[-empyre-] learning movement, mixed realities, desiring slippage

lotu5 at resist.ca lotu5 at resist.ca
Sun May 17 16:03:51 EST 2009

hi all,

what an amazing discussion you've all had this month! i wish i had more
time to participate...

i wanted to chime in with a few thoughts from my previous work with mixed
reality and my encounters with erin and stelarc. but i've been reading and
reading the discussion and an entry point eludes me, just as words so
often elude me when trying to think closely about movement. i spent the
day soldering and cutting a project called the Freephone for our
performance tomorrow as part of the Society of Molecules distributed
aesthetico-political events which Erin and the Sense Lab are coordinating.
Maybe now I'm tired enough to let these thoughts flow...

In december of 2008 i did a 365 hour performance in mixed reality called
Becoming Dragon, in which i used a motion capture system and wore a hear
mounted display so that i could be immersed in Second Life for the entire
duration. Yet I could still see the real room I was in at the center for
computing in research in the arts at ucsd through a live (slightly
delayed) video feed. I did the performance to call into question the one
year requirement of 'real life experience' that transgender people such as
myself have to face before getting sexual reassignment surgery (aka gender
confirmation surgery) and to ask if one could live for a year in second
life and then get species reassignment surgery.

In relation to this conversation, one of the main explorations was to see
if one could learn the new movement required for a new identity using
virtual worlds. In practice, the failure of the technology when pushed to
such extreme limits became more apparent. With so many layers of
technology at once sustaining my mixed reality life, at any time at least
one of them was failing and needing attention. I was, in a sense
constantly dealing with various levels of failure and moving in and out of
various levels of immersion. I also lived in a heightened state of
distraction, as visitors would visit me in the physical space and the
virtual space, and I often had conversations with both at the same time,
orienting my head towards visitors in the virtual space, talking to them
over second life voice chat with a pd patch to modify my voice and still
listening to the conversation with the person in the physical space. For
most of the performance, more than feeling empowered with the freedom of
movement of a virtual dragon, I felt more constrained by the fragility of
the cables and the narrow spaces in which the the motion capture system
could find enough markers to find my location in the room. Yet, in
considering critical motion practice, I still feel that I can improve the
motion capture interface and am working to do so now. Still, when I
consider the earlier discussion of the divisibility of the digital, I
deeply appreciate anna munster's complications of these notions of the
purity of he digital. As a coder and hardware hacker who is also a
performance artist, I feel that the complexity of contemporary computing
puts it into the realm of dynamic systems whose predictability is not
simply linear. At the level of high level programming languages, there can
be millions of instructions represented with a single line of C++ code, so
the layers of complexity are deep. At the level of circuits, the movement
of electricity can be erratic or smooth, even though much effort is put
into channeling and taming it. The lines between smooth digital
representation and messy analog electricity are not as clear as one might

At a workshop with Erin in the Sense Lab, we worked on relational movement
exercises, with a partner, working on the kind of subtle listening to
one's own body moving and learning to feel the movement of one's partner,
in an exercise like tango, stomach to stomach. The experience reminded me
of my study of Theater of the Oppressed with my students in that there is
so much learning that needs to be done to find one's body and to be able
to feel it. When I think of the kind of aporias that are opened by by
simply trying to describe a movement, to find the line between one
movement and the next, I am reminded of Boal's idea that ideas and
emotions are trained and mechanized and by moving in new ways we may learn
to think in new ways.

In this way, I find the notion of indifference to movement difficult, as
in my experience movement is always closely tied to desire and affect. In
fact, considering the practice of Theater of the Oppressed, and the
trajectories of feminism and cyberfeminism, it seems that learning not to
be indifferent to movement is critical, learning to listen to the body. In
my experience as a transgender person, it has taken me years of work to
learn to allow my own desires to exist and that has come through listening
to myself and exploring my own body and movement and desires and affect.

Mixed Reality performance, for me, highlights the thrownness of the body,
the way that we are constantly shifting through realities from our
physical lived reality to our cell phones to our online identities such as
the ones conjured by our writings on this list to our imagined selves to
the selves we desire to be. Perhaps one can imagine fractal flesh and
phantom flesh as related to this notion of slippage. I have been recently
developing the idea of transreal, of existing between realities, having an
identity spanning multiple realms, as so many of us have identities which
extend, as stelarc said in our talk about learning to live in mixed
realities, "beyond the boundaries of our skin", but include online bodies,
multiplied, folded, amplified, distributed assemblages. As you are reading
this your mind is shifting from your fantasy of me writing or saying this,
to your fantasy of yourself reading it, back into your body and your
surroundings, always shifting in and out, just as in the act of watching a
performer, in movement or still, there is a shimmering, never a perfect
clear act of sight, but more a pulsing mirage of a performer...

As always, my interest is in disturbing borders, and I find movement to be
such a rich field of investigation in its close dance with gender, desire,
pedagogy and politics... The simple question of how one walks down the
street, while unexamined by most, becomes a tumbling nebula of
multiplicities bursting with resonances...

For now I have to shift out of this space for a moment, thank you all. I
hope you enjoy these electrons I have shared with you.


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