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LIVELY BODIES - LIVELY MACHINES
By Johannes Birringer________________________________________________________________________
1. New parameters for performance and digital art
LBLM is now the filename for a workshop that was originated at the SPLIT SCREEN Festival organized by the Chichester Institute but continues to live and travel and to other local contexts of collaboration. Our rehearsals focus on developing an integrated method of experimentation connecting organic physical performance and dance research with digital arts processes. In the following, I want to describe the conception of the first workshop, its process, and the issues that have evolved in our experiments, and in sharing some of my concerns I hope to contribute to the critical feedback that will be necessary. I also admit quite frankly that I didn't not know where the work with digital media would take us, although I have been interested in mixed media art for quite some time, at least since the mid-1980s when I decided to abandon text-based theatre and begin to do a series of collaborative projects focused on the exploration of social movement and the mediation of image/sound movements. The most constructive dimension of this shift in my work was learning to dance and to understand choreographies and scenographies of movement in an expanded sense of their relationships to the images, projections, and imaginations of the physical body. At the same time I became increasingly interested in video/film, photography, music and the visual arts, and I can trace almost all of my work back to the conceptual influence of these media on my experience of physical movement and the rhythms and motions of the stories we tell with our bodies in specific environments or constructed spaces. Although the visual sensibility may appear to be dominant in such multimedia performance work, it is also important to remember that physical rehearsal involves all our kinesthetic and synesthetic senses, and the experience of space, time, energy, balance/imbalance, weight, scale, texture, color, sound and touch gain a crucial significance if we construct fully mediated environments.
In recent years, artists in the dance and performance communities have been forced or, rather, wanted to respond to the increasing presence of imaging/recording and electronic technologies in the culture and the exhibition contexts in which we work, and a range of responses or negotiations can be observed at this point in the mid-1990s.
In 1994 the "Connected Body?" workshop at the School for New Dance Development (Amsterdam) focused on the examination of a new movement towards holistic mind-body philosophies in dance practice. The intensive workshop brought together over a hundred participants from different countries, and we felt there was a huge investment among everyone in creative, spiritual and existential approaches to movement and bodily experience that depart from the technique-based rigors of ballet/modern dance training on the one hand, and that appear to be antagonistic to the technological imperatives in media culture and the new hypertheories of cyberspace and virtuality on the other (cf. Mark Dery's book, Escape Velocity). These theories seem especially alienating and distorting from the point of view of dancers who need to work with and rely on intimate knowledges of the concrete body in RL (real life).
I must have been the only participant who brought a camera to the workshop, but my role was hardly paradoxical, since I work as a video/filmmaker in and through dance/performance art (with my Chicago-based international ensemble, "AlienNation Co."), and I have a logical interest in integrating movement research and physical expression to image/soundscapes in electronically processed media. The new catchphrase of many current debates of course (not about older multimedia performance in real space but about the new multimedia software) is "interactivity," and here the problems arise.
When I was invited back to Amsterdam in 1996, we gathered for a second workshop, this time entitled "Connecting Bodies" and foregrounding the return of the repressed: technology. We looked at "LifeForms" and other digital animation software while sitting in front of terminals in the STAMINA Choreographic Computer Atelier, and watched a performance with STEIM's "Big Eye" computer program involving video cameras that convert movement to midi messages controlling lights and sound onstage. Motion capture technology and character animation were introduced as an "extension" or simulation of human body motion, and a dance scholar showed excerpts from Frankfurt ballet director Forsythe's new CD-ROM on "improvisation technologies."
What I noticed with some surprise is a new openness among many of us to organize studios or create independent collaborations among performers, musicians, engineers, and computer artists in order to work in parallel frames (performance rehearsal and computer/Internet platforms). We are only at the beginning of a process of subversion that will turn around the software multimedia "applications" and bring our own dance knowledge to the machinery and codes that act according to their built-in logic. "Liveliness" or human movement creativity can't be programmed, nor can we learn to dance from "life forms."
I was particularly interested in the question of the "liveliness" of the technologically dominated interfaces between human organisms and intelligent machines, as I find it also crucial to investigate the politics of computational possibilities in our cultural environments, now that we observe a growing fascination with cyberspace and virtual reality not only in the commercial industries that sell information and market the software, but also among the writers and critics who speculate on the progressive aspects of "being digital" or living as cyborgs.
LBLM was conceptually planned as an intensive laboratory for artists from different fields coming together to test the feasibility of cyborg parameters for creative processes. Together with my collaborator, choreographer/dancer Imma Sarries-Zgonc, I hoped to ground all our potential encounters with technomedia and digital processes in the physical work with/through our bodies and sensory experiences, and one of the most fundamental aspects of this grounding was going to be the quality of the space that we would construct or occupy.
2. Workshop Description
The performance/multimedia workshop LBLM is offered to provide a laboratory for the organic integration of performance and digital arts, and for the development of new interdisciplinary methods of composition.
The workshop is open to students/artists of every age and every artistic/technical background or experience. Required is a commitment to intensive work and experimentation, and the shared process of intermedia research, composition, and theoretical reflection. We are particularly interested in collaborations between dancers, performance and visual artists, actors, musicians, videomakers, computer engineers and designers.
"Lively Bodies - Lively Machines" presents a 9-day intensive workshop that is conceptually based on autobiographical stories, science fiction, and fantasies/projections of physical bodies and virtual realities. As a brief introduction, we will look at Marie-Francoise Plissart's photoscenario Droit de regards, William Gibson's Neuromancer, Margaret Morse's What Do Cyborgs Eat? and Chris Marker's film-novel La Jeté, as well as recent examples of choreographers working with film/video, in order to create a theoretical framework for our focus on "incorporations."
Our day and evening rehearsals will explore the relationships between performance/writing and photography/film, image-time and movement-time, music and movement, the grain of the voice and the grain of the body's image, analog and digital processes, samplings and conversions, as well as between movements of the body, fantasy, and the erotic fantasies of "consensual hallucination" (as they are depicted in cyberpunk).
The workshop is not based on a theatre or dance technique but entirely on the imagination and on our physical-mental practice, self-awareness, movement and creativity. Our process will explore the limits of technology and gender in our fictions of identity and memory.
We will also work with onscreen/offscreen reversals and with the double-space of stage/screen, exploring digitally enhanced performance spaces. All participants will be invited to work compositionally/choreographically as well as with camera, camera movement, electronic sampling, mixing and editing techniques and possible computer interfaces. PC and Mac software and multimedia applications will be tested to investigate new electronic interferences with physical space-time. The workshop is open to anybody interested in contemporary cultural paranoias about borders and border crossings.
3. The Process
Fortunately, we discover already on our first day that the Chichester Institute's quiet campus environment and the large dance studio we are given allows us to concentrate our focus and energies in a single communal space that we are able to modify and transform over the course of the workshop. The decision to stay inside the dance studio and work on and off the dance floor becomes crucial for your sensory experience of collaborative work during the physical training, contact improvisations and scene rehearsals (morning and afternoon) but also during the afternoon and evening projects that evolve in and around the multimedia workstations we gradually set up in the studio (video editing deck, video mixing board, video projectors, cameras, sound recording deck, three Macintosh stations, scanner, lighting and sound mixing board, etc). The dance studio, which functions as a black box that is highly flexible and accommodating while also giving us a sense of intimacy and control over our space, can let the air and natural light stream through it, but it can also, within seconds, be darkened and transformed into a film/sound stage or recording studio. It is a logical step for the group to become so comfortable that some of us could have stayed overnight; it is our creative space and our dressing room, our recording suite, cinema, and computer center. We do our brainstorming here, and we laugh as we dance to Tim's jungle music mix.
The group consists of 19 participants, and we are supported very graciously by the Institute's dance studio and media staff while also being observed by an independent filmmaker and her crew who wants to document the workshop. Such documentation of performance/digital art research cannot be valued enough; most of us are involved working with cameras and recording devices anyhow, yet such concentrated group work has a temporal dimension and an unpredictability that makes it sometimes difficult to monitor our recording cameras, and it is perhaps more interesting to let observers interact with our environment and find their own perspectives on the work we create.
I want to name the participants in the group:
Rachel Arnold, Tim Charles, Tessa Elliott, Melanie Fowke, Jools Gibson-Ellis, Jim Grover, Guy J Hilton, Joel R Johnson, Adele Levi, Karen MacBride, Joumana Mourad, Beth Partridge, Robyn Proctor, Justine Reeves, Dominique Rivoal, Olivia Stevens, Chris van den Bosch, Imma Sarries-Zgonc, and myself.
After a few days, the daily ritual of our early morning training and physical work on the dance floor has created a sense of rhythm and cohesiveness, and the creative ideas that emerge over time can be attributed, to a large extent, to the energy that is generated here, ebbing and flowing through the group. I cannot overemphasize the spirit of this energy, because the actual sharing of ideas and inspiration, experience and practical technical knowledge could not have been structured into a rehearsal plan or imposed by the project directors. On the contrary, I feel we are able to allow for an open structure that evolves naturally, so to speak, according to the flow of energy and motivation. Participants choose to follow an idea or work together on specific projects, regardless of whether they involve choreography, video shoots and editing, sound recording, image grabbing and processing on the Macs, hooking a hoop dress to a car battery or building a triangular tent on wheels. Each of us individually wants to contribute to this process of exploration and development, and yet the personal input is always connected into the larger group and the shared moments of discovery. Many of the individual "scenes" we are working on in fact require collaboration both on the artistic-creative and the technical production levels, and since most of us come from different backgrounds (and some arrive with only a basic or no acquaintance with cameras, editing facilities, computers and software), it becomes a rather fundamental necessity to share and exchange what we know or don't know, and to support each other.
4. What Do Cyborgs Eat?
Food and nutrition are important during the time of such intensive day and night working, and the dance studio itself becomes a little more cluttered as we drag more things into it, try out more costumes and machines, bring more laptops and cables and water bottles.
Warming up for a technomedia-performance workshop in a studio filled with machines raises questions we may not be prepared to answer. In a very fundamental and concrete sense, our bodies and physical senses may not be completely compatible with the emerging world of electronic multimedia; our training and artistic process will need to be rethought if we aim at integrating the live arts with the concepts of interactivity, virtual realities, sampling and digital processing, etc., as they are operational in the culture of computer technologies.
LBLM is an attempt to create such a laboratory for interdisciplinary synergies among artists of all ages and backgrounds who profess a commitment to shared explorations. As in any science lab, our trial-and-error experiments lead us in different, sometimes unexpected directions, but they combine to open up a new perceptual structure for our artmaking. Many of us are perhaps more familiar with the synergies of dance, theatre and film production, or with the creation of music in concerts or with synthesizer keyboards. But we may have less experience constructing a studio that can also turn into virtual environments or link our more familiar analog world to the digital "space." I don't think I know all the implications of linking our bodies to cyberspace, but our dance studio now provides a wide range of advanced technical equipment. Placing (shifting around) these machines in the dance-studio enables us to develop our own work rhythms and to build an unusual environment in which daily physical practice, generally intended as physical and mental preparation for performance media (dance, theatre, music), is transformed into something else.
This other side, namely our experimentation with cameras, camera movement, screen-projections, closed circuits, scanners, electronic sampling, mixing and image-processing techniques, and computer interfaces, creates challenges to our understanding, not merely of the functioning of the new hardware and software, but of our acceptance of machines that are perhaps becoming more lively and competent, more flexible and attractive, than our fantasies about computers had allowed. The intelligent machines, then, are our partners, we learn to cope with their idiosyncrasies. We stumble over cables, or the cables malfunction and we grow impatient about the stubborn machines. Or, rather, we adjust to the logic of cables (knowing the right adapters and compatibles), information processing and the life at the terminal.
On the other hand, our workshop group has become aware of several meanings of "interface" and of the incorporation of multimedia computers into the artistic process. Image-making attains a certain "screen"-life that cannot be readily translated back into the phenomenal realm of objects and human sensations, movements and actions, that we used to know in the corporeal theatre of consciousness. "Electronic presences," like our video ghosts, seemingly begin to exist in real space, and our individual physical actions are no longer needed, for example, if we wanted to stage the postproduction. You could come and look at the files we have saved for you, installed in a computer or on the Net (Joel and Guy are busy feeding some of our findings into the website arranged for SPLIT SCREEN).
After a few days it dawns on us that we are meant to show our workshop "results" to the public audience that will attend the SPLIT SCREEN Conference. We have to decide whether we should build an installation, a virtual environment, or whether we should perform in the flesh. Most of us want to remain present and perform, and so the second week of the workshop begins to include "technical rehearsals" for a kind of workshop production that builds a collage of various scenes and images we are creating. The main leitmotif for us is the idea of movement: as long as we are movers and create with our physical languages of the body, we continue to want to move through the mediascape we construct around us.
Our proposition is to explore the continuum of human-machine interfaces in a live performance that tries to raise a few small questions about the insecurity of cyborgs who lack an organic memory or sense of self, who have trouble eating the right stuff, and whose erotic fantasies are all mixed up. Perhaps we are slowly forgetting how to dance at some point, as I notice many of us huddled around the Macs in the dark, faces illuminated by screen light, but perhaps we hope to continue to choreograph our own images. We donate some images to the frame-grabbing computer, we store our images, and then we manipulate them in the "Photoshop" or the "Director" programs. The programs are not as flexible as we like.
We are also interested in the experience of "virtual spaces" and the peculiar fascination with fabricated images and virtual connectedness (interactivity) that is currently promoted in the technoculture. Warming up to a new kind of dance, therefore, means to examine the images of the (cyborg) body with which we pretend to connect with others. Above all, each of the participants in the workshop has been willing to explore and exchange personal responses to this question of connectedness, which is ultimately a political question about our care and love for bodies, not screens, we can touch.
5. The Performance/Postproduction of LBLM
As we prepare to invite an audience to visit our studio, I propose a score to the group which constitutes itself from the various scenes or images that have been developed. After the first run-through of this collage, some participants feel that the sequencing could have been different. They are right. We discuss issues of a/synchrony, linear movement, alinear narrative, juxtaposition, montage, flow, and time. We are not only in midst of a choreographic and compositional debate, we also trust the strength of our scenes as much as one can do this after only a short period of experimentation and rehearsal. We are rehearsing with quite a few scenes that are not edited yet or not even completed yet; we are working in an open-ended composition, while Imma is already programming the computer for the lighting design, and Tim is needed by almost everyone to help out with his knowledge of sound recording and musical sampling. Joel is working on his complex architectural sci-fi scenario of the "Church of Artificial Intelligence Version 2.0," and Jim seems to have lost some of his video footage at the editing deck. Justine feels sick with a cold, and Beth's car has broken down preventing her from rehearsing for two days. Melanie, who has to leave a day early, is busy producing "shareware" for others. Jools is writing and inventing scenarios incessantly, she brings her great poetic gift and her jubilant laughter to the group. Karen, Joumana and Adele are plotting some surprises, and during the last few days Adele is seen measuring height and weight and the feasibility of flying through the projection of her film on a bungee rope. Tim has become the resident composer, while Rachel, Chris and Robyn seem to enjoy spending endless hours redesigning their bodies in the Mac's Photoshop. Tessa and Dominique are working on a complex choreographic interface with a program code Tessa has written. Guy is helping everyone while rehearsing a scene with a little robot. Olivia is shooting photography and writing/recording a cyberpoem. As the scenes grow step by step, we realize that the production will become a theatrical event, involving a certain duration and evolution over time, which excludes other parameters of experience or interaction. Towards the end of the rehearsals, I also become intensely aware of the unusual amount of video/computer projections we will be using, and it seems as if we don't have the time to reflect and analyse the evolution of this focus on screen projection (in various manners, angles, shapes, on screens, walls, and bodies).
Perhaps we need to reflect afterwards on this immersion in real-time screen projection. In fact, the video projections tend to create flat cinematic surface spaces, they don't really envelop as much as they build (retrogressively) two-dimensional surfaces of light. Since they increase image scale dramatically (compared to video or computer monitors), they tend to be interpreted, in the current evolution of video art practices, as "installations," with an aesthetic dimension related to painting (still images), photography (billboards) cinema (motion picture projection), and sculpture (projection environments). On the other hand, their theatrical emplacement in a dance space creates another important dimension that reflects on the crucial aspect of video, namely its manipulation of time and duration (through the mixing of real time/nonreal time, slow motion, freeze-frame, repetition, fragmentation/recombination, etc). In many contemporary video projection works, the depictions of movements, light or color in space can create a sculptural or architectural experience, and often such work is non-narrative. For us it seems more important to connect the projection to the ideas we developed in the contact improvisations and dance rehearsals, and these ideas tend to be narrative. In other words, the performance can be justly criticized for lapsing back into a more conventional theatrical parameter.
On the other hand, we base our exploration on movement, and some of the movement motivations in our group are narrative, some are not. Primarily, the performance reflects our physical process and our group's careful connection to technological media, derived from a specific effort to understand why we use machines and how we experience our lives in relationship or interaction with technological partners. We are particularly interested in the gestures of our machines, yet one of our early meditations was based on Margaret Morse's essay "What Do Cyborgs Eat?" - and almost everyone in the group found an individual response motivated by her question and her concern about the "oral logic" of incorporation/excorporation, body loathing and food loathing, repudiation, denial, disavowal, identification, immersion, and the dialectic of inside and outside. We observe ourselves in the organic physical work, and grow more intensely aware of our skin, of membranes, of fantasies/fears of transitions, transmissions, fluids. We become interested in exploring our bodies' reactions to the demands made by an electronic culture seemingly obsessed with new virtual realities and technical images or substitutes of the human organism. We have a disturbing discussion one morning about prostheses, abandoned body parts, surgery, decomposition, dying. We remember that we are living and dying. We remember love and erotic obsession, the ghosts of our lovers coming back to haunt us.
Perhaps our performance of LBLM does not have a clear narrative leitmotif, after all. We connect the scenes in a manner of association and intensification, re-tracing our steps and our image compositions as they evolved over time, placing the projection into the three-dimensional architecture of our physical, RL space. The unspoken problem, alluded to in many of the screen projection, is the haunting absence of a lost connection, or the felt disparity between organic and virtual bodies. We cannot live in disembodied virtual space, and we are foolish not to acknowledge the cartoon world of our computer animations. What then is the attraction of virtual worlds, and why are we becoming so obsessed with interactivity, with our spectres and the substituted/recorded images we love to manipulate on the computer screen. Are we becoming attuned to the "redesigning" of our " increasingly obsolete bodies" or "phantom bodies,"as the Australian artist Stelarc calls them in his own performance efforts to reconfigure the body in the electronic realm of images?
6. From Analog to Digital Choreography
I think LBLM is only the first phase of an on-going search to answer or locate some of the questions that will challenge us as we develop further contexts of movement-connection to the computer codes. In the work we create here at SPLIT SCREEN, the movement ideas are all generated from our personal motivation and desire. None of us changed the primary reliance on the weight and gravity of our physical bodies and emotions, although we posed the screen projections as "screens" for the new parameter of questions about virtual movement or movement extended into virtual space. I will end by describing the one experiment we made exploring this extrusion of awareness to the not graspable, immaterial process of random code switching within the computer program. The experiment was initiated and carried out by Tessa, Dominique, and Imma, and I have great respect for Tessa's research and programming that she shared with us. Since we are only at the beginning of a choreographic, conceptual and aesthetic challenge, I want to describe the experiment as concretely as I can, inviting feedback from the reader. It is one of the scenes in LBLM that is virtually unintelligible (in terms of its construction) and also largely invisible, since the dance studio is completely dark at that point in the performance, and the red, yellow and white pixels projected on Tessa's sculptural wire-fence screen are not easy to decipher. The compositional image tends to be very clear on the small computer screen, but it tends to dissolve and blur in the enlarged scale of the projection.
Wanting to work towards a stronger, more challenging interconnection of the analog and the digital, we shift our choregraphic experimentation closer to the conceptual and physical/digital possibilities in the interface, and thus to the conceptual level of VR and cyberspace. This concerns the relations between two types of "movement" and two kinds of "space" (and what the movements project as movement and as projected image within the screenspace). Tessa's work with Dominique and Imma opens up this conceptual challenge.
In this configuration there is a life performer, a digital camera, a Mac, connected to a video beam and a projection (onto screen or other structure), and a special software program. Tessa has written the code for this program, and stored information on files (sound sources and what she calls image-objects from the camera's recording; other image sources that can show up in the field at the lower level of the screen composition created by the Mac/program). Her program then allows the manipulation and digital processing of the recorded movements (grabbed from Imma's performance), and this is done through editing of an animation film-sequence. The gestures or movement-images that were recorded with the digital camera are recomposed and reconstituted, and then stored. The stored image sequences/samples can be "cleaned up" via Photoshop. The program's framework then installs an interface, linked through code that responds to the life-circuited digital camera.
In the live performance situation, now, this special camera responds to motion in space and to light (or color). Tessa proposes to use darkness in the scene, and Dominique performs her dance lit only by a flashlight she holds in her hands, directed at her body. She points the light at her body, moves with/the light. The camera picks up motion and light, and interfaces with the program, which is done in such a way that the computer reacts randomly and spontaneously to the motion/light capture and triggers the recorded/stored memory (i.e the sound samples, image samples, and animation movies within the framework that was created, in this case a landscape of fiery flames.
Here I need to add that I don't entirely understand the "framework," since it appears to be color space or a landscape in black into which the fire moves, and this movement of fire is a composite and unpredictable, semi-abstract image-motion.
You therefore see, not a closed circuit video projection, but an actual interactive video-computer-sound interface, the human dancer's motion in real (physical) space triggers the "memories" filed in the computer, in the virtual space (e.g. cow bell sound, clock-ticking sound, electronic sound landscapes, flame images, body images, other images, fragments of recorded/animated materials, all of this like a painting-collage-in-motion), and these memories flash up on the screen projection, phantasmatically, eerily unpredictably. And you don't know what will flash up or how precisely the dancer's motion triggers a particular shape, sound, color, and thus one could say the physical motion composes the color-field on screen. In other words, if you produce and program the whole parameter, and then collaborate with a dancer, the resulting dance is a new composite (chance event), it is processual, immediate, and yet interlinks present/presence and storage (past/memory) in a way that appears to stream up as if from the unconscious, from some other place, in some indeterminate and unforeseeable way.
As an electronic interface, this configuration opens up a new dimension of dance (the parallel dance on screen) that leaves behind physical motor-muscle memory in choreography as we know it, and the analog projection-relation. The dance/ choreography enters into a new parameter, cogenerated with the computer and the computer-reactions and sensings of the motion-capture camera eye. The dancer in real space has her own movement motivation or choreography, but this movement (caught by the digital camera eye) "choreographs", so to speak, the memory of the recorded movement, sound, image sequences. Those virtual movements (from storage) appear on the projection screen.
Tessa's objective in the interactive constellation is to achieve a greater fluidity of the digital, to move the pixilated, stored digital image repertoire across the screen space within the intermingling of the framework-imagespace (fire landscape or other imagescape). This implies "moving" the animation or the stored images (memory) in a new way, making images appear that can dance, making the image dance. When I suggested to her that the real dancer in physical space can move in full potential of human movement (potentially infinite range), whereas the stored image movement is "fixed" (in the animation sequences) and thus limited, Tessa answered that this is not quite true, since the virtual image has a certain "weight" to it, and therefore the virtual image that is triggered can move in different ways. Certain motions by the RL dancer can send a light image quickly across the screen space, whereas a heavy image cannot be moved in the same way.
I realize I need to familiarize myself with the habits of algorithms. What are light images and what are heavy images? How do we "read" or perceive the virtual movement (the projected images), if we look at the interface from an aesthetic point of view, and not a technical one? How do we respond kinesthetically to light and heavy images and the emotional texture of flames, the fires of consumption?
Since the RL dancer "choreographs" memory yet has no conscious or understandable influence or impact (based on movement knowledge) on the stored image movement, the interactive relationship appears determined by the program. To a certain extent the computer program constitutes a (pre)programmed randomness, but how are to we analyze such purely random mode of selection (as in chance events, for example in John Cage's philosophy of music as weather)? In other words, what is the meaningfulness and effect of this interactivity between dancer and memory storage? Is this a relation of strict choreography (shaped and constructed movement choreography) to programmed randomness? Or is the dancer in RL improvising, responding, moving without pattern or choreography, making arbitrary choices (like the user in computer/media installations who pushes buttons and clicks the mouse)? Are there differences or similarities in the user randomness and the preprogrammed randomness of the stored motion path functions?
I wonder how interactive the interface is if human choice or the creative motivation (choreography) of the dancer (user) is another means of triggering/achieving random juxtapositions or superpositions (between RL stage/space and screened space). The fluidity of randomness is valuable since it conjures the eruption of images as if in a dream or hallucination, reflecting a desire to move with/along/against the memories (in the program) we might have forgotten. For Tessa, clearly, the performance is triangular, involving the actual dance, the predetermined virtual forms, and the re-configuring interactive dance. While the digital interfaces that make us look at the unpredictable and perhaps unknowable image movement occuring on screen are a retreat from/escape from constructed meaning in choreography, they are also enriching, adding a depth or dimension that the real dance alone cannot have. The conjunction of the three planes of choreography is a doubling, not in the sense of mirroring the live dancer, but constructing new composite asynchronies.
In visual terms, the screen movement appears like an abstract expressionist field, yet within this field gestural "bodies" or bodily gestures can emerge. The movement of memory leaves us with questions. How does the RL dancer's physical movement relate to (and signify in itself) the screen imagery, is there a concrete-abstract relationship, is there a dominance of abstract form over content, is there a correspondence between figural movement and abstract image movement, or do we read the screen movement in figural terms since we might assume that the shapes we see are body shapes? Is the interactivity that is taking place creating the illusion of participation/collaboration between real dancer and virtual body/image, or is this an illusion that essentially comes down to motion, motion selecting from a set of predetermined choices? What is this "set" and why does it appear as if we don't know the set and see the images flash up as mysterious, or connected on a deeper level of association, or in a specific relationship that is dependent on the quality of the movement in RL? In fact, the content of the live dance resides to a large degree in its expressive quality, and as long as it is still/here and visible, the RL dancer's movement choreography overdetermines the way we "read" the abstract image field. It constitutes the ghosts. I would argue that we tend to read a narrative into the projected space/screen space, since we are also reminded of the cinematic framework and larger context of the performance. Dominique's invisibility troubles the viewing, and the fire, along with the dancer's skin, evokes a region of erogenous zones on fire, a burning delight, a powerful, incandescent female consuming desire that threatens stable, clear, fixed boundaries.
What we do not know is how she is watching or feeling the screen and dancing with the screen movements. What is the skin/membrane of desire, and how do we introject our ghosts? How is the sound (triggered from memory) impacting or accompanying the RL dance and the VR image movement, and what "space" is created by the sound events? If the sound creates an ambient environment, are we regressively wishing to be immersed, fantasizing a locomotion that remembers infancy, or are we living out other complex fantasies in the landscapes of flames? Do specific sonic samples trigger specific memory associations in the acoustic chamber that heightens our tactile relations?
I leave these questions intact since they may not be easily resolvable. Their analysis will lead us to the next level of our work, and to a deeper engagement with the quality and emotional or spiritual resonance of fluidity that is intimated by Tessa's rich and intensely associative parameter for the dance between three women and a computer code. I don't hesitate to add that I also see a significant political dimension in the experiment, since the intricate connection between fluidity and cultural assumptions about femininity was implied all the time in Tessa's collaboration with Imma and Dominique, and Jools Gilson-Ellis wrote her poems for the performance precisely about these implications, all too often ignored or overlooked by the current hard drive of languages of the computer industry. Performance - dancing with and across patterns - is an avenue to contest rigid or vapid formulations handed down to us, since the emergence of the strength of bodily intelligence unravels the grids and pixilated monotonies of the computer's inscriptive power.
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