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Media Release for Midsumma Testing Grounds

“In imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself – as well as its contingency” – Judith Butler

“We’re born naked, and the rest is drag.” – Ru Paul

I’m like a real life Sim. I can tick that one off the bucket list, hahah!” – Art Simone



the scan capture process involves 143 photographs

the scan capture process – 143 photographs

WHAT: Virtual Drag: a Midsumma Festival Premier Event

WHERE: Testing Grounds 1-23 City Road, Southbank

WHEN: 1-7 February 2016

PROJECTION & PERFORMANCE EVENT: after dark Friday 5 February 2016



Virtual Drag has already generated a small buzz internationally in new media art circles. It has been featured on the uber cool UK based blog Prosthetic Knowledge, and picked up by Tumblr Radar. The computer game culture magazine KillScreen noted that the convergence of virtual reality and drag ‘realness’ opens a rabbit hole of accelerating conceptual possibilities. The New York based Creators Project declared “virtual reality art gets what it’s sorely been missing – drag queens.”  The story has since been translated into French, Greek and Chinese.

‘Virtual Drag’ is an immersive exhibition of 3D scans of drag queens and kings via virtual reality headsets and projections by artists Alison Bennett, Megan Beckwith & Mark Payne. The VR headsets will be installed 1-7 February in the Studio at Testing Grounds, located behind the Arts Centre, 1-23 City Road, Southbank. A free event featuring projections & performances will be held after dark Friday 5 February 2016.

Midsumma audiences may know Alison Bennett’s work from her series ‘Inverto’, exhibited at Midsumma 2015 and featured on ABC TV’s Australian Story “From Daddy’s Tummy”. For ‘Virtual Drag’, she has teamed with choreographer and 3D animation specialist Megan Beckwith, described by The Age as a ‘trailblazer’, and Mark Payne, an award winning designer and an artist working with photogrammetry. Supported by the ground-breaking team at Deakin Motion.Lab, Bennett, Beckwith and Payne have explored the potential of 3D scanning to create hyper-real cyberspace encounters with the magnificent Philmah Bocks, the divine Art Simone, Jackie Hammer (a bit of a hot mess really … ), & the knee-weakening Transylvanian Gypsy Kings (aka TGK).

Bennett explains “We think drag is important! It may be the most visible of queer identity performance but it is by no means vapid. Drag Queens are the warriors of gay pride. The gay rights movement has been characterised by a push back against gender roles and queering the performance of gender. It was transwomen, drag queens and butch presenting women that instigated the Stonewall riots. They were being arrested for cross dressing, not simply for being homosexual.”

Bennett continues “So much of the early work in virtual reality has been driven by naked girls presented for a male gaze. As queer new media artists, we are inspired by artists that ‘queer’ digital spaces such as Jacolby Satterwhite, a New York based vogue dance artist who presents his performance work in virtual digital spaces, and London based Zach Blas’ Queer Technologies project.”

“The intersections between virtuality and drag stem from ways of speaking about virtual reality as simulation and the drag definition of ‘realness’.” (More about the theoretical foundations of ‘virtual’ and ‘drag’ here:

No strings attached darlings!” says Philmah Bocks. “This is as close to a drag persona you can get without suffering a backlash of insults … followed by the usual condiments of booze, cigarettes, perfume and glitter. Get immersed in the magic without the mess!”

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body & Deakin Motion.Lab.

Check out the Virtual Drag project blog at

More info about the projections and performance event 5 February here

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IMAGE CAPTION: Philmah Bocks for Virtual Drag

CONTACT: Alison Bennett 0407843596
Virtual Drag:
Alison Bennett:
Megan Beckwith:
Mark Payne:
Deakin Motion Lab:
Midsumma Festival:
Testing Grounds:

a heaps gay night of projections, performances, prancing and power-pop!

MIDSUMMA TESTING GROUNDS:  Virtual Drag, Transylvanian Gypsy Kings, Ladyhood, Bubble & Melbourne is Burning!

WHEN: 7 – 11pm Friday 5 February 2016

WHERE: Testing Grounds 1-23 City Road Southbank
Located behind the spire of the Melbourne Arts Centre

Midsumma Testing Grounds brings together a heady mix of world class projection art, live music, drag shows, performance art and dance battles! Virtual Drag queens and kings on the side of buildings! Sexy Transylvanian Gypsy Kings playing the latest Horas from Bucharest! Performance art in blow up bubbles! And a fierce dance battle that will prove ‘Melbourne is Burning’! A heaps gay night of projections, performances, prancing and power-pop! FREE!



Larger than life images of drag queens and kings will be projected on the side of an adjacent building. The ‘Virtual Drag’ exhibition, a Midsumma Festival Premier Event featuring encounters with 3D scans of drag performers via virtual reality headset displays, runs 1-7 Feb in the Testing Grounds Studio. For one night only, the Virtual Drag queens and kings will loom over Testing Grounds as gigantic projections. Virtual Drag, by artists Alison Bennett, Megan Beckwith & Mark Payne, is supported by the Australia Council & Deakin Motion Lab.


Feel a bit queer and weak at the knees in anticipation of a performance by the jaw droppingly talented and funny Transylvanian Gypsy Kings!

Fresh from an appearance at The Falls Music Festival in Byron Bay, Lucien explains “TGK play the latest Horas from Bucharest, traditional boys’ dances where they slap themselves, plus hit pop songs from non-stop Romanian bars. We promise a sexy show, with lots of black leather and macho jewellery from downtown Cluj Napoca/Kolozsvar, the capital of Transylvania!”

TGK are the alter egos of Vardos, a trio of professional musicians with an authentic deep engagement in Eastern European gypsy music and culture. It takes genuine skill and study to pull off a homage this funny!  Hear samples of their sound here:


Conceived by artist/choreographer Megan Beckwith, ‘Bubble’ creates an alternative space for performance art. Featuring guest appearances by Jessi Lewis and Jonathan Homsey, Beckwith channels the kooky and sublime.

Megan Beckwith is also the inaugural winner of the Midsumma Festival Australia Post Art Prize (check out Torso here)


The night will culminate with a ‘ball’, a form of competition that grew out of the queer dance and drag culture of New York in the 1960s. Made famous by the documentary film ‘Paris is Burning’, the ‘ball’ has evolved into a dynamic form of dances battle and runways better known as Voguing.
On the other hand, Waacking was born in the 1970s and began in the Los Angeles nightclubs using disco music. It is characterized by moving the arms to the music and puts a strong emphasis on musicality and interpreting the music. It was popularized through Soul Train and helped with the creation of The Outrageous Waack Dancers. It has been revived thanks to Waackers such as Tyrone Proctor (Soul Train) & Jody Watley (Soul Train/Shalamar).
The competition will be hosted by Enya Arsenal and judged by Andy Kuramoto (Top 4 Freestyle Session Japan 2015) , Phillip Adams (Balletlab) and dancer Bradley Griffith.


Check out ‘Melbourne is Burning’ judge Andy Kuramoto competing in Japan in 2015:

“Following the dance battle, we call on queens, queers, kings, kinks, twinks, bears, butches and femmes to test your nerve by walking the floor. Strike a pose and show us how ‘real’ you can be!” invites dance battle organisers. Registration for the ‘Melbourne is Burning’ dance battle opens 10 January 2016. Check the ‘Midsumma Testing Grounds’ Facebook event page for updates!


Midsumma Testing Grounds features live acoustic music from Melbourne’s very own LadyHood, fresh from her success in the US.


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