The exploration of virtual reality is nothing new in the art world. From Erik Kessels’ 24 Hours In Photos, to Dries Verhoeven’s Wanna Play, contemporary art has always represented modern landscapes.

Hawthorn Town Hall Gallery is looking at this existential concern with a new exhibition, Data Flow: Digital Influence. Opening today, the show looks at how data contributes to the production of contemporary art.

“As technology advances, we’re always going to be in multiple realities at once. We’ve always had one hand in the digital and the other in the real, and it’s the things in the slippage which interest me,” says Georgie Roxby-Smith, one of the show’s exhibiting artists.

This slippage is explored by artists such as Viv Miller, Bryan Spier, Kit Wise and Mark Whalen, spanning video, sculpture, paintings and 3D printing. The curators are also expanding the exhibition to Instagram over the show’s six weeks – presenting an entirely separate selection of six works chosen from an open-callout.

Across three video works, Roxby-Smith explores how gender identity plays out through virtual reality. The works have de-contextualised a game’s female protagonists and, in doing so, Roxby-Smith presents the skewed representation of women in games, ranging from the confronting to the ironic.

For example, The Fall Girl is a recreated death glitch from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which sees a bikini-clad female body fall to her death on loop. Skyrim, of course, is a game that’s been called out for its sexist elements.

The Fall Girl, Machinima, PS3 Skyrim, Georgie Roxby Smith, 2012 from Georgie Roxby Smith on Vimeo.

Lara Croft, Domestic Goddess subverts the game franchise by exploiting a hack. With a bow and arrow strapped to her back, Croft is placed in a recurring domestic scene, doing house work while letting out moans more suited to battle cries, or as MoMA PS1’s assistant curator, Jocelyn Miller describes them, “orgiastic moans”.

Lara Croft, Domestic Goddess I & II, Georgie Roxby Smith, 2013 from Georgie Roxby Smith on Vimeo.

“By going into live online gaming stages, performing something unexpected, or using the game in a poetic way, where it’s a space of violence, you get all sorts of reactions. Most gamers usually don’t like you messing with the formula and they don’t like to see something unexpected in that state,” Roxby-Smith says.

Her game Happy Ending was made directly in response to this culture. Part actual game and part artwork, it will premiere at Data Flow.

“The protagonist is a strong female with a big pink gun, with “Cunt” written on the side of it. So it’s a first-person shooter game. The male characters in the game are all quite similar, emblazoned with the words “White Male Hero” across their chests,” she says.

“She fights her way through those characters to get to her own game. This game asks whether or not this fight is perpetual, is it ongoing? In a way there is no end.”

These works show contemporary gaming culture for what it is: something predicated to a masculine standard. For Roxby-Smith, female representation in virtual reality is something that can’t be separated from the real.

“If the broader culture is making male gamers out to be like gods, then that's what they're going to believe as correct.”

Though one exhibition in the heart of Hawthorn isn’t going to single-handedly change gaming culture, Data Flow’s interrogation of digital culture captures our collective moment in time.

“If somebody strolls over from Swinburne, gets inspired and joins the movement to change gaming culture’s space, that would be fantastic.”

Data Flow: Digital Influence will open at Hawthorn’s Town Hall Gallery from Tuesday March 3 from 6pm–8pm. Closes on Sunday April 12.

hawthornartscentre.com.au