Re: Dance Tech curriculum/content 2

Jeff Miller (
Tue, 29 Dec 1998 09:26:43 -0500

Among my holiday gifts is a wonderful book called "Rings", a pictorial
rendition of the exhibition at the '96 Olympics in Atlanta. I wasn't aware
of it at the time, but perhaps some you you were able to attend it. It was
different than most exhibitions because instead of focusing on a specific
style or iconographic theme (such as "the Dog in Art" or somesuch) it
focused on 5 passions, passions that supposedly "united" the human
species. Some excerpts from the J. Carter Brown, the curator's, opening
essay apply to this subject:

"...the issue it confronts, is the experience of a work of art as
the precipitator of certain emotions in us. The admitted
subjectivity of such an approach might go against the grain of
some of us who have been trained in the rigors of art-historical
methodology, a relatively recent field of study that has striven
for legitimacy in the academic world. In this attempt, the
academic study of art has tended to downplay subjectivity, hoping
to emulate the achievements through objectivity of modern art historian at Columbia the parlance of
the day, "How can [art history] go beyond the hermeneutic and
semiotic strategies of poststructuralism?"
Meanwhile,in the fields of cognitive psychology and
neuroscience, recent developments have begun to give the
affective, emotional side of human nature its due..."

Johannes Birringer wrote:

> It appears to me, as such experiments deal with contemporary space
> influenced by the colder digital encroachments and distancings (also the
> compression of space-time through ever-present availability to corporate
> industrial capitalism/the owners of our jobs- cell phones, beepers,
> etc), that the perhaps clumsy hand that appears on the screen and that
> you manipulate via buttons to touch some virtual animal on the screen or
> in your fantasy somehwere, that this quite adequately and disturbingly
> broaches the subject of intimacy or the substitute (the longing)
> intimate relations. A sense of fulfilling your need to touch, contra
> AT&T.

Again, from J. Carter Brown:

"In the U.S.--whose history has reflected the imprint of the
early Puritan belief that emotions are dangerous and the arts
were the work of the Devil-- a society bent on generating
material wealth has laid its primary emphasis, in its educational
philosophy and system of rewards, on human beings as measured by
their capacity to maximize a quantifiable "bottom line". This
focus on economic materialism has tended to shunt any
consideration of the arts to the periphery, if not all the way to
"The time has come, then to reassert the idealism of Pierre
de Coubertin. We must strive to integrate cultural values into a
concept of the whole person and explore, with openness and
sensitivity, the importance--I would say the centrality-- of our
emotional lives and the riches that await us in recieving,
through art, affective transmissions from across great gulfs of
space and time."

The ironic aspect of the essay is the way he expresses the importance of
the visual arts including sculpture but practically discounts dance (which
he gives half a sentence worth of acknowledgement). I believe the
categorization of Stelarc is a reaction of the public to a person who
strips off the gloss and metal casing to show the dependence and
intertwining of technology with humanity--something which can be quite
horrifying, in spite of the occasional liberation (such as this list).

At the same time, things like the petting zoo are quantizing the sensation
of touch, with what seems to me to be the goal (perhaps unintentional) of
providing a way to measure, and therefore market, what has previously been
a subjective experience. The new controllers for video games come to
mind--they simply vibrate, yet in conjunction with the stimulation of the
visual and auditory cues the vibration can simulate everything from death
to triumph. Yet it simply vibrates, a little plastic box with buttons in
your hand.

The problem, as I see it, is that the fears of virtual reality that were
expressed by its early critics--that it be so "perfect" and manipulable so
as to replace true experience-- is inaccurate. The true danger is along
the lines of the traditional choreographer's fear of video documentation:
that audiences will accept the video version as substitute for the actual
performance, rather than an additional work of art, an extension of dance
into a new medium.

The solution that it seems that AlienNation Co and other artists (Laurie
Anderson, Mariko Mori, Bill Viola come to mind) is to discover the
"passions" that underlie the new tech, that permeates it as all human
creations. Perhaps the issue shouldn't be the aspect of politics in our
dance, but rather the issue of the roots of politics, the affective

Of course, using fuzzy words like that doesn't get the $...back to square

Rambling on,

Jeff Miller