DEMO1 Olivia Mc Gilchrist

February 2021

As a first DEMO, Hexagram presents Olivia Mc Gilchrist’s [Hexagram student member, Concordia University] research-creation residency, which will take place in two residencies at Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux-Noranda. Last February, she participated in the co-creation of a performative and interactive experience that links the world of video games and the performing arts. During that first phase, Olivia contributed to the development of the critical and conceptual framework of this laboratory, taking place in the framework of research-creation activities led by Jean-Ambroise Vesac [Hexagram co-investigator, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue] and digital artist. The multidisciplinary team collaborating on this project consists of researchers, professional artists, students, technicians, as well as the French studio THEORIZ.

The documentation below focuses on this first part of the co-creation process. Stay tuned for the further developments of this DEMO!

Photo Crédits: Élisabeth Carrier

OLIVIA’S RESEARCH-CREATION – Virtual ISLANDS: Submersion and Hybrid Identity in Virtual Reality

Prompted by the question “what might a Caribbean future look like?” (Pearce, 2015), Olivia’s research-creation project investigates VR as a decolonial tool (Tuck and Yang, 2012) through the notion of Caribbean futures. Virtual ISLANDS combines a written thesis and a Virtual Reality and video installation tying together Caribbean futures and the possibility of submersion as a postcolonial stance within VR-making practice. Grounded in the violent histories of the Transatlantic slave trade her thesis juxtaposes Black Atlantic (Gilroy, 1993) art histories with a tidalectic (Brathwaite, 1999) formulation of water as a historical space in VR creation. To counter the Western influence of the Hegelian dialectic of thesis / antithesis / synthesis, Brathwaite proposes a tidal poetics, or tidalectics, where the constant ebb and flow of the tides around Caribbean islands are constitutive to the philosophical framework around Caribbean identities. Drawing from the submerged histories of the Middle Passage in the aftermath of Transatlantic slavery, where much of the archive lies below the sea, this project invites a reading of VR practices as aesthetic/artistic creation foregrounding submersion over immersion in VR experiences.

This experiential artwork combines a series of volumetric self-portraits with a sound composition by electroacoustic composer Kasey Pocius. Virtual ISLANDs disrupt conventional uses of volumetric capture technology to portray a gestural response to a virtual experience of being in water.

Find out more about Olivia’s project here.


A multimedia artist engaged in questions about identity, I have exhibited in Canada, Jamaica, the USA, Brazil, Germany, Norway, Austria, France, Switzerland, and the UK. I completed a Photography MA (London College of Communication, 2010). I’m pursuing the Individualized PhD at Concordia University, with Professors MJ Thompson, Lynn Hughes and Alice Ming Wai Jim. My research-creation project is provisionally entitled: “Virtual ISLANDs, postcolonial hybrid identities in Virtual Reality.” Building on my own experience as a white Euro-Jamaican, and past research in the portrayal of my hybrid identity within contemporary Jamaican culture, I’m exploring how this can be represented in VR. Building on research in the central role of water in Caribbean cultures, my project is informed by the violent histories of transatlantic slavery and Atlantic modernity, through the framework of Paul Gilroy’s notion of the “Black Atlantic.” This project invites a reading of VR practices towards aesthetic/artistic aims through the exploration of submersion as an alternative notion to describe VR’s immersive experience.

Banner image : Work in progress, Virtual ISLANDS (2020), Unity 3D screenshot with volumetric self portrait.