After Dance

DISSOLUTIONS AND RE-TRACINGS

By Johannes Birringer

In the context of contemporary postmedia, the notion of “live traces” assumes a beautifully complicated depth of meaning and touches on the maddening paradoxes of dance, if we were to understand it as a kind of choreographic object. [1] The most ephemeral of art forms, dance has naturally refused the status of an object, and like music it tended to comprehend itself as purely time-based. It vanishes before it can be collected, it escapes the “apparatus of capture” implied by the organizational and enframing mechanisms of the choreographic or, in extension, the document of the choreographic (Lepecki 2007: 120). Interesting interferences happen, of course, between the vanishing and the recurrent mechanisms of “modification” that Deleuze and Guattari predicted, when in Mille Plateaux they imagined the replenishing floating movement of forms (and of sound), forms replaced by modifications of speed and affect. If you remember, Deleuze was also an admirer of the apparent non-performance of John Cage’s 4’33” of silence. Variations of Cage’s music have been heard in a number of recent dance, or not-dance, performances even if they didn’t trust the silence, while we were holding it together.

 

The Fact of Matter, as William Forsythe titled a recent installation made for the exhibition Move: Choreographing You (Hayward Gallery, London), was neither a choreography nor a dance nor a concept, as a matter of fact. Informal yet materially concrete, it pretended to be a “choreographic object” and looked like a loose gymnastics sculpture waiting to be acrobatically entered. I entered and hung in the rings for a while, trying to float my body and climb through the rings, losing and gaining momentum, getting trapped in the physical comedy of effort. But what is this installation, and how could it choreograph me?

 

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Fig. 1: William Forsythe, The Fact of Matter, MOVE: Choreographing You, 2010.
© Michèle Danjoux/DAP-Lab.

 

In the following, I will briefly trace the supplements of increasingly unstable forms in contemporary dance and dance technologies, looking in particular at the risks involved in real-time systems, and the unhinging of “dance” from its stages and stage apparatuses. With “after dance” I propose to think of dance as postmedia, too. What exactly happens when the event of performance moves into contradictory constellations as they are provided by the ill-defined form of installation art or projection art – the latter now also connected into the burgeoning world of online social networking sites? What do the theatrical producers do with the audiences, as they notice the current hype of participatory and interactive systems in the museums? Asked differently, when did museums take note of time-based systems and interactive performances, curating “choreographic objects” to make us dance in the sanctuaries of fine art?

 

Re-capturing what is happening also involves, almost inevitably, the question of how such new works or choreographic objects can be documented and “applied.” After all, Forsythe’s research platform, Synchronous Objects (http://synchronousobjects.osu.edu), effectively presents itself as applied research, uncovering various interlocking systems of organization in Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced (the prototype), through a series of “objects” that variably allow us to explore choreographic structures and elements, reimagining what else they might look like, where else they might take us.

 

I associate such virtual re-imaginings with the dissolutions of form that are built into the amputational and manipulatory digital operations in contemporary production; such operations are predicated on the mutability of the data, the data scatterings and transductions. On the other hand, concerns about re-enactment and documentation accompany many live art practices connected with physical manifestations, energies related to the performing body and the movement that expresses them. If I reflect on my own work, the dance-theatre and live art events I created in the 1980s are more or less lost now. In the performance art context in which they were created, no preservation or collection was intended, and no continuity of a formal language desirable. Already since the late 1980s I became absorbed in the gradual embedding of media and digital computation into performance. Or, vice versa, performance became embedded in an expanding range of intermedial production processes which challenge assumptions about assemblages of forms and relations. As a new paradigm, the processual or intermedial poses questions about compositional modalities and transmissions (and thus about what constitutes traces of digital composition) to just about everyone –  practitioners, audiences, curators, teachers and students of contemporary interdisciplinary art, writers and journalists.

 

The generation of form, I learnt from architecture, is dependent on material processes, and on transformations of in-formation. The in-forming techniques – for example drawings, figures, mappings or other design strategies – are like the organizing principles that Forsythe proposed for his understanding of choreography. How is space created, how is movement created if not through the continuous extension, variation and re-orientation of moving bodies in dynamic dialogue with the environment. And what are “traces of dance ”– if you remember the title of a remarkable book on drawings and notations of choreographers, edited by Laurence Louppe in 1994 – if not certain “phantom movements” bearing on the limits of the imaginary? “Dance can have no recourse to the sign,” writes Louppe, “for its essence is to forgo the detour that leads there. The access to dance, whether it is perceptual or interpretive, is a direct access that surges up from the heart of the matter…Dance is lived and traversed as a living present” (Louppe 1994: 2). Something quite similar had been claimed for “performance” in general and in principle, namely that it is nonreproductive and that its ontological presence (“the heart of the matter”?) is predicated on its disappearance. And yet, we are interested in the phantom limbs, the gray areas between notations, notes, conceptual graphics and tracings of the sensorial fabrics, the intensities, weight, energy, or qualities of movement experienced, seen and imperceptible, remembered or anticipated. Traces as shadows of the virtual, of dissolution and orientation, every moment becoming again, mobility its image of passing. Always after the dance, which is also before the dance (postmedia).

 

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Fig.2:  Helenna Ren in Ukiyo, modified performance prototype                                                           © 2008 P V Smith/DAP-Lab

 

A present or past performance has perhaps been documented, and surely that is quite common, as a matter of fact. We record the stage, the sounds and the images of  performance; we can look at them/listen to them. We record rehearsals too, and sometimes make close-up films of the dancer’s gestures, of objects or scenographic elements. We store the programming patches. Software technologies and algorithmic techniques have become available to store traces that are in fact usable in other ways (not as archive), to generate different knowledge or creative options for further practice. The actual performance and the virtual performance (the possibilities inherent in all live events) were/are synchronous, and they have been captured/recorded. Today we’d say the captured is data: dated data and data that don't care about a date and are infinitely re-usable. Much documentation is (perhaps) useless since the data of a particular performance is already out of date after the changes we make. As potential for necessary derivations, the data is useful. More and more dance companies or live artists show and release “versions” of their performances, sometimes in different media and in different bits and pieces, subject to different vicissitudes (e.g. dance-tech.net; YouTube; mp3, blogs, etc).

 

Some time ago I walked into an exhibition of fashion, at the Royal Academy of Arts (AWARE: Art, Fashion, Identity) and came across a wonderful object: Helen Storey’s Say Goodbye (2010), an “experimental dissolvable dress” (dimensions variable) that you might like to wear but it’s not to be used or bought, only to be watched as it slowly, biodegradably, descends and disappears into a container filled with liquid, until it is no more. Bizarrely curated in this dull and only intermittently hilarious show, the dissolving dress hung from a guillotine-like scaffold on top of the staircase, dissolving downward. I imagined hearing the sound of it, but the sound actually came from a nearby video-monitor displaying Yoko Ono’s 1965 Cut Piece, a performance lasting perhaps 9 or 10 minutes on tape.

 

From what I understand, Cut Piece had one verb as its instruction: “Cut.” Ono executed the performance herself in Tokyo in 1964 by walking on stage and casually kneeling on the floor in a draped garment. Audience members were requested to come on stage and begin cutting until she was naked. Apparently folks were shy and careful in Tokyo, but at Carnegie Recital Hall the next year, the audience performed more vigorously, and Ono looked worried and apprehensive at times, beginning to protect her vulnerable body just before the tape ends (how did the performance end?).

 

Listening to controversial debates on how media art “objects” (e.g. the retrospective Nam June Paik at Tate Liverpool, 17 December 2010 – 31 March 2011) can be re-presented or recreated, especially if they were originally performed or intended for audience interaction and now are dysfunctional, how would one show Cut Piece or its score in an exhibition? On tape or re-performed by someone else after Ono’s score? And how would one transfer the notion of the score (which in musical terms largely exists only to be interpreted by performers) to choreographic objects?

 

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Fig.3: The Forsythe Company, Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time      © 2009 Courtesy of Tate Modern

 

Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time is the title of one of Forsythe’s recent performance-installations, created jointly with his ensemble, and when I spoke to Liz Waterhouse (one of the dancers) after the showing at London’s Tate Modern in 2009, she referred to the “work” as part of a living, malleable repertory, predicated on transmutability. What do we trace in choreography of improvisation which always further reinstates the repertory as mobile presencing? Does the architecture of the hundreds of dangling silver pendulums create an in-forming structure, or is its form dependent on its modulation by the improvising dancers interacting with the environment (or vice versa)? And since this is not a sculptural object to choreograph you, the visitor, we are not sure about its character and behavior as an installation. But while London’s dance critic for The Guardian thought it was neither an installation nor a dance, other perceptions of what happened varied widely, allowing attention to shift to the behavior of the system, to how the non-choreographic object, enjoyably uncommitted, followed certain laws of gravity which the dancers come into contact with. We could trace their interweavings with the pendulums, remembering the mesh-work of bodies and kinetic threads, airy armatures suspended from huge height. Can environments dance? If we think of the thousand plateaus, of course they can and they become similar to the dizzying perspectives of 3d virtual worlds where avatars fly across landscapes or morph with objects, even though, if we listen to Alan Sondheim dialogues with his avatars in Second Life, we may not know what is an object and what’s not. [2]

 

Are you dressed as a range of scalar values submerging the screen, there’s something dear julu that must be beyond or in the midst of the other side of the tree, surely the use of values better written point to newer sources? Is a range of scalar values submerging the screen, there’s something dear julu that must be beyond or in the midst of the other side of the tree, surely the use of values better written point to newer sources dressed as you? Are you in your thing, are you in your flesh, ah don’t answer... Is Julu wearing your ..., are you wearing your thing?

Between God-calls, falling pebble sounds, flickering bodies swelling stuff broke, from outer space there must have been a flicker, miasma, surfeit of shapes, margins, exiles. Because of the flickering of addresses, red in the vaporous clouds that rose among the storms, electric currents in the neon wilderness, I hear you Nikuko. Our skin pales beneath flickering flourescents, jaundiced incandescents. with flickering and competitive protocols. There are no rooms left for the sleeping. (Sondheim 2009)

 

On another virtual plateau, the world of dance screen media recently saw the emergence of “Choreographic Captures” in Germany, a project inviting submission to an international competition of short non-commercial “clips” (60 seconds) to be screened in public places, cinemas, and online. The entry conditions are simple: A “Choreographic Capture” deals with choreography in a filmic way. Choreography is  understood here as an arrangement of movement in space and time, but these movements needn’t be limited to motions of the human body, but can also involve any other object (https://www.choreooo.org). In my lab, we sometimes refer to installations or performance as “digital objects,” as the capturing is always already part of the creation, the post-choreography (Birringer 2008).

 

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Fig. 4: Ceci n’est pas une pipe, Frame grab from Choreographic Captures

© 2008  J. Birringer/dans sans joux

 

No resistance to a disciplining apparatus of capture (in the negative sense of bodily subjugation or delimitation) is necessary here. The CC project intends to create an international platform for choreography and cinematographic art, keeping in touch with the Web 2.0 “do-it-yourself” culture of distributed digital work that, increasingly, is also re-mixable, re-distributable, open, social and interactive. Live traces, but different. Christina McPhee, publishing Sodalake Unbound on the Internet (http://www.vimeo.com/5681577), refers to her on-going work as “variable installation performances,” the current version a remix of earlier versions of Sodalake Unbind (naxsmash scrim tent build performance). When she came to give a workshop at my lab in London, she invited the dancers to mash the online video and reconfigure it in new ways (under the creative commons licence).

 

I want to follow this thread and look at traces and captures, re-tracings and transmutations of “work” that is, in the digital age, inherently unstable and unfinished. In terms of the processual logic, it would be unfinishable. My proposition: A growing number of contemporary digital or intermedial performances utilizes onstage recording, real-time processing technologies and capturing media to develop movement “content” that might be embedded in a system and yet widely open to operational indeterminacies implicitly built into the nature of a self-organizing (and partly autonomous) system. Movement articulations within a technological system are always blurred, as performer and technical milieu become intermingled. The fact of matter, then, is no longer an issue of content (information) but of deviating behaviors. If a dancer performs with a sensor interface, for example, the sensors will allow the harnessing of continuous streams of data generated by movement and affecting sonic or video output – the movement is harnessed as input for complex real-time digital interventions in the sonic and projected visual environment. Every aspect of the performance emerges as an effect of the interaction between live performance and complex system behavior, and attention shifts to such dynamically conceived behaviors, on part of performer and system. Glitches and flickers, cracks and breaks, to use sonic examples, are naturally occurring malfunctions or (desirably) random events when the system is pushed and distressed.

 

The intrusion of noise into the system merely indicates that the embedding system itself is not stable or closed, but always dynamically evolving into a becoming and unbecoming of form (informe), not unrelated to what Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss describe in their take on Bataille (L'Informe: mode d'emploi). The generative principle, informe’s “instructions for use,” which are like a set of operations, permeable and provisional, cannot but do violence to the formalism on which the aesthetic precepts of modernism were built (and which postmodernism couldn’t get rid of). It also implies that re-enactment and documentation are useless concepts in a larger context of always mediated, interactional or distributed/networked art, where “prototyping” of real-time interface architectures implies continuous iteration and difference, programming, redesigning/versioning, and platform switching. The data is traces – pro-actively usable, re-usable. Losses of data are to be expected. As a consequence, there never will have been original works in need of re-performance, and with the dissolution of stable forms and medium-specificities, dance converges with other practices interested in examining the breaking points in the relationship between the natural and the artificial, into the friction effects and clicks.

 

Is You Me

 

Is You Me is created by Louise Lecavalier, Benoît Lachambre, Laurent Goldring and Hahn Rowe. I saw the performance at the Dansens Hus during the 2009 Coda Dance Festival in Oslo. Ostensibly a duet between Benoît Lachambre and Louise Lecavalier, this dance reflects some of the fascinating aspects of a “cracked medium” – in the sense in which Caleb Kelly has examined 20th century musical and artistic production by looking at experimental usage of playback and sound-producing technologies whereby tools of media playback are expanded beyond their original function as a simple playback device for prerecorded sound or image. The generative and glitch aesthetics of cracked media point to processes of alteration and malformation, usually enacted on the material surface of a medium (Kelly 2009).

 

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Fig.5: Is You Me, co-created by Benoît Lachambre, Louise Lecavalier, Hahn Rowe and Laurent Goldring. A ParBLeux production

© 2009 André Cornelier. Courtesy of Latitudes Prod.

 

The first “malformation” once notices in Is You Me is the occlusion of the individual subject/performer. On a raked white platform, which backs up into a slightly curved white screen, we can barely make out anything initially, except for a black pullover with sleeves and hood, lying there as an abstraction of a torso. A puppet-like shadow appears, seems to become animated, with tiny legs, but it is “only” a projection, lines drawn and then redrawn, with swift marks of a pencil. Then first one, then another figure gradually appears in black hooded costumes; for a long time we don’t recognize the dancers or their gender, no body no subject, we only perceive stunningly quick brush strokes, animated lines that circle and dance around the hooded pantomime of silhouettes, creating scene after scene in a constantly moving universe. Perplexing scenes of phantom realities. In terms of animation (e.g., Miyazaki), one can see the scenes as doga, moving pictures or animated drawings.

 

The figures on the platform, flat and nearly two-dimensional, move in strangely wobbling and flapping ways, they are manga characters perhaps, appearing to engage in a surreal cosplay to the haunting electronic violin and innumerable crackling sound effects generated by Hahn Rowe, standing downstage left, while on the opposite side of the stage, seated at his laptop, light and projection designer Laurent Goldring creates his live kinetic sceno-graphies and drawings. This is stage design enacted in real-time, under constant erasure. The movement of the performers remains two-dimensional for some time, limbs popping, contorted twisting and trembling extremities, stretched cloth and Kafkaesque forms emerging and combining with the line tracings, marks, blotches, smears and extraordinary zigzagging calligraphies created by Goldring’s hands on the computer tablet. Now there is a full landscape, then it is wiped away, and on a blank canvas the tracings of motion start again, while eventually, now in yellow and green hoods, the dancers reveal a face, a hand, a bare back, almost as if animal or human-like bodily contours form associations with an imaginary story (metamorphosis, à la Kafka) that resembles an uncanny nightmare, a dream with (at one point) a black and white film scene of a car driving through heavy rain, we look at the night through the windshield, one performer stands sprawled in front of the projection as if he/she were an insect caught on the glass, smashed up. I can barely believe what I am seeing. Near the end, the live animation draws a horse shape, a huge Picasso-like cubist monster with a wide open mouth, red color bleeding from its belly as if this troubled image wanted to be more than cartoon, shapeshifting into a densely emotional virtual landscape.

 

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Fig.6: Is You Me, co-created by Benoît Lachambre, Louise Lecavalier, Hahn Rowe and Laurent Goldring. A ParBLeux production

© 2009 André Cornelier. Courtesy of Latitudes Prod.

 

What can we call such a dynamic real time kinetic sceno-graphy, with its seamless integration of drawing and movement, which at the same time appears corrosive, not centered on fusion but on the physical cracks and breaks in the surface, on decomposition of identities, on concealable (bodies) errors and layerings that slip away and cannot surge into the heart of the matter… ?

 

(Re)Traces

 

My second example is a concert at London’s Place Theatre where Tanja Råman + Dbini Industries were featured on the Dance3 program in April 2010. (Re)Traces is a shorter version or re-adaptation of Traces, and is performed as a live collaboration between Tanja Råman (dance), Jon Ruddick (electronic music) and John Collingswood (live video manipulation and projection), each performing together in their own languages, combining movement with live sound and working with the digital image projection (words, calligraphies, light traces) in real-time – thus producing a performance in constant mutation, ironically centered on the theme of memory. I did not see this performance live, but its video versions tell me it is an interactive dance constructed through a combination of audio and video live mixes controlled by software and camera vision. In the system of interdependencies of such a “machining architecture” (Spuybroek 2004), the performer also enacts certain parameterized controls of the coding process, traces of choreography in action, as we have seen in some of the outstanding prototypes of contemporary performance that utilize real-time composition (Trisha Brown’s how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume..., created with Marc Downie, Shelley Eshkar, Paul Kaiser, Curtis Bahn and others; Chunky Move’s Glow, designed by Gideon Obarzanek, Frieder Weiss, Luke Smiles and performed by Sara Black or Kristy Ayre; the Ventura Dance Company’s 2047, with installation, video, audio and stage design by Pablo Ventura; and Movement A, designed by Ulf Langheinrich and danced by Toshiko Oiwa).

 

A question that arises is whether a particular dancer is needed for the system to perform and how a dancer is positioned inside the sensing system. Råman, wearing LEDs on her arms and one leg, moves with lights (reflectors) that are “recorded” and then generatively looped into the graphic visual projections on a scrim in front of her. The projections dance. Letters, shapes of words, appear as well, layered upon each other, homonyms, letters of the alphabet that disconnect from the body. The projected light also seeps through the scrim and falls, slightly blurred, onto a back screen. Remembering Loïe Fuller, especially her legendary Fire Dance, the performer is to some extent apparitional, embedded inside the projection environment and the looped light and sound traces generated by the graphic and audio interface.

 

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Fig.7: (Re)Traces, co-created by Tanja Råman, John Collingswood and Jon Ruddick

© 2010 Courtesy of John Collingswood.

 

These light traces create a virtual double, a dimmer version of Råman’s figure and movement, white lines and shadows that seem to originate from her but after a while gain their own life. Since the looping effect creates delays of perception – and thus also of our memory of the perceived light-in-motion – the solo becomes a duet with virtual emanations, as we also recall it from Merce Cunningham’s BIPED or Bill T. Jones’s Ghostcatching: the dancer spawns virtual shapes that appear to grow from the movement gestures.

 

Open Systems and Prototypes

 

How do we interpret such loops between apparently real and virtual figures that evoke a certain interchangeability? Or are the digital and the analog not interchangeable? Råman’s dance, as we also observe in the photographs from the performance, documents itself, if one were to think of trace lines in this way, it partitions and splices the physical motion-gestures with the graphic trace lines of light projected onto her, and thus she can indeed be said to perform with the “memory” produced by means of the interactive Isadora or Max/Msp/Jitter patch (the computational environment) which processes the input data and translates them into output. The difference to Laurent Goldring’s live drawings onto the stage of Louise Lecavalier’s and Benoît Lachambre’s performance is that Råman is her own scenographer, so to speak. A virtual scenographer, disturbing perception, generating response patterns from the graphic interface system activated by software algorithms. You take the masquerade for the real, while the digital computer remembers nothing; the software instantly analyzes the incoming data (numbers) and translates them into projected light patterns. What the audience might remember are the visible (and invisible) partitions in the small delays between gestures and the projected graphic traces of gestures, which in her concert enter into a beautiful, resonating kinaesthetic fusion with the projected words you could remember (“renew,” “remember,” “retrace,” “recall,” “revisit,” etc), their typographies as well as semantic meanings, the abstract light notations of mathematical thinking, grammar of cognition here evoked as a kind of writing in movement or inscription (choreo-graphy).

 

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Fig.8: (Re)Traces, co-created by Tanja Råman, John Collingswood and Jon Ruddick                 © 2010 Courtesy of John Collingswood

 

I am arguing, however, that all of this is post-choreography, since changeable and inherently unstable or indeterminate within the intelligent system. Such an assemblage, performed interactively by the dancer in close unison with the software, was clearly marked in Chunky Move’s Glow. Here the graphic projection onto the floor – where the performer first moved in the dark and then began to glow – seemed to act as a continuous contouring medium but also revealed its own behavior, its cross-haired lines scanning the stage, polygonal nets folding in faint colors around the effervescent human body, being attracted to it. The graphics also glowed in the dark attractively, reminding me of numerous installations which invite audiences as players into the responsive system. [3] Such exhibitions create a sense of intimacy providing seductive playful trial. It is entirely possible to watch the event paying attention to the system behavior, puzzling over causes and effects or inter-relationships, wondering what gets omitted by the mapping or from the visible prosody of the body moving. The moving graphics speak a different, if synchronous language.

 

Now, in most theatrical works using preprogrammed light/video projections, the positions and movement sequences of the performer need to be cued precisely to the space/position and temporal structure of the video playback. The role of the dancer then would be reduced to the difficult task of making each performance an exact copy of an original. In Glow the machine vision of the software – wonderfully named “Kalypso” by computer artist Frieder Weiss – observes and analyses the performer and reacts (anticipates) to her movement.  It thus releases the dancer from restrictiveness and monotony. The Greek name, translated, means "the camouflager, the hider.” [4]

 

If the reference to restriction were to be taken literally here, it should not cause offense either. When you perform with sensor interfaces or camera interfaces, there are always restrictions which enable different techniques of improvisation or performance, creating body and environment (flux agents and systems) in mutual modulations. The intricate real-time interrelations provoke a shift in emphasis to the momentum of new conjunctions, for example the ground, which is a screen, might move, the silhouettes breathe, light contracts and expands. In the case of Glow and other contemporary interactive installation, the active presence of the player/performer is needed, but again we don’t think of choreography here. There is no re-enactment. Each time new conjunctions can occur and a lover’s discourse emerges.

 

Processing, in computational and aesthetic terms, is the artistic material for such prototypes of loving relationscapes. Enacting such relationships (and would there be videogames if it were not so?) implies a readiness to become immersed in the experiential dimensions of animation (anthropologists might call it spirit-possession) where movement-action is as imminent as the visual or sonic abstractions generated and propelled by algorithms, neither of which knows exactly how the virtualities, the phantom limbs, will have been sensed or thought. At the end of the game, you begin again, and you can’t die.

 

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Figs. 9-10: Glow, co-created by Chunky Move and Frieder Weiss                                         © 2006 Videostill courtesy of Frieder Weiss

 

Kalypso, the hider, is a calculating system. As audience, watching the player, we cannot see everything. Perhaps it can be argued that such real-time processing systems invite us to sense and deduce certain things from what we are able to glimpse and hear, from amongst the shadows and the contours, the splinters and splatters, blotches and lines and dots. Let’s imagine the afro-caribbean roots of the software, which also recalls rhythms – the kind of rhythms seen in Kara Walker's extraordinary animated cut-paper silhouettes (e.g. the Whitney Museum show of Walker’s My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love). When Sara Black plays in the Glow system, dressed in white and wearing kneepads, she slides onto the dark floor, light and video images flow onto the dancer, onto skin and clothes as she is tilting and twisting, tumbling and stretching, rolling over and under, contorting legs and arms into ever new figurations of abstract movement, unknown to us or unknowable, as we do not see her intentions, we can only sense her being in love, her desire and rhythmic pounding of the invisible lover.

 

Each movement and each tilting of the body appears to generate an animated calligraphic trace, an echo, a whispered word from the shadowy lover. Half-way through, Black becomes quite audible in her ecstasy, she slides and slides, spinning around, stuttering words of love in unknown dialects of the possessed dervish – suddenly all is white, and each gentle motion of her arm and elbow draws purple outlines of her coffin below her, she literally draws her envelope, her lover’s embrace, the Draculan sucker who will climb into the coffin with her when the sun rises, now it is night again, we are in the dark, only thin stripes flicker across, lines like knives stab and cut, and the dancer continues, happily enslaved to the pulsating underground. Near the end, the dancer jumps up, and lets herself fall, again and again, creating powerful dark blotches on the white floor. Her body leaves the silent black blob of a silhouette on the surface, and as she leaves and retreats to the side, anxiously, she separates from the beloved silhouette, but then the dark blob slowly begins to move, follow her across the space to finally catch up with her. She is reunited with the impression of her body. Embraced by digital projection, silhouette and person become one again. Distance and unity are processed and recalibrated.

 

In Forsythe’s Synchronous Objects one observes how such a dance can be captured and processed through data visualization tools that help us to analyze the interlocking systems of organization in post-choreography. Images of Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, Reproduced (2000) may show a light sculpture composed of traces-over-time, pathways of movement without the movers, now clouds of data as if performance were quantified through various collection techniques (which may derive from visualization strategies in neuroscience, statistics, and bio-informatics) and transformed into a series of “objects” or sculptures that can reveal patterns, but also inspire the re-imagining of movement as something else. Such “documentation” reveals productive, synthetic and generative “objects” (visuals, text, notation, audio, spectrograms, graphs, etc), generative motion traces constructed from dancing’s aftereffects. As Forsythe suggests, this is not done to create a score from which a piece could be reconstructed, but to explore how space becomes occupied with complexity (deLahunta/Shaw 2006).

 

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Fig.11: 3D Alignment Forms,” Animation of dancer’s traceforms in One Flat Thing, reproduced mapped to 3D space.

© Synchronous Objects Project, The Ohio State University and The Forsythe Company

 

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Fig.12: “Difference Forms”:  Looking at the dance from above, patterns are illuminated through video processing that reveal fleeting alignments, bursts of turns, clusters of action and horizontal and vertical flows.

© Synchronous Objects Project, The Ohio State University and The Forsythe Company

 

As is the case with all the examples of real-time performance examined here, the interactive moving animations or graphs of Synchronous Objects offer seductive counterpoints, mixing up the analytical and the creative to provoke fresh perceptions for composition, for genesis. In this sense, Synchronous Objects is a prototype of annotated creation as research-in-progress, and also reflects the current surge of digital information online, not “stored” there as an archive but prone to be sampled, de-contextualized, manipulated and remixed at will for other creative purposes. Is You Me is a perplexing, beautifully haunting title for performing that requires a deep engagement with becoming. Being uncertain about predefined concepts, subjectivity or individuation, such generative processual performance invites a joining (and is almost always collaboratively enacted), and “interactivity” or “prototyping” describe such a joining insufficiently.

 

In design terms, creative programming and interface performance of course require trial and error, and repeated versions to test and to develop the system which turns composition into dynamic planes of evolving symbiosis as well as shifting contexts of distribution. No flat things, reproduced, but scenes prepared with loving care for synchronous unfolding to happen. This, naturally, has ethical and aesthetic implications for our understanding of art as a living organism, and of the haunting developmental mechanisms of such organism.

 

 

Notes:

[1] The term “postmedia” is relatively young, possibly created in reaction to the discussion on “medium specificity” in the visual arts domain (Rosalind Krauss retraces it in her short book A Voyage on the North Sea. New York, 1999) but now concerned with production generally in the era of digital culture and new media arts. See Domenico Quaranta, “The Postmedia Perspective,” Rhizome, January 2011.< http://rhizome.org/editorial/2011/jan/12/the-postmedia-perspective/>. The term “choreographic object” I have not been able to trace, but I see it used now by Forsythe.

[2] During the exhibition in Second Life, Alan Sondheim changed his installation almost daily (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Odyssey/48/12/22). Called The Accidental Artist, its performance is a deconstruction of the Odyssey gallery space and a phenomenology of “utterly alien” objects which can’t be easily assigned symbolic meanings. Sondheim’s first avatar, Alan Dojoji, actually is a body turned into an environment. She is a kind of nebula, a luminescent agglomerate of abstract and human shapes and other particles that move and fade in the sky. His second avatar, Julu Twine, has a female shape, with a real penis between her legs, and usually performs slow, enigmatic dances that turn her body into a spineless puppet. Other avatars are emerging continuously.

[3] Glow was touring in 2007 and 2008, and I saw a version of it performed at the CYNETart 2007 Festival, Festspielhaus Hellerau, Dresden, Germany. Among installations that use responsive real-time system architectures are: Kirk Woolford’s Will.o.Wisp (2002-), Gretchen Schiller and Susan Kozel’s Trajets (various versions since 2001), SWAP’s Edge (2006-07-), Rui Horta’s and konditon pluriel’s recent work, igloo’s Summerbranch (2005-), and many others. I am also thinking of William Kentridge’s 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès in this context.

[4] Ca·lyp·so: in Greek mythology, a goddess or nymph, daughter of Atlas, who lived on the island of Ogygia where Odysseus was washed up after being shipwrecked. She kept him there for seven years and promised to make him immortal if he would be her husband, but Zeus sent Hermes to order her to release him, and she gave him materials to make his own boat.

 

References

Birringer, Johannes (2008), “After Choreography,” Performance Research 13:1, 118-22.

Bois, Yve-Alain and Rosalind E. Krauss (1997), Formless. A User’s Guide.  New York: Zone Books.

deLahunta, Scott and Shaw, Norah Zuniga (2006), “Constructing Memory: Creation of the choreographic resource,” Performance Research 11:4, 53-62.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix (1987), A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kelly, Caleb (2009), Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction. Cambridge, MA : MIT Press.

Lepecki, André (2007), “Choreography as Apparatus of Capture,” TDR: The Drama Review, 51:2, 120-23.

Louppe, Laurence, ed. (1994), Traces of Dance, trans. B. Holmes. Paris: Editions Dis Voir.

Sondheim, Alan (2009), The Accidental Artist: Phenomenology of the Virtual, Second Life Exhibition at Odyssey, June 2008 - January 2009. Accessed online: http://www.alansondheim.org/sltheory.txt

Spuybroek, Lars (2004), NOX: Machining Architecture, London: Thames & Hudson.

 

Johannes Birringer is a choreographer and media artist. He is founder of Interaktionslabor (http://interaktionslabor.de/), and director of DAP-Lab (http://www.brunel.ac.uk/dap) at Brunel University, West London, where he is a Professor of Performance Technologies. His last book, Performance, Technology and Science (PAJ Publications) appeared in 2009.

 

(10.10.2011)

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