Moving past present: digitally reanimating the Gaiety Girls

First appearing in the 1890s, George Edwardes’ musical comedies quickly became the toast of fashionable London. Performed at the Gaiety, once located across the road from the King’s Strand campus, plays like The Shop Girl combined comic songs, lavish costumes and spectacular dances, trading on the allure of the theatre’s glamorous dancing corps of ‘Gaiety Girls’ even as they betrayed anxiety over women’s growing independence. With their meticulously crafted public personae and canny merchandising ventures, ‘girls’ like Constance Collier and Rosie Boote helped to draw up the blueprint for modern celebrity, parlaying their stage careers into aristocratic marriages, Hollywood stardom and, in one case, parliamentary office.

In this event, artist Janina Anja Lange will revive the spirit of the Gaiety via an immersive experiment in digital biography, using 3D animation and motion capture technology to map the movements of a live performer onto a virtual Gaiety Girl. Drawing on archival materials while deploying technologies usually used for videogaming, the performance aims to showcase a vibrant chapter in the Strand’s history while posing questions about identity, celebrity, gendered embodiment and playful performance in the age of YouTube, Instagram and the Xbox.

Developed in collaboration with King’s researchers from Strandlines, an online archive of materials relating to ‘lives on the Strand past, present and creative’, and Ego-Media, a research project exploring online self-representation, the event will also feature a discussion with the artist and a talk putting the piece in context, before giving attendees the opportunity take to the stage themselves…

Janina Anja Lange lives and works in London and Berlin. She studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art in London and gained a MRes in Cultural Studies at the London Consortium. She is currently working on her practice-led PhD at the Sculptural Department of the Royal College of Art, London. Her works have been on show at Bluecoat for the Liverpool Biennial (2016), Kunsthalle Exnergasse (2016), Studio RCA (2015), and in a solo show at Heit (2014). She is recipient of the TECHNE: AHRC scholarship, current artist-in-residence at CW+ and has been selected for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016. Her upcoming shows are at Richmix and the ICA.