[-empyre-] tasks / collaborations / critical motion nowhere and everywhere at some time

Cull, Laura lkc202 at exeter.ac.uk
Sat May 23 01:56:47 EST 2009

Dear all,

Sorry for the lack of contributions coming from me this morning - I've been in meetings about the REF for most of the day so far, so only just getting a moment to think again now.

First of all I wanted to mention to Johannes a film work called Soft Materials (2005) by the artist Daria Martin - the press release for which reads: "Soft materials was shot in the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Zurich where scientists research 'embodied artificial intelligence'. This cutting edge area of AI produces robots which, rather than being programmed from the head down by a computer brain, instead learn to function through the experience of their physical bodies. Soft Materials introduces the robots to two performers, one man and one woman, trained in body awareness and acutely sensitive to the nuances of movement. These performers shed skins of soft fabric, bearing their joints like the frank structure of a machine, and then, naked, they perform a series of dances with the robots. Creating intimate relationships that are in turn tender, funny and eerie, they bend flexible human fantasy around tough materials. Soft Materials creates a new image of 'man and machine', thus continuing Martin's aspiration to revisit the questions of the early Modern period. However, Soft Materials also connects with 1960's performance practices, which honed bodily relationships to physical objects; one inspiration for the project is Robert Morris's film, Neoclassical, which depicts an idealised interaction between his sculptures and two viewers. Soft Materials, created during what some call the 'Digital Revolution', sees a return to the physical object in an arena of embodied play. Ironically, the objects in question are technological creations, and ones that mimic our own animal physicality'. 

I found this idea of the robots' learning to move very interesting and perhaps connected to the great new problem that Sally Jane (via Ranciere) gave us to wrestle with: how one might shape a movement practice as an emancipatory project - which, for Ranciere, means a project based on a principle of equality rather than inequality. This would not involve conceiving of all bodies as the same / eradicating the differences between bodies and ways of moving. But of approaching situations like the teaching, rehearsal, and performance of movement with the premise of equality between parties involved. Transferring the idea of Ranciere's Ignorant Schoolmaster into the dance context - might mean something like starting with the premise that we are all capable of learning to move by ourselves and learning to dance by ourselves (through the experience of our physical bodies)- that we don't need to be the 'ignorant' student to whom the 'knowledgable' master transmits his/her learn knowledge. It comes back to paying attention, imitation, repetition, experiment
... but how might the model work in relation to technochoreography?

Deborah Hay's current approach to collaboration and choreography might be interesting in this context too - in solo performance commissioning projects like "The Runner" (2007) where the performers who take up Hay's challenging, open, choreographic instructions are free to find their own ways to solve the spatio-temporal problems she sets up. Hay does workshops with the performers - but does not teach them the dance, letting each performer find their own way of making the solo anew. After the workshops, performers sign a contract: "It says that you will practice this solo every single day for at least three months before you perform it. Every day whether you feel like it or not, whether you’re sick or busy or…." Hay herself calls this daily practice "learning without thinking" - but I guess I would want to say its learning through a particular kind of thinking (and perhaps without another kind). She also talks about this as a transcendence of choreography, or an escape from the body as choreographed by 'culture, politics, gender, dance training etc.'

Coming back to Sally Jane's park story, one of Hay's criteria for performers to take up the solo caught my attention: "You are drawn to explore movement in all its variety - either through a cultivated or ingrained absence of discrimination." Sally Jane's seeing and collecting of the park moments seems to be a great example of exactly this (I'm not sure I would have 'seen' it all). Secondly, and perhaps this one would appeal to Ranciere, she also describes this imagined participant as someone who has an unqualified respect for the whole of their body. 


From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Johannes Birringer [Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk]
Sent: Thursday, May 21, 2009 10:13 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] tasks / collaborations / critical motion nowhere and    everywhere at some time

it would be interesting to hear more from Stelarc about the task envelopes and how he works with engineers, with artificial intelliegence programming and the various operational systems involving couplings and assemblages.  i was always impressed by the strangely lyrical quality of the performances of the synchronously enhanced stelarcbody,  however one might perceive harnessed or thwarted gestures and motiions.

and   then i watched a performance, once, of a duet between a dancer and a robot, feeling mystified by the fact that the robot took on a critical posture, almost reminding others of the possibility that in such interactive relationships  (one wearing sensors which are mapped onto the other)  the dancer could be the problem, not the limited moveability of the machining architecture.
the duet was a quartet, by Margie Medlin (Australia) > (http://www.quartetproject.net)

Margie came to visit my lab, one summer, and witnessed our struggling with various sensors attached  to your bodies and then moving inside our clothes, and then our designs moving back and forth with the imaginaries, the building hot and spacious and the nights dark, what moved are and were relations in space (spatial relations) but what does that mean, when so many diverse materials are inolved (narratives, stories, film projections and photographs, live music and electronic sounds, palpable gestures, voices, garments and objects that have their own lives and the environments  and their memories (that lab took place in an abandoned coal mine in germany) :

the collaborative process (as Laura and Norah have invited us to discuss) is most complex and of course carries its organizational and psychological challenges, its critical potentials for human interaction within somewhat narrower artistic or research contexts or broader social/political/economic contexts,  the latter intertwining with the former.  At the moment, in London, i don't have my Deleuze/Guattari with me in the rehearsal, no; but we study the cross between manga and Muybridge, thinking through Second Life  and the original or older meanings of the (Sanskrit) "avatar" backwards to the russian revolution and the early 20th century engineering experiments in Russia,  have brought my Gastev with me and show some images from his feedback tests to our performers. we compare a 1920 image (from the Technical Institute of Kazan) of an apparatus used for measuring the volume by which the arm expands when different kinds of music are heard with the new audiophonic garments we will wear and the torsions we experience moving with a fashion design that is intense beautiful (aesthetic) but also restrictive and conceptually felt, impacting anatomy or proprioception or behavior or recognitive processes.....   Last week we worked on real-time, feeding back to the virtual environments we project/move with. there is a space in Second Life now that almost looks like our own performance diagram, the five hanamichi that cross or touch each other gently and allow the performers to be in some kind of vague center.

our new piece, "Ukiyo", is a choreographic installation, for audiences and visitors to enter, move around in, move about in, listening and creating their own stories (the spectator, as Rancière notes, has always been emancipated, and doesn't need to be "activated" or "animated"), sharing time with us.   it is not an interactive installation, just a space where moveable worlds can be imagined or conjured up.  one of the subtexts that i hope to deploy amongst the "synchronous objects" we create (digitally) in real time is a story about the Réduit, and about the communist revolution, a failed engineering project, with faulty prostheses but a strong utopian spirit...., no victory over the sun, but still..

it makes for lesser charm, don't you think, to talk about one's work process and the negotiations of creative action and thought, the necessary engagements of spaces of involvement and intimacy, if the work has less presence in the world, public circulation, preservation,.  what i think here may already be unevidenced tomorrow, it becomes uncritical  & narcissistic, when the collaborative energies shift, other subtexts take on different currencies, the environment (moving along in conversation or creatice exchange with our Japanese colleagues and the guests that have come, reprogramming our initial assumptions, learning the crossing of borders and confusion of roles,) evolving.  so much was written about ephemerality of motion (dance), no?     so, unknowable events then, intimate only for those of us who remember  or care to remember :

that was the historical point I wanted to make about Kentridge or Forsythe, (or Laban or  Bacon) you can't forget that one is able to share some thoughts on the matter because  their substantive work is already remembered (in museums, in exhibitions, and numerous performances seen around the world, now also on other formats, DVDs, videos, installations, websites, permanent collections) , historicized, or to some extent reified and yet of course evolving as well (Forsythe's new company  is making new work, but a huge research organisation and large grant schemes are now attached to Synchronous Objects, as they were to Trisha Brown's Arizona Sun Devil Valley venture with real time motion capture [how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume...?] ,   and we tend to forget that there are also these cultural, gender and  institutional differences that are charming and perplexing,  where is movement not happening?  where is dance not happening? (I don't mean Konzepttanz and the futile gesture of a non-moving body on stage) -- or if you like, where are swarms not happening        [on this matter, you might enjoy Gabriele Brandstetter,  "How I will have moved"........ http://www.mobileacademy-warsaw.com/englisch/2008/berat_buero.html,  &  her new book on swarm behaviors)  --- and yet Deborah Hay, remembered as one of the Judson dancers, for many years lived in a small town in Texas practicing a movement practice she refered to as "inviting being seen" (exploring cellular consciousness)., not that many took notice.

how does does recollection happen, and collection?

>>[Ashley wrote]
Kentridge's 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès includes a video where he
reverses film of himself throwing papers around a room. .....

>>  [Alan wrote, across Sally Jane]
There's something uncanny about all of this, which for me
connected to the idea that we live, our bodies live, within the imaginary.

> It?s a  process of estrangement (ostranenie) in Victor Shklovsky?s terms ? and
> underpins the Russian avant-garde?s concept of sdvig ? displacement,
> shift, dislocation ? brought about by subverting rules, scales,
> foreseeable logics.... these movements,
> like historical areas to which Stamatia is referring, grasped,  or tried
> to,  many of the paradoxes we're focussed on, and that diachronic
> thinking can crucially inform turn-of-21st century hidebound readings of technology.

It's strange, for me the roots are more so in Weimar performance, in
particular Anita Berber and Valeska Gert...
> Where we're dealing with live motion, it involves generating and working
> in a kind of synaptic space, i.e. the space occupied by creative
> performance energies which uniquely legitimates otherwise inacceptable
> degrees of hybridisation of diverse materials, forces......

No one, i agree, worries about the preservation of disciplinary borders.   Most examples
of movement cross thresholds  (in the city, and outside) and like flash mobs become
instances of how a eurhythmics or aesthetics of movement can disappear.
Many others will have been collected, drawn:  our histories of the main complaint.

I look forward to the sunrays in my garden, perhaps tomorrow.


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