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.
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”
Audio monologues from Atomic Vacation
Queerskins: ARK Virtual Reality Experience
Queerskins: Home Interactive Virtual Installation (2020)
Audio Vignette Stories from Queerskins
Bamako Love Story with Michael DeBartolo as Sebastian
Sebastian Looks for Home with Michael DeBartolo as Sebastian
Queerskins: a love story Interactive Physical Installations (2018-2019)
Performance Photography Series “What They Left Behind” (2018)
Queerskins: a love story interactive virtual reality experience (2018)
Queerskins: a novel interactive multimedia online narrative
Reconstructing Mayakovsky (2008) interactive multimedia online narrative
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.
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.