrets.

Ruud van Empel

My fellow student Jonathon suggested I have a look at this artist who combines collages of self-made photographs using Photoshop to create idealized representations of people and landscape. To me these are approaching on the Uncanny and Uncanny Valley both – with wide-eyed children placed in hyper realistic landscapes that give rise to a slightly uneasy feeling, at least for me. Some such as here  and here  have a look of naif art whilst others are reminiscent of Dutch still-life. The novel and film the Miniaturist came into my head as well – those tiny dolls house figures/replicas that act as alter egos.

Sophia, the Robot

Staying with the Uncanny/Uncanny Valley theme. Sarah-Jane also sent me a link to a video on the Hanson Robotics website and their latest and most advanced robot which is, apparently, a media darling and sought-after speaker in business. The company believes that their genius machines can evolve to solve world problems too complex for humans to solve themselves. Sophia reminded me of some of the Avatars in Second Life which is why I’m noting her here.






The “Uncanny Valley” and Avatars

The word Avatar comes from Sanskrit avatāra a passing down, equivalent to ava down + -tāra a passing over. In Hindu mythology this is the deliberate descent by a god into the land of mortals, usually for the purpose of destroying evil or leading the righteous down the right path. Most often associated with the Hindu god Vishnu, though the concept has been applied to other deities. Similar concepts are found in other religions – one thinks of the Angel Gabriel for example. The word then came to be used for a computer representation of a user and this dates back to at least 1985 when it was used for a character in the Ultima series of computer games. To begin with the goal was to become ‘the avatar” but later games assumed you were an avatar. There are many types of ‘avatar” varying from a small square-shaped area close to the user’s forum post where the avatar is placed to a much larger representation of a person/creature which can be customized. These avatars can be realistic representations of who the person is and what they are doing (helped by motion-capture technologies that mirror every movement) or they can be strategically altered to show only what you want them to.

I first came across the concept of the “Uncanny Valley” when looking at the work of Alan Warburton, following one of my tutor’s recommendations.   In his video work Goodbye Uncanny Valley (2017) , Warburton looks at the background and current state of  of photoreal CGI. In his introductory statement he writes – “computer graphics have conquered the Uncanny Valley, that strange place where things are almost real. .….but not quite”

Subsequently, whilst searching for links to the history of dolls, avatars and robots to gain more background context for my assignment, I came across this concept again and discovered there is more to it. Information was gained to begin with from a comprehensive a Wikipedia entry and I then did further research. This concept was proposed by Masahiro Mori, a robotics professor and translated from Japanese to “uncanny valley” in the book Robots; Fact, Fiction, and Prediction, written by Jasia Reichardt (1978). This is linked with the concept of the ‘uncanny’-  Ernst Jentsch and Sigmund Freud (see an earlier post here). The hypothesis is that observers’ emotional response to a robot becomes increasingly positive as the appearance of a robot is made more human until it reaches a point beyond which the response becomes revulsion. This reaction reverses as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from a human being.  The ‘uncanny valley” is thus that in between stage. Presumably it varies between individuals. Technologies have advanced greatly since the late 1970s, with more sophisticated robots and lifelike Avatars but the “Uncanny Valley” still needs to be considered and overcome. This YouTube video from Mashable explains further

Charles Darwin noticed a similar effect when looking at a particular snake, referring to the relative shapes and positions of the pupil of the eye, jaws and nose . the writer Jamais Cascio also noted a similar effect that occurs with body modifications beyond what would normally be possible. Examples are also given from several films using computer-generated imagery (CGI). This made me think as well of the film Avatar.  It took me quite a while to get used to the faces of the Na’vi beings. It just occurred to me though that, maybe, it’s that when a robot’s face most resembles a snake’s head that this revulsion occurs and is due to a primal recognition of danger in a snake shape – maybe even the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden connects here.

Mori’s theory was examined more closely in a paper by E. V. Pujals and N. Buffington, Secrets of The Cabbage Patch: Pediophobia and The Fear of The Inanimate (2007 . their view is that Mori’s hypothesis can relate to all inanimate objects that, in one form or another, become or seem to be animate. This is linked to a perennial human desire for playthings to become truly alive. Examples are given of the myth of Pygmalion who fell in love with a statue he sculpted and the goddess Aphrodite brought it to life in response to his prayers. This fantasy can also be found in Hoffman’s the Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816); Pixar’s Toy Story.

This fantasy of toys becoming alive is rooted in the child’s emotional attachment to playthings and the way in which their ways of relating thus ‘prove particular to their respective individual needs’, which I would say are also influenced by social/cultural reinforcement, given that the authors provide the examples of baby dolls in the early 1900’s promoting nurturing and companionship tendencies connected with ‘mothering’  whilst in the early 1960’s Barbie dolls were seen as a symbol of freedom from future responsibilities of motherhood. Also, ‘Star Wars figurines allowed boys to play God in orchestrating miniature worlds of high tech adventures’. Pujals and Buffington go on to contend that, despite this strong attachment to playthings, literature and films ‘perverted the toy and created disquieting versions of the same lovable characters that inspire fantasy’, even in Toy Story with its reanimation of dismembered toys in one particular scene – the threshold of horror for Sid (the sadistic boy) being when Woody speaks to him using facial expressions.

However, Pujals and Buffington perceive limitations in Mori’s hypothesis in that adults and children’s fears are not necessarily linked; they have different perspectives on life. The fear that Mori’s hypothesis explains, could suggest that it is due to the great awareness of adulthood, that adults are more afraid, afraid of the unknown because their knowledge does not extend to the areas that concern the respective unknown or afraid of the already known because they understand the full gravity of its implications.  Adults have a need for order and search out boundaries. They provide evidence for this, e.g. Andy, the child, is unfazed by Chuckie coming to life.

Design guidelines have been written including attention to the proportion of facial features skin texture detail and changing features to a more cartoon-like style also eliminated the uncanny (Tinwell et al  2010:05). As more and more characters now appear in animation and video games factors such as form of motion, sound features, timing and facial animation (particularly in the upper part of the face) also contribute to an uncanny valley effect. Tinwell et all reported that  “The uncanny may be related to the importance of being able to swiftly and accurately detect the emotion being expressed by another as it helps us to predict their likely behaviour……” the results of the current study also provide fairly compelling evidence that perception of the uncanny in virtual characters displaying inadequate facial animation is greatly influenced by the type of emotion the character is portraying ( 2010 :25) they concluded, “Overall, the results indicate that attempts to embed truly authentic and convincing human-like affective signals in video game characters still has some way to go”.

The study referred to above focussed on video games. Below is a video looking at the way in which film-makers work to find ways around the uncanny valley effect.



Pujals, E.V. and Buffington (2007) PWR 2; Rhetoric of the Monstrous accessed at
Tinwell, A et al (2011) Facial Expression of Emotion and Perception of the Uncanny Valley in Virtual Characters, Accessed through )

Further thoughts on Landscape

What does Landscape mean to me?

In one of my earlier posts I wrote that I’m most attracted to small wooded areas, within walking distance from home. These are places where nature has more or less been allowed some freedom to be itself. The air is always clearer there amongst the trees and I’m aware I’m breathing more deeply. I’ve been exploring and portraying ‘landscape’ almost since I began studying with OCA. To begin with I photographed what I saw then, in Context & Narrative, with the encouragement of my tutor, I began to interact more directly with nature – see here  and here . It seemed that, through landscape, I was ‘finding my voice’.

During this current Module I focussed my first assignment around a poppy field   but subsequently became absorbed in my personal archives and got somewhat lost in reading and research, although I did create some ‘personal’ projects around my local Copse, including videos. Holga photographs  and a project in July last year which I called Interrupted Landscape: Weftwood where I documented, in image and videos, the progress of my creation of an installation  in part of the Copse – to be the covering of a dilapidated garden seat with woven red wool. This project terminated rather oddly at the beginning of September 2017 when I discovered that other/s had dismantled that part of the copse, including the garden seat.  I concluded that I had, somehow, been seeking a response from other people who use the Copse (in the way I had previously by hanging some of my photographs on tree branches) but the response had been unsettling as a different kind of installation had replaced mine! I intended to do something with leftover wool but it still awaits me.

So where does that leave me with my relationship with landscape at the moment? I still photograph what interests me in environment using Instagram as a posting site. The poppy field, changed markedly in Autumn last year and I have videos of the changes over time there which I intend to put together before formal Assessment as an addition to my first Assignment.

Why do I photograph the same scenes over and over again?

Well, firstly, the landscape changes as the seasons change so there is always something new to see and photograph. Landscape can act as both metaphor and alter ego – I’ve certainly used it as both in the past – to combine with poems I’ve written or read. Trees always seem to have had deep meanings for us human beings – The tree of llfe in so many different World mythologies; the apple tree in the Garden of Eden; the tree of knowledge; the sacred groves which probably preceded the building of Churches with their soaring domes directing our eyes towards the heavens and the family tree of genealogy. I also got to thinking of the way in which we anthromorphize trees, see faces in them, give them human attributes.

I know there are psychological explanations for why this happens, but could there be another connection?

There are so many different motivations for photographing trees, but I still couldnot find the words to explain why I kept photographing the same places almost compulsively.  I recently found a photographer who provided an explanation I could identify with.  In a video here photographer Sean McFarland talks about Landscape as a failed recordHe talks of the way in which photographers have separated themselves from the landscape (in the USA, but I think it applies in the UK as well) through being ‘complicit in a lot of empty formalism’ and participating in a tradition of the history and destruction of the Western United States’. All that has causued us to ‘deeply other’ the landscape and to separate ourselves from being able to emotionally experience it. He describes viewing the splendour of a landscape such as Yosemite Falls, taking a photograph of it which is physical yet is a failure in terms of representing how it felt, especially if you’re showing it to someone else and trying to convince them that it was a magical experience. One of his strategies was to photograph the Falls multiple times to make it more than it was, and then creating a cynatope . – using photography as a ‘failed record’.  He has also created psrismatic images where the visual spectrum of red blue and green starts to reveal itself and be seen separately so maybe the photograph ‘can maybe turn into a synesthetic object’, allowing access to a world maybe beyond the visual. His visual blog is here .

What do I want to say about Landscape with new work?

I realised that constantly photographing the same scene was also my own attempt to find a way of emotional capture, without words and perhaps why I have used different camera techniques and other strategies such as cyanotypes.  I had certainly thought that cyanotypes wouldn’t be the way to go for this Assignment, even though I do enjoy creating those deep blue images. Sean McFarland’s prismatic images looked pretty much like 3D to me when I viewed them with my 3D glasses, so I created one initially of a branch structure in the woodland, and then had a go with one of the bonsai trees as, currently, the bonsai tree is representing landscape for me – the way we mould nature to our own image and also as a a reflection of Jean Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra and simulation. 3D glass needed to view these onscreen.



This might be a way to expand my Assignment 4 into Assignment 5 – I’ll wait and see what my tutor thinks.

In a later post I will write about my research into artists suggested by my tutor; some I have discovered myself and literature about the nature of trees. Alongside my photography of bonsai and reading/research, I have also been exploring Second Life and looking at how landscape is represented there.


Jean Baudrillard Part I

My ongoing understanding of Jean Baudrillard

 The beginning of my attempts to make sense of Jean Baudrillard’s writings so that I may eventually explore how they relate to my journey into Second Life.

Whilst Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan were inspired by movies and television, Jean Baudrillard (who was influenced by McLuhan) described those using the computer as being lost in their own terminals. Cynthia Freeland describes this as “[….] a ‘terminal’ philosophy embracing millennial disillusionment.” (C. Freeland 2001:130).

Jean Baudrillard was born in Reims, France in 1929 at the beginning of what was termed ’The Great Depression” in America – an economic crisis that also affected Europe. He was the first of his working-class family to go to University, the Sorbonne, where he studied German language and literature before working as a teacher (from 1960 until 1966) alongside publishing literature reviews and translations of German authors. Whilst teaching German he began studying sociology, publishing his doctoral thesis in 1968, and went on to teach sociology at the University of Paris X Nanterre, where he eventually became a professor before moving to teach at the Universite de Paris-IX Dauphine in 1986, from which point he began to move away from sociology as a discipline although retaining his links with the academic world. In 1970 Baudrillard began making trips to the United States and also to Japan (where he was given his first camera in 1981). He became an intellectual celebrity, writing books and attending conferences. He appears to have had many intellectual influences from a variety of disciplines, including Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Roland Barthes and Marshall McLuhan. I’m not going to go into further detail here but summary information on Baudrillard’s life and ideas can be found here on the website of the European Graduate School, Switzerland, where he taught from its early beginnings in 1994 to his death in March 2007

Baudrillard is said to have been influenced by the concept of pataphysics, introduced to him through a philosophy professor, whilst at high school.  This concept is a literary trope invented by the French writer and playwright Alfred Jarry in the book Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, where Jarry plays around with conventional concepts and interpretations of reality and the ‘neo-science of imaginary solutions’ expounded by his characters. “From pataphysics Baudrillard learned to mock science, write cryptically and allusively and seek politically inutility” (G. Genosko, p. 150 in R.G. Smith (Ed) 2010). Well that certainly provides an explanation for my difficulty in understanding Baudrillard’s concepts.

His essay Simulacra and Simulation was written in 1981 – the year he was given his first camera.   Simulation is one of his key concepts. Its Latin root means ‘to copy’ but the word itself has come to have slightly different meanings/ connotations all of which are present In Bauadrillard’s usage of the word. In modern English it came to have the connotation of falseness and pretence and has now come to mean creating an analogue or mathematical model of something, “ …  in order to study how it operates  via artificially or abstractly producing its effects.  With the advent of ‘realistic’ media …… it has also come to refer to an audio-visual experience that artfully mimics but otherwise has no connection with the reality it presents as in a flight simulator used in pilot training….” (Wernick, A in R.G. Smith 2010:1980). This kind of experience may both heighten the senses and be more real than real – i.e. hyper-real. I began to think here about the artist Matt Collishaw’s recent virtual reality Exhibition Thresholds (2017)  where he created a digitally reconstructed room to re-stage the 1839 Exhibition where William Henry Talbot Fox first presented his photographic prints to the public.

What Baudrillard was pointing towards was the idea of a copy which is not only indistinguishable from the original but such that the distinction between the two disappears. A simulacrum (a term borrowed from Plato) is a simulated representation which has no original, so bears no relation to any reality and is a means of concealing the absence of a reality.

To begin with Baudrillard provided three orders of simulacra (J. Baudrillard 1981:121)

  1. An individual artefact – e.g. handmade copy of a painting –naturalist, founded on the imager, imitation and counterfeit. Would this apply to the art of Bonsai?
  2. A mechanically produced copy such as a photograph or sound-recording where all copies are identical to each other – founded on energy force, its materialization by the machine and in the whole system of production
  3. Production of a mechanically reproducible copy which has no original outside the composite process of its studio production – founded on information, the model, the cybernetic game. This could fit with Second Life, perhaps also Matt Collishaw’s work, although ….

In 1987, Baudrillard also conceptualised a fourth stage

4.  ‘The fractal stage’ – the mechanically reproducible product is not a unique series but an infinite array of possibilities generated by models.

Daniel Chandler (2007:81) translates the four stages/phases of the image as:-

  1. It is the reflection of a basic reality
  2. It masks and perverts a basic reality
  3. It masks the absence of a basic reality
  4. It bears no relation to any reality whatever; it is its own simulacrum

I can’t find a description of what Baudrillard considers to be the Real – yet everything he writes appears to be based on that notion. Daniel Chandler recognizes this criticism, “the semiotic stance which problematizes reality and emphasizes mediation and convention is sometimes criticised as extreme ‘cultural relativism’ by realists – such critics often object to an apparent sidelining of referential concerns such as ‘accuracy’ (ibid)

I do agree with Chandler that we certainly experience much of our world through the media of television, films and newspapers etc.  Actually we used to experience the world outside our immediate environment through the Church, village gossip and ‘news’ from strangers who were passing through, I’m thinking, but I’m imagining that it might have been less contradictory. In the present we are bombarded daily with competing versions of ‘truth’, accusations of fake news etc and I don’t, at this stage,  want to dive into a more expanded exploration of Baudrillard’s concepts, although I have researched some counter- viewpoints.  In the meantime I’m going to rest with Chandler’s view that,  “Semiotics helps us to not take representations for granted as reflections of reality, enabling us to take them apart and consider whose realities they represent” (ibid 2007:82).



Baudrillard, J (1994) Simulcra and Simulation. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press
Chandler, D (2007) Semiotics: the Basics (2nd Edition) Abingdon: Routledge
Freeland, C (2001  )  Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction Oxford,. Oxford University Press
Smith, R.G. (Ed) (2010) The Baudrillard Dictionary: Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press