[-empyre-] wearables

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Mon Feb 3 09:38:52 EST 2014

dear all
To follow up, here are a few suggestions I want to make regarding the last section on wearables of this past month's discussion on "Interaction, Performance and Introductions to Bodies and Space."
The last week was headed: "Display and Response: Bodies, Wearables, and Interaction.  Also: Interaction in Social Spaces"
and my comments concern primarily the first notion of a "wearable" in relation to interaction, for the moment assuming the the wearers are persons with bodies
and thus i refer to real space performances, not VR. 

The question of what kinds of wearables we mean when we talk of body worn technologies may be two-fold, we could think of instruments and devices (sensors, 
analog devices such as mics and speakers, bioradios and electrodes, etc) that are carried or that are attached to the body, and we can also think of garments
and costumes that have sensors or other appliances integrated into their textiles/textures and fabrics or that are adorning or augmenting the costume function.

In the case of costumes we would probably generally think of performances that are presented to audiences or the public, and of course those can range from
the popular culture (pop music), the electroacoustic music sector (if we think of performers such as Pamela Z who create solo works combining a wide range of 
vocal techniques with electronic processing, samples, gesture activated MIDI controllers, and video) to the theatre and dance and performance art field where,
as we had briefly discussed, interactional techniques were tested since the 90s and later when "wearable" controllers, if we can call them such, became more easily available to be used
in a choreography or a concert piece,  and artists and sound composers would write their patches for the data generated by the performers or themselves on stage. 

The wearables in those instances, whether a data glove, or Wi or other off the shelf devices, or custom built and specially designed integrated garments (so-called intelligent costumes, or sensortized costumes as Michèle Danjoux calls them,  already described in the dance world a while ago by Susan Kozel and Thecla Schiphorst, Dawn Stoppiello/Mark Coniglio, Joanna Berzowska, Barbara Layne, and others) were
part of the composing-performance flow, the interactivity of the real-time processes, and thus the coupling of human body and software system becoming one aspect of the aesthetic
dimension of works,  and those may focus on music/sound or on movement and theatre and multimedia projection aesthetics; real-time/live film-in-theatre productions today, if you
think of companies (Wooster Group, Builders Association, Robert Lepage, etc) or directors like Frank Castorf (Volksbühne Berlin) or Katie Mitchell, all deploy interactional techniques
and thus experiment with the generation of material (images, sounds, graphics, etc) and with display and response modalities, even though the actors may not necessarily be using
body-worn technologies; those attracted dancers and choreographers more frequently, until it became apparent (unlike in cases of musicians as the before mentioned Pamela Z, or Atau Tanaka
or Julie Bokowiecz) that dancers do not necessarily benefit (their movement development) from "controllers" that operate within limited parameterization (and media output possibilities).

What I won't comment on is the realm of interactive art addressed in earlier weeks by some of the participants here (Katja Kwastek and others), i.e. public installations for audience visitors,
as I am not sure I have enough evidence or experience to comment on wearables designed for use of visitors who enter a space (in the case of earlier/mid 1990s works like Char Davies'
well know "Osmose", I would not immediately speak of wearables even though the visitor had to wera goggles and had a sensor strapped over the chest). There may have been clothes or devices
given to visitors in installations, and perhaps some of you can analyze the behaviors stimulated and afforded. Perhaps there are indeed ways to discuss such work as Davies'  (and Transmute's
telematic installations may come to mind too) and other artists' installations where biofeedback was designed into the mise en scène, and the 'strapping' on then would become a suggestive
topic for analysis how "wearables" and controllers enter/touch/apply to our bodies and affect our sensorial perceptive modes, experence, search for a story or meaning or exploration of
movement and behavior and  play or social interaction in a given situation framed as an interactional setting.

In the case of the DAP-Lab's dance-theatre work, all our wearables are primarily costumes and accoutrements that extend and "amplificate" the characters created by the dancers, actors and musicians,
and I wish to include of course the sound artists and engineers, the graphic/film artists and the designer who collaboratively produce the choreography and  performance system that use, on occasion, a real-time
interactional wearable (but not all the time);

 in our work we don't rely on wearables to generate sound/images and impacts on the environment exclusively; and like Brazilian artist Hélio Oticica's parangolés
in the 60s and 70s, sometimes the wearables are a bit (ironically) tropical, or exuberant; the particular constructivist costumes Michele designs and builds for a performance are part of a larger aesthetic dramaturgy, the dresses are changed, engaged at particular moments, and they had been rehearsed with so that they become embodied and known;  other performers may use dysfunctional accoutrements or counter-intuitive controllers or hypercontrollers (that make the entire stage shake), or whatever –  it is great fun to invent new instruments, and then explore how our bodies can or cannot adopt them;  and also we look back to
a long history of experimentation, say, to moments in history when women performers like Loie Fuller danced with light and specially lit wearables/dresses and poles, Schlemmer's Bauhaus sculpture-dresses and figurines, or to the many sonic instruments builders  (I remember a metal guitar dress that Ellen Fullman built after leaving art school in the 70s - an old vdeo clip shows her walking down the street with it in downtown New York, the passersby looking bemused and worried), to Benoît Maubrey's eccentric Audioballerinas on to work currently invented stuff by artist/designers like Alex Murray-Leslie & Chicks on Speed.

So now, in another post, I would probably take up an underlying question in Rafael Bienia's post, >>the aesthetics of wearables>>  and then >>ut the practices, what users actually do and maybe more important what they do not do. >>   The latter part of the question, well, I am not sure how to address, you must have had something in mind?  The aesthetic issues are clear to me at least, for the DAP-lab, the building of our costumes not now about
functonality, it is about their aesthetic/dramaturgical role in the overall design vision for a performance work -- these costumes worn by performers become characters. Thus their wearabilty becomes an expressive dimensions of what they (performer and wearable) embody and perform in the piece; the performers can of course also comment on the wearing as they are wearing.
In Schlemmer's case, the sculptural figurine itself is the character (the dancers were mostly carrying them [invisibly or partially hidden], carrying the design in motion out; they were movers and porters); 

what you now practice "practicing wearables," well, let's talk more about it, in today's contexts or art or action in social (public) spaces. 

with regards
Johannes Birringer

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