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Breaking Barriers: VR-Enhanced Drag Comes to SF

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Ambrose Trataris aka Destroy Herr struts around a multicolor stage at CounterPulse, resplendent in a reality all his own. No really, he’s doing a drag performance utilizing Virtual Reality to activate an avatar behind him. This performance is the result of the ARC Combustible a residency that gives artists space and time to collaborate on performances using state-of the-art lighting, sound tools and emerging technologies. It is a generous and invaluable residency program for artists who wish to push their art through the use of technology.

Ambrose Trataris aka DestroyHerr uses Virtual Reality in relation to drag. All photos by Vita Hewitt

Ambrose and Digital Milk Metaphase 0 will take to the stage this week and next along with Driven Arts Collective as part of the Combustible 2023 show. As it is that magical time of year when we artists are seeking grants and residencies, this is a great show to check out CounterPulse and what it can offer. Ambrose was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his work and the space.

Our Interview with Ambrose Trataris, AKA Destroy Herr

Tell us a little bit about how you got started here in SF?

“I went to San Diego State for my undergrad and the San Francisco Art Institute for grad school.

After graduating college I wasn’t sure where to go but I wanted to be closer to art and be in a bigger city. It was between San Francisco and New York but I decided to follow my Californian heart and head north to SF. I wasn’t out as queer at the time but I’m thankful to have landed in a city that has such a flourishing queer community.”

What are your mediums?

“I work with whatever medium suits my ideas and love to use art making as an excuse to learn a new skill. But central to my practice is performance, video, drawing, sculpture, and more recently Drag which uses all of these mediums at once!”

Tell us more about CounterPulse?

“CounterPulse is an incredible arts organization situated in the Tenderloin in the heart of San Francisco. It’s now been around for over 30 years and intersects with artists in so many different ways from community arts in the neighboring parks to 6 month artist residencies that use the building as a space to make new work. There is an incredible community of performances, dancers, visual artists, drag artists, and creatives that are part of this community and I’be had the pleasure to meet and connect with so many new people here.”

Ambrose and Cash Monet

What is the conceptual basis for the show?

“Combustible is CounterPulse’s art and technology residency and it’s really the only one like it in the Bay. The residency is 6 months long and provides you with free use of the studios and theater spaces, production support, work in progress showings, and artistic feedback. I have been developing a dance work that uses Virtual Reality gaming platforms and full body tracking systems to explore themes around the transgender experience, my desire to inject trans queerness into future world building such as VR spaces, and the overlaps between avatars and Drag. My project includes an incredible group of collaborators who are all Drag artists from Los Angeles and San Francisco who bring their individual lenses to the work including Patrick Santos aka Cash Monet, Hannah Ayasse aka Hands, Killian Thelonius Church aka Urhenious, Skirt Cocaine, and Salimatu Amabebe aka BARRACUDA.

Using experimental virtual reality hardware to track real time body movements through an online social platform called VRChat, myself and the other performers play with and test the boundaries of technological bodies and expression in virtual worlds. By intertwining the realms of physical embodiment and virtual avatars, “[Custom Object] lip-sync//dance” is an exploration of the fluidity of form and the evolving relationship between humans and their digital personas. 

I’m excited to continue exploring XR/VR/AR spaces and as a medium to push the visibility and accessibility of trans queer narratives and artistic expression far beyond geographic locations where there are protections for trans people. I have met other folx in different cities and countries all over the world through VRChat, and connected deeper to this specific community through Discord servers where we support each other emotionally via memes and conversation, logistically through information sharing and increasing access to life saving medicines for trans folx, and artistically by sharing the things we make in VR such as videos or podcasts of people dancing or playing piano or interviewing one another. Access to technology is not guaranteed for all, but continuing to develop new portals where trans people can see and hear each other feels important as these digital worlds get created all around us.”

Killian Thelonius Church will be collaborating with Ambrose for the show.

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Are there any artists that you think are particularly outstanding in the Bay right now.

“This is the hardest question of all! The Bay is full of incredible artists and of course I’m a big admirer of my collaborators on lipsync//dance.”

So here’s a few recommendations from Ambrose:

Marcel Pardo Ariza @marcelpardoa

Salimatu Amabebe @salimatuamabebe

Skirt Cocaine @skirtcocaine

Hannah Ayasse @manyhands_lightwerk

Killian Thelonius Church @urheinous

Daniel Arthur Mendoza @daniel_arthur_mendoza

Jota Joaquin Figueroa @jjfiqui

Vera Hannush @veritas_22

Julian Delgado Lopera @juliandlopera

Website, IG etc?


Upcoming Shows Where you can see Ambrose Trataris:

lip-sync//dance at CounterPulse!
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Vita Hewitt

Vita Hewitt

Vita is a half Chinese-Malaysian, photograph taking, plant foraging, vegetable garden growing, astronaut impersonating, conceptual art creating Bay Area human. She loves exploring the intricacies of the Bay Area Art Scene.