Artist Interview: LaJuné McMillian
Meet the Eyebeam Access Residents
LaJuné McMillian in conversation with open call jury member Salome Asega
Learn more about the Open Call: Access.
LaJuné McMillian is a new media artist, and creative technologist creating art that integrates performance, virtual reality, and physical computing to question our current forms of communication. LaJuné was previously the Director of Skating at Figure Skating in Harlem, where they integrated STEAM and Figure Skating to teach girls of color about movement and technology. While at Eyebeam, they will create The Black Movement Project, an online library equipped with 3D black character base models and motion capture data from black performers previously unrepresented in available databases. They spoke with Salome Asega, Assistant Director of POWRPLNT, Curatorial Advisor of REFRESH, and Eyebeam alum.
Salome Agea: Congratulations on the residency at Eyebeam this year. The theme for the year is access, and I’m wondering how does the work you do tie into this theme?
LaJuné McMillian: The project itself is called The Black Movement Project. I’m trying to focus on building a motion capture library and a tool for black 3D-based characters. It’s a library that people can use. People will be able to download any motion-capture file, or download any character they want to use. They will have access to the way that we move through time. It’s a museum, or an archive, of the ways that we move.
I’m starting with dance. I’ll be going through the different genres of black dance, but then I’ll be moving more into different ways black people move throughout life. I’ve been interested in hairstyles. What would it be like to have motion-capture files of [someone] doing cornrows? Looking at the different ways that we’ve moved, and currently move, and creating a space for it.
SA: There are so many entry points to how we think about access. You know, access to resources, access as it relates to disability justice, but I like this idea of access to yourself and your representation in digital form, in 3D form. So, it’s very interesting. What is your personal criteria for success during this residency?
LM: So, when I’m there, I’m going to just dive into the work. I plan on having at least 100 motion capture files that will be downloadable for use by the end. I want to have these six base character models to use. There will be two tools that people will be able to use. Using web XR, users will be able to see the people who are doing the motions and they’ll be able to download it. Users can also dive a bit into [character base model’s] lives and learn their relationship to movement.
SA: Can you give us examples of those people, of the kind of portraits you’re trying to capture?
LM: Right now I’m in the process of reaching out to different dance communities. So, I’m really looking for people who are invested in movement.
SA: How are you planning to make use of the Eyebeam space? You’ll be hosting workshops and you’ll actually be doing your [movement] tracking there?
LM: Basically, what I’m trying to do is create a space where I can bring black people into the 3D community. I want to bring in black performers, and then I also want to bring in black activists. I’m trying to create this space where we can all sit down and build these tools together.
SA: Mhm. What do you think needs to happen, or should happen, in what you call the 3D community / VR community space to become more accessible and more inclusive?
LM: One of my largest problems is access itself, and being able to afford tools. There are a lot of tools that I would love to use, but I can’t because I can’t afford them. Making the tools more affordable would be helpful, but the tools that are out now don’t cater to the black community at all. Like Mixamo and Adobe Fuse, motion capture spaces where you can download motion-capture files and you can actually rig characters, there are no characters that represent me. Even when it comes to finding hairstyles—I can’t find any hairstyles that represent me or my hair texture. In the 3D community as a whole, when it comes to hair textures or black hair styles, it just hasn’t been there. I want to open up the XR community to more black performers, activists, and modelers, and coders, making the tools more of a reflection of the black community.
Even when you open up 3D modeling programs, Fuse in particular, the base character is white. It doesn’t feel authentic to my work. I always have to change the skin color. I have to change the nose, the eyes, the lips. What if the model already had black features? And then change I could change it from there, to make it feel like I’m not trying to change this white character to a black character, but a black character to a different black character. You know?
LM: Those are just ways that block people out from using tools because everything is made so hard for people who don’t look like that.
SA: Yeah—and you want to widen the standard you know?
SA: I’m curious about what kind of exploratory places you’re interested in reaching during this residency? What are some weird experiments you want to get into while at Eyebeam? What are things that you’re excited about trying, that you haven’t had time or resources for yet?
LM: I’m going to make this tool by researching a huge range of black bodies. I’m going to do body scans of all different types of black people. I’m really interested in different sizes, body forms, and skin/hair textures to showcase the diversity of blackness. I’m interested in learning more about how we’ve used movement as a form of resilience. I’m trying to explore why I move through space. There were certain parts of my life through [figure] skating that were traumatic, but then there were also parts of it that made me feel alive and free. I’m trying to explore that relationship.
LM: This project started from a space where I came to the realization that my life had been built trying to cater to whiteness. How do I disconnect from that? How do I free myself from all of this? Being a part of the Diaspora means that there are certain parts of my identity that were forced upon me and my ancestors to survive. In order to undo this, I suggest building new forms of communication. Let’s build new inventions, or new spaces, where we can create. I’m researching, you know, what is it that we already have now and how can we build from there? What do we have to let go of, and what do we have to hang onto? And I think when it comes to things like movement, we’ve brought movement with us through centuries, through so many different cultures. How do we keep holding onto this? What is it about this that is so resilient?
SA: I love you saying that you’re in a place of research, and that you’re willing to do this research—that you want to do this research—with other people. It’s a beautiful way to start your residency. That you’re willing and you want to learn with other people to create spaces for you to exist in this 3D/XR community. So, thank you so much. I’m very excited to see what happens this year and I can’t wait to start poking around this library and even use some of the things you create.