Collaborative Painting Experiences

This project was fraught with confusion and challenges from the start as it went from being an online exercise to one to be  carried out in real life. It also went from  being ‘What is a Heterotopia?’ to (as we were informed last Friday, May 4th) ‘Is One Life Enough?’ and to now include reference to all 3 concepts of heterotopia, utopia and dystopia.

I did not feel inspired by either of the briefs for this project and indeed this whole experience has encapsulated the issues of studying on Sherkin. All my classmates live huge distances away from my home and studio. Our time on the island is very short and intense – indeed, this semester we have only been on the island 5 times. There is no permanent DIT space on the island, students see very little of each other at work in the studio. There is no relaxing on a weekday over a coffee in the canteen, discussing each others work. We tend to only communicate with each other, from our home studios, at times of stress which does not help in the forging of working relationships.  Abilities and commitment to the course vary hugely, and with most of the practical work being executed individually and away from the Island, it can be hard to gauge strengths and weaknesses of fellow students.

The Tunisian Collaborative Painting alluded to by Mark Barry was particularly interesting, from its inception under a brutalist political regime to its ethos of being ‘An art form that celebrates the oneness of all human beings and the wonder of the creative process’  (Tunisian Collaborative Painting UK)

Unfortunately my own experience of Collaborative Painting would probably be described as illustrating ‘the separateness of all human beings and the perplexity of the creative block’ .

Our Group consisted of myself, Margaret Flynn and Denis McCarthy. We discussed the possibilities of engaging with ‘What is a Heterotopia?’ over the week, utilising Facebook and WhatsApp. Margaret suggested the use of the traditional willowware pattern in ceramics as a vehicle for investigation. I discovered the work of British ceramic artist, Paul Stott and his protest against the arrest of Chinese artist and dissident, Ai Weiwei in his piece, ‘A Willow for Ai Weiwei’

aiweiwei willowware

The British artist Paul Scott made a statement by placing his missing colleague on a porcelain platter − a material with deep Chinese roots. Scott has added several details pointing toward the Chinese artist in the platter, which is based on antique Willow-patterned porcelain. Thus, a dystopia within a utopia, illustrated on a heterotopia!

Unfortunately Denis was in the midst of a house move so unable to contribute to preparatory ideas.

We began the work on the Friday on Sherkin, utilizing my own and Margaret’s extensive research into the Willow ware pattern and designing a collaborative image for an A1 sheet and distributing jobs within our group. However, the best laid plans go astray and by Saturday it was clear that this was indeed the case. We were given (another!) brief that our painting was now to be on a large square of Fabriano (4ft x 4ft approx). To complicate matters further Margaret became very ill and had to leave before we started on our substantial redesign, unfortunately taking much of the preparatory work with her. Thus down a woman and with one very reluctant painter on-board, we set to work on a simplified version, still attempting to reference the original willowware idea. There is a certain naive charm to the finished piece and Denis’ newspaper ‘fiery’bird was particularly successful (although unpainted – leading me to question another aspect of the course – the oddly specific ((yet remarkably changeable!)) briefs that we get given for investigating the different modules. As the bird was not painted, is it ‘wrong’ even though it is visually successful?). My own dystopian contribution, the fiery house reminded me of painting a theatre backdrop.

The whole experience was so stressful that I feel very prejudiced against this work despite its successes and unfortunately increasingly questioning my ability to participate withing the DIT  Sherkin Island Visual Art Degree course programme.

I will finish on the original inspiration, the old English poem that accompanies the willowware pattern –

Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o’er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.





Virtual Gender Fluidity

This week the DIT campus was visited by Sitearm Madonna ( – an avatar operated by an American engineer who had a huge input into the development of the virtual early days of Second Life. James Neville (aka Sitearm Madonna), talked us through the female personas that his avatar has used on Second Life through the years and his experiences of gender stereotyping based on his visual appearance on Second Life, facing prejudice from both males and females on the virtual reality platform despite his experience and qualifications.

He obviously feels far more attachment to his avatar and her appearance and dress, than me and poor old Saoise, who has yet to have a change of clothes since the day of her unfortunate run in with the horse in an earlier class.

I see her alone and unloved, hovering in the dark space between log out and log in longing for the power to chose bright pixels to wear and other avatars to dance the night away with. Alas it is not to be as the gaps between my log in and log out become ever longer so there she will continue to exist, neither in her own world or mine, alone in her unpowered universe.

Sitearm Madonna is definitely not alone in Second Life, as James demonstrated a second avatar – able to coexist with Sitearm, yet unable to speak when together. She was sporting an impressive electric blue ballgown for her visit to DIT


Despite seating Saoise at the back of the class, I was able to use the clever camera control buttons on Second Life and get a snapshot of the class with both of James’ avatars and the backdrop of Sitearms’ looks throughout the years and his RL photograph. An interesting discussion followed regarding gender based expectations and appearances.

The discussion also dipped into the subject of robots and cyborgs where we learnt of Donna Haraway’s seminal feminist text: A Cyborg Manifesto (1984) which challenges traditional theories of the performativity of gender, proposing the confusion of gender roles against the essentializing of them. For Haraway the Cyborg represents the space to move beyond binary codes into more a fluid and dynamic understanding of identity, to quote –

Cyborgs might consider more seriously the partial, fluid, sometimes aspect of sex and sexual embodiment. Gender might not be global identity after all, even if it has profound historical breadth and depth. (P.108)

These ideas have particular relevance today as transgender issues come to the fore and the question of what is gender today, if it has now become untied from the facts of biological sex. We live in a world where a transgender male to female can be a ‘lesbian’ and where a biologically male child who identifies as female can join the Girl Guides but a biologically female child who identifies as male cannot. James Neville’s focus on his avatars’ looks and dress in Second Life was an alien concept to me despite our respective biological genders.

Within this conversation Site told us about the Museum of Robots in SL and promptly his avatar become a yellow robot, reminiscent of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2.

Joseph Jacotot’s suggestion that we build a robot as part of our Visual Art degree course was not met with a great deal of enthusiasm, it must be said.

Exhibitions and Collaborations


This week the class had an initial run through organizing an exhibition in Second Life space, with a show of work in the DIT Second Life Campus.

The class was a success as all the work looked stunning up on the virtual walls and everyone had plenty to say regarding their examples of heterotopian spaces.


Saoise particularly enjoyed the framing effect of my heterotopian bridge painting!

This is a bridge next to my house, where the busy main road crosses the Killaha river.  I have enjoyed the ‘other-worldlyness’ of the space under the bridge since I was a child – a space both of the road and completely apart from it.

It was interesting to hear Shadidame speaking about her choice of a nursing home as my parents are now both resident in one and it would be a heterotopian space I visit regularly – yet old Bridie, accross the living room, meets me afresh every time as she tells me where she is from and when she is going home to her mother.

It was interesting to meet Second Life artists, with Treasure Ballinger and her colleagues from Virtual Ability Island and Cape Able Gallery in attendance. They were very positive in their responses and it was particularly interesting to be able to communicate clearly using the Second Life text boxes as the artists were deaf. This would be completely impossible in a group situation in Real Life.

Unfortunately my computer connection gave out and I was unable to follow the visitors to Cape Able Gallery to Suellen Heartsong’s SL photography show, with Slatan Dryke’s  moving photographs and dynamic sculpture on the lawn (see more on his website). iSkye Silverweb also showed one of her interactive sculptures, more of which can be seen at Ethnographpia in SL.

Plenty there to give us inspiration for our group exhibition where we will be collaborating in our groups to produce a group canvas on the topic of Heterotopia.






Heterotopic Exhibitions and Computer troubles…..

Another week on Second Life…

Computer troubles hampered my experience again as I had trouble logging onto Second Life and once on was unable to teleport Saoise to DIT. Eventually we made it there, after crashing one computer and opening up on another  – and participated in the team building lecture with John O’Connor (Cup of Tae)

The Team Roles were described as follows :-


As the class discussed overlapping roles and positive communication between team members, I experienced a brand new computer issue with Second Life with my viewer crashing leaving me with just sound. Thus I had no access to the chat box and was unable to see what my classmates were typing – although frustratingly I could still hear the clicking of keyboards – and as nothing on my screen was working, I was unable to speak or even try logging out and back in again! At least it made a change from the usual problem of not being able to hear anything!

Moving forward I hope the internet connection allows me to work as productively as possible within my Second Life group.

I was able to upload and display my heterotopic painting in the DIT campus with some much appreciated help from Faye. It took quite a while to get the hang of the process and putting pictures up onto virtual walls was surprisingly complicated. It was great to be able to access real time help and support from a classmate within the DIT campus, despite our physical distance in real life.

So here we have the heterotopic space of the DIT virtual campus (existing only in the virtual world), decorated with images of other heterotopic spaces, places painted from the real world, and uploaded onto the computer screen and thus onto the DIT computer-generated walls. The juxtaposition of the real vs the unreal.


Saoise enjoying the view!

Exploring the University of Akron in Second Life:


On March 22nd we had the chance to view the University on Akron (UA) Second Life campus under the guidance of Dr Dudley Turner (aka Dudley Dreamscape), Dean of the College of Creative & Professional Arts at the university. This experience was only possible through the medium of Second Life as the ‘real’ university is located in northern Ohio – and thus inaccessible to students  accross the Atlantic, studying at DIT.

Unfortunately this class was fraught with technical issues as most of the class, including myself, had no sound. However we were still able to communicate via the chat box and enjoy the virtual space the University has created in Second Life   (another good example of a heterotopic space in action!). Unlike the DIT space where we usually attend Second Life lectures, UA has concentrated on creating a less formal space, rejecting the traditional lecture hall imagery with an outdoor look, with ocean views.

Unfortunately much of Saoise’s time here was spent logging in and out in a futile attempt to get working sound but through her participation I was still able to get a flavour of the experience.   The ‘Voting Circle’ was a useful addition to class discussion, with Dudley questioning our online personas, particularly in relation to Facebook.

This was a clear visual aid to more vocal discussions and the pie chart in the centre allowed a clear view of the diversity of opinions on different subjects. If Saoise had been also able to hear the discussions I think the experience could have been even more rewarding!

Thus we saw both the advantages and pitfalls that come with this technology – ‘traveling’ for mere seconds on our computers whilst at home, to learn from University staff from another continent through our involvement in Second Life – yet the experience hampered by poor internet connections and technical glitches. Thus I would suggest that any future Utopia would include a high speed broadband connection!



Week 7 of Virtual Environments Module

Week 7 of Virtual Environments Module

Despite logging in early this week in an attempt to iron out technical glitches, sound was frustratingly erratic this week in SL. Saoise is beginning to have sympathy with my children and their complaints regarding our home internet connection!

Discussion this week revolved around  Michael Foucault’s 1967 essay: Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias. According to Wikipedia, ‘Heterotopia is a concept in human geography elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault to describe places and spaces that function in non-hegemonic conditions. These are spaces of otherness, which are irrelevant, that are simultaneously physical and mental, such as the space of a phone call or the moment when you see yourself in the mirror.’[1]

Thus the heterotopian space can be seen as an ‘other’ place, existing in real time and space, contrasting with the ‘no’ places of utopian thought. Walter Russell Mead has written, “Utopia is a place where everything is good; dystopia is a place where everything is bad; heterotopia is where things are different — that is, a collection whose members have few or no intelligible connections with one another.”[2]

Heterotopias are defined as sites which are embedded in aspects and stages of our lives and which somehow mirror and at the same time distort, unsettle or invert other spaces. (

Connections were drawn between Foucault’s ideas on heterotopian space and the ferry carrying the BAVA students to their study base on Sherkin island. Foucault states ‘the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilization, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development … but has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates. 

sherkin hall


The Sherkin Island community hall that we study and create in, would also count as heterotopian space as an extension of the DIT Dublin campus, providing educational space, community space, exhibition space, exercise space (etcetera, etcetera) to a diverse community of islanders and students (albeit with a severe shortage of storage space, it must be said!)

I am also interested in investigating the idea of the playground as a heterotopian space. It is a real space – ‘lets go to the playground!’ – yet it can exist in any number of locations and functions as an educational space, exercise space and social space. There is also a growing trend for adult playgrounds with equipment suitable for adults being installed in similar spaces.


Art itself can create heterotopian space, as installation, interaction, crafting, sculpture and skills come together to create ‘other’ spaces. I have experienced a good example of this in the Turbine Hall exhibition space of the Tate Modern in London.

The virtual space of the DIT campus on Second Life is proving to be a useful heterotopian space for the exchange of ideas and information regarding our degree course, a space where we can meet up with lecturers whilst remaining firmly at home, an experience not unlike Foucault’s mirror, particularly of benefit to us distance learners.


Thus the ideas of heterotopia allow space for the creativity and innovation so essential in the visual arts. Space that is not so readily available in the idea of universal Utopia.

Martin Puryear’s work explores time and space, reality and art, skills and craftmanship. More can on his work can be read at:

According to André Reichel of the Karlshochschule International University, (

‘Both technological and societal Utopias often neglect the human individual and its free agency. The freedom to choose not to live in someone else’s Utopia is overlooked all too easily. Abandoning your humanity and severing your ties with nature in some technofuture might not be a dream for a lot of people, but rather a nightmare. The same is true for grand narratives trying to transform the people of the present into somewhat better people of the future. We are humans and as such we fail. Balancing boldness, without which we would never dare to dream up better futures, with humbleness and friendliness to the failures of others and our very own failures appears to be more necessary than ever.’

Week 6 of Second Life

This week was discussion week as we went over our experiences and impressions of our visit to Virtual ability Island last week. Virtual ability Island is a cross-disability peer support community of nearly 1000 members from 6 continents. Members have disabilities – physical disability, a mental or emotional or developmental disability, or a sensory disability (deafness or blindness). About ¼ of members do not (yet!) have disabilities. They may be a parent, spouse, child, or friend of a person with a disability; caregiver; researcher; medical professional; or an educator.

This was my first week accessing Second Life from my new computer and unfortunately there were teething issues with logging on making me late to class. Once there, my internet connection was very poor, with audio proving very unreliable requiring me to log on and off a couple of times to try and rectify.

Thus it proved to not be the most informative week of participation!

I believe an exhibition of our work was proposed and apparently agreed upon for Virtual Ability Island with participation to be invited from the Islands residents.

We also discussed Richard Noble’s lecture, ‘The Politics of Utopia’, which he discusses in the context of contemporary visual art. He points out the paradox of political art – too involved in the day to day struggle of politics it risks ceasing to be evaluable as art, yet irrelevant if not political, it can become trapped between the aesthetic and the political.

Richard Noble views all forward looking action as Utopian, citing ‘booking a holiday’ as a Utopian. He sees Utopian art as a response to the world we inhabit, offering ‘what if’ scenarios – not a blueprint for changing the world.

I could not help to notice in my research of utopian thought, how much is assimilated by men – another example of the ‘male gaze’ being seen as ‘the’ gaze.

I found reading

Utopian thinking: how to build a truly feminist society by

a very informative view of a more ‘gender-equal utopia’.