jerwood spaces and telethings

Scott deLahunta (
Sun, 25 Oct 1998 12:33:00 +0000

A letter I began writing to John McCormick of 'company in space' has turned
into something I am sending to the list. The focus of the letter is the
telematic piece which was just performed between the Jerwood Space in South
London (with Wayne MacGregor) linked live with and intervening in
Australia's Company in Space's piece. I am not going to describe the work,
but some of the questions which arose in the viewing of it.


Hello John,

Just to say hello and it was nice to see you on the wall in the Jerwood
spaces. I was there for the Saturday morning (in the UK) performance.
Technically it seemed to come off with nary a hitch. The material from your
end and the video layering technique combined with Wayne's movements worked
well as a piece of multimedia (video/audio) performance with plenty of
richness and dynamism, provocative narrative, etc. Within the rectangular
frame of the projection space we had no trouble 'reading' the piece. My
critique of that particular frame (in isolation) ends here.

We were discussing some of the additional and potentially confusing layers
of 'meaning' which are added via the teleporting in real time of imagery
from one part of the world to another. What was added to the viewing
experience? The piece registered high on the end of emotionally charged
imagery which was not necessarily meant to spark an inner conceptual
monologue as regards the 'connectivity' of UK with Australia. So, what did
this 'connectivity' add? Another question was in what way did Wayne's live
presence at our end enhance or detract from the media performance. We had a
glimpse of the Australian audience or voyeurs (as in what an audience
always looks like from the point of view of another audience) for a brief
moment towards the beginning. I found myself thinking about the nature of
live broadcast and which are the live telecast events which normally get
our adrenaline rushing and why.... live sports/ live news from a war zone,
etc. I was going on afterwards about the Jason project where schoolchildren
were linked up live with scientists doing projects in remote zones around
the world (have to look that one up to be sure I had my facts right).

Josephine Leask -- a UK based writer on dance -- and I were discussing the
way in which Wayne's particular movement style (extreme hyperextension in
joints, etc.) which is very videogenic and seemed to fit the particular
narrative, visual, aural and emotional content of the imagery coming from
your end. Seen in this light, I suppose it is always possible that if one
desires the input of a particular performer such as Wayne into a media
piece and you can't afford to bring him to Australia you can always
teleport their uniqueness into the imagery.

Still though, the question of prerecording versus live comes up. While he
was improvising and re-interpretting the material gathered by watching what
was coming from your end... I see no reason why this could not be
prerecorded or preset -- other than one reason being a matter of efficiency
in the process. In fact, it was probably a lot less time consuming and
potentially less expensive to beam him in real time... and carry on

This raises another question for me about media performances in which the
live element (Wayne at our end) plays secondarily in a sense. Wayne is
improvising, I imagine that much of the specific movement gestures, etc
coming from your end are improvised to an extent. There is another layer of
improvisation here presumably and that is the real time video editing going
on. I'm not sure that you could arrange it heirarchically like that -- but
if you do and you accept that the final outcome of the image relies quite
heavily on the video mixing... is it possible that the performers are more
exchangeable/ interchangeable in this media environment?

... this question of improvising opened up for me some thoughts regarding
the nature of dance improvisation performance -- generally, the tendency is
for dance improv to go either in a formalistic direction (usually a
response in spatial and temporal terms) -- or an energistic (sic) response
to some sort of dynamic perceived often peripherally to be going on in the
space. I would categorize Wayne's performing as energistic in the sense
that the formal elements are subsumed into a moving presence/ energy that
is 'Wayne' (for comparison to help out I would say that Steve Paxton, for
example, is more on the formalistic side). This is, of course, arguable in
the extreme -- but I'm aiming at a point...

So, on our end we have an improvising energy, Wayne -- but he can only
respond to what is in some practical senses formalistic in that he is
relying to such a greater extent on the visual and framed nature of the
image gestures he picks up from your end. Yes of course, there is an
element of the energistic in the images -- in their manipulation, but these
are mediated bodies, closeups, quick cuts, reframings, doublings, etc. What
is the nature of this sort of improvisation ? in terms of the experience of
the improviser. From the viewer's point of view Wayne's focus (and 'focus'
being one of the indicators of improvisational intention which can
translate into meanings for the viewer) is split between camera eye and
video projection which is giving him feedback, shows him how he 'appears'
in the media environment. This is all quite interesting stuff... but...

But this does not address the question of the 'live' broadcast coming from
Australia. It could have just as easily been beamed from another space in
South London... or another room in the Jerwood to explore the same
phenomenon. Yes?

We have something here in the UK called Noel's House Party -- which I was
watching last night. The use of live broadcast whereby the drama of people
who are suddenly surprised to find themselves on live camera with a studio
audience is played over and over again. But it uses multiple live
broadcasts all happening at the same time from different parts of the world
(mostly UK) and woven together via live editing to create the most
incredibly tight story line. References (both in the dialogue as well as
visual) to geographic placement constantly affirm the 'distance' aspect. I
have only seen the show a few times... and obviously they are using
equipment which is out of the reach of most of us, but still -- it seems
there might be some clues to strategies for making live broadcast resonate
as an integrated meaning element in a performance piece.

... and related to this BBC story is one last thought on the claim (which I
hear used as a justification for the benefit of these sorts of projects,
partly because more in-depth discussion is complicated and mostly just
raises questions which are not answerable at the moment) that now "these
technologies are in the hands of artists and not in the hands of broadcast
companies like the BBC" -- that artists set up this Australia/ UK link and
not a global national corporation or government. Yes, of course this is
partly true and sure it's a good thing... but I think it's not enough to
take the onus off of artists to use the possibility in the most
sophisticated, intelligent and creative ways possible and also maintains
this high/ low culture split which is really not worth doing any longer. We
are all implicated in all political processes and any one of us might find
ourselves working for the BBC at any time.

John -- hope you don't mind me using this opportunity to wax on a bit -- no
amount of waxing and waggling will diminish the wonderful experience of
seeing a friend on the other side of the world who would otherwise be
unavailable to me -- but I had to suppress a desire to jump up into the
performing space with Wayne and wave to you !!



Scott deLahunta's
Temporary Address: 7 Oct. - 11 Nov. 1998
Care Of: Laban Centre London, Laurie Grove
New Cross, London SE14 6NH, UK
tel: +44 (0)181 692 4070 / fax: +44 (0)181 694 8749
Writing Research Associates, NL
Sarphatipark 26-3, 1072 PB Amsterdam, NL
tel: +31 (0)20 662 1736 / fax: +31 (0)20 470 1558