Appropriately enough, in order to enter Maylee Todd’s Virtual Womb you must first pass through a vagina. Created by artist Roxanne Ignatius, the vagina was mounted along the doorframe to The Great Hall’s main room. The clitoris has a face, looking down on each attendee moving through its threshold with omnipotent mirror-eyes, like one of Jack Kirby’s lonely cosmic gods. Once inside, Todd, a Canadian musician and performer, wasn’t so much hoping her audience would be reborn as much as become unborn.
“The idea of the Virtual Womb is that the womb is a place where it’s just gestation,” said Todd over the phone. “You are not fully formed yet. If you’re an artist or a scientist or a lawyer, however you identify yourself, let’s just leave that at the door.”
After a year of romance with psychology and psychedelics, Todd became interested in finding a way to get her audience to abandon their ego for an evening. Become malleable, relaxed. Not different humans, just alien humans. She has spent time considering her own end-goals and if it’s possible to get over the hurdle one’s self, participate in the same moment she’s giving to her audience. “(Virtual Womb) stems from a lot of self-analyzing and thinking about what it is that I want, and if that even matters,” said Todd.
“This is my dreamland, my virtual place”
Upon arrival guests were given a primer asking for their “Acts of Love,” or habits, hobbies and gestures they might perform to feel better. They were also asked to bring blankets so that they could lay on the ground together and look at the sights above. The multimedia performance was originally imagined for a planetarium. The end result was something of a combination of Mouffe, the stargazing game played on the floor of a tent, and the multimedia Björk/MoMA collaboration “Black Lake,” a cavernous space designed around a singular musical presentation.
The stage was reserved for strings and dancers. Maylee Todd sang from the ground floor, weaving through her audience and serenading them into the nebulous dreamland projections above, made with international collaborators. An on-site videographer also recorded the show and sent it through a funky feedback circuit on to the venue’s screens, creating a microwaved mirror maze out of the proceedings. Todd’s head and hair were doused in glitter, like she had freshly been showered in space stuff.
“My other performances were a little more self-serving and this is more inclusive,” said Todd. “I feel like people are part of the experience too. And that vulnerability can be very beautiful. I feel like I’m in a position where I’m comfortable doing that. Even being in the audience, where I’m not on a stage, I’m part of the experience. I feel, in a weird way, maybe empowered to do stuff that is scary. It’s extremely human… Beginning something always seems so daunting, but once you begin you demystify it.”
Maylee Todd has become very interested in virtual reality, citing the unique capabilities for audience empathy and a new encapsulating form of storytelling. She seems to like that it organically suggests that participants abandon themselves, to a much stronger degree than a game or film automatically enables. It does remain, for the moment, an isolating experience. Participants in VR go to these new worlds alone. Todd doesn’t think this is a bad thing, just a different thing. And it’s shut off from a communal energy that performances can provide. Virtual Womb is found in the floating middle ground, a space that encourages a new slate and a literal transformative surrounding for the sea of bodies matting the floor.
“This is my dreamland, my virtual place,” said Todd, “and I want to make it a reality.”
Though Todd says the performance is likely to evolve from evening to evening, she’s hoping to sharpen some 3D projection mapping skills before taking Virtual Womb on the road. Stops are expected to be made in the US, Japan, and other parts of Canada, to coincide with her fourth album, projected to drop in the fall.