Re: sustained exposure

Random (
Tue, 25 May 1999 17:47:10 +0000

dear jennifer,
the magazine is not widely available- so here is the text- be warned, it is
pitched for a general readership and is therefore not particularly
Talking about dance and technology is tricky, as recent articles, including
the interview with Terry Braun in last month's Animated, have attested. It
is impossible to summarise the range of work which goes under the banner of
contemporary dance, even before you wire it up. So why was it the talk at
The International Dance and Technology Conference which most excited me?
IDAT was in Arizona this year; with a preponderance of American academics
around, there was a lot of talk. However, the profile of this bi-annual
event is high enough to attract artists from as far afield as Argentina and
Australia, and choreographers dominated the panels and presentations. Before
I get into the big ideas, it is important to keep you technophobes reading.
Don't let the terminology turn you off; the most interesting debate at the
bar after the performances, in the changing rooms following the workshops
and on the floor of the often heated panel sessions, was focused on the
body. There are points being raised by this community of artists which are
common to all creators, and their decision to mediate their ideas through
technology has a contemporary resonance which no curious artist can afford
to ignore. The indivisibility of life and technology is a truism which the
younger generation have accepted implicitly and those working with young
people know how conversant they already are with digital media. IDAT was
rich in ideas from artists approaching new media from every available angle.
The breadth of the opinion voiced at IDAT testified to the liveliness of
this field of enquiry and encouraged engagement with technology from even
the most cautious and cynical.
The structure of the conference was demanding yet inspiring, with sessions
starting daily at 8am and networking continuing beyond midnight. The
performances ranged from the polished theatricality of North Americans,
Troika Ranch; veterans of bringing interactivity to the proscenium arch, to
work-in-progress presentations, such as the sensor-saturated environments of
Johannes Birringer of the group Alien Nation and London based
choreographer/architect Stephan Silver. Complex artist-developed and simple
commercial systems struggled equally to meet esoteric artistic aims. There
were moments when the technology obscured all evidence of a shaping
aesthetic, balanced by revelations, where the non-human interventions all
but disappeared. There was wonder and disappointment in equal measures.
Whilst the work displayed a diversity and imagination which will bear fruit
for the entire art form, there were nevertheless fierce debates concerning
its current value. On the first morning, a panel of artists took on the
provocatively titled, " Content and the Seeming Loss of Spirituality in
Technologically Mediated Works. " Presentations demonstrated a grounding in
the sensual, ( Thecla Schiphorst's enquiries into touch and
"skin-consciousness" through interactive installations, ) and the religious,
( Stellarc's shamanistic Suspensions, where his levitations offer a
continuity to centuries of religious practice. ) As the artists in the
audience opposed and augmented the points made by the panel, there was much
talk of the potential for abstraction contained in technologically mediated
realms, far from mimesis. Perhaps an art in conversation with technology
could offer new metaphors for the experiences of this digital age? The
notion of the artist's intelligence driving the technology, and not vice
versa, was defended by choreographer Ellen Bromberg, who made the
oft-repeated claim that content is all, and contradicted by Yacov Sharir's
confession of having no content whatsoever in mind, when he began to
choreograph with the animation software, Poser. Yet his virtual dancers,
with their eery, anti-gravity gyrations looked like futuristic angels.
This intelligent exchange inspired as many "back-to-basics" anti-technology
comments as it did eulogies for hard-wiring and hypertext. The sense of a
community with its sleeves rolled up, agitated and curious, set the
energetic tone of every session. At the round table entitled, " The
Theoretical-Critical-Creative Loop, " Susan Kozel and Sarah Rubidge spoke
alongside American artists, an academic and a critic. As these British
choreographers delved into their personal motivation to work with
technology, question followed unanswered question with dizzying complexity.
Sarah Rubidge nailed her struggle to make work and theorise simultaneously
by inventing the phrase, "work-in-process." Rubidge is searching for a new
way of thinking about the evolving dynamic of productions such as Passing
Phases, a collaborative, interactive performance installation which offers a
route out of authorial control and into the newly imagined realms of genuine
audience interactivity. Something innate to the complexity of the technology
and its intervention into the experience of the viewer has taken Rubidge's
choreography out of her hands. Still struggling to escape her analytical
roots and wary of the inflatory language appended to much theorising about
this work, Rubidge presented a tentative and thoughtful approach to her
parallel roles as artist, academic and writer.
Susan Kozel was equally incisive and took on challenges from the floor
regarding her choice of potentially restrictive technologies. Kozel works
with motion capture systems which chart a dancer's activity onto an animated
figure, offering more life-like animation to the software developer and
another vision of the moving body to the choreographer. Strapped up with
wires, Kozel explores the margins of the technology, testing it to its point
of failure, entering a dialogue with herself and that which she generates.
Kozel is not interested in the photographic realism of the technology, her
pursuit is based upon the Artificial Intelligence tenet that new life forms
are only developed in order to better understand this existence. She spoke
lucidly about artists working intimately with technology to counteract the
idea of depersonalisation. The radical individualism of her appropriation of
the motion capture system, to the extent that the bouncing cubes of the
animated figure could be "named" according to who was wearing the sensors,
was evidence of the vigour of the balanced relationship. There were issues
raised surrounding the status of experiments such as Kozel's and their
worthiness for presentation as art. Process versus product? Tradition was
defended and finally located within a "sedimented' art form, which neither
broke from, nor easily followed historical models. Kozel mentioned the
inevitable gain and loss involved in all progress, and made a plea for
tolerance for pioneers. She requested sustained exposure to the technologies
as the only way for artists to move on, and sought a critical context and a
programme of audience education to accompany the slow momentum of these
creative journeys.
I have only been able to hint at the liveliness of these debates and urge
those who wish to know more to subscribe to the internet user group which
serves the digital dance community as a forum for the development of
practice and theory. Topics range from the sublime to the riduculous and,
like IDAT, contain ideas to provoke even the most Luddite of dance lovers.
Email with " Subscribe Dance-Tech your
name " in the body of the message.