[-empyre-] introducing Sarah Drury on Empyre for Week 4 of Critical Motion

sarah drury sdrury at temple.edu
Tue May 26 13:10:19 EST 2009

Hello everyone,
I find myself in the unenviable position of being the last contributor,
following three weeks of incredibly rich, thought-provoking exchanges on
ideas and practices.  I have been learning a great deal by the myriad
approaches and perspectives and kinds of information sharing.  On one hand I
am fortunate to follow such a vibrant dialogue, with so many possible
threads to pick up on.  On the other, a great deal has been said, and I feel
challenged to add to the discussion.  I hope to help keep the momentum
I will start by introducing myself.  In fact, I tend to be rather quiet,
both online and off.  Not a big talker, and certainly not a performer‹these
have never come easily for me.  My early installation projects (Voicebox and
others) sought to remedy this situation by using an active microphone to
take the input of my voice, and use it to set off recorded voice samples,
speaking and singing, supplementing my voice.  A reluctant orator, I
conceptualized the Voicebox as a way to couple my voice with a baritones and
sopranos, in bursts of automatic commentary and song.  My own voice was
actually multiple voices, and people listening would hear me in various
ways.  I also constructed boxes to be inside of, safe containers from which
to generate this act of speech.  I invited others in as well, interested to
share this apparatus for indirect address.  These were machines for
³not-talking² or for vocal excess, depending on how you looked at it.  The
act of displacing my own voice was also an act of igniting a chorus.
There is an intimacy in this displacement, with its closeness and its
resulting profusion.  It made sense for the moving image to be part of these
projects, for the body and the voice to be able to break into the cinematic
image, causing a switch, a montage, a collage.  I hope to address this more
When I started working with wearable sensors, I continued to be interested
in this difficulty with talking.  In Voicebox I found that, using sensing
technologies to complicate talking, I had been able to engage body, sound
and image in complex multisensory narratives.  The complications of sensing
technologies were an opportunity to work performatively with media language.
Difficulty with talking was in fact already two or more stories.  Feminist
and gender histories enter here. In one project, I began to work with
artists inhabiting the body with dis/abilities, to look into such
difficulties.  It made sense to include difficulties of moving in this
inquiry, from the practical standpoints of the participants I worked with
and the development of available technologies for movement versus voice.

I approach this work from the perspective of designing relationships between
movement and media, rather than from the perspective of dance and
choreography, or even theater. It¹s an important distinction that has to do
more with process than outcome, maybe.  The idea of an esthetic process in
which a technological application can be shaped by and for particular
³users²/participants in its development, and then in turn can tap into the
particular meanings of those participants.  This practice of bringing new
applications to everyday people and situations is embedded in the history of
the development of interface design, both new media art forms and
applications with more utility.  This aspect of new media art lends itself
to the discussions about indirect and direct political meaning and effect
that have been taking place and hopefully will continue.

While our homemade technology led us to try to work with ³technological
mishap² as part of the form, working with everyday bodies and voices, and
with non-normative bodies led us similarly to consider irregularity as part
of our process, and certainly part of our content. It¹s a focus on the image
as a trace, but not only a trace; Also as narrative language, comprised of
the trace of movement, but also of the intention to speak and use language.
We wrenched our traces out of ephemerality, collecting them as accumulations
of narrative, looking for ways to use them as both body traces and
storytelling devices and material. Again, I hope here to continue the
discussions about the trace of sensed movement that have been taking place

So I would like to take up the area of narrative here, a term that I
believe, hasn¹t appeared much so far in this discussion (except maybe as
media material or content). At the risk of overextending my reach, I¹d like
to parallel the term narrative to ideas about choreography that have been
central to the discussion.  Narrative seems to be a constricting term at
first hearing, in the contexts that have been plotted in such expansive ways
during the course of the discussion. But I¹ve been very excited as well by
the posts of micha, which are synthesizing many kinds of thinking and
practices with ways of being that are introduced by an openness to adapting
the idea of the self based on moving across any number of boundaries that
identify who we are by who we are not.  I¹m interested in opening up the
discussion to the broadest possible use of the term ³narrative², which
naturally taps into cinematic language in interactive frameworks, and
somehow equates ³image² and ³word² with ³gesture², in terms of critical
movement practice.  I don¹t mean to oppose this term to the terms of the
discussion so far, but use it to pick up on aspects of it.  When micha talks
about ³an investigation of the line between the real and the virtual and how
it can be blurred,² I feel there is a sense in which this is an
investigation of the line between the real and narrative, or the real and
projected meaning, the real and described reality.


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