XR Through The Womanist Gaze 2/3: Telling Women-Related Stories With AR, with Adriana Vecchioli
Interactive augmented reality storytelling has been known to simulate an unusual imaginative connection between the audience and the character, drawing the audience into a new environment. Adriana Vecchioli employs this interactiveness to address societal issues faced by women globally. With her empowering interactive Art piece MEDUSA, WAKE UP! she is emphasising the strength of a woman in finding healing from sexual violence.
The Connection Between AR and Women-Related Stories
Adriana Vecchioli - I believe AR can be an important tool for telling women-related stories. A lot of women in the world have been victims of gender-based violence and I am mostly interested in storytelling and narrative work in AR, especially at the intersection of films and movies because I believe that it can be a useful tool in driving these important stories in a way to get people to be immersed and feel more.
A. V. - I have always been fascinated by immersive media and it stems from wanting to be in the story, to be the protagonist. When I watch a film, I imagine myself as the main character, because it allows me to not just be an observer, but also be a player and get to be involved and put myself in the character's shoes. I find it particularly empowering.
A. V. - In exploring this, I am focused on bringing the emotional and powerful impact of films into the interactivity of AR and other forms of extended realities. I believe the intersection of the two will be really powerful for driving impact.
MEDUSA, WAKE UP!: A tool for sexual violence healing
A. V. - My recent piece MEDUSA, WAKE UP! which is currently exhibited at the AR Art House Gallery in Los Angeles, is a piece that is centred on the power of the Greek goddess, Medusa. In Greek mythology, she had a head of hair consisting of snakes and was seen as a monster. Her gaze is believed to turn men into stone and she was beheaded by the Greek Hero Perseus who avoided her gaze by using a mirror-like shield to send back her gaze.
A. V. - Talking about the female gaze of Medusa, the men were scared to look into her eyes because of how powerful her gaze was. I find this very interesting. However, the entire story around her being turned into a monster wasn't quite settling for me as it seemed to come from a sexist and patriarchal narrative.
A. V. - The Greek story portrays Medusa as a young beautiful woman with great hair who turned down the sexual advances of Poseidon, and as a result, he raped her inside Athena's temple. Athena was mad that her temple had been desecrated, so she turned Medusa into a monster, turning her beautiful hair into snakes and her eyes were given this incredible power.
A. V. - This is very relatable for most rape victims and also symbolises the women's rape culture because most times, the shame is cast on the victims rather than the oppressors. Victims of sexual abuse face double blame - The trauma and the shame. This is obvious in the way society treats actual victims of sexual violence.
A. V. - So, I decided to flip the narrative in my art piece to tell a different narrative. With the MEDUSA, WAKE UP! painting, when you watch it with the AR filter on your mobile phone, Medusa who has been dead for years wakes up as a peaceful woman, smiles at you and the snakes on her hair come alive too and start crawling out of the paintings. I wanted to give her back the power that was taken away from her, and also give her the peace she finally deserves after enduring so much unfair injustice because her crime at the end of the day was just being a woman who was raped. Also, instead of seeing Athena as a mad goddess that unjustly turns Medusa into a monster, we see her as a protective sister who turned her beauty into a weapon. Medusa's gaze is weaponised, she looks down at her oppressors in shame and that's why her gaze can turn men into stone. It's not all men though, just the men who looked at her with the wrong thoughts and intentions.
A. V. - Medusa's hair being turned into a snake in this context is also symbolic. Snakes don't attack except when threatened. Snake venoms have been known to serve as a cure and this symbolises healing for Medusa. Snakes can also shed their skin, symbolising renewal.
A. V. - This art piece is a statement condemning violence against women. We don't speak so much about healing for these women who have been violated, so MEDUSA, WAKE UP! portrays healing because sometimes, to truly heal, you need to get back your power and what has been stolen from you. So, I wanted to centre this on empowering Medusa.
Women's Representation in Storytelling
A. V. - Being a woman informs every decision I make and everything about my vision. I love being a woman and I am very grateful for it, but at the same time, it is odd that in society, you're mostly being valued based on what you can give to men. I believe we have to unlearn these practices and I have decided to use my voice to tell women-related stories. I believe there is something very fascinating about the power of a woman.
A. V. - Just as women who have gone through sexual violence are represented in MEDUSA, WAKE UP! it is important that women see themselves in the stories they watch. This can help to also empower and shape how they see themselves in reality. I want to see more XR stories told by women, I want to also see more representation of women in the creative tech space.
A. V. - No one can tell a woman's story better than a woman. I also see that there is a lot of solidarity between women in XR and this is mostly because there are a lot of charismatic and creative women putting great works out there. We should just keep doing the work so that as the industry gets bigger, there is room for everyone to excel and there is huge representation.