“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’!”
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”
All photos published with permission of the artist.
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