The Artist Uses VR Technology and Motion Capture Data To Create Individual Video Portraits Within An Archive Of Black Dance Culture

Times Square Arts, the largest public platform for contemporary performance and visual arts, is pleased to present Movement Portraits by artist LaJuné McMillian for the month of June as part of the organization’s signature Midnight Moment series. Movement Portraits is presented with bitforms gallery.

Midnight Moment is the world’s largest, longest-running digital art exhibition, synchronized on over 90 electronic billboards throughout Times Square nightly from 11:57pm to midnight. This year, Times Square Arts is celebrating the ten year anniversary of the Midnight Moment series with a roster of all women artists until April 2023.

LaJuné McMillian’s Movement Portraits draws from the artist’s Black Movement Library (BML) project, a library for activists, performers and artists to create diverse XR projects, and a space to research how and why we move, as well as an archive of Black existence. Using Motion Capture and the Unreal Engine, performers send their movement data to be translated into visuals. Through this series of performances and VR installations, the artist has created a growing archive and digital tool dedicated to Black dance and movement, reflecting the idea that bodies and movements are more than data points and avatars.

For Midnight Moment, McMillian will present a collection of Movement Portraits that feature performances from Roobi Gaskins, LambRenaldo MauriceRoukijah Rooks, and RaFia Santana with documentary footage shot by Manuel Molina Martagon. Past performances have featured artist Nala Duma and dancer Renaldo Maurice.

Movement Portraits serve as a way to learn about the performers contributing their movement data to the Black Movement Library. What happens when we ritualize the archival process of data collection, and invite the community as a witness? Black movement does not only represent our individual experiences, but it also represents our collective memory, transcending space, time and oppressive social structures. It allows us to connect to each other, our ancestors, our deepest selves, and gives us space to communicate to our future. Black movement is a technology, holding the stories of our existence across the Diaspora.” said artist LaJuné McMillian.

McMillian was inspired to begin the Black Movement Library by the lack of diverse characters and movements in 3D modeling software, flaws in motion capture databases, and lawsuits filed against the video game Fortnite for using dances from mainly Black creators without permission, compensation, or credit. The dances “Milly Rock” became “Swipe it”, the “Carlton” became “Fresh”, and so forth, effectively erasing the origins of these dances. McMillian’s project explores methods of combating the erasure, dilution, and exploitation of Black culture and people. The artist’s work asks the viewer to consider how they can discover, learn, invest in, and steward systems that prioritize liberation and abundance.

LaJuné McMillian’s first solo exhibition, Embodied Metadata, will be on view at bitforms gallery June 23–July 30, 2022. The artist’s Black Movement Library Portraits will also be featured at the Tribeca Film Festival as a VR experience as part of the festival’s New Voices Competition June 8–19, 2022.

LaJuné McMillian is a New Media Artist, and Educator creating art that integrates performance, extended reality, and physical computing to question our current forms of communication. They are passionate about discovering, learning, manifesting, and stewarding spaces for liberated Black Realities, and the Black Imagination. McMillian believes in making by diving into, navigating, critiquing, and breaking systems and technologies that uphold systemic injustices to de-commodify our bodies, undo our indoctrination, and make room for different ways of being.

McMillian has had the opportunity to show and speak about their work at Pioneer works, National Sawdust, Leaders in Software and Art, Creative Tech Week, and Art & Code’s Weird Reality. Previously the Director of Skating at Figure Skating in Harlem, they integrated STEAM and Figure Skating to teach girls of color about movement and technology. McMillian has continued their research on Blackness, movement, and technology during residencies and fellowships at the Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship, Eyebeam, Pioneer Works, Barbarian Group, and Barnard College.

Founded in November 2001, bitforms gallery represents established, mid-career, and emerging artists critically engaged with new technologies. Spanning the rich history of media art through its current developments, the gallery’s program offers an incisive perspective on the fields of digital, internet, time-based, and new media art forms. Since 2020, bitforms gallery has maintained a satellite location in San Francisco at Minnesota Street Project that became permanent in 2021. Supporting and advocating for the collection of ephemeral, time-based, and digital artworks since its founding, bitforms gallery artists are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Center for Art and Media (ZKM), Karlsruhe; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul, among other institutions internationally.

Times Square Arts, the public art program of the Times Square Alliance, collaborates with contemporary artists and cultural institutions to experiment and engage with one of the world’s most iconic urban places. Through the Square’s electronic billboards, public plazas, vacant areas and popular venues, and the Alliance’s own online landscape, Times Square Arts invites leading contemporary creators, such as Mel Chin, Tracey Emin, Jeffrey Gibson, Ryan McGinley, Yoko Ono, and Kehinde Wiley, to help the public see Times Square in new ways. Times Square has always been a place of risk, innovation and creativity, and the Arts Program ensures these qualities remain central to the district’s unique identity.