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Beyond the Binary: Explore Gender with an Interactive Drag Show From AI Artist Jake Elwes

Beyond the Binary: Explore Gender with an Interactive Drag Show From AI Artist Jake Elwes

“Willkommen! And bienvenue! Welcome! It’s Cabaret!” Staged in front of a slinky scarlet curtain, “The Zizi Show” kicks off with a rendition of “Willkommen,” the deliciously bawdy opening number from stage-to-screen sensation Cabaret.

The creation of London-based media artist Jake Elwes, “The Zizi Show” (2020) is an interactive virtual drag show that explores the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI), gender performance, and human identity. As the host (or Emcee), Zizi is warm, welcoming, and appropriately saucy: “Mesdames et messieurs, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone between and beyond the binary,” they quip, “welcome to the ‘Zizi Show’!”

‘Welcome to The Zizi Show’ (stand-alone version)
Making of The Zizi Show: Jake Elwes discusses deepfake drag

Elwes filmed material for “The Zizi Show” over the pandemic, enlisting a group of UK-based drag artists to perform at one of London’s shuttered cabaret venues. Using the resulting footage, Elwes trained a series of algorithms to “recognize” the performers in a way that mimics the human brain’s learning process.

Constructed with artificial intelligence and deep fake technology, “The Zizi Show” is part of Elwes’ ongoing Zizi Project (2019 – ), a body of work that “explores what AI can teach us about drag, and what drag can teach us about AI.” In collaboration with The New Real, “a hub for AI, creativity, and futures research,” Elwes seeks to empower drag performers through the positive application of technology.

“Drag challenges gender and explores otherness, while AI is often mystified as a concept and tool, and is complicit in reproducing social bias,” Elwes writes in his artist statement. Recognizing AI’s implicit bias—often skewed toward racist, sexist, and generally phobic attitudes—Elwes and his collaborators reclaim tech for good, resisting the exploitative nature of deepfakes in favor of a singular creative joy: performance. Dressed up in hot pink sparkles and plenty of lip gloss, “The Zizi Show” promises an experience truly beyond the binary.

Join “The Zizi Show” here.

“AI is often mystified as a concept and tool, and is complicit in reproducing social bias.” — Jake Elwes

Scroll Down to See Stills From “The Zizi Show”

‘The Zizi Show’ (video still)
‘The Zizi Show’ (video still)
‘The Zizi Show’ (video still)
‘The Zizi Show’ (video still)
‘The Zizi Show’ (video still)
‘The Zizi Show’ (video still)

Jake Elwes: Website | Instagram | “The Zizi Show” | The Zizi Project on The New Real

All photos published with permission of the artist.

Want to be featured in Lightbox? Email editor@notrealart.com with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.

Morgan  Laurens 

Morgan Laurens is an arts writer who lives in the Midwest and enjoys saying "excuse me" when no actual pardon is needed. She is the founder of So Long See You Tomorrow, an organization that helps artists and creative entrepreneurs write about their work, craft a story, and get back in the studio. Learn more at: https://solongseeyoutomorrow.com

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