“There is already a transformative idea when using VR to address trans identity issues” - Cameron Kostopoulos (BODY OF MINE VR)
This is a first VR project, and a world premiere for BODY OF MINE VR at SXSW. An immediate international exposure for this intimate project that proposes to discover the body of the other, an exploration of gender dysphoria and trans identity. Discussion with a young creator, Cameron Kostopoulos.
Stories of the transgender experience
Cameron Kostopoulos - I come from "physical" production with an eye for multimedia. I have always been attracted by the expression of bodies, with the intention of using audiovisual supports in my creations. The hybridization of formats and ideas was therefore anchored in me from the start! Virtual reality is a fairly recent discovery in which I have assiduously immersed myself to understand all the possibilities, and this is what led me to create BODY OF MINE which we are presenting this year at SXSW.
C. K. - BODY OF MINE is an exploration of the transgender body in virtual reality. You are placed in the body of a transgender person where you can explore all the senses. The experience then offers several interviews around the themes genderfluid, LGBTQ + ... It is through interactivity that you have to trigger these testimonies about surgery, etc. I wanted to offer a moment of exchange on this idea of the body and the discovery of the other. The inspiration for this project came from my childhood in Texas. The political and homophobic atmosphere in the United States does not offer much safe space for LGBTQ+ people. I wish there was a place where I could ask questions, discuss things.
C. K. - We're using all the HTC Vive technology, from trackers to facial recognition, to provide full immersion. With VR, I really want to question our identity - and it should be as complete as possible. There is no direct interactivity; everything is triggered by gesture. It's a desire not to create any unnecessary barrier or artifice in this exploration, to better let the audience feel their body. The whole experience is based on the encounter between intimacy and technology. We had to use advanced technological tools, and not let them take over the subject. In VR, you can be immersed, interact, etc. But to see yourself, intimately, in this situation, requires a total implication. Our artistic direction was made with this in mind.
BODY OF MINE, a non fiction project
C. K. - The project is based on a discussion about gender dysphoria. We interviewed several people whose testimonies served as a basis for the project. One of the people we talked to was a male who is pregnant, who is seen by the outside world as a woman... Because he is expecting a child. We were able to discuss his own relationship to the body as well. This documentary work is essential in order not to be too theoretical in our proposal, and to preserve an authenticity essential to the DNA of the project.
C. K. - The phrase "I am a prisoner of my own body" is often used by transgender people. We've taken it literally in the first part of BODY OF MINE. And when you explore a little further, this cage gradually disappears to make way for an open air garden. We join then this idea of gender euphoria, of appeasement and alignment between its kind and its body. The space allows us to illustrate this, and to work on the decor to better take into account the sensations in a visual metaphor - in a very organic way.
C. K. - From the beginning, we had this intention. We are exploring a difficult theme for many people, which often impacts their lives for a long time. We had to illustrate this, from the worst to the best. In the same way, we thought about the multiplicity of bodies, forms... And how BODY OF MINE could propose a meeting point for the whole of the spectators. We had to keep a certain poetry in this very physical relationship to our reality, and I hope that it will speak to everyone as soon as they discover the installation!
VR, audience and breaking the barrier
C. K. - Using virtual reality implies having a technological barrier between the user and the story, and we worked to limit it as much as possible - before, during and after the experience. We are still in a moment where it involves a lot of technology, sensors... And maybe there is a transformative idea inherent in the topic we are discussing!
C. K. - BODY OF MINE also ties in with my thesis topic, and using VR as a creative medium in that setting is fascinating. I hope to be able to offer a space for LGBTQ+ people in virtual reality - there is a real potential, which is not explored enough, for these stories. I hope to contribute to that! My success will be to create a link between the public and these themes. BODY OF MINE was produced for $2000 - and the cost of going to SXSW is more than the production budget. So it's a very independent production. Nevertheless, it gives me the motivation to go and build more ambitious projects, on higher budgets that will give us more freedom.
C. K. - I have real support in Los Angeles, and a caring community that has helped me. Especially in equipping me with what was needed! Interacting with XR enthusiasts gave me an exciting glimpse of what could be next… As for BODY OF MINE, it also opens relevant discussions. Many people have questions, and the work itself offers some answers - or reassures them about asking them. Finally, a VR experience creates a very important human connection!