Re: jerwood spaces and telethings

John McCormick (
Tue, 27 Oct 1998 04:40:56 -0500

On 25-Oct-98, Scott deLahunta wrote:
>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?

I think it is best to first suggest that the event was an extremely different
experience depending on where it was viewed. So the event I will be talking
about as I experienced it is probably somewhat different from the version
experienced by Scott. In Australia the work was set in a historical
magistrates court, intricate woodwork, gothic ceilings, audience in the public
gallery, operators on the judges bench, replete with wigs, performers in the
area occupied by witnesses and council. Theatrical by nature. In London, Wayne
appeared in a newly refurbished studio space, white walls, audience standing?
moving around? closer to an installation setting.

As Scott suggests 'connectivity' was not meant to be an issue in itself within
the piece. so what does it add. I imagined the link in a metaphorical sense.
We were dealing with notions of power and persuasion, prompted by research
into gesture as a mechanism for persuasion and (mis)communication. The
influence exerted by Wayne a metaphor for events or powers/circumstances,
decisions made that are beyond control, yet may have a profound impact. The
most prominent gesticulators of our time, even the "most powerful man in the
world" are not immune to external forces. We had set up scenarios whereby
Wayne could manipulate the aural and visual environments and even the
performers at times. He was not seen as the 'real' person till the very end
and so to me was an ambiguous prescence in the work. Perhaps a
rationalisation, but the idea of a prescence entering the work from afar yet
having a direct impact on the events at this end seemed appropriate to the
work and to the use of the videoconferencing.
I don't think I have an answer in generalist terms for "what does connectivity
add to a performance" It can really detract from a performance as well.
Perhaps it is best assessed on the relative appropriatenes for each individual
performance work. It is also possible that it will be more satisfying for one
end than it will for the other(s). They will certainly be different. Perhaps
because we are here we tailor events to suit ourselves and it requires an
amount of extrapolation to imagine how events will shape at the other end.

>Another question was in what way did Wayne's live
>presence at our end enhance or detract from the media performance.

I have discussed this a lot with our group. we recently performed this work
with no connection and are still attempting some comparison. I think they are
ultimately different works. As I write the image I see is all the things Scott
was unable to see in the live performance environment in OZ. He saw what we
let down the pipe, as we saw of Wayne what his cameras allowed.
I can't say for you or the environment you were in whether Wayne's presence
was an attraction or distraction from the media event channelled through. I
know it did have an effect on events here and thus the media event was as it
was in part due to that prescence. So can you dissect Wayne V Media Event when
they are part of the same loop?

>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 is an extremely stimulating point for me. To prerecord or not to
prerecord. It has come up and we HAVE recorded Wayne's input. But we probably
won't use it. It is not the same. I think you have to look at it from both the
perspective of the audience/voyeur and that of the performer, though
ultimately the two become entwined. The best analogy I can find is that of
talking to an answering machine. You engage with a prerecorded proxy for the
person you would like to interact with. There is a certain amount of
information stored by which you can derive meaning and attempt comunication.
but this is extremely finite and inflexible. And most importantly your own
behaviour is extremely different when talking to the proxy than when talking
to the person. This then flows on to the audience' experience of the
performers and performance. Another loop?
Having the person enter live, sharing a 15 minute call, wishing the other good
luck, talk to you after the show, your own identification and response to the
teleperson is very different to that if they were recorded. I think this must
show in the viewing of the work as it certainly changes the performance of the
work. There is also the sheer unpredictability involved in not really knowing
what is going to happen in any one of those moments of performance.
So here you are posing the question from the point of view of the audience,
and I am responding largely from the point of view of the performer. I have
thought myself " they wouldn't know the difference , would they?" But I
certainly would, and perhaps the audience would notice that the performers are
just a little more wired up than otherwise.

>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?

I agree that the video composition is extremely important for both what it
allows to be seen and what it doesn't. You only see the result of the multiple
camera live shoot happening at either end. I'm not sue but are you concerned
here with the "real" site of the performance. Is it the two live ends as
disparate as they may be? Is it the shared video environment where performers
are mixed together and can attempt at least crude interaction. Is it the point
where the live and video environments meet perhaps only able to be synthesised
within the mind of the viewer. I can see your point that viewed as multiple
flexible and interleaved sites, that the role of the performer is highly
manipulable and able to be resynthesised in any number of ways. What you were
viewing may have been a "lie" and we could have been using Wayne's imagery in
countless unspeakable manners known only to the select few witnesses in our
private sanctum. In london there are decisions made as to what we will
receive, we may then do any number of transformations and send it back along
with what we choose to represent ourselves. I think that a lot can be implied
by the medium itself as far as using computer/video processing to enhance
potential meaning. in this regard perhaps performers are more interchangeable
as you may not be relying on the performers qualities alone to convey meaning.

BTW at our end almost everything was heavily choreographed. We did quite
intensive research into gestural vocabularies and built up 'character
profiles' from the hundreds collected. Variations are largely in moment to
moment decision making or responding by the performers, or in response to
intervention. Wayne was probably improvising more in response, but that was
the nature of the structure we worked together on. There was a large amount of
expediency involved being aware of the likelihood (justified) of very little
online time for rehearsal and our touring schedules. So a full time symbiosis
in performance wasn't really possible this time. So we had heavily structured
options from which we could choose to deviate if necessary.

>... 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?

Yes. Though again probably more so from your perspective from your end. We had
another agenda than Wayne, and that was at times to be oblivious to him. he
was a prescence that in our scenario (not his) could enter our space and lives
and leave it's mark and we felt the effects but were not necessarily any the
wiser as to their point of emanation. The butterfly effect of decisions made.
Wayne's role was different, to watch, to respond, and where demed appropriate,
to reach over and in. In this scenario, distance did seem to have a place. We
could have (and had a contingency plan to) set up a second site in Melbourne
to link to. Cheaper and easier. But I wasn't primarily concerned with the
exploration of the medium itself. it's potential, yes, but in the limited time
was trying to focus on it's metaphorical potential in relation to this
particular piece of theatre. For me, distance meant something. (More Stress??)
Again perhaps it comes down to the individual work, I was able to happily
reconcile the distance to the concept of the work, and thus distance was good.
>From an audience perspective, do you think you would have experienced the work
differently KNOWING that the work was linked to the room next door? I feel
that audience members here carry a different expectation with them, and if so
the experience must be slightly altered if the work on viewing is filtered
through that perception.

>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.

Time and access to resources may have something to do with it. When faced with
very little time the choices may be to overly improvise or overly structure,
both of which can raise problems for me. Now we can even do both
There is also the point that this work sprang out of an existing work where
the remote audienc took on the role of interventionist, and thus was not
tailored to the circumstances from the ground up. May make a difference.

>... 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.

I'm not sure what media went along with the performance in London. Most
artists in OZ seem to have a healthy respect for the ABC and would prefer to
see such things in their hands than other alternatives. I haven't actually
ever considered myself as a competitor to the ABC. Interesting thought though.
But I would say that this kind of sentiment is probably more valuable in a
corporate or marketing sense and hasn't readily occurred to me. The above is
very well said. I hope my future efforts bear this in mind.

>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 !!

Wax Away. And why didn't you jump in there ( at least after the show) I would
have loved to see and talk to you had I only known you were there. Next time.





> Scott deLahunta's
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            John McCormick