Top of the Bots: Karaoke Night is a participatory performance funded by Arts Council England. Audience members come up to sing and appear on the screen as a working class pop singer (here the Spice Girls) through new AI algorithms. Host Sammy James Britten playfully engages the audience throughout with questions around class and gender mediated by technology, creating a sense of responsibility for the face on the screen.
Top of the Bots: Karaoke Night was presented at Art Night, London, 2019 and at the AI Late, Science Gallery, Dublin, 2019.
“In moments of identifying with voices, we are seeking to relive the moment of loss, and to ritualize it.” Freya Jarman, Queer Voices
Top of the Bots: Karaoke Night is a participatory experience by artist Libby Heaney. It is a performance and installation exploring individual and collective identity, voice, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and pop culture, drawing on Libby’s adolescence in working class Tamworth, where group singing with strangers formed new bonds and expressions of solidarity — a collective drama, pride, tolerance and occasionally tears. The identification with other voices and other times were essential for finding that elusive transcendental moment to escape everyday life.
This version of the work was set in Kings Cross London – the location of the first Spice Girls’ video ‘Wannabe’ – as part of Art Night London 2019. Participants were escorted to a hidden karaoke room by a drag performer to sing with friends and strangers as a Spice Girl. The Top of the Bots host, Sammy, playfully encouraged participants to discuss issues of class and gender through the lens of the Spice Girls, creating a sense of responsibility to the face on the screen. Participants then selected which Spice Girl to be before appearing on the screen as this person via live AI technology. The technology allows the real performer to control the Spice Girls’ facial movement, so that the original and the real singers end up lip syncing with each other. By identifying with and against the voices, participants were encouraged to consider alternative constructions of identity.
After the performance, the singers were presented with a Spice Girls mask.