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The Zizi Show

Exploring what AI can teach us about drag, and what drag can teach us about AI

Credit: Critical Playground

Drag Queens, Drag Kings, Drag Things and Artificial Intelligence…Enter into the world of The Zizi Show (2020), a deepfake drag cabaret, a virtual online stage hosting a groundbreaking new show with a twist. It features acts that have been constructed using deepfake technology, learning how to do drag by watching a diverse group of human performers. The Zizi Show dissects one of the dominant myths about AI: the notion that ‘an AI’ is a thing we might mistake for a person. The bodies in the show have been generated by neural networks trained on a community of drag artists who were filmed to create training datasets at a London cabaret venue closed during COVID-19. During each act, audiences are invited to interact with the website and play with which deepfake bodies perform which songs. At times, this breaks down when the A.I. tries to conceive impossible positions or combines multiple different queer identities; it can even reveal the skeleton tracking the deepfake is built on.E

Credit: Critical Playground

The Zizi Show constructs and then deconstructs a virtual cabaret that pushes the limits of what can be imagined on a digital stage. The Zizi Project (2019-ongoing) is a collection of works by Jake Elwes exploring the intersection of artificial intelligence and drag performance.

Drag challenges gender and explores otherness, while AI is often mystified as a concept and tool and is complicit in reproducing social bias. Zizi combines these themes through a deepfake, synthesised drag identity created by using machine learning. The project explores what AI can teach us about drag, and what drag can teach us about AI.

Credit: Critical Playground

Jake Elwes (UK) is a media artist living and working in London. He studied at The Slade School of Fine Art, UCL (2013-17). Recent works explore his research into machine learning and artificial intelligence. His practice looks for poetry and narrative in the success and failures of these systems, while also investigating and questioning the code and ethics behind them.

His current works in the Zizi Project explore AI bias by queering datasets with drag performers. They simultaneously demystify and subvert AI systems. Jake’s work has been exhibited in museums and galleries internationally, including the ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany; TANK Museum, Shanghai; Today Art Museum, Beijing; CyFest, Venice; Edinburgh Futures Institute, UK; Zabludowicz Collection, London; Frankfurter Kunstverein, Germany; New Contemporaries 2017, UK; Ars Electronica 2017, Austria; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; LABoral Centro, Spain; Nature Morte, Delhi, India; RMIT Gallery, Australia; Centre for the Future of Intelligence, UK and he has been featured on ZDF & BBC.

Project videos commissions are presented in the framework of the European ARTificial Intelligence Lab, which is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Arts, Culture, Civil Service and Sport.