Combining the queer street dance styles of 1970s Los Angeles with the motion capture technology of today and the non-binary aesthetics of a utopian cyborg future, Mx.Red’s augmented reality experience is an interesting way to spend this Friday night in Footscray.
Part of the Festival of Live Art (presented by Footscray Community Arts Centre), Mx.Red - pronounced ‘misread’ - is the brainchild of artist Jonathan Homsey.
The multi-sensory exhibition combines choreography, costume, augmented reality, tapestry, music, and visual art to create a queer futurist utopia. “In my sci-fi world” Homsey says, “I imagine that disco never died and the values of disco basically stayed all the way into this future state”.
“And who would be the Donna Summer of the future?” Homsey says. “To me, that’s who Mx.Red is”.
The bright red, genderless cyborg diva (who uses the gender neutral “Mx” rather than “Mr” or “Ms”) will be digitally created in real-time using motion-capture technology on live dancers - with choreography from Homsey himself and Western Sydney’s Sela Vai, set to music from Joyce Wrice.
“Mx.Red is the popstar of the future that is beyond binary, because we live in this future world where all these inequalities have ceased to exist”.
Homsey’s art uses the possibility of a distant future as a way to question how queer identity is policed now, and has been in the past. “If I turned on VH1 Divas in 1997 and we had no binary, what would those divas look like? What would a non-binary diva look like?”
Mx.Red’s chosen choreography gives a spotlight to ‘wacckin’’, a dance-style that evolved from the gay club scene of 1970s Los Angeles. “I call it ‘voguing’s cousin’” jokes Homsey, before citing an in-depth history of wacckin’ from dancer, choreographer and “go-to girl for the international dance-style”, Kumari Suraj.
Wacckin’ evolved from “punking”, an expressive dance-style developed by poor gay youth in 1970s Los Angeles. It was named after “punks”, a derogatory term for gay men at the time that was reclaimed within the club scene.
As a dance-style, it drew heavily from the dramatics and storytelling of fight choreography in film and television, with the later term ‘wacckin’’ originating from the onomatopoeia ‘WHACK!’ displayed on-screen in the 1960s Batman and Robin series whenever a sharp, explosive punch or kick was dealt.
All but one of the original “punks” - Viktor Manoel - died during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “I learnt that history and I wondered what would have happened if the AIDS epidemic didn’t happen, and disco never died and wacckin’ never died...”, says a solemn Homsey.
But the dance component is just one facet of the multi-sensory banquet on display at Mx.Red, and the multitude of different mediums and senses the exhibition engages speaks to a drive for inclusivity that extends beyond gender and sexuality.
“I’m doing a tapestry in Braille, and the Braille is actually made from diamantes,” begins Homsey when asked about the myriad of accessibility options that have - quite literally - been sewn into the exhibition. “So someone of vision, they’re just seeing ‘oh there’s some fabric, how archetypal gay with its red sequins and diamantes’ but if you’re vision impaired and let the venue know, we bring you to that space and you can actually feel the poem that is there”.
Accessibility and disability inclusivity is part of the ‘fully decolonized queer utopia’ Jonathan Homsey is intent on creating. “As I was making this I was like ‘how can I make this multi-sensory’ - if this is a utopia then every demographic must be included, because if they aren’t then I’d be a hypocrite of my own creative rationale.”
“First thing for me was admitting I was ignorant in some things, and then going to peak bodies like Vision Australia and VicDeaf and being like ‘hey, I’m a bit ignorant but I’ve got some funding and I really wanna kick ass, can you lead me in the right direction?’."
Beyond the Braille and tactile experiences of Mx.Red, the event will have social Auslan interpreters throughout the exhibition space for people who need them to engage with. “I’ve often found you’ll do the Auslan run of a show and then afterwards be in the foyer and if someone is hard of hearing, I can’t talk to that person if I don’t speak Auslan fluently” says Homsey.
“It can be pretty tokenising,” he continues. “But I don’t want anything to feel ‘separate’. We were talking about a tactile run where people of low vision get to feel the set, and I was wondering ‘well, can I feel the set as well?’ Why can’t the tactile elements and the diamante Braille be for everyone?”
“I wanted to chew up all the different kinds of inclusivity while making, let it digest, and then when I finish the product it would actually include all of it organically.”
For Homsey, it’s important that his message isn’t just reaching the same crowd of left-leaning queer people who already agree with him. “I hope to get ‘Joe Blow’ to listen - and I think a way I’m gonna be able to do it is seduce them with like, an app, and urban music.”
“Having it in Footscray is really interesting. I come from Asian immigrant parents - and I know there’s a lot of immigrant kids like me there, third culture kids, who have this mix of their parents culture and colonial conditioning” he says, before joking: “I feel like we’d be preaching to the converted if we did this in Collingwood.”
“[But] the public, whoever they are, needs provocation like Mx.Red, they need to know what popular culture would be like if we broke beyond the binary - like, ‘oh, I’m just saying they, and they still sing a cool song, and they’re someone that’s real sexy’”.
The Mx.Red Augmented Reality Experience is this Friday 23 March at 7pm as Footscray Community Arts Centre.
Alistair Baldwin is a writer & comedian based in Melbourne but loyal only to Perth. His work has been published by SBS, Vice, un. Magazine, Archer, Art+Australia & more, and he is currently a writer for ABC’s Get Krack!n. Follow him on Twitter at @baldwinalistair for content with a much smaller character count than this article.