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.
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?