Acclaimed American, Melbourne-based artist Jonathan Homsey brings Mx.Red (pronounced misread), an augmented reality experience, and a Waackin’ Ball to Footscray Community Arts Centre on Friday 23rd March as part of the 2018 Festival of Live Art . The free Mx.Red installation combines motion capture technology and live performances to create a new experience of dance, expression and intimacy beyond gender lines. The event also includes the Mx.Red Waackin’ Ball, a queer celebration of expression and empowerment through the dance form waackin’. Created in LGBTI clubs in Los Angeles during the 1970’s disco era, waackin’ involves movement of the arms over and behind the shoulder, posing and footwork. We chatted to Jonathan about his inspiration, virtual reality and the waackin’ aesthetic.
Mx.Red has been described by you as a “queer utopian Pokemon Go.” What inspired you to turn this previously viral game into a virtual reality arena for the queer community?
Augmented, mixed and virtual reality are new experiences for everyone. Even for myself and other artists, we find it hard to describe to the general public what they will feel or experience when immersed in this technology. I use the analogy of Pokemon Go because it is one of the first augmented realities consumed en masse.
Pokemon Go inspired me because of the accessibility of interacting and sharing an experience all within your smart phone.
What kind of experience are you hoping users to get out of this installation?
Awareness. In my artistic practice, I am constantly wanting to raise awareness for the viewer to notice subtle movements, energies and sensations. With the medium of Mx.Red being an app, virtual reality and mixed reality, I hope it will shift the viewer to notice the movement of a body outside of society’s construct of what a body should look like and how it should move.
Which Pokemon character do you most identify with?
I loved the original Pokemon games and was an avid gamer. I would say Eevee, which is a pokemon that can change with certain stones and evolve to a Pokemon with a variety of elements.
Do you believe that the themes you have explored in the virtual world will come to fruition in a future reality?
The themes in this virtual world of Mx.Red are about an energetic body that cannot be seen by the naked eye. They are spiritual, ephemeral and difficult to articulate. Mx.Red also to me embodies what our popular culture would be like if (more like when) we break beyond the binary.
I believe this is already part of our reality. Pop culture is slowly but surely breaking beyond the binary and disrupting the patriarchy and the heteronormative dialogue. In addition, the energetic body is always felt, so this is just raising our awareness about it. People feel it after a good yoga class or just a ‘vibe’ when they are around someone. A little of Mx.Red is always around!
‘Waackin’ is a style of dance that was created in the `70s LA dance club scene. Why is this an era that resonates with you?
Mx.Red is about queer utopian worlds and to me, disco is that utopia. I was born in 1988 so I was not around, but the disco fantasy I read and researched is something I always strive for in life. Everyone getting along, being festive and having a damn good time.
Is there a typical ‘Waackin’ aesthetic or costume?
No there is no typical waackin’ look, and that is the best part!
Waackin’ is about embodying the music how you visualise it. Gender is a spectrum and so is the look in waackin’. Whether it be the Frankie Douglas masculine looks by American waacker Kumari Suraj or full drag by Drag Race Thailand’s Pangina Heals, the costume for waackin’ is just a vehicle for expression. People put on stage characters in waackin’ – mine is Johnny B. Goode, named after the Chuck Berry song. I love playing with the binary of gender using ‘50s Americana costuming and revealing a risqué outfit that surprises the audience. A tear away costume is also a good back-up in a waackin’ dance battle. Long sleeves to show off those fast waackin’ arms are always a plus!
Check out the Mx.Red opening at 7pm + Waackin’ Ball, 8pm, on the 23rd March at the Footscray Community Arts Centre, 45 Moreland St, Footscray.
Images by Sam Wong, interview by Sara Nicolette.