Virtual reality art gets what it's been sorely missing—drag queens.
Drag has adapted to the digital age—queens are able to expand their fan bases far beyond their local bars via social media, and Youtube carries their performances around the world. But any performance-based art encounters one essential difficulty, despite all these opportunities for digital sharing—the body. All art forms rooted in the performers' physicality struggle to perfectly translate via technological replication. But three Australian artists have found a way to harness the physicality of drag performers in for their project Virtual Drag, in which they created 3D body scans of drag queens for audiences to view in virtual reality.
Artists Mark Payne, Australia Post Art Prize Finalist Alison Bennett and Australia Post Art Prize Winner Megan Beckwith are the creators of Virtual Drag. Bennett and Beckwith are both research artists at the Deakin Motion Lab. "One day I blurted out: I wanna make 3D scans of drag queens! And everyone went: YES!” says Bennett. “I have been a huge fan of Mark Payne’s sensitive and mesmerising work using photogrammetry so I invited both he and Megan to work with me on making it happen.”
“We stood the drag performers in the middle of a photo booth that allowed 143 cameras to all be trained in on their fabulousness from every angle,” Payne tells the Creators Project. He and Bennett "used photogrammetry software to generate the 3D mesh and textures; Megan then added animation and inserted the animated 3D scans into Unity,” Bennett adds. The final product is exhibited via Oculus Rift headset.
The still-emerging field of digital art can be homogenous in its imagery. In the Virtual Drag press release, Bennett notes that, "So much of the early work in virtual reality has been driven by naked girls presented for a male gaze.” The male gaze figures large in digital art because the field is dominated by straight male artists, and the voices and aesthetics of female, queer, and non-white artists are more rarely heard. Bennett discussed the barriers to entry that queer and female artists face in the digital art realm with the Creators Project. "As a female queer digital media artist, I am very much aware that I have to lay claim to my space in the digital art field,” she says. "Computing has become a male dominated arena. Both myself and Megan have had the experience of being asked “Who does your digital work for you?” and found ourselves shut out of conversations. It takes work to persist and insist on inserting our voices and aesthetic."
Aside from striking a blow for minority representation in the world of digital art, Virtual Drag celebrates the under-appreciated art form of drag performance in an interactive and mesmerizing way. "We’re really proud of the work we’ve created,” says Bennett. “It has its place in digital art, but it also has captured the joy of those performers we’ve worked with and given a new platform for the important art of drag."
To learn more about Virtual Drag, click here.