Queerskins explores the dynamic tension between the “real” and the virtual, fact and fiction, memory and desire through a compelling, character-driven narrative. The story revolves around a complex relationship between a devoutly Catholic mother and her gay
son who dies of AIDS. Queerskins explores the quintessentially human desire to transcend ordinary reality through memory, belief and imagination.
Queerskins employs Unity Game Engine, Depthkit volumetric video, panoramic photography, 360 video and spatial
audio. We also harness pre-computer era technology—impactful storytelling, lyrical and
emotionally charged writing—to create an immersive, alternative world.
This world offers visitors the opportunity to connect with an urgent social message in
a non-didactic, emotionally powerful way. Through story and technology, it puts visitors in the position of experiencing the intimate interior worlds of others. It is our hope that this will lead to an emotional engagement with the characters and themes and an empathy for the characters’ personal experiences, and by extension, for “real” persons who grapple with love, illness and loss.
A diary found in a box of belongings offers a devoutly Catholic mother living in rural Missouri in the early 1990’s a second chance to know Sebastian, the estranged son she has lost to AIDS.
The visitor is positioned in the back seat of a car within intimate proximity of Depthkit rendered volumetric characters: Mary-Helen, Sebastian’s mother, in the front passenger seat and Ed, Sebastian’s father, who drives. Surrounded by an oppressive silence, but unobserved, the visitor has the opportunity to focus on dialogue and the body language of the two characters. 3D scanned objects (books, photographs, a diary) appear in the box next to the visitor on the car seat. The story is revealed through the visitor’s interaction with the objects.
Envisioning a scene from Sebastian’s diary, Mary-Helen imagines her son alive and in love. In her vision, Sebastian and his lover Alex begin an intimate dance on a beach at sunrise. Movements of the visitor’s hands and body generate traces of light, creating an ephemeral landscape through which the lovers dance. Acknowledging and celebrating the fact that her son loved and was loved despite her own and society’s rejection of him, Mary-Helen realizes that love is what will save her.
Sebastian sits in front of a doctor behind a cheap metal desk in a small, hot office. A fan whirs, voices and noise come through the window from the busy Bamako street. In the corner, we see Mary-Helen standing with the diary. Sebastian looks older, thinner, exhausted. He has grown out his beard. The doctor tells him his diagnosis.
During Sebastian’s funeral mass, Mary-Helen, wracked by guilt and
sadness, experiences ecstatic “visions”. This chapter harnesses the immersive realism of 360 degree video and the artistic potential of CGI to explore the human desire for transcendence. Here, as in Episode 2, the visitor is an intimate observer of Mary-Helen. Sitting in a mostly empty baroque church, having been abandoned there by Ed, Mary-Helen listens to Father Jim give the sermon about Jesus in the Garden at Gesthemane.
Illya Szilak is an independent scholar, writer and new media artist. In her art practice, she uses open source media and collaborations forged via the Internet to create multimedia narrative installations online.
Shaped by her experience as a physician, her artistic practice explores mortality, embodiment, identity, and belief in a media inundated by an increasingly virtual world.
Her first work Reconstructing Mayakovsky was included in the second Electronic Literature Collection and has been taught both as an example of innovative narrative game and literature at the university level. Her second work Queerskins: A Novel was included in the third Electronic Literature Collection.
Cyril Tsiboulski is co-founder and creative director at Cloudred, an interactive design studio that investigates novel forms of expression through technology. He is also a faculty members at New York University where he teaches in the Digital Communications and Media Program. Much of his professional and academic work centers around networked technologies and the way they affect human experience.