Re: validity grids

Johannes H. Birringer (
Tue, 22 Apr 1997 06:35:06 -0500

Hello Listmembers,

I just connected the last missing cable to my computer/modem (it was in the
wrong box), and I can catch up.

The discussion has fiercely moved ahead, so I will be late, still thinking
about Dawn's grid and why is it there.

I think Richard made an excellent point about the necesssity of working
within newly, interactively designed spaces, imagining by testing the
choreography and content of what we want to say within the [technological]
environment. This is a qualitative shift from working in bare rehearsal
studio (without tech) before/until final tech week. One would have to work
within the installation (as it emerges in its own design and program
decisions and choices, responding to the work ideas as a whole). The
question of validity of work that is perhaps not finished or not
rehearsed-in-the-design, not prepared enough or even showable under the best
technical conditions - this is an interesting question, because it moves
back to our earlier discussion about the value and impact of "improvisation"
in new digital/dance art.


My hands are hurting from packing/loading/unloading. I cut my fingers.
I have arrived in Houston, Texas, and my old apartment looked quite empty
when I left it.

Across the street from where I live now, in a beautiful, tree-lined and
tropical looking street, there's an old house that has been abandoned by the
owner years ago. It sits there quietly dilapidated.


Scott really touched something in me when he spoke of abandoned websites,
uninhabited ghost towns out there.

I loaded the truck alone in Chicago, it took three days. In Houston a whole
group of friends were able to come over and help unload, it took 2 hours. My
hands were still hurting.


>is it necessary for the body to be physically present in a performance?>

Amanda probably supports the idea of improvising and experimenting in
environments even if we cannot be sure whether it all works the way we
imagined. Isn't all choreography virtual until we test it in front of an
audience in a site? I agree with Amanda that we need to test it, and perhaps
we could argue that sometimes, in rehearsal, as we are evolving the
movement\designs and interfaces, we can simulate certain imagined effects or
dimensions or expressions of our content/material. I mean we can simulate
its technological extensions and interactions to a certain point.

Richard, whose wonderful CD-Rom project MOUTHPLACE with Jools Gilson-Ellis I
saw again in Atlanta, wanted to demonstrate the possibility of extending the
CD-Rom material into live performance (using BigEye and Lisa as MIDI
interactive-designs), unfortunately their session was scheduled at sun-rise
time, and the cavernous hotel looked liked a ghost town.


>is it necessary for the body to be physically present in a performance?>

I think so.

It seems my body-movements are necessary for the infrared sensor (security
surveillance) in my new house to notice me, it blinks when it's happy about
noticing me.

On other other hand, let me conclude (wishing to encourage Stephan to tell
us more about his Webbed Feats- site-specific collaborations) with a brief
response about ghost houses, improvisation/interaction, and grids. I also
want to take note that Boal and the concrete social politics of cyberart got
no sustained response (apart from bashing Coco Fusco, whose current
performance piece is called "Better Yet When Dead"), except perhaps from
Stephan's reasonable position on funding and sharing (sorry to hear about
Scott's telematic project being not-funded), and Guy's rather interesting
example from puppet theatre:

<< design and construction of a proxy body - if you will, an
avatar - can be part of the therapeutic process (be it social or
personal), and is a fair enough Brechtian device in its own right. The
issue is, perhaps, not so much whether Boal can be done with different
sorts of corporeality, but about the level of community and mutual
support that could be built among participants who are telematically
fictionalising themselves- and how to achieve it.

>It's about how trust operates in cyberspace.

>......This is one of the areas in which Stelarc's
post-biological paradigm is scariest, as evolutionary viability becomes
aligned to technological access. Nor am I convinced by his wooly
pseudo-cyberpunk disavowal of such issues - where there's a will (to
tech) there's a way, the street finds it's own uses etc. >>

Am I hearing a Stelarc quotation in the current Vancouver event on the "Body
Electric"? (Thecla).

It would be interesting to discuss how trust and rehearsals work in
cyberspace where we may not know what is inhabited and present and what not,
and why it matters or not. How we come to feel that our choreography works
in the grid and plays with the instrument but remains dance or becomes
another kind of dance. If I understand Dawn correctly, her company wants to
be acknowledged in New York as a dance company (that happens to use high
technology), and it may get invited to events such as BODY ELECTRIC where
people will wonder whether bodies are necessary or need to be present. Aha.

My reflection is as follows:

The body need not necessarily be present if the person's' presence can be
evoked. Thecla used a beautiful example [<projected conciousness is present?
--this is possible without the body being in the same room, will and
intention are powerful activators
in performance..>] or represented or simulated, as in film/video or CD-ROM
works. However, there is still a difference to walk into an abandoned house
and feel the presence of human life that was lived here, and then making an
artwork about this experience, or to film the empty house and project it
onto a screen.

Jools (with Richard's help) created such an extraordinarily difficult scene
for us at our "before night falls" installation in Atlanta, joining us the
day before and having sent me the footage of the abandoned house she found
in her neighborhood in Ireland. I only saw the video footage, then
transformed it further by digitally manipulating it to make it stream along
with the 4-chanel video installation/projection space we had created for the
live performance. Since we didn't have our BigEye interactive program in
place, we simulated the interactive dimension of our new work creating a
multiple video and multiple sound choreography, and three performers had
worked with the installation design. One dancer (Imma) was absent in
Atlanta, except her video ghost was dancing and speaking to us in the live
broadcast, and we spoke/performed to her live, being present.

Jools, our fourth performer, had not rehearsed with us but had received all
choreographic scores and rehearsal notes via email across the Atlantic. She
brought her poems, her dance, and pre-mailed her video of her feeling out
her presence in the abandoned house of a man who had passed away or left.

We thought that our work, which focusses on the choreography of memory,
could handle these commensurable and incommensurable thematic and technical
materials, and yet, most interestingly, when Jools performed in Atlanta (we
had only 4 hours to do the tech set up, as Richard already pointed out), she
had to enter cold into the pre-"programmed" video synchronizations, time
frames, space frame, choreographic sequencing. She, in a way, was invited
to "interact" with our performance design, although we had virtually
included her all along, from the beginning, without knowing exactly how her
real presence would affect the piece, not affect it, be overshadowed by it,
interrupt, etc.
Some audience responses afterwards indicated that her (the only woman in
real presence) presence was occluded by the two men's positions in the
grid/frame/spatial configuration, and the feminist response was to point out
that she had been decentered.

This is enormously interesting to me since the piece, from the beginning,
had a spatial and thematic configuration in wich all our memories are
personal, specific and fluid in overlap, interacting and shifting the
recollections and the memory recall (through mediation and increasingly
dense digital manipulation of images/sounds in movement pprojection,

These memories concern us women and men, white and of color, straight and
queer, and childhood recollections of the haunted house of our psyches and
lived bodies (not electric, but fleshly, wounded, cut). The diversity of
experience can flow into the tense configuration, and we can choreograph
moments, sequences of entering the uncanny, while we are also stuck,
technically, to an incomplete, unsatisfactory (since pre-edited, partly
manipulable) interface configuration that simulates the "sensors" that
trigger stored memory. In order to find out whether the work is valid, we
need to perform it (and invite the audience to comment on content, issues of
race and gender, spatial position, power, voice, voice over, movement-over).
I learnt that, as in film, there can be "movement-over," and it can upset
some audience members (especially if they don't recognize Imma's voice as
the dancer who is both present and not present).

On the other hand, if the technical/technological design composition is
rather complicated and evolving from long process, it seems that the
audience really doesn't have access to these compositional issues, they can
only watch, listen, respond.

The audience in our case was picking on our configuration (grid), and since
they were seated on two opposite sides, some had trouble seeing the other
side, the other's face, exactly (that was intended by us, but didn't help
our audience), or had to look where-ever they wanted to look (Mark's
comment, I believe, is valid, if there's more than one dancer, you'd have to
look between, look and feel aside the clear center, no?); especially if
there is no center except a figure/outline made of flour.

Nobody commented on the flour/ashes.
They seemed to want/need to see into the person's face.

Which makes we want to ask you all how you imagine looking into the face of
an abandoned house?


Johannes Birringer
AlienNation Co.
Houston, TX