Location and Mapping…Why?

streetscape-1In the span of geologic time, humans just recently discovered that the planet is spherical, and not the flat, two-dimensional plate we thought it was. With the technology of today, we have access to an even more detailed picture of space and location, and almost anywhere can be pictured or videoed, and uploaded onto a platform for public viewing. This kind of technology is called Locative Media, and quite a bit of time has gone into exploring this faction of technology.

But first of all, what is locative media? According to Wikipedia, locative media is a “media of communication functionally bound to a location… applied to real places and thus triggering real social interactions.” It seems to me that locative, or location-based media, attempts to map a particular geographic area and send that information to a portable media platform, which is then utilized by people for a variety of reasons. Locative media can be accessed through our phones, laptops, or other electronic devices that allow it. One obvious example in my mind is GoogleEarth, the amazingly complete image of our planet,  allowing us to look at anyplace on our globe from any location. Or Global Positioning System (GPS), the technology we take for granted which has the ability to lead us anywhere, geographically, we wish to go. The purpose of locative media in these examples is easy to understand: aiding in our transportation from point A to point B, or offering a picture of our physical environment in a format that makes sense. However, what about other forms of locative media? What are their purposes and intentions? And what about this “social interaction” aspect?

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The finished Britglyph creation

I came across Britglyph, a project spearheaded by Alfie Dennen, a British “creative technologist.” The project, which took place from 2008-2009, entailed the participation of 61 people transporting stones to certain locations on a map, taking pictures of themselves with the stones at the location, and uploading the photo evidence onto a website. The result was a nationwide art piece in the shape of a time instrument, which was inspired by John Harrison’s Marine Chronometer H5 (the tool which was invented to help ships navigate longitude for at sea). I watched a video and read some articles about this project, because at first I didn’t understand. Taking pictures of yourself and rocks? But now I understand that the purpose was to create art through the use of a kind of locative media. Taking a picture of yourself and uploading it onto a kind of social media platform provided the social aspect of this technology. It was interesting because I watched a video in which Dennen was walking to a location to place a stone himself, and promptly got lost trying to find the spot. He asked a person on the street to help him with directions, and then remarked, “See? That’s what happens when you’re over-reliant on technology: you miss the world around you.” It is interesting how much we use technology, like the GPS on our phones, however we still rely on human interaction because technology can only be so effective. Projects like this certainly show how the field of art has changed with the opportunities from more technology. But was this project really necessary? Eh, probably not, but it is an excellent example of location-based media in action.

 

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San Fransisco Bio Map

I came across another locative media project called Bio Mapping, a project conducted by Christian Nold starting in 2004. Essentially, Nold developed a device that measures a person’s Galvanic Skin Response and instructed participants to wear this device while walking the streets of several cities. The skin response is an indicator of emotional arousal, so the data collected explains the level of emotion an individual attaches with a particular geographic area on their walk. The participants are also asked to explain their emotional reaction to particular places in words, and then all the data is complied and put into the form of a map. The one at right is the bio map of San Fransisco, and the color corresponds with emotional response: areas in lighter and brighter red carry more significance for people than areas in dark red and black. Where is the social component here? I think that comes from the little annotations that are written across the map. They say things like, “really big hill with beautiful view” or “truck blocking the sidewalk, we had to walk into traffic.” These reactions give thoughts and feelings to geographic areas that don’t immediately predict certain emotions or experiences, and I think that is the human connection part of this project. This is cool, but why should we care about these maps? Nold’s project does give us some interesting data and a new way to look at the spatial arrangement of an area, but beyond that I see little necessity for them. Although, don’t get me wrong, I do find the maps intriguing.

So locative media allows us to visualize space without actually occupying that space, but is this really a critiacal tool? Because my mind often jumps to criticism, and thinking of worst-case scenarios, I automatically think about locative media trying to replace people’s need to leave their homes. Why would I need to take a walk in the park if I can just look up a picture of the park (besides reasons of wanting exercise)? I know this sounds strange, but this is where my mind goes. It also reminds me of the settings you can have on treadmills these days where they let you watch an animated path of a forest so it looks like you are running along a tree-lined trail. Why don’t we just run outside with the real trees? This concept is a little off topic from locative media, but the point here is again about necessity. Is this form of technology useful? Yes. But is it essential? I’m not as sure.

 

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Healing with Abstract Art

When I was about 8 years old, my chiropractor discovered mild scoliosis in my back  and prescribed some exercises I could do at home to correct the unnatural curvature. I remember finding these exercises time consuming and boring, and as a young child I had other plans for how I wanted to spend my afternoons. Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, a researcher at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State University, attempted to solve the problem of monotonous rehabilitation by pioneering a motion-capture software that turns patients into artists.

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Lise Worthen-Chaudhari with a patient

I had the chance to go with my Professor to visit one of OSU’s medical centers and talk with Lise about her technology. Agile Arts (website is Rekovo.com) works by attaching a mouse onto the patient’s body (leg, pelvis, wrist, etc.), which is connected wirelessly to a big screen. When the patient moves this area while performing their rehabilitation exercises, a line of colored dots appears on the screen in front of them. Lise set up her computer screen and let me try it out for myself. It was fascinating how even the smallest movements could be detected by the sensor and produce a colorful response. However, it was immediately clear to me that the system did not work how I expected it to; that is, the sensor does not work linearly, nor does it sense depth. The result is that you may think you have control over where the colored line will appear, but it can fool you. Lise explained how the sensor is actually a gyroscope so it only detects arcs of movement, which explained my confusion. Actually, she said, this unpredictability of pattering works to the patient’s advantage, because if the line was predictable the patient would become bored with the exercise a lot faster. And this goes for the color too, for the color spontaneously changes as they patient continues moving. For me, this lack of control is frustrating, but Lise explained that the point is to get patients our of their heads, out of their thoughts, and to just “play.”

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A patient’s artwork

It’s easy to see how this kind of interaction between, patient and technology, would increase a patient’s willingness to complete healing exercises, and ultimately, get better sooner. But why choose art as the medium of distraction? Surely there are other techniques you could use, such as a reward system, to get patients to do their exercises, right? What is it about art that is so therapeutic? I only talked about this briefly with Lise, as she discussed how many patients find a sort of trance state when they look at the screen, and how different color pallets work better for certain injuries. After the visit, however, I took to Google to see if I could find any other information about the effects of art on our brains. I found a study conducted by the University of Westminster, which took a group of participants to an art gallery and then studied their brain activity immediately after. They found that the participants’ levels of cortisol (stress hormone), as well as their self-reported stress, were significantly lower after viewing the art. This shows that art can decrease stress, even at the neural level. I actually found this to be true in my body after messing around with the sensor: I felt as though I had been put in a trance, and watching the digital painting evolve and unfold made me more relaxed. Several more articles and studies came up linking art with stress reduction and art with increased creativity, but I ended up going in another direction with the research.

neurons-synapseAnother thing Lise talked to us about was the concept of brain plasticity (or neuroplasticity), and how her technology enhances the brain’s ability to do this. But what is brain plasticity and why should I care? I found a website called BrainHQ, a company which sells online brain exercises to treat a variety of conditions mostly concerning memory loss and aging. They also provide a number of resources about how the brain works and about neuroplasticity. From what I understand, plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to construct, alter, or destroy neural pathways. When we learn something, our brain forms a new neural connection, and when we forget something, or our bodies become injured, that connection is damaged. This idea is important in rehabilitation because this plasticity is what allows the healing to happen in the brain, which in turn drives the physical healing process. In another section, the site explained how online games and exercises to increase brain function are great, because unlike other treatments which involve a medication or even a surgical procedure, these activities are “less invasive.” I chuckled a little at this wording, because I think the emphasis should be on “less.” It seems to me that if they claim these brain exercises will promote neuroplasticity, that is actually one of the most invasive and intimate ways to treat your body. The word “invasive” often carries a negative connotation with it, and treatments that interfere with the body’s naturally ability to heal itself are often characterized in a negative light. However, isn’t this technology doing the same thing? And Lise’s invention, isn’t it in this category as well? I think the word “invasive” should actually be seen as a positive thing here, for these kinds of technologies are allowing for the repairment of neural pathways that lead people to better health. And in Lise’s case, she is turning her patients into artists, which is lowering their stress and building neural pathways. Technology can be pretty cool.

 

Connecting to Prosthetics

As technology continues to forever change the art, music, and performance worlds, we also see an impact in the medical field. Modern medical practices such as surgeries and x-rays are now aided by the advances in technology, and these positive changes are saving lives. Unlike the other areas, medicine has an obvious use for new technology: to help people and animals improve their quality of life. There is no question then of “why” to implement technology, just as there is no question of why surgeons should perform surgery. Perhaps the more appropriate questions to ask are “how,” “with what resources,” and “with what results?”

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Beauty the eagle

I started by reading an article called, “10 Animals Who Got a 2nd Chance in Life with 3D Printing” about how 3D printing for making animal prosthetics. The article was sweet, cheesy, and touching, with videos of the animals (all of which had fun names) and brief paragraphs about their success. I watched the video about Beauty, a bald eagle who was shot in the face and recovered by way of a 3D printed prosthetic beak, and was amazed by the number of people on the recovery team. With the use of technology, medical teams need many more people on board, with more skill sets: not only are trained medical professionals needed, but artists, designers, technicians, and craftsmen are all essential for completing the job. In Beauty’s case, and probably in the case of other animals going through difficult medical procedures, a trainer was also there to calm the bird and provide emotional support. And, because it was an injury of the jaw/teeth, a dentist was also at the scene. It seems to me that with the rise of technology in the medical field, there will also have to be a rise in hospitals hiring these kinds of people who are not necessarily health care professionals.

Animals, however, cannot share how they feel once they adorn such prosthetics. I wanted to know how someone feels about his/her body receiving an additional part that is not made from human flesh. Unlike technology used in an artistic performance, this kind of technological component is making physical contact with one’s skin. Technology, unlike ever before, is becoming part of us. I found an organization called Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates (POA), who use a special kind of technology to create their prosthetics, and also provide training and support for their patients. Their focus is on the place of contact between skin and the prosthetic. The patented Negative Pressure Suspension

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Justine Clifton

(NPS) Socket Technology acts as a vacuum to collect all the air between the space, which creates a tighter, more comfortable seal. I was happy to find that their website had a button labeled “Client Stories” and I searched there for some personal insight. I found a story about Justine Clifton, a 25-year-old woman who was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD) which caused her to not have a left hip bone nor a regular sized left femur (her left leg was then amputated above the knee). This disease also caused her to have abnormally short arms, and few fingers. Clifton described how she was teased as a child, and how her condition left her with low self-esteem. However, after going to POA, she was able to regain confidence and do things she never dreamed were possible, like running. After reading her story, it was clear how much joy and gratitude patients like Clifton have regarding their technical extensions. This equipment is not seen as merely replacing something that is lost, but giving people a tool to accomplish a goal that was not feasible without it. Clifton did not really talk about the ethics of a fake limb, but I am finding that ethics and the philosophy of it all is irrelevant when you look at how patients welcome their new body parts.

So what about the surface of prosthetics? These specialized pieces of hardware cannot sense touch, feel warmth or react to pain. What then? Or, really, are those sensations important? People in need of replacement body parts sure think so. The development of artificial skin is a fairly recent invention that is aiming to give people this luxury. I read an article in the MIT Technology Review about how a group of Korean and American scientists

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Smart skin prototype

worked to produce a fake skin with the sensing capabilities of real skin. The scientists were able to attach sensors onto pieces of polymer, giving the material characteristic stretching ability. When the skin touches something, signals are sent to the brain with registers this contact. However, the scientists are yet to manufacture skin that lets the user could actually “feel” the touched object. Once this artificial skin is perfected, I can see countless applications, from hospitals to battle fields. But, for a minute, let’s imagine that the skin suddenly has all the capabilities of normal skin. How does this affect someone’s perception of sensual interaction? If I had this skin on my prosthetic hand and I touched an apple, would this touch be as personal? Would I say that I touched the apple or the skin touched the apple? Should this matter, or should we care one way or the other? Perhaps I am going too far here, but with the influx of technology replacing the personal aspects of our bodies, like touch, I cannot help but wonder about these mind dilemmas. Will there ever be a skin that has full human abilities? My guess is that this may be one place where technology cannot compete with nature. Although I have underestimated its abilities before..

 

Performing: A Relationship

Why do artists like to present their work to an audience? Isn’t it more time efficient to just film oneself dancing, singing, acting, or playing and then upload it to a platform in which people can watch? Why do artists want their work to be seen at all? These may sound like silly questions with obvious answers, but I think it’s more complicated once you start thinking about it. What is the role of an audience, and how does an audience impact a performance? How does that role change once technology is involved? Before getting too caught up in these bigger questions, I wanted to look first at performance in general. What characterizes a performance and what is the relationship between the audience and the performers?

I found an article in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism written be David Saltz, called The Art of Interaction (1997). The article mostly discusses interactivity in computer art, but it also talks about performance in general. What is a performance? Saltz explains how, “one could say that an encounter with an artwork of any kind is a “performance” in that audience-raptvery generous sense. Reading books, watching films, and attending art exhibits are complex activities that transpire in real-time and involve living human beings. Books do not leap off bookshelves, open their bindings, and read themselves…” In his opinion, then, art, influenced by a human being’s actions, is considered a performance. Ok, I thought, but what distinguishes the word “audience” from “performer” if both can engage in some kind of performance? Saltz says, “The simple answer is: performers perform for an audience, while audiences “perform” only for themselves.” I would argue that oneself is a sort of audience, but perhaps I’m focusing too much on the details. The, according to Saltz, the presence of an audience is what makes a performance something beyond simply reading a book. I think this is an important and clearly defined distinction. So does this make the performers somehow better than the audience? Susan Kozel, author of Closer : Performance, Technologies, Phenomenology, addressed this for me. In her book she looks at, well, performance, technology, and phenomenology, and does this in an overly technical way. Before I went on, I had to look up phenomenology, which is, “the science of phenomena as distinct from that of the nature of being. An approach that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience.” Anyway, Kozel unveils that, “There inevitably occurs a tension between performance as construed through the arts and performance as it is relevant to the social sciences. This is unfortunate, not just because in the eyes of non-theater people performance is frequently deemed to be brittle or false, but also because in the eyes of many actors and dancers performance is seen to espouse movement that is somehow better, more skilled or more meaningful than everyday actions.” Is performing for an audience about showing something as ideal? Is this the reason for performance at all? She called this tension a sort of “snobbery” that exists in the minds of some performers, that the “betterness” of their work justifies the performance of it. I had never really thought about this, partly because I have never found the need to think about it, but the stage really is a place of utopia. Similar to films, performances in front of audiences are fake realities in which the audience can take something from or not, and then return home to bed without physically altering their own lives. Would the addition of more technological components make the stage more of an ideal? Or does it make the performance more relatable? I have yet to find the answer.

Stepping away from philosophy, I moved on to look at a contemporary dance piece called Being There by Clare Dyson (2007). This piece intended to look at how an audience interacts with dancers, especially when the dancers are presenting a personal, “real-life” kind of performance. I found a long clip of this performance, and it really was unlike

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Being There

anything I had ever seen. The audience was arranged in a large square, with an area of white flooring in the middle that constituted the “stage.” The dancer alternated between dancing, talking, and sharing the stage with another dancer. At one point, she stopped dancing and asked the audience questions like, “how is everyone doing?” then, “what is she doing?” and finally, “what are you looking at?” To me, this last question was the most interesting: what is an audience looking at in a performance? What engages them? The piece continued, and several times a voice came over the sound system speakers and narrated a story, mostly talking about hardships a certain woman was facing. The presentation was riveting, personal, and almost uncomfortable, and I was just watching it from my computer screen! In parts of the piece, a spotlight was used to highlight the dancer, but other than that there was nothing unusal or interesting about the technology in the performance. However, the use of the spotlight did have a particular effect, for when the spotlight was used, the audience lighting went to black, which disconnected them from the performance. It made me think about the times I have performed and the times I have been an audience member, and the feeling of comfort when you cannot see the other side. As a performer, seeing audience members shifting in their seats feels distracting and nerve wracking, while being an audience member sitting in a space that is well lit can feel uncomfortable and almost invasive. So here, the use of light was used to connect and disconnect audience and performer.

From this insight, it seems to me that interacting with technology, whether interactive art, light, digital projections, etc., is easier and more comfortable, while interacting with a human performer can be more intimidating and personal. Why is this? I think it has to do with the “realness” of a live performance of human beings, and how we can relate to their movements, gestures, or speech in a way that connects us back to our own lives. This can be scary. Technology, however, does not always, at least for me, give off this effect. It is easier to approach a computer screen and stare into the pixels of light, but have you gone up to a person and stared for a time directly into their eyes? The experience is totally different, and often someone breaks eye contact out of shear discomfort.

So it seems that there certainly is a relationship between audience and performer, a chemistry of engagement. It is still unclear to me if technology enhances or hinders this connection, but I can see two different arguments. I think someone could argue that technology would disconnect the audience-performer relationship by adding another layer of distraction and area of interpretation. When viewing a piece like Merce Cunningham’s BIPED, the audience has to choose where to focus their attention at a given moment, so sometimes their attention will focus away from the performers. In addition, the technology in performances usually doesn’t come with a translator, for sometimes technology can be ambiguous and therefor requires interpretation that can distract the audience from the human performers. However, I can also see the argument that technology helps link the performer and audience member by using a medium that is so common and easily understood in everyday life. Most of us like visual stimuli as part of understanding and enjoying a concept, and when the audience sees a camera or something similar being used, it can be comforting because even if we are not sure how to interpret dancing, we know exactly how a camera works. Overall this concept of performer and audience connections is fascinating to me, and I hope to continue my investigation of it.

 

  • Video:
  • Photos:
    • (top): http://listentoyourmothershow.com/dc/audience-rapt/
    • (bottom): http://ausdance.org.au/articles/details/the-authentic-dancer-as-a-tool-for-audience-engagement

Technical Difficulties

oopsThe term “technical difficulties” is such a 21st century notion. I’m not sure when this phrase first appeared, but I have no doubt that this expression will fade anytime soon, due to the number of occurrences daily around the globe. No one talks about what it really means though, we all just smile and nod like we understand. What I like to believe it refers to is the concept of “perfect imperfection:” technology is used when we want something done better than the potential of the human brain, or when we want to do something outside of human capacity; however technology can, and will, let us down.

As technology becomes an increasingly explored topic in dance, I could not help but wonder what happens when this technology fails in live performance. Unlike humans, who have the ability to adapt to sudden, unexpected changes in their environment, technology is yet to become as specialized. One of the most interesting parts of live performance, in my opinion, is watching how the performers handle mistakes which inevitably happen at one time or another during a show. I have seen countless dance and theater productions where someone forgets their lines or choreography, and are tested to improvise or find a plan to compensate for their slip-up. But how does this work with technology? Technology cannot improvise. When technology fails in live performance, can the show go on? And if so, was the technology necessary in the first place? This is what I set out to discover.

But this concept of failing technology during a dance performance is an extremely specific thing even for Google to process. So I had to start more generally, and watched a TEDx talk by Reggie Watts entitled “What Does It Mean When Technology Fails?” In the beginning of the video, he dealt with the microphone not working properly, and briefly remarked on our society’s constant interactions with technology. But for most of the video, he just improvised onstage by playing a keyboard and singing. Although this example is not dance, it think this says a lot about what naturally happens when technology does not go our way, and it can be applied to dance. When technology fails, it forces everyone in the room to improvise: the audience chooses to care or not care, the performers choose how to adapt to the situation, and the technician can choose whether/how to fix the problem or let it be. It becomes a performance in itself, as the choreography of unexpected quick-thinking and problem solving or not solving.

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Pixel

However, different situations are bound to warrant different actions to be taken. For example, the way in which technology is incorporated into the performance has an impact in the outcome. While desperately searching the void of Google to find some information about failing technology, I came across a video of Pixel, a piece by Adrien M and Claire B. These artists, from a French dance company, used a variety of software and sensors to display projections of pixeled light onto the background and floor of the stage. The dancers’ movement causes the light to react and interact with them, creating a surreal, 3D performance. In this piece, technology is just as important as the dancers, if not more so. The dancing itself, while interesting in its own right, would be little if the technology randomly shut down in the middle of performance. How would the dancers handle a technical difficulty? More importantly, can the show go on without the technology? In this particular case, I don’t think so.

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Head Munging

Other performances, however, cam continue if/when the technology fails, and these are performances where the technology is not as central. If a show has dancers dancing on a stage while something, separately operated, is projected behind them, the dancing could just continue if the projection failed. Or, in the case of Sophie Sotky’s piece, the failure could only enhance the message further. Stocky, in collaboration with Matt Romein, created a work called Head Munging, which comments on technology’s flaw in capturing movement and our over-consumption of it in daily life. Romein designed digital installations, “to create a feeling that it could all fall apart at any time.” In the first section of the piece, the dancers’ shadows are outlined in rough edges while the actual shadow itself is smooth. I found it intriguing that someone chose this as their inspiration for choreographic investigation, as I had never heard of a piece with that specific intention before.

In my hope to dive deeper in into the world of failing technology, I ended up in a different direction. Part of what fascinates me about failure in live performance is how the audience reacts. Did they notice? Do they care? I ended up reading most of an essay called, Kinesthesia, Empathy, and Related Pleasures: An Inquiry into Audience Experiences of Watching Dance by Matthew Reason and Dee Reynolds. This essay had nothing to do with dance and technology, but it did explore the various ways that audiences engage in dance performances, which I found fascinating. The highlight of the paper for me was the discussion of body-mind connectivity, and how audiences tend to have kinesthetic Houston-Ballet3responses when they watch dance. The paper was mostly centered around a study, in which audience members with varying levels of dance experience watched a performance and then were asked to explain their reactions. Many of the participants made comments like, “it made me want to get up and dance” or “it made me tired just watching them.” I wonder what happens in the body and mind of an audience member when something goes wrong in performance? Also, do these kinds of responses still arise if technology is involved? When installations, such as a projector, is in the background, how do audience members juggle what to watch? If they choose to watch the technological component, are they missing the chance to kinesthetically respond to the real dancers? And finally, if technology happens to slip-up during a performance, does that bring about another kind of bodily response in the brain? So far, I have not found any literature that explains or answers these specific questions, and I don’t know enough about the brain to make any educated guesses.

I conclude this rather openly by saying that audiences play a huge role in performance, just like the performers, and that the issue of failing technology will continue to be a topic of concern the more we utilize technological features in live entertainment. Perhaps the tech enthusiasts of the world will find a way to program certain technology to learn how to improvise. That would certainly solve some problems.

 

Dance, Film, and Audience

It’s when dancing gets awkward that

it starts getting interesting  – Merce Cunningham

I have looked at technology as a tool in digital dance installations, however there are an increasing number of choreographers who are choreographing pieces with a technological component built right in for live performance. Of course, most all dance performances include technology: lights and sound. But I wanted to look more closely at the pieces which utilize technology to a larger extent, and discover the effect of this addition.

To begin, I watched an excerpt of BIPED, a piece choreographer by the renowned Merce Cunningham in 1999. The piece has a group of dancers, in shiny silver costumes, perform the dance while moving images are projected behind them and in front of them.

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BIPED
Some of the projections are colored shapes and lines, but some are of figures who are moving in similar ways as the dancers on stage. Wanting to know more about this piece, I read an informational page about BIPED on ArtsEdge which is an educational site from the Kennedy Center. It explained Cunningham’s use of Dance Forms (formerly known as Life Forms), a software which allows you to manipulate little figures and plan out choreography on the computer. This is cool. Now choreographers have a platform to organize their thoughts and create work. But Cunningham needed more technology to be incorporated. He used Motion Capture to create the big figures, so that they move in lifelike ways. The effect of the projections in front and behind the dancers reminded me of watching a movie in 3D, and how the images seem to be coming at you. The article also talked about Cunningham’s general attitudes about dance, and remarked, “Cunningham reacted against the very personal and psychological choreography of

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BIPED

Martha Graham. For Martha Graham, movement was full of meaning; for Cunningham, it was simply movement. He felt movement should be appreciated for what it was, rather than what it communicated. Dance itself became the subject of his dances.” I found this very surprising. For a man that wanted dance to be valued for the sake of itself, why did he feel the need to add such elaborate digital projections into his choreography? I found a video in which Cunningham and Elizabeth Streb (American dancer and choreographer, and founder of STREB Lab for Action Mechanics) discuss each other’s work. Streb made the comment that Cunningham only does what is necessary for a piece, and “doesn’t leave any decoration…if he sees it as unnecessary, he’ll remove it.” This to me proved the point that to Cunningham, the technology involved in BIPED was absolutely essential. But to an audience member, like myself, I found it distracting.

But, of course, I wasn’t watching the piece in live performance. I watched it while sitting on the floor of my dorm room, drinking from my water bottle and munching on some chocolate. This shows how technology has allowed the audience’s watching experience to

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Roof Piece

become more personalized. I wanted to look more into this. The first thing to ask, however, is why film dance at all? For Trisha Brown (American dancer and choreographer, and founder of Trisha Brown Dance Company), filming dance is essential for her site-specific work like Roof Piece, a 1971 creation where dancers performed on rooftops. For site-specific choreographers, filming their work allows it to be seen by a larger audience than the people who happen upon these presentations by accident. Dance is also filmed to make dance films and documentaries. These often attempt to capture a process of some sort, such as the dancer’s life journey, or the choreographer’s inspiration for the piece. Why are these important? Well, they are sort of like the “bonus features” of the dance performance, giving more insight into how the finished product came to be. Lastly, dance is filmed for documentation or education. We like to remember what our hard earned effort looks like, and so do choreographers and dancers! They want to be able to look back and remember the performance for the sake of itself, or in order to re-stage it exactly. This seems logical.

So now I know why dance is filmed, but now to examine how. The obvious answer is a video-camera. But, the experience of watching dance on film versus dance on stage can be wildly different. I read an article by Carrie Seidman, who wrote a dance review of the film series Ballet In Cinema, and compared it to the experience of watching the same pieces live in performance. She posed the question: “Can a filmed ballet ever compare with the real thing?” She concluded yes and no. Watching dance on film, she said, can be interesting as it can offer perspectives and angles of the piece that aren’t readily available or accessible when watching from a chair in the audience. She also talked about how the film series had commentary in the background, offering facts and insight into each piece (which obviously you don’t have in a live performance). But, she points out how film leaves some things out. From the film she couldn’t see the sweat rolling off the backs of the dancers as they smilingly complete an inhuman feat, nor did she feel the ambiance of the theater hall. I stopped for a moment when I read this, but I know exactly what she means. When I go see professional dance companies perform, there’s a livestreamingcertain feeling of importance and excellence that hangs in the air, a feeling that would not be possible without the energy of an audience of real people and a cast of real dancers. Seidman also said that she was skeptical of the film’s authentic capture of the pieces, noting how she could’t tell if the filmmaker had manipulated the timing in one section to make it seem more impressive. Finally, she said that even though film provides some handy tools to see the performance in a different way, live performance puts, “me in control; I can both see the bigger picture and chose where I allow my eye to travel.” This is probably the most essential difference between dance on film and dance live. When you watch dance on film, you completely surrender your freedom of gaze to the person filming: they choose where to focus the camera, whether to zoom in or out, and whether to cut out sections that they deem unnecessary. Our entire view depends on the person who films the dance, so much so that two pieces can look completely different based on choices made by the videographer. For example, I went on YouTube and looked up William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, and watched two different clips of the same piece but by different dance companies: Tulsa Ballet  and  Pacific Northwest Ballet. Now, if you watch these clips you’ll find that besides from obvious differences, like the specific dancers and the duration of the clip, the entire feel of the dance is different. In the Tulsa Ballet clip, the dance is filmed from a stationary position, and set to see the whole stage at once. It makes the dancers look smaller, and it’s harder to see their facial expressions and small technical details of their performance, however you can easily see their relationships to other dancers in space. The PNB clip is filmed entirely differently, for the camera is up close, it is narrowed in on just two dancers, and it moves with them. The camera person in the Tulsa Ballet clip also took creative liberties by snipping sections and crafting a video of only certain parts, while PNB’s clip kept all pieces intact. So why does this matter? For me, I feel that as an audience member, even one who is witnessing dance through the screen of my laptop, I should be aware that the video I’m watching is a product of forced viewing. My eyes only see what the camera allows me to take in, and this limitation is an aspect of technology’s influence in dance. Should we feel frustrated by this limitation? We can, or we can see it as the camera person’s own creative expression, as they are trying to produce art just like choreographers and dancers.

I am certainly grateful for films of dance, for without them I would have never been exposed to such a wide range of choreography. Dance performances are expensive, time consuming, and involve planning. Technology has allowed people to watch dance without leaving their homes or spending a dime. But, audiences no longer have to follow the tacit dance performance-watching-etiquettethat is required when seeing a live performance. Now, we can multi-task: watch a YouTube video while making dinner, texting a friend, or surfing the web for the perfect vacation spot. Is this freedom taking away from the dance? Is the technology used to create the figure projections taking away from the clean lines of Cunningham’s human dancers? In my opinion, it does. But I think it also comes down to how much we let ourselves be distracted. Because ultimately, distraction leads our viewing and decides what we think is important. Something to think about..

 

 

 

Dance: An Out-Of-Body Exposition

Technology has opened doors of possibility for numerous art forms, and dance is no exception. As someone who knows quite a bit about dance, and has watched countless dance presentations, I have been skeptical about technology’s increasing role in the performance. Why isn’t it enough to just dance? What are the choreographer’s intentions with including technology? And, most importantly, what is the effect of the technological component? Is it necessary?

I started my research by exploring Synchronous Objects, an interactive website which looks at the piece One Flat Thing, reproduced by William Forsythe. A group of faculty members at Ohio State University took the filmed dance and laid digital animations over certain movements, which extended or emphasized significant gestures or connections between the dancers. The site contains several other “synchronous objects,” or digital

Form Flow Alignments
One Flat Thing, reproduced

tools, that the user can click on to investigate factors such as space, tempo, relationships, and density of the dance. It’s absolutely fascinating to mess around with. But what’s the point? I found an essay written by Forsythe called “Choreographic Objects,” in which he explains his intentions for the installation. It seems that one of the main questions Forsythe was interested in whether choreographic principles could be presented in another form besides the body. He finished his essay by explaining, “A choreographic object is not a substitute for the body, but rather an alternative site for the understanding of potential instigation and organization of action to reside. Ideally, choreographic ideas in this form would draw an attentive, diverse readership that would eventually understand and, hopefully, champion the innumerable manifestations, old and new, of choreographic thinking.” I was a bit skeptical of these thoughts. Dance without the body? Why do we need an alternative? I had never thought of even wanting to find separation there, but it seems that Forsythe believed technology can show more about the choreographic process to a wide range of people if technology is used. So, is the goal then to completely change the dance experience? From this final thoughts, is his goal to make dance more about the process than the performance? What is going on here?!

Feeling uncertain about my own views on this, I moved on to read as essay by Bill T. Jones called “Dancing and Cameras,” which outlined his own experience with combining dance and technology. The essay mentioned one of his pieces from 1999 called Ghostcatching, so I paused my reading and searched YouTube for a video. I’m honestly struggling to give words to what I saw. In short, a camera filmed Jones improvising, and then artists took that material and created a virtual version of Jones with added digital lines that extended and complimented the movements. The piece, while a bit frightening and creepy, felt

after-ghostcatching-1-1312409081
Ghostcatching

surprisingly real to me. The simplicity of the drawn figures did not feel overwhelming, but rather they seemed to accurately explain human movement. It was almost as if the lack of flesh and substance in the dancing form forced me to view the body as mere outlines, revealing the bare bones of movement, in the same way that a frame of a house allows you to see the process and history of the building yet to come. Anyway, I continued with my reading, hoping to gain insight into Jones’ choreographic and technical intentions. He explained how Ghostcatching and similar installations, “solved a problem for the solo performer: how to take a recess from the stage without breaking the flow of the evening.” So was his goal to allow dancers to take a water break? This actually kind of bothered me. Dancing is not about taking breaks, dancing is about pushing your body’s limits, in real time, for an audience (or yourself). Why would an audience want to witness dancing without also seeing raw, human exertion? Well now I may be feeling contradictory, since I just explained my own fascination with the piece. At the very least, watching a piece like Ghostcatching certainly gives the performance a different feel, a sort of perfect picture in which nothing can “go wrong,” a foil for live performance.

In my conclusion of this investigation, I find myself feeling conflicted. It seems to me that the intentions of Forsythe and Jones are to transform dance into an experience that emphasizes technology over traditional human movement, trying to imitate dance without actual bodies. But perhaps I am being too cynical. The technology certainly allows an audience to see beyond the movement, in a way that isn’t possible with traditional dance performance. For example, with the synchronous objects, laying digital lines and arcs over the dancers reveal certain patterns and relationships that may not be as evident. Is the piece still significant without this technology? Certainly. However, the technology enhances the experience by offering more possibilities for exploration into the choreographic and performance processes. Similarly, with Ghostcatching, technology tools are used to force the viewer to look at the negative space, seeing the body as an outline, and giving more room for imagination. But on the other hand, is this kind of technology taking away from the wonder of a physical body in space, performing something that cannot be paused or fast-forwarded? This phenomenon is similar to the difference between a movie and a live theater performance: we consider both to be significant in their own ways, and each requires a certain skill set and audience expectation. So maybe I am over-thinking this. Re-examining my first questions about the effect of the technology and the necessity of it, I have only found clear answers for the former. The effect of the technological component in these installations is essentially to slow down the movement or elongate it in a way that furthers audience understanding. By adding digital lines to accentuate the dancers’ limbs in Synchronous Objects, the audience can better appreciate the choreographer’s vision behind the piece. The same goes for Ghostcatching. But is this necessary? Or really, necessary to accomplish what? A technological component is not necessary for showcasing a piece of choreography to an audience, but if the goal is something different, that’s where technology could become a necessary tool.