Saturday, August 28, 2010

dispositif / mise en scène V

On the last day of the workshop (Saturday), the group decided to end with a showing of all 12 short works (in progress) that members of the ensemble had worked on over the past few days.
For the record, we shall list the performance-installations and the names of creation teams here so that visitors to this web archive can imagine the productive effort that led to this wonderful culmination of the week-long process. After listing the installations, we shall continue to reflect on the particular arrangement/dispositif chosen by the artists to present their work and invite performers or audience to act inside it.
(meeting of the "screen movers" before final showing)

Live.Media + Performance installations:

1. "Tiling Performance," interactional performance by Ian Winters
2. "The Table," interactional performance by Jennifer Woodin and Tommy deFrantz
3. "Lying Bodies/Outside in," interactive installation by Joff Chafer
4. "Memory Table," interactive installation by Ian Winters
5. "Bubble Playground," interactive installation by Byul Shin, sound by Victoria Gibson
6. "UN-SU," performance by Victor Zappi
7. "Truth Is," interactional performance by Sara Kraft (with video programming by Ian Winters and sound programming by Victor Zappi)
8. "Poppy", architectural projection performance by Emily Putoff, with dance by James Cunningham and Tommy deFrantz, and six screen movers, and sound by Victor Zappi
9. "Grid", interactional performance installation by Sarah Dahnke, with James Cunningham, Suzon Fuks, Julia Alsarraf,
10. "Dotted Landscape," interactional performance installation by Wendy Chu, with James Cunningham, Julia Alsarraf, Sara Kraft, Sarah Dahnke, Victor Zappi
11. "Tripod dance," performance by James Cunningham (with Suzon Fuks)
12. ""Bandwidth," visual music piece by Victoria Gibson

After the showing, a group discussion which lasted over 90 minutes completed the evening. During the discussion, everyone was invited to comment on the works presented and offer insights into their experience and reaction of the arrangement, form, and content.

. . . . . .

VI. Sensing the tracking/performing installations

Continuing the previous chapter on "Platform Proprioception," one could point out that in rehearsals for Sara Kraft's "Truth Is," it was noticeable that the creators wanted to achieve an interactional scenario in which the performer (or the visitor invited into the installation) had to sense the "fields" on the floor (tracked by the overhead camera) which allowed the system to respond to movements on the fields. The camera tracking system senses the mover on the floor. The program was written in such a way that the person moving on the field could activate sounds (the spoken text by Sarah which dealt with relationships of trust or love and disappointment) as well as affect the projected text passages that were visible in the spatial environment.
(Sara Kraft rehearsing inside her installation "Truth Is")

This often led to a behavior – in rehearsal – where much of the attention of the performer was directed at the system behavior and its recognition of movement inside the parameters. While this is clearly a necessary proposition for the interface, namely that the mover "activates" the system responsivity, it also leads to a tentativeness that directs the focus at recognition/positioning and not at expression or experience, performance or motivated action. Contrary to what James Cunningham experienced when he performed inside the dotted landscape and the choreographic exercise on Friday morning (inner focus), and what Kazuo Ohno's butoh dance implies – namely that the dancer's entire body becomes a receptor organ for light and the eyes are no longer the only visual link with the exterior world but the whole body assimilates the immediate surroundings – Sara's rehearsal showed her to have an outer focus trying to "find" and cross between the sensitive spots in the programming/mapping environment. This is clearly a disadvantage if one were to think of the interface performance in theatrical/dramatic or choreographic ways, as the one to one mapping tends to work only as a trigger space. Reactive system behavior (changes in sound and in projected words) is elicited, and the action in the environment becomes focussed on eliciting rather than sensorial experience, or emotional experience, performed as a story of the body experienced "truly" in the physical, spatial environment. Or a woman's body performing a story about "Truth Is" (her narrative) and what the uncertainty or ambivalence or truth/perception might be or not be, might have been or not have been – the tenporal disconnect crucial here as the performance is live but the written words and spoken words are recorded, data, remembrances, echoes and associations. Words and meanings change, their semantic affect on consciousness unstable.

Sara Kraft's environment is potentially rich and complex, since it houses a personal narrative, but in the rehearsal, as well as in the final showing of the interactional installation, the performer's movement itself seemed kinaesthetically or psychologically unrelated to the story or the fragmented narrative, from a representational point of view but also from a sensorial/experiential point of view if indeed such an installation could open up a terrain for contact improvisation or inner-directed immersive experience of self (and Rosalind Krauss, many years ago in 1976, spoke of an inherent narcisssism in such self-presentational [video] work).

One conclusion that could be drawn is that interactive systems that house active-reactive (stimulus-response) behaviors are stuck in a parameterized constellation which does not allow generative evolution of performance expression but offers mostly a constraint, a tightening of the options. I will compare this to the haunting, poetic evocation of the "lying bodies" on a projected grassy plot in Joff Chafer's "Outside In," further below, but first want to mention Elin Manning's critique in her recently published book, Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009), quoting from her chapter on "Dancing the Technogenetic Body" (and she in fact refers to Mark Coniglio in this context):

>>Explorations of new technologies and dance, led by Mark Coniglio, Scott deLahunta, Antonio Camurri, and others, have often focused on the difficulty of locating gesture-as-such. One key to developing sensitive software is understanding – and embedding into the software program – what a gesture is. In a 2006 paper, Scott deLahunta suggests that the best way of coming to an understanding of gesturality is to work collaboratively with dancers such that “the choreographic and computational processes are both informed by having arrived at this shared understanding of the constitution of movement.” A similar tendency is expressed by Mark Coniglio when he suggests that live performance work must “delve beyond direct mapping and the metaphor of a musical instrument; to building systems that could better sense qualities of movement; to represent something of the ‘gestalt’ of movement.”

An engagement with technology and dance demands an encounter with the syntax of the moving body. For the practitioners of dance and technology, the exploration of movement is intrinsically related to how to locate where a movement begins and ends in order to map its coordinate within a sensitive system. Yet the questions “What is a gesture?” and “How can the computer recognize one?” may not actually lead into the direction proposed by Coniglio and deLahunta. Rather, it may direct the techno-dance process toward establishing a kind of grammar of movement that would – paradoxically – be more likely to tie the body to some preestablished understanding of how it actualizes. “Mapping” gesture risks breaking movement into bits of assimilable data, replicating the very conformity the computer-dancer interface is seeking to get beyond. Instead of attempting to map gesture, this chapter therefore begins somewhere else. It explores the potential of the wholeness of movement, including its “unmappable” virtuality. The unmappable – within a computer software program – is the aspect of movement I call preacceleration, a tendency toward movement through which a displacement takes form. (pp. 61-62)>>

This "wholeness of movement" is constrained by platforms that need eliciting, as I pointed out above, and we might need to agree with Manning that pre-mapped environments always contain a limiting structure that hinders the kind of unfolding we saw in James's dances or in James and Tommy's duet in "Poppy," however much that installation revolved around the strange shifting and moving of the spatial architecture and the changing light (a programmed sequence of swirling light particles in different colors) - there the dancers' movements evolved and flowed without that their gestures needed to activate a response: the movement itself was not dependent on the system’s prosthetic apparatus or its emphasis on subjecting the dancing body to its predefined parameters, and therefore the performers' attention was less drawn to the workings of the system, but rather to their movements' qualities and the changes they experienced as the "walls" started to move.

("Poppy" installation by Emily Putoff, with Tommy de Frantz & James Cunningham)

In their confined space of "Poppy," the two dancers created a duet between themselves and the moving screens and their materialities (the paper that prolonged the vertical screen surfaces down to the floor), sensing and dancing with their immediate surroundings. Since this was a highly plastic, moveable environment, how do we perceive such a dance or such a physical-spatial performance?

In more general terms, the question was raised in the post show discussion how "performance" articulates itself in an interactive installation and how one can distinguish at all between installation and performance? Are there performative installations, and is the visitor in need of "instructions" on how to behave/perform inside the dispositif? Do such dispositifs require prior knowledge of the system operations or can they be experienced intuitively, and if the latter is the case, do we consider all behaviors as performance? If rules or properties of the system are given, and if it were a one-on-one encounter (between a visitor and an installation), would we still think of performance even if there was no audience?

In the case of "Outside In," the projected environment also had plastic potentialities, the green of the projected (synthetic, unreal-looking) meadow slowly becoming spotted with dark shadows growing into recognizable images of persons lying on the grass. This installation was utterly silent, there was not a sound. We held our breath and took in the landscape, noting the slowly emerging lying bodies, or rather, images of bodies. We realized we could walk on, and gradually, some of us did, walking about, as if we were the kind of "flaneurs" Walter Benjamin described in his Passagenwerk (his study of 19th century Parisian urban life), we meandered on the meadow, noticing the dark shadows that would become lying bodies, images of persons that may have been buried here or lying here, spectres from a past moment, beckoning us, and as we moved closer, some moved as if to invite us or as if frightened by our intrusive presence. Some of us would sit down, or lie down next to the ghosts, which gradually faded away, but over there, in some other spot, another image-person appeared and this continued for a while. There was a deafening silence, and the unreal looking meadow held our attention, as we moved about, until one image-person began to slowly spin, turn and turn, and then a woman stepped near the disappearing shadow and dance a dance of a whirling dervish, faster and faster, then slowing down, as the meadow grew dark and faded away, slowing giving rise to a field of many hundreds of leaves.

The aura of this landscape was fascinating, and left many of us breathless. I want to add a few comments regarding leaves from a conversation between Doros Polydorou and Michèle Danjoux, collaborators of mine who were involved in creating a scene for a recent choreographic installation, UKIYO, produced by my ensemble after a workshop in Tokyo, Japan. There we found the real leaves which were then worn by a dancer (on a dress made of leaves) in an interactive scene with a 3D graphic landscape that allowed the dancer to affect elements inside the virtual world. In other words, the commentaries concern the nature of the interactive relationship with the virtual images. Doros suggests:

"As far as the nature scene is concerned, the scene started forming in my
mind in Japan after Michèle and Katsura brought in the leaves. I originally
brought from Singapore a scene with the hanamichis, and then
in one day I constructed that very simple island with the grass, trees
and leaves. I had a look at the work from the first version of Ukiyo, the videos and images, and the idea that I had in my head, was a floating island, a beautiful place
which contradicted the industrial feeling and aesthetics of the rest of the
performance. A place where one would go to escape from that reality, and I
wanted it to form from the dancer's, from Katsuras imagination. The dress leaf was an extension
to her, and I wanted that extension to continue and slowly paint the island
as well." (email 08/01/2010)

Michèle responds: "This is really interesting, to read how your thoughts are / have been emerging in terms of the collaborative work and your specific contribution.

Just a couple of points at this stage from me which are simply in direct response to what you say:

>>The dress leaf was an extension
to her, and I wanted that extension to continue and slowly paint the island
as well.>> This is such a beautiful way of viewing the clothed body, and yes, clothes are an extension of the body.
And I like the way you then expand this extension outward to the virtual realm of your island / Katsura's island.
Who's island is it actually? Who's island does it become?

The slow painting is very poetic and seductive, the body and the technology are inseparable, Katsura takes on a sensual
and almost erotic manner as she performs the dance of creation.

Then you suggest
>>In order to be
meaningful though the relationship must be clear, like for example the
dancers following and "learning" moves from the virtual counterparts or vice
versa. When we are projecting a non-interactive piece the performers must
consciously adapt their choreography (which was either pre-choreographed) or
improvise in order to create a relationship with what they see. In theory,
by having an interactive system in place, the performers can dance freely
and the virtual counterpart will "monitor" their actions and act
accordingly. >>

I think there is still some 'learning' for the dancer to do when working with interactive systems, no?
By this, I mean that there is both automatic and controlled processing. The latter requires conscious effort
as with most learning processes. I consider after watching Katsura work in Ukiyo 2 and also Helenna and Katsura from Suna
no Onna that the application starts with controlled processing and moves to become automatic. This idea of the 'controlled' and the 'automatic'
could be interesting for you.

Anyway, you are hopefully through your systems of interaction and your visual / sonically enhanced worlds emotionally hooking the performer
(and viewer?) and transforming experience.

I am glad the gathering of leaves back in December in Tokyo proved so inspirational to you."(email 08/25/2010).

In this subtle reply, which also relates to her own motion design of the wearable garments, Michèle draws attention to the vexing question underlying the programming of the scene and the perceivability of a plastic, moveable, changeable 3d (projected) world, just as in the case of Joff's "Outside In. It is a question about relationships, and becoming. The "patchmaker", as Suzon non-chalantly calls the programmer, is of course vexed by the question of the performability of a virtual world, and whether a directional or indirect interaction can be perceived by the observer or the immersant. Doros assumes that this is a key problem, and doubts whether the
performer - virtual-environment-interactions can work and produce something interesting
without invoking immersion. And if immersion is achieved, will the feeling
of agency produced to the performer be interesting to the audience?

He was
doing some reading recently on gaming, he adds, and was suprised to find a number of
people who actually like watching their friends play games. He then proposes that we might need to investigate a
bit further, as we build interactive platforms, and try to identify what feelings produces this liking,
or whether there actually can be an audience in interactive installations - a question Ian Winters seriously raised in the post show discussion. Why would there be any one watching? Should there be anyone watching? is the experience, for example of "Outside In," relevant to anyone not actually meandering into the landscape and meeting the spectres of the persons? Would an audience care?

Whose island is it? whose meadow is it and how do we walk into it? Is it a joyfully inviting "playground" (no instructions necessary), as in the case of Byul's "Bubble Playground"? Or is it a seemingly rule-based grid environment (Sarah Dahnke's "Grid") that tends to challenge the visitor and give her level up feedback or die down punishment? How free do our general audiences (in galleries and museums) feel when they realize they are asked to move, do, act, follow, explore, engage, etc? Someone mentioned in the post show discussion that an installation like Ian's "Memory Table" did not present a problem for our extroverted lab members to get down to it and play hard, since many in our group are used to performing, but how would such an installation work for the shy, the inhibited? the observers? If no one sat down and engaged the table and the objects lying on it, there would be nothing to observe as the system would not capture any input and have nothing to filter and re-disseminate. Thus installations like "Outside In" and others only really attain their collective sensoriality or animate character once people step inside and begin to behave in some manner that brings about relationships, imagined or otherwise.

If no one stepped inside Joff's "Outside in" the installation would "run" silently – the course of its programmed "actors" (in the Isadora patch). It would be idling, as i think it is called in games or in Second Life when the avatar hangs there, occasionally twitching and waiting to be activated. Once visitors step inside, relationships emerge in-between. In between the person responding to the image-environment or movements inside the projected environment, and the images responding to the mover's presence and action. Is this what we tend to think of as an interactive relationship (between agent and animation, visitor and sound-image?), and how conscious (in a mutual sense) is this relationship. Or we can ask the question differently, from a dance perspective (connected to the art of animation): how does movement happen and how is it perceived, how is the movement of the image happening and changing and how does this affect our own movement relationship?

(Leaves falling onto the whirling Sarah Dahnke on Joff' Chafer's "Lying Bodies/Outside In" projection-meadow; Saturday morning rehearsal, August 21, 2010. The real falling leaves could not be repeated in the evening due to security protocol. (c) J Birringer)


  1. I find funny that 'authorship' in collaborative works go to 'patch makers', and that sometimes the collaboration on other media is mentioned or not!

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  3. Suzon is quite right. the constant cross collaboration meant of course that in almost all installative performances the members of the workshop participated, performed, acted, helped, and in James' tripid dance I gather there was help on the camera feeds, in Joff's beautiful meadow there were not only the "images" projected and the projective changes but also of course the persons who had provided the "images" projected and those who walked onto the meadow to act, and so on. One table installation invited visitors to observe (Jennifer's and Tommy's), the other (Ian Winters' "Memory Table") needed visitors to perfom the installation, to "input" so that the capturing technology (camera, software) could build a memory that could then be re-performed by the projected scene layered into the live installation. And more could be said here.

  4. Really interested to read the outline of the work thank you. I am particularly drawn into the issues of the interrelationship of sound (absence of sound) and image.

    >>There was a deafening silence, and the unreal looking meadow held our attention, as we moved about, until one image-person began to slowly spin, turn and turn...>>

    The only common character of sound and silence is duration and it is fascinating to ponder how the "Outside in" landscape is experienced over time and how this time is marked / sensed in terms of passing to the moment where the leaves fall.

    Such a shame the real falling leaves could not be repeated.

  5. thanks Johannes! great to see that even life goes on, you still posting on the workshop content. Great to read more description, references, analysis, questioning (silence and stillness are often 'bouncers' to personal notion of time and space).....brewing......