Illya Szilak and Cyril Tsiboulski


Paolo Barlascini’s vision for the doctor’s office in Scene 2

The third installment of the Queerskins story—fly angel soul continues the story of Sebastian, a young gay physician, estranged from his rural Catholic Missouri family, who, having moved to Mali to heal the sick, is diagnosed with AIDS. This experience takes place in Bamako in the mid-1980s. Sebastian, a young American doctor and his friend, Bathilde, a French-Malian nurse anxiously wait the results of Sebastian’s AIDS test.

The story is told from three different perspectives, those of a fly, angel and a human (soul). The decisions that the participant/camera operator makes regarding how they move through the environments and how they interact with the virtual sets, determines the footage that is captured and edited in real time into a 2D film. The angel and fly exist as state machine, pre-programmed virtual entities. Not only does each character see the same scene differently in terms of aesthetics, they will move in different ways (flying, walking, gliding). All three cameras function as the “players,” both in the video game sense and in a theatrical sense. The cameras’ real-time “performance” is the material for the 2D split-screen final montage. The work draws on a tradition of “embodied” camerawork in the films of Max Ophuls and the privileging of gesture and movement in Maya Deren’s work to create a novel cinematic language at the intersection of live performance, cinema and immersive experience. Supported by a grant from The Jerome Foundation. Expected completion Spring 2023


ORDINARY GESTURE Virtual Performance Art Work

Raja’s performance translated into VR

We were commissioned by Artizen and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to work with rising star choreographer/artist Raja Feather Kelly to help realize his first VR work which premiered November 19th in the Museum of Other Realities.

“Ordinary Gesture is a Virtual Reality Theatrical experience that intersects theatre, meditation, and movement. The experience seeks to surrealize the experience of empathy by situating the player in 5 scenes that expand from their body to space-time (the universe) and back again. Inspired by the movies Magnolia, Melancholia, Waking Life, the poem You Are Never Ready by Nicole Blackman, and the writing of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, Ordinary Gesture asks the player to contemplate existence, suffering, compassion, and gesture as both ingredients to create theatre and a means to perhaps better understand empathy.”

IN MY OWN SKIN Virtual Installation in VRChat

‘In My Own Skin’ is an interactive documentary photography project which examines the performance of identity. Amateur models were asked to choose a unique, handmade garment, created by Mumbai textile artist Loise Braganza, that represented who they really are and be photographed by Tagger Yancey IV in their own homes. The interactive installation, housed in VRChat (accessible by VR headset and via PC), purposefully rejects a passive, “neutral” viewing experience. Rather, the photos are placed in archetypal architectural structures, complicating any easy reading of identity.

Elaine Wong from Vive Arts Interview with me for CPH: DOX

In headset still of one of five custom designed avatars that visitors can wear to go through the installation.
Moving through the structure, visitors “undress” the photograph and, in doing so, confront their own preconceived categories of identity. 

This conversation took place live in VR in “IN MY OWN SKIN” during the premiere at the CPH:DOX festival in April 2021. The spatial and interactive affordances of Virtual Reality offer the opportunity to construct unexpected forms of intimacy, creating a kind of magic circle where, at least for a time, the conventional divisions that separate “us” and “other” don’t easily or simply apply. Actor Michael DeBartolo, who modeled for the exhibition, discusses his personal journey as a proud out gay man and activist through his work in VR. This conversation took place in “IN MY OWN SKIN” an interactive documentary photography project which examines the performance of identity, which took place during the premiere at the CPH:DOX festival in April 2021

Photography Series “In My Own Skin”

Photograph, Handmade Textile from the forthcoming “In My Own Skin” interactive installation with wearable avatars coming to in April 2021. Photography created in collaboration with Tagger Yancey, IV. Twenty unique handmade textiles created in collaboration with Loise Braganza.
from the series “In My Own Skin”
“Tomi” from In My Own Skin, digital photograph, dimensions variable
Rochelle from “In My Own Skin” series
“Rochelle in her Studio” from In My Own Skin
“Angelo” from In My Own Skin
“Michael” from In My Own Skin
In headset still from Atomic Vacation (in production-2016-present) atomicvacation.com which will consist of 6DoF VR, 3D volumetric video vignettes, physical installation, comic book, text, found and archival objects
Compilation excerpts of 1) Trailer created at BANFF Art Centre, Canada with Sasha Stanojevic 2) in head set proof of concept 6DoF VR experience and 3) proof of concept Depthkit “memory room” scene with Tomi Heady as Rae created in Unity.
Page from hand-drawn comic book created with Karen Lllamas for Atomic Vacation

Miss Atomic Bomb archival image. In the audio track below, Edward R. Murrow interviews Oppenheimer about the end of humanity.

Audio monologues from Atomic Vacation

Shizuku, the robot girl talks about her body. She is recorded with a text to speech program.

Queerskins: ARK Virtual Reality Experience

In Headset Still from “Queerskins: ARK” VR http://vr.queerskins.com/ark
Trailer for Queerskins: ARK drone assisted 360 video landscape, photogrammetry, volumetric live action video, shot at and co-produced by Intel Studio. Created in collaboration with choreographer Brandon Powers.

360 Video Variation on Queerskins: ARK created for CannesXR/Tribeca Immersive at The Museum of Other Realities, June 2020

Queerskins: Home Interactive Virtual Installation (2020)

In headset still of Queerskins Home, an explorable interactive world in VRChat https://www.cloudred.com/lab/qsvrhome/
In headset photo of Queerskins Home: “Dad Den” featuring screengrab of a Youtube video of a rabbit being skinned, American flag photo from our trip to rural Missouri to shoot 360˚ video, digital objects and spatialized audio monologues.
At the intersection of game, installation and exhibition. An abbreviated in headset tour through Queerskins: Home in VRChat featuring spatial sound–found sounds and original monologues attached to 3D objects, original, crowd-sourced photographs and archival images curated from Queerskins: a novel, Queerskins: a love story and Queerskins: ARK

Audio Vignette Stories from Queerskins

Still Image from the commissioned video by Pelin Kirca for Queerskins: a novel

Bamako Love Story with Michael DeBartolo as Sebastian

Sebastian Looks for Home with Michael DeBartolo as Sebastian

see more monologues at Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/illya-szilak/sets/queerskins-ark-installation
LA subway entrance –still from the video by filmmaker Jarrah Gurrie. Jarrah also played Alex, Sebastian’s first real love, in Queerskins: a novel.
In this audio monologue, Alex reveals what Sebastian really said, to him on their second date, no, it wasn’t “touch me.”

Queerskins: a love story Interactive Physical Installations (2018-2019)

Installation view Queerskins: a love story, Rice Art Gallery, Houston (2018) archival objects, photographs, found furniture http://vr.queerskins.com/installations
Interactive Installation MuvLab, Mexico City for Queerskins: a love story: VR, video, neon sign, found objects. (2019)
Commissioned Installation for Queerskins: a love story: archival objects, moving boxes, second hand furniture thrifted on arrival, vintage T.V. with compilation of found video clips, printed photographs from “What They Left Behind Series” and VR at The TIFF Lightbox Gallery, Toronto (June 2018)

Performance Photography Series “What They Left Behind” (2018)

“What They Left Behind” crowd performance photography series 2018 http://vr.queerskins.com/stories created in collaboration with photographers TAGGER YANCEY, IV, JULIENNE SCHAER, MOLLY FLORES and

Queerskins: a love story interactive virtual reality experience (2018)

In headset screenshot, “Queerskins: a love story” VR (2018) http://vr.queerskins.com/a-love-story for which we were awarded a Peabody Futures of Media Award, the only one ever given in the “transmedia” category.
Trailer for Queerskins: a love story 360 video landscape shot on. location in Missouri from moving SUV, volumetric live action video, found and original photographs, 3D scanned archival objects, spatial sound (Skywalker Studio) and animated 3D objects.

Queerskins: a novel interactive multimedia online narrative

Still from “Queerskins: a novel”interactive multimedia narrative with found media objects (2013), 40,000 word diary composed by Illya Szilak and 2 hours of audio monologues from five characters. http://online.queerskins.com/
A short screen capture of Queerskins: a novel. This monologue became the inspiration for Queerskins: ARK VR

Reconstructing Mayakovsky (2008) interactive multimedia online narrative

Still from the interactive multimedia online narrative “Reconstructing Mayakovsky” (2008) which is accessed through a series of mechanisms. https://vimeo.com/manage/12785616/general.
Concrete poetry machine–the 90,000 word novel for the Twitter Age, in 10 randomly selected words from a list of 500 hand chosen by me.
The manifesto in Reconstructing Mayakovsky is wiki. Graphic design in collaboration with Pelin Kirca, based on Roentgen’s original publication of X-rays in a German medical journal.
Still from the hand-drawn animation created in collaboration with Turkish-American artist Pelin Kirca http://www.pelinkirca.com/index.php?/ongoing/reconstructing-mayakovsky/
The archive slowly died, accumulating 404 errors as it depended on the community of Internet authors to keep their websites viable. First to go was the Google real time image search engine for the “big words” like “hope” and “evil.” You could search the archive using “anti-google” tags, poetic associations like “Dream of a Girl in Texas, circa 1986”

Artist Statement

We are Peabody Futures of Media award winning artists working in new media, virtual reality and virtual and physical installation and participatory performance. Our work speaks to our current time: one foot IRL and one foot in digital worlds. It explores the tension between material, embodied, historical reality and the human desire to transcend those limits, especially through art and technology. Illya trained as a physician, her artistic lineage comes from electronic literature. Cyril is an interactive designer. Our work is necessarily cross-disciplinary, collaborative and participatory. So far it includes: XR, dance, textiles, photography, graphic design, animation, writing, comic book art and film.

Our first works, online interactive multimedia narratives Reconstructing Mayakovsky and Queerskins: a love story, are still taught at the university level around the world. They employ familiar literary genres and melodramatic plots. We then disrupt the easy consumption of these through a multimodal aesthetic and by allowing the viewer to choose how they consume the story..

With our first VR experience Queerskins: a love story, we again turned to genre, specifically the 1950’s melodramas of Douglas Sirk , which inspired our hyperreal aesthetic and landscape that uses 360˚ video to imitate rear-screen projection. Then, like artist/filmmakers Keren Cytter and Omer Fast, we found ways to subvert viewer expectations. By combining multiple kinds of image capture, different levels of artifice (from pure 3D modeling to “real” quotidian crowd-sourced Creative Commons photos and spatial environmental sound), and and also by making the viewer responsible for constructing the main character through a series of personal artifacts, we purposefully create a Brechtian distancing effect.

Our commitment to making viewers integral to the art, harnessing their memories, biases, fears and desires, has extended into two participatory photography projects as well as physical installation. Our increasing interest in movement, architectural construction of space and gesture to create a narrative language, is inspired by Maya Deren and dancefilm, third wave HCI, and the emerging science of neuroaesthetics, all of which influenced the making of our second VR work Queerskins ARK that was shot with volumetric video at Intel Studiios. It features an intimate pas-des-deux between two male lovers. It premiered at The Venice International Film Festival in 2020.

Statement from Illya Szilak

We are at a critical juncture in human history. How we choose to use technologies and what values we translate into digital realities will affect not only human well-being, but all life on this planet. As a physician who cares for patients at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, mother of two teenagers and digital artist, I have both a personal and professional interest in thinking through these pressing questions. Movement between digital and physical spaces, researching unfamiliar fields of knowledge and practice, and wide-ranging cross-disciplinary collaboration with digital and non-digital artists are integral to my art practice. Our art explores the ways that virtual realities can offer visitors the opportunity to “try-on” a different logic and a new point of view. This donning of a different sense of self in VR led to my wanting to create actual garments that visitors could wear as they explored a large scale multimedia installation. Then Covid hit, and everything was cancelled. Suddenly, communication through the medium of a touchable, physical object became that much more urgent, and has born fruit in our collaboration with Mumbai-based textile artist Loise Braganza (whom we have never met in person.) Our work is decidedly “queer.” If this work doesn’t make you feel a little like waking up with a hangover wearing someone else’s clothes and thinking, did I do that?!, well, then, we aren’t doing our job.

For us, VR acts as a lab for trying out new relations and exploring the tenacity of certain relations. Quite simply, desire moves you toward something. Aversion moves you away. Sometimes you are caught looking.

“As with chance, we must not forget the power of desire to engender logical monsters. ”

In Fairytales, you go where you are not allowed, Goldilocks, Jack up the Beanstalk. As a child, there is that sense of shame. You feel it for them because they broke the rules. The late great Eve Sedgwick wrote an amazing essay with Adam Frank called “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold”.

“Shame is one of those affects whose digitalizing mechanism works to “punctuat[e the system] as distinct.” Perhaps, along with contempt and disgust, it can
be a switch point for the individuation of imaging systems, of consciousnesses,
of bodies, of theories, of selves, an individuation that decides not necessarily an
identity but a figuration, distinction, or mark of punctuation. And unlike
contempt or disgust, shame is characterized by its failure ever to renounce its
object cathexis, its relation to the desire for pleasure as well as the need to avoid

Maybe that’s what we are getting at. Shame, pride, real, imaginary, self, other, desire, disgust. You get to draw that line, not us.