Queerskins: ark is the second chapter of the Queerskins story. It continues the story of Mary-Helen—a devoutly Catholic mother who reconnects with her son, Sebastian, through his diary and her imagination. Envisioning a scene from Sebastian’s diary, she imagines him alive and in love. Acknowledging and celebrating the fact that her son loved and was loved despite her own and society’s rejection of him, she realizes that love is what will save her.
You hear a phone ring, a woman answers. It is Mary-Helen. You hear only her side of the conversation and learn that she has lost her son and has sought solace in her husband and faith and found little. The phone call audio continues into the beginning of Scene 1. Here, we provide aesthetic continuity with Chapter 1. Again, we use sound as a kind of radio play, devoid of significant visuals, to harness your imagination and immediately bring you into the story as an active participant.
The viewer finds herself in a dimly lit attic bedroom, a place that seems to be stuck in time, heavy with memory. Here, you assume the passive role of an observer in a 360˚ environment. Unable to move, you can examine the memorabilia- laden surroundings and begin to get an idea of time, place and what the story might be about. As Mary-Helen begins reading her son’s diary, you move into the space of Mary-Helen’s imagination, the scene becomes slightly surreal merging the attic space with a beautiful beach in California at sunrise.
The transition to this scene consists of a literal blurring of the two worlds--the attic and the beach, a world conjured up through Mary-Helen’s imagination. You now find yourself on a beach at dawn. If you look behind, you see the attic you’ve just left and Mary-Helen still reading the diary. At the same time, Sebastian and his lover Alex appear, like a daydream nearby in the landscape. We allow Sebastian to break the 4th wall and directly implicate you in the scene. We position you quite close to the two men, just outside their personal space as you listen to their conversation.
The scene crossfades to an abstraction of the beach. A color pallet of yellows, blues, pinks and deep shadow, as well as a dominant light source create visual continuity with the prior scene. Mary-Helen is at a distance. Sitting in her chair, her eyes are closed, as if she is conjuring this scene. The diary is in her lap. Sebastian and Alex begin an intimate dance. At this point, you the viewer can decide how you respond emotionally and physically to the dancers. How and where you move your body and hands leave traces of light creating a beautiful landscape through which the dancers move in the environment.
You are now back in the attic. It is the magic hour. The room is lit with a flat, golden light, reminiscent of the light on the beach, but more subtle and natural. With a return of detail and color, it feels like the room has come back to life. Mary-Helen can’t turn back time, but she can live her life more openly, more tolerantly and more courageously. A subtle glance towards you provides a final moment of intimacy and connection.
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.