Kristin McWharter (b. 1990) uses performance and play to interrogate the relationship between competition and intimacy. Her work conjoins viewers within immersive sculptural installations and viewer- inclusive performances that critically fuse folk games within virtual and augmented worlds. Her software installations and performative objects incorporate experimental technologies and playful interaction to produce performances that speculate upon alternative forms of social behavior. Inspired by 20th century sports narrative, collective decision making, and technology as a contemporary spiritual authority, her work blurs the boundaries of intimacy and hype culture to challenge viewer's relationships to affection and competitive drive within our current social context. Her work has been exhibited at The Hammer Museum, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Bangkok Arts and Cultural Center, Ars Electronica, Museo Altillo Beni, and FILE Festival. McWharter received her MFA from UCLA in Design Media Arts and is currently an Assistant Professor in Art & Technology Studies at SAIC where she teaches courses in experimental media, art & technology practices, and virtual reality.
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In my artwork I use performance and play to interrogate the relationship between competition and intimacy.
I see the entangled relationship of these experiences manifest in the consensual violence present in sports entertainment, the tender hollering of synchronized spectators, the compulsory celebration of a local team’s big win... My work conjoins viewers within immersive sculptural installations and viewer- inclusive performances that critically fuse folk games and improvisational play with virtual and augmented worlds. These narratives reveal a pulsing relationship between the complex rhetorical frameworks of citizenship and play within our understanding of what it means to be a “good sport”.
Inspired by 20th century sports narrative, collective decision making, and technology as a contemporary spiritual authority, I craft participatory performances that conjoin the bodies of visitors into absurd games that form uniquely confrontational and yet sentimental unions. These performances both unite and restrict viewer movement and interaction, revealing a complex emotive experience that prods at the mannerisms we embody within competitive social contacts. I spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of the massive fan culture that emerged with the development of media enterprises like ESPN. The particular form of storytelling that stems from sports narrative, one that relies on the unknowns of improvisation, chance, and athletic limitations, have informed generations’ understanding of community, citizenship, and relational body language. The lens of sports rhetoric has particular rhythms and tones of competitive narrative that swing viewer emotions from extreme enthrallment to utter dismay in a single play.
Manipulating these same rhetorical forms, I integrate novel and emerging technologies within physical sculptures that mechanically restrict movement within virtual game worlds. I am struck by how entertaining the spectacle of watching people play can be and yet how isolating it can feel to experience an immersive environment first hand. I began to see this trend of single individuals experiencing VR works in galleries surrounded by crowds of people watching them- as if the crowds were watching an athlete or performer. It occurred to me that the headset itself was mediating the social relationships in the room and creating both “players” and “watchers”. Body language was emerging as a primary mode of communication between the two groups. These works are recognized for the emergent behaviors provoked within audience participants.