Monday, September 27, 2010

dispositif VIII: The behavior of technical beings

In the following section, we shall try to return to the questions raised near the end of section VI, in order to gain a clearer methodological grip on the daunting challenges that underlie a sociological as well as pragmatist/materialist analysis of "interfacial installations." What is at stake, after all, is an advance in knowledge about how we assess or value attributes or affordances of "technical beings," of programmed responsive environments or hybrid media spaces (augmented realities), which behave – i.e. behave with and towards the visitor-participant – as if becoming living, moving, animate matter, confirming a certain vitality and a range of symptoms in their materiality (motion, agency, autonomy, aura, protocol behavior, etc.).

If these "symptoms" are describable – and surely they are – in technical terms, then we'd need to resort to code, to patch-making, the use of object-oriented coding or "actor" coding (in Isadora), to the workings of physics engines and other programming mechanics for 3d virtual spaces and for 2d projected video output and/or sound. The terms used, for the "symptoms," of course can easily cross over to the symbolic realm and the repertoires Goffman applies to interaction rituals. Other repertoires would clearly derive from the field of HCI / interaction design.

To repeat my suggestions from Section VI – they proposed to give more attention to how a particular dispositif enables the interface relations technically while observing how the human performers respond to responsive environment or experience its sensate articulations. Thus, we want to parse the distinctions between the twelve installations (our examples from the final presentations), and how these installations perform, or are performed. My distinctions are meant to serve as a methodological guide to (1) understanding the interface design features and interpreting/describing the content-expression of the projected worlds characteristic of the dispositifs described here; (2) drawing attention to the interaction behaviors that are performed or performable in the dispositif; and (3) locating some of the dramaturgical decisions or strategies that may have guided the artists’ compositions and their intent on involving audiences in machining architectures.

("Grid," interactional performance installation by Sarah Dahnke, with James Cunningham, Suzon Fuks, Julia Alsarraf, Wendy Chu).

(“Dotted Landscape,” interactional performance installation by Wendy Chu, with James Cunningham, Julia Alsarraf, Sarah Kraft, Sarah Dahnke, Victor Zappi)

(1) Interface design features

The "Tiling Performance" dispositif seemed constructed for a 'solo'performer engaging the technical environment and the physical object (water bowl) on the lit square - a square area specifically overlooked by an HD digital camera on a tripod, sending its signal to the Isadora programming environment. Visible/sensorially experienceable to the performer (who could be standing in or modelling any visitor to the installation who picks up the technical environment's behavior) was the projected image motion, the two or three bands of light containing the serials, the "tiles" of processed images (see below).

(The participating performer holds his hand in front of the camera lens, the tiled images appear in the white bands, arranged almost like a film strip of frames)

The dispositif is a clear arrangement, as we can see in the performance photo: the participant knows the placement of the camera, and can control what the camera lens sees by observing the real-time processing of the images that are appearing around him projected from above onto the floor and spatial architecture. In the Isadora patch, the programmer can design the projector-output and precisely configure the "geographical" locations of the bands of tiled images processed by the software actors.

In the Isadora environment, the programmer prepares "scenes" for the "stage," deployable as projected output in any given performance or installation. Isadora is a graphic programming environment for Macinstosh and Windows providing interactive control over digital media, with special emphasis on the real-time manipulation of digital video. Each scene can have multiple "actors." The titles and values of every inout and output are visible to the programmer and are quickly editable, which means the state of each module (referred to as "actors" in Isadora) is instantly clear and can be improvisationally changed by the user.

In regard to the technical description of the "technical object" (I am using a term that is well established but owed to the magnificent work of French philosopher Gilbert Simondon's 1957 thesis Du Mode d'Existence des Objets Techniques), it might be of interest here to quote from the Isadora manual and give you the specific explanation of the "image tile" actor:

This actor, the Manual tells us, displays the incoming video stream in the form of 'tiles' of varying brightness that are created by from a second video stream.

Whenever a new frame of video arrives at the 'tiles in' input, it is broken into a series of tiles whose height and width are specified by the tile cols and tile rows inputs. Then, the brightness of each tile is analyzed and stored. When a new frame

of video arrives at the video in input, it is reconstituted by creating a mosaic of tiles of the appropriate brightness.

For instance, consider the following tiles in input which is the ASCII character set. Each character occupies 6 pixels across, and 8 pixels down. Because there are 67 characters across, the total size of this image is 67 x 6 = 402 pixels across by 8 pixels down.

Using the Picture Player to supply this image as an input to the tiles in input, you would set tile cols to 67 and the tile rows to 1. Upon receiving this input, the Image Tile actor would analyze the each tile, determining its brightness.

Finally, as frames of video arrive at the video in input, they would be broken down into tiles of matching size (6 across, 8 down). Each of the tiles in the video in stream is replaced by the tile from the tile in input whose brightness most closely

matches the original. Using the ASCII character set example above, note the transformation of the image. (Because the image is small, you may need to blur your eyes a bit to appreciate the result – higher resolution images look better.)

While this example was made using a still image, you can just as easily supply a moving video to the tiles in input. The results in this case depend greatly on the content of that video stream, but it can lead to interesting effects.

Input Properties

video in: The video input stream to be tiled.

tiles in: The video input that will be used to create the tiles. The height and width of each tile are given by the 'tile cols' and 'tile rows' inputs.

tiles across: The number of tiles across in the 'tile in' video stream.

tiles down: The number of tiles down in the 'tile in' video stream.

steps: The number of brightness steps to use when creating the final image.

Lower numbers produce a coarser resolution of brightness, higher numbers give finer resolution.

color: "When off, the color of the tiles used to create the final output is the same as received at the 'tile in' input. When on, imposes the color of the source image on the tiles. Turning this setting on may produce unusual colorization effects

when the 'tile in' image is not black and white.

bypass: When turned off, this effect functions normally. When turned on, the effect is disabled and the video input is passed directly to the video output.

Output Properties

video out: The tiled video output stream. [pp.209-10]

(2) Interaction behaviors

It was mentioned earlier that in "The Table," a physical performance interaction was presented to us in the dialogue between two real actors, Jennifer and Tommy, who manipulated the physical tea cups while seated at a table across from each other, with Jennifer speaking in a low-toned voice. In the interactive disposition of the scene, the camera captured the manipulation of the real objects on the table top, and this input was used to effect a different video output projected onto the adjacent table, thus creating a virtual double scenario of the scene enacted in front of the audience. The virtual scene, however, does not have any human agent in it: only the technical objects are manipulated in the computational space-medium. The objects are like sprites that are moved in a 2-D plane, like in the old computer games. The projected objects are also “mixed” with real objects (two dinner plates) that are placed on the projection surface of the adjacent table.

In "Bubble Playground," the projected video was not taken from a camera source, but the camera vision informed the software (via the "Blob" and "Eyes++" actors) of the positions and movements of the spectator-participants, and this information drove the percolating, colorful bubbles that were flowing across the floor. In this installation, the real actors are the participant players in the playground. But of course they are playing with the software actors, the colorful circles created in Isadora. These bubbles exhibit a fluid motion behavior, and so d the participants, and much of the participants’ playfulness resided in their hop-scotching the graphic images that floated on the floor. Compared to “Bubble Playground,” both “Table” and “Memory Table” include a narrative dimension which marks the time in spatial dispositions involving associations with memory.

Ian Winters’ second piece, “Memory Table,” also offers an invitation to play in its scenario, an invitation for the visitors to sit down at the table and engage with the objects that are lying there – small rocks, glasses, cups, books, a microphone, toys. When the installation was opened to the visitors, it didn’t take long and first one, then a second person sat down on the two empty chairs. Across from the table top, a mid-size projected image (circa 80 cm x 60 cm) showed a black and white image of the same seating arrangement, chairs and table with objects, and the players could see themselves as if in closed circuit. But the projection revealed layers, and as the participants engaged in playful banter, ghostly images of previous visitors appeared in the projection, as if the technical system were waiting to display, at certain times, the prior visitors it “remembered,” so that past, present and future started to mingle and convey an accumulative experience. Some of visitors played with the sound they could generate with the objects, others engaged their co-players in a conversation, either through gesture and mime, or through spoken conversation, and in one case a third visitor entered, seemingly trying to distract the couple at the table by crawling underneath, reaching out with one hand and removing an object, teasing the “dialogue” of the visitors further along as we begin to hear echoes and reverberations of sound stored and re-played. Again, as with “Tiling Performance,” the programming seems technically preoccupied with the idea of serializing action-images, but also possibly reflecting on the nature of the distinctions Deleuze made between “movement-image” and “time image.”

(It might take us into a different direction to expand here on the Deleuzian terms, so I would just want to mention that Deleuze offers fascinating insights into the “interval” – the gap within and between frames – as a constitutive condition of the cinematic medium and the manner in which duration/time of visual experience is configured as narration or instead of narration. Pertinent to Winters’ playing with series is Deleuze’s significant theoretical distinction between movement-image and time-image. The animated character of much of the image work produced in the lab would seem to warrant a closer analysis. For Deleuze, the role of the interval has evolved across cinematic history: in the classical period, it tended to operate as a rational connector between images, for example when subdividing a bodily movement over several consecutive frames to record action, as it was already suggested in Muybridge’s and Marey’s chronophotography where photographic frames are linked as progressive exposures, spatializing the movement of a body in time. Calling it “movement-image,” Deleuze posits that these images subordinate time to movement. Since the 1950s and 1960s, Deleuze claims that with Resnais and Godard we begin to see how shots are increasingly released from any logical connection and tend to become irrational, the intervals between frames generating ambiguity and dreamlike (dis)connections or inexplicable interruptions. Movement is now subordinated to temporality in the “time-image.” While the use of projected images in interactive installations may not follow any cinematic or narrative logic, what is surely needed in future analyses of interactional performance is a closer attention to the particular seriality or flow, stasis or permutation in the layering and digital modulation effects of processed images or animated technical objects. One fundamental question underlying my commentary here is the question: what is an interactive image? And how is it performed?)

A methodological step in this direction was made on the second day of the lab when we asked everyone to create s short scene with direct (closed-circuit) camera-projection performances, during which each member of the group tried to explore the relationships between subjects and objects and objects and space. Without editing and coding, the image object does not have any autonomy at all, it is entirely dependent on the performer. Even in such a basic study, it is possible, however, to play with the superimposition of images onto a surface, and thus evoke animation effects between object and background,

It became apparent during the week that artists with a sculptural background (Jennifer and Emily) developed a particular interest in the virtual manipulation of objects through the computational software.

Distinct from “Bubble Playground” and also from Chafer’s “Lying Bodies/Outside In”, the technical organism of “Memory Table” is programmed to remember input and re-call recorded actions in sequences that become animated/layered with co-presences that are enacted on screen. The live feed is stored and processed to return, a proper symbolic action in the theatrical sense in which Hamlet’s ghostly father appears to re-appear in the Shakespearean play (having prompted theatre theorist Herbert Blau, in Take Up the Bodies, to refer to acting as a process of “ghosting” and ghosting techniques) – an agent of pressure on the protagonist’s consciousness/conscience, a reminder of the (Goffmanian) dilemma of choice, actions having fateful consequences, and non-action just as well. Action reveals character, and actions can be fateful or inconsequential. Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, which includes the question “To act or not to act,” surely brings back to us memories of dramatic conflict, underlying the social rituals Goffman intends to analyze, implying tragic consequences as we know them from real life, if not from games or entertaining spectacles.

Performative installations are not known to involve such tragic plots, and they have not been discussed in the framework of dramatic plots in theatrical representation. The history of theatre evidently evokes literary contexts, fictions and myths, stories and complex characterizations, dialogue and psychological/emotional crises. The examples of interactional works discussed here cannot reach these levels of content, but they engage fragments of symbolic action, ritual behavior and modest narrative association. Provoking interaction rituals, the installations under review here begin to question, even if this may not have been the intentions of the programmers, the representational conditions and material grounds at the intersections of which we can trace complications of behavior, identity, reflexivity, and inter-faciality (with its ethical implications). Moving from “The Table” to “Memory Table,” after all, meant that we had witnessed a troubled, elliptical dialogue between a couple whose relationships seemed fractured, only to find ourselves on the other side of the studio, enjoying the wildly improvisational meeting of “strangers” who participate in an intimate tête-à-tête tinkering with objects that had passed through the hands of others, now re-appearing again on the screen to open up a window into past time, into protracted duration of time that extends the illusion of presence. This was also beautifully noticeable in the fact that while the whole group had moved on to prepare a new setting for the next performance, during an occasional silence in the preparations one could still hear the “Memory Table” audio from the far corner, the tapping of a glass, a murmured voice drifting in from somewhere.

But while the visitors were standing behind the participant-actors at the table, they laughed and appeared to cheer on, encourage and stimulate the actors at the table. This context created a very different social ensemble, compared to “Lying Bodies” and “The Table” – situation in which humorous playfulness and acting out was embedded and safe.

The question about enabling proactive behaviors of playfulness was raised afterwards. How do installations allow and insinuate intuitive behavior, making it very clear to the visitors that they are encouraged to step inside and explore, to enjoy themselves, to experience the sensorial/sensational dimensions of an environment, to trust their re/cognition of the responsive organism? Are there technical environments created for interaction which are too complex or insensitive to the tacit knowledge or reliance on etiquette on part of the visitors. Does interactive behavior emerge inevitably once the participants are comfortable in their roles or “learn” the rules of the game or the states of the environment, recognizing causal patterns or consequences?

[continued in the next section]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

dispositif / mise en scène VII

("Memory Table")

In Interaction Ritual - Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior, Goffman outlines in several essays approaches to human interaction from a dramaturgical perspective. To Goffman, all forms of interaction are kinds of “performances.” These performances may fall under the structure of rituals, socially acceptable formalized interactions. One of Goffman’s goals is to outline the units of these interactions so that they may be studied in a symbolic manner.

Having introduced this sociological interaction theory, perhaps it is helpful in this context to create an even larger theoretical framework, pointing back to western philosophical history and the discourse that valued epistemology (knowledge/knowing) over the technical crafts (techne). In his lucid summary in the essay “Environments, Interactions and Beings: The Ecology of Performativity and Technics” (in: Interfaces of Performance, ed. Maria Chatzchristodolou , Janis Jefferis, and Rachel Zerihan, Farnham: Ashgate, 2009, pp. 27-42), Chris Salter refers back to Plato (the criticism of the crafty illusion machine in the Cave allegory) and Aristotle’s Physics, noting that Aristotle distrusted “technical beings” and prioritized the episteme over the techne, claiming that artificial products do not harbor inside them the source of their own production compared to the “natural” or the organic that harbors within itself a principle of motion and of stationariness, in respect of place, or of growth and decrease, or by way of alteration.

Salter borrows from Bernard Stiegler’s recent writings on the theory of technics, suggesting that according to the Aristotelian philosophy of causation, technical beings are always seen to lack the possibility of autonomy or internal causes of movement, therefore remaining constrained to inanimate form and isolated from both the human that produces them and the world they find themselves in.

Salter then bypasses a few centuries of philosophical thought (e.g. Spinoza and the baroque era, Descartes, Newton, etc., recently moved to the foreground by philosophers of the digital) and connects up with Heidegger’s ambiguous stance towards “technical being.” In contemporary life, according to Heidegger, technology becomes separated from techne and is also instrumentalized. Torn from its origins in poiesis, the art of revealing or making the world present, technology ends up as a “frenzy of ordering… and so radically endangers the relation to the essence of truth” (Heidegger, “Die Frage nach der Technik/ The Question Concerning Technology”, 1953). Modern technology, Heidegger argues, “enframes” the world, rationalizing the natural order and rupturing the potential of existence to come full force to us through its transformations of nature into “inventories” and “stocks” to be used up by humans. In the guise of machines, structures and devices, modern technics overcomes human judgement through calculation and rationalization.

In the overview offered by Chris Salter, this Heideggerian unease with “technological life” is then placed in relationship to artistic techne, where the theatre, for example, has to admit, even if it promotes its live-ness and its primary emphasis on human performance (the actor-audience relationship), that it always used machines of illusion-making. Throughout recent decades, the theatre also used electronic-digitally constructed images and sound. What is new in the recent collaborations between performance arts, media arts, and science is the emphasis on material and generative processes, the effects caused by the merger of mechanical, computational, biotechnological, and ecological forces. Salter wishes to foreground designers, scenographers and directors who have imagined new contexts for performance where transformative material processes – “technical presences” – are in full operation creating temporal-spatial events for audiences and participants.

Such events may not necessarily be placed inside a theatre stage, of course. But interactive installations or performances, along with other kinds of exhibitions or techno-scientific displays, harbor theatrical dimensions or address behaviors in situations designed to elicit perceptions of what a living system, or “technical being,” does or becomes, how actions and dynamic exchanges are understood or known, to what extent technical ensembles or environments influence the social conventions of performativity (the enactments of the performer-spectator), and to what extent responsive hybrid media environments can respond to participant behaviors or be perceived to have their own agency or autonomy.

If we now follow this conceptual outline, and observe the experiments of the Live.Media +Performance Lab, it must be said that none of the works in progress were created, strictly speaking, as theatre or dance or music compositions to be staged on a theatre or concert hall stage. This – as an aside – throws an interesting light on the fundamental base-line assumptions still apparently governing the architecture of EMPAC (which houses an opera or concert hall auditorium, a theatre auditorium, and two sound studios along with video editing and artist-residency suites). The building does not seem to have an installation gallery or, say, an interface space that might also allow flexible telematic or multi-user play environments, unless the sound studios were built with such usage in mind; but their rigging is theatrical and thus follows the logic of laboratory mise en scène.

(This discussion might lead us into a different area, addressing curatorial matters of spatial arrangements for new media arts, generative art, sci-art or robotic or architectural exhibition.)

All the works in progress are dynamic system environments/installations or “interface performances” that could be enacted anywhere, in public and private spaces, galleries, foyers, rooms, corridors, cafes and such like. Of course some of the aspects of the environmental design require studio or laboratory conditions, the availability of a grid, lighting, camera and projection equipment, network, computers, extensive cabling, screens and material objects, but the context for the creation/presentation of the responsive system is, primarily, a modestly controllable space. Our workshop examples also reveal that some installations require only a very modest, small area, while others take up the main open space (ca. 50’ x 65’ or 15,2m x 20m).

The spatial context for our “installations / technical beings” then returns us to the sociological interaction paradigm mentioned earlier in reference to Goffman. It is pertinent here that Goffman’s theories appeared around the same time when the field of performance studies (with Richard Schechner [New York University] and his influential journal, The Drama Review spearheading the shift) slowly began to change, in the late 1960s, turning its anthropological attention to ritual (e.g. in Victor Turner and Schechner’s work) rather than the technical formalism and artifice of the experimental avant-garde, then on to the broader spectrum of “cultural performance.” Ethnography and sociology became critical methodologies for examining performance practices in everyday culture, in public space, in festivities, clubs or particular local and community contexts, in the media and in corporate or other organizational structures, thus mostly shifting attention to a non-artistic/non-high cultural paradigm.

One outcome of this shift (against which theatre studies and art theory might defend their aesthetic terrain and art-making techne) is not only a preoccupation with “performativities” – following speech act theory, de Certeau’s theory of spatial practices and Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity, expanded into a conceptual “tool” for interdisciplinary cultural analysis of the theatricalised (re)actualisation of socio-symbolic systems that render cultures visible to themselves and to others – but a turn to the manner, materiality, media, instruments, institutions, etc. that influence the episteme, the production of knowledge. This turning towards in-forming assemblages, machinic or other, implies a much greater awareness of material actions of technical presences in contemporary global culture, and here Salter is quite right in proposing that an interest in understanding “performance” today, in a world in which technical processes not only constitute our environments but – as Guattari and Deleuze predicted – produce newly evolving forms of hybrid human and machine subjectivities, requires a new analysis of “interaction rituals,” if indeed we were to extend Goffman here for a moment.

We mentioned the “technical beings” or the systems environment that have been created in our workshop, and the concluding presentations of “installations” (the fine line between installation and performance crossed all the time but not clearly articulated yet in our reflections) were offered to (human) participant-spectators. My own descriptive interpretations are those of a human participant. But an analysis of “performative installations” then might indeed require a partial abandonment of the anthropocentric focus, based on (Goffmanian) anthropological, sociological, cultural or linguistic frameworks, and instead require attention to system behavior, phase shifts, modulations of the states and behaviors, actions and reactions of a machining architecture of non-human enunciations (cf. Salter, pp. 29-30).

(a visitor lies down next to an image-body)

How do we then address the interaction that takes place between the visitors and the "Lying Bodies/Outside In" environment, if we take the projected environment to a technical being or, if you prefer, an ensemble of materials, or a programmed/responsive system? Between the visitor and an image?

Can or should we speak of a ritual, in the sense in which Goffman describes "face work" (e.g. the processes of saving face in the displays of self to others during social interactions and encounters which clearly can be delineated according to conventionalized options available, and responses that are taken through obligational patterns, assertions, threats, defenses, etc.), or the nature of "deference and demeanor," "embarrassment and social (re)organization" of the ritual system or script? Or in the sense in which Goffman addresses "action"? For the sociologist, action is of the dramatic sort, implying the idea of important and meaningful acts or events which are performed or are participated in by people. Action is a vehicle to reveal deeper qualities of character, and Goffman's writing on action is a prolonged journey, offering many insights, for example into "games," and their quality of chance and risk. From there Goffman moves to the larger sense of consequentiality in moments: one can kill time, and that killed time is inconsequential. Yet there is an apparent axis of actions, consequential versus inconsequential, apart from this there is the question of whether actions are problematic, when one is at odds to figure out what to do (Goffman, p.164).

Problems arise with fateful actions, those that have consequences. Here Goffman addresses corporeality and embodiment, terms that have become so crucial in current debates on sensory environments, technical systems/material enunciations, interfaces and agency; for Goffman a body is a piece of consequential equipment.

How do we compare this, how do we understand this face-to-face with images, for example the "tiling" operations in Ian Winters' installation? how does the hand James puts forward to touch the bowl of water and then slowly pushes backwards, towards the camera lens, interact with the Isadora patch environment and its actions? What would it mean to ask this question, and what observations do we derive of we concentrated on the behavior of the projected images of the "tiled" hand or filtered, multiplied serialized moving image-hand? Would our attention to the technical being not also yield fascinating insights into the technical object, the manifestations acted out, produced, and engendered by the meeting of hand movement, camera-vision and computer software (with its projected image outputs)? Of course.

In other words, can we use Goffman's terminology in regard to a technical presence or an avatar? Is a digitally projected image inconsequential, but may become consequential via enactment? Goffman discusses body in consequential encounters: in perilous roles, the body is the object of practical gambles (p.172). When one acts consequentially (he calls consequential action a "fateful action") when the gamble is less practical, then one must cope somehow. A possible solution is to deny the effect of consequence, if that were possible. Then nothing can really go wrong.

An alternative to coping is what Goffman calls "defense," which is a ritualized defense of action. When actions are uncertain and of high consequence, a defensive ritual is performed to save culpability of the individual. Goffman then adds that all games reduce behavior to fateful action, in the world of the game. A social game functions similarly. The result of interactions, we can assume therefore, according to the Goffmanian scheme, is either "making it" or "blowing it." Action is the quality of sustained fateful behavior, revealing qualities of character.

As this brief account of Goffman's observations on face-to-face interaction shows, they may not easily translate into interface behaviors between human participants and technical systems, but at the same time, it could be argued that responsive systems provoke actions (enactments), and in most cases of installations, there is not just one visitor encountering the installation, but several, and thus we obtain a social scenario, people encountering a technical being and other people watching and responding to the "rituals" that are performed. In this case, one can certainly think of psychological and emotional dimensions in the behaviors that result, without necessarily searching for a wider range of cultural, political or spiritual dimensions of the ritual interaction. We are not talking about ritual in a religious sense here, although it ought not to be ruled out either. We shall perhaps try, at the end, to come back to the question of what kinds of complex or reduced form of rituals the interactional installation art produces.

Let us continue, first of all, to add some observations on the distinctions between the installations described so far, in regard to the behaviors of the technical being in the encounter with the human spectator-participant.

("Bubble Playground")

We also add two images here (at the beginning and above) refering to the "Memory Table" installation, the second piece by Ian Winters, and "Bubble Playround" by Byul Shin. "Memory Table" was installed in the opposite corner of the "Table" installation, an interesting juxtaposition of "tables" that presented, in Jennifer Woodin and Tommy deFrantz's case, an interactive performance dialogue enacted for the audience (the gestural behavior of the real "actors" affecting the image-objects in the projected "table"), while Ian Winters's table, also covered with real objects to play and interact with, had no presentational action. The table is there for visitors to sit down at, and engage, and the camera-vision takes in this information and informs the technical system which deals with a growing data base of "memory" (video and audio input) which it processes and replays at later stages, cumulatively. Byul's "playground" is an interactional surface, a space which we can enter, as we see the colorful bubbles percolate there, and we join the bubbles and play with their movement and changes, as they respond to human presences and motions in the region that the camera sees. The playground is intuitively obvious and clear, a simple arena to have fun, to play, to track motion of color, and enjoy the "dance." Some of participants tried rolling over the floor, jumping over each other, one person enacted a curious and funny hopscotch repeating some words over and over, others simply played, seemingly entranced by the mesmerizing pools of light and the joyful, twinkling sound that Victoria had composed. Whether the technical system enjoyed the performances of the visitors, I cannot tell.

(a visitor hopping in the "bubble playground")

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

dispositif / mise en scène VI

"Tiling Performance"

An interview with Hélène Lesterlin, Mark Coniglio and Johannes Birringer, conducted and edited by Marlon Barrios Solano during his visit to the workshop, has now appeared on

In continuation of the previous explorations of the various installations/performances tested during the Live.Media + Performance Lab 2010, the following sections will focus on some of the Saturday evening exhibitions that have not been mentioned yet. We begin with a sequence of photos that refer to the works.

Final showings at the end of the workshop:

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

The opening performance of the evening was the silent "Tiling" piece, designed and programmed by Ian Winters, and enacted by James Cunningham:

(James Cunningham performing in "Tiling")

In the wide open spatial environment (one projection screen angled towards the flat space upstage right), we see the performer kneeling on a small rectangual lit area, with a bowl of water placed in front of him, and a camera on tripod behind him, "shooting" over his shoulder. My own camera position (for the documentation) is downstage left, if we were to use the conventional directions in the theatre. The performer is holding his flat hand out near the water bowl, and we gather that his hand is inside the cadre (frame) of the onstage camera which captures the gestural action. The signal from the camera is sent to the software environment, and Ian's programming affects the three long strips of projected images that we now begin to see. The white strips of projected light contain the "tiles", the fluctuating, moving and changing serial images created through the "processing" and filtering of James's filmed hand gesture. The performer, throughout this installation/performance, enacts a dialogue with the camera and the software environment, literally exploring, as time passes, the "outcomes" of his filmed hand, changing proximity and distance to the camera, playing with the water bowl and the water inside it, and at one point picking up a small laser pointer and directing its beam at the water.

This presentation was followed by the "Table" installation-performance by Jennifer Woodin and Tommy de Frantz, which contained a dialogue between Jennifer and Tommy as well as their cups:

We are asked to enter into a narrow, intimate area in the corner of the studio, screened off by tall risers. Inside this corner area, there is a black table, at which Jennifer and Tommy sit down, each with a white tea cup placed in front of them. On a second table, dinner plates and cutlery are waiting as if the dinner table will be set, but we also note that a small projection falls into this second table, “virtual plates” appear as the two engage in a strangely quiet, almost surreal conversation, mostly conducted by the woman who appears to address a dysfunctional relationship. As the couple move the white tea cups, which are tracked by a camera suspended above the table, images of virtual kitchen/table objects fall onto the second table, and at the end, after the woman has left the room, taken her real cup with her, a virtual cup appears in her stead, as if that was all there was left now from the shared history, an empty cup projected onto a flat plane.

After the table piece, Joff Chafer offered his silent and somber "Lying Bodies/Outside In":

(J.Birringer, on the left, ghosting one of the image-bodies, on the right)

Out of the darkness, a green meadow arises, projected onto the entire width of the space. Before the presentation, Joff Chafer had briefly invited us to interact with the installation and note the behavior of the projected “actors”. He also mentioned that the piece was silent and that he’d be interested in feedback as to the kind of score we might imagine with this piece.

The visitors/audience is outside the meadow, looking in, and slowly we observe how dark shadows seem to appear, one here, one over there, and from the shadowy contours the image of person lying the grass appears; perhaps this is a summer lawn, a place to rest in then shade, some of us walk onto the space, and as a visitors approaches one of the lying bodies, that image=body seems to move and respond to the presence of another, changing the way the lie, or rest their head on a hand, or turn over. This provokes responses from the visitor, someone over there lies down as well, or sits next to the image-body. Couples seem to form, but not for long, as the imaged body suddenly loses its full “intensity” (to speak in terms of image resolution and the percentage of projection brightness that can be modulated in the Isadora software), fades, and then disappears. Over there, a new image-body now gains resolution, and visitors respond by moving closer to it. This is the quiet pattern that emerges in this installation: we begin to expect these shadows to rise from the ground, become more substantial, gain composure and gestural presence, inviting what sociologist Erving Goffman, some years ago, called “face to face behavior” in his book Interaction Ritual (1967) – even though he could not have yet meant interactive performance behaviors between humans and computationally controlled images. They thus invite us to anthropomorphize the, to treat them as “living” images? Indeed, it appears as if we partake in a strangely somber, perhaps eerie ritual where humans encounter living images on an artifical meadow or (eternal) resting ground, and these images may well strike us as ghosts or strange emanations, coming in from some under-gound, rising to image-hood, and falling away again. Near the end, one shadow seems coiled and rolled up, and then from the dark shadowy ball a spinning movement slowly emerging, we see (from a bird’s eye view) the whirling dervish figure of a woman, and then she disappears as well, and the green meadow fades, first into black, and after a few seconds, golden leaves appear, hundreds of them, as if autumn had descended on the meadow, and all he have in our cosmic memory now are the fallen leaves floating in emptiness. [see the previous chapter which reveals the prototype ending with Sarah Dahnke – and real falling leaves coming down from the rafters – an ending that had to scrapped due to safety rules in the studio building.]

The “Lying Bodies/Outside In” installation had a strong poetic quality, and I tried to write my response down in a metaphoric manner, implying the emotions one could sense in the room or amongst the “visitors” to the cemetery, without paying much attention to how this dispositif enabled the interface relations technically. Rather, I want to draw attention, in the following, to the distinctions between the three arrangements (above), and how these installations perform, or are performed. My distinctions are meant to serve as a methodological guide to (1) understanding the interface design features and interpreting/describing the content-expression of the projected worlds characteristic of the dispositifs described here; (2) drawing attention to the interaction behaviors that are performed or performable in the dispositif; and (3) locating some of the dramaturgical decisions or strategies that may have guided the artists’ compositions here in the Lab.

(Test image of lying body for Chafer's installation)

In Interaction Ritual - Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior, Goffman outlines in several essays approaches to human interaction from a dramaturgical perspective. To Goffman, all forms of interaction are kinds of “performances.” These performances may fall under the structure of rituals, socially acceptable formalized interactions. One of Goffman’s goals is to outline the units of these interactions so that they may be studied in a symbolic manner.

(continued in next installment: dispositif / mise en scène VII)

Friday, September 3, 2010

EMPAC- Works in progress

My first week in New York city has been so busy that I have not had much time to do a retrospective of my eventful week, from August 15th to 22nd at EMPAC in Troy, NY.

I am happy to report that I was successful in creating a "visual music" presentation on 3 screens with one of the aspects controlled in real time using gesture control.

Adafruit shipped my Arduino boards to EMPAC and I was able to research on the internet and receive help from others in the workshop to understand how to make the system work. I chose the infra-red distance sensor and used information from the Adafruit website to help me program the board. My trusty Ubuntu computer handled all of the Arduino code uploading while I ran the Isadora program on the Macbook.

My performance was thrilling for me, but I was inspired and informed by the work that everyone else in the class showed on Saturday, August 21, 2010.

The first work we saw was by Joff, a theatre instructor who has a company that puts on plays in Second Life. The work included a grassy field with images of human figures that were short videos. The figures would fade in, seem to be sleeping, then move in some way, then fade out. We were invited to interact with the figures, but I found it fascinating just to watch them.

It was eerie and engaging as an installation and Joff might develop it further as a performance or to be more interactive.