[-empyre-] "interactive"

liz solo whoisliz at hotmail.com
Tue Jan 14 13:04:43 EST 2014

Hello all,


It has been a pleasure to read your thoughts and find out
more about you. I am writing to you from Newfoundland, Canada where we have
been dealing with crazy weather and rolling power blackouts so it has taken me
a little while to get it together to contribute. Thanks Patrick for asking me. I thought I would relate thoughts that have occurred to me while reading your texts. I hope some of these ideas resonate..


I came to interactive performance in online virtual spaces
via another virtual space – the theatre stage. The greatest appeal of the
theatre as a performer (for me) is the possibility for transcendence (or transformation) – You build
a reality out of ideas, lights and painted sets, you create a world, populate
it with characters and then you enter it – and when you are truly in the moment,
if it all goes right on the night, you briefly exist in a kind of non-space
non-time that is wholly immersive. Playing music can be immersive in a similar
way. Reality is altered for everyone present - but most especially for the
performer. Experiencing this feeling of immersion within a reality of my own
creation is the inspiring force of my practice. My
desire to further share the immersive experience with others is, I think, where
interactivity started to become an element in my theatre work – mostly by way
of creating multi-media environmental surround sets or installations and
enclosing the audiences and performances inside. 


When online digital spaces began emerging I was intrigued by the possibilities. In the early 2,000’s one of the most
sophisticated online spaces was OnLive Traveller – connected 3D environments made
of simple planes with floating 3D heads communicating via text and real time
voice interface. Even though the space itself had few bells and whistles and
little possibility for interactivity outside of telepresence, the connection to
others through real time voice created an instant intimacy. The very first time
a virtual head floated up to me and said the words “Are you there?” I experienced
an unexpected physical response – shivers up my spine and then nervousness about letting my voice ring out in this new territory. I soon discovered that when one’s attention becomes immersed in
an online virtual space a kind of “other” (third?) place emerges – one that encircles
both environments, your mind/imagination, your physical body in space, extending
to the edges of the perceived boundaries of the virtual space you are
inhabiting. There is a merging that happens. The other element that becomes
very significant very quickly is the power of the connections made with other
people via these interfaces. These relationships with others web outwards and become a community.


One of my first online performances involved setting up a
series of rituals in online environments to assist in finding a romantic partner
for my Vancouver based collaborator Jeremy Turner. I acted as a virtual
matchmaker and set Jeremy’s avatar up on numerous dates with virtual entities. This
led to the Ladonian Noble Wedding
Project, which included a visit to Sweden to meet, collaborate and show with
Lars Vilks - the creator of the virtual nation of Ladonia. This project
resulted in one of the first online virtual weddings with Jeremy’s avatar
marrying his real life fiance’s avatar in an online space (the matchmaking was successful in multiple realities!). Onlive
Traveller’s virtual wedding hall, the bride, the wedding party and guests from
around the world were present simultaneously at Simon Fraser via the large-scale
projection screens of the lab’s RAVE environment boxes (Reconfigurable Audio
Visual Environments). Real and virtual audiences were present and participated together in
the wedding event. This collaboration with Jeremy Turner was my first true “hybrid-reality”
work, back in 2003.


The interaction between avatars (connected via technology to their “fleshtars”) and the live performer and the bringing of the virtual space into
the real space (and vice versa) are my areas of concentration in recent years.
Again, like with theatre, the impulse is to share the immersive experience – and
this has pushed me to create more and more hybrid-reality performances where the
live performers, audience and avatars interact in real time – usually with the
virtual space projected large into the live performance space (aaand the real
space projected into the virtual) – sometimes using more than one virtual
platform and multiple projectors (as with a recent piece called Take Me,
performed with Bibbe Hansen at the Off Label Festival at Open Space in Victoria
– a performance art piece that involved conducting a Merriment Ritual in
multiple places at once, using live performance and large scale projections
from Second Life and World of Warcraft, the live space streamed into Second
Life, and participation from audiences and artists present in each
environment). The outcomes of these performances are usually unknown at
the onset and they evolve influenced and nuanced by the spaces themselves and by
the interaction between the performer and the people and avatars present/telepresent. This is the
essence of performance art and probably the biggest gift I’ve received through working with interactivity in virtual spaces (in particular with Second Front)
– coming to an understanding of the nature of performance art and becoming
comfortable with performing in response to the present.


I might describe my avatar as me in another space, me in
another dimension. I might say the same thing about a character I create for a
play. I might also describe the avatar as an extension of my body –  in some ways the relationship is not unlike one you might
have with a puppet (if you know what that’s likeJ ) When you are animating a puppet – it is
both a part of you and separate from you. 


A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a customized
three-day workshop in Toronto with the Nightswimming Theatre Company. At that
time I was working with a comedy collaborator and exploring the possibilities
of a foul-mouthed diva puppet named Pinky The Bra. During an improvisation my
collaborator thought it would be funny to try punching Pinky in the head. While
this had comedy possibilities I had to stop the improvisation and ask my
collaborator not to hit my puppet without working out the moves in advance. I
explained that the puppet was an extension of the actor and by blindsiding the
puppet she was blindsiding me (this is not cool with physical comedy because it
is potentially dangerous). My collaborator argued that my puppet was not an extension of me
but simply a piece of fabric and she could not understand why I had a
problem. This began a year long argument that ended very badly when, during a live
cabaret performance, my collaborator instructed an unwitting guest performer to
run up on stage and fist Pinky the Bra in the mouth while she and I were
serenading the audience with a version of Bette Midler’s “The Rose”. The
audience laughed some but she and I never spoke again.  

Puppets can cross lines too - take SaveMe Oh, arguably Second Life’s most notorious personality and most prolific performer, (also a creator of amazing breadth, real life identity = unknown)  SaveMe has morphed griefing into her own form, is often banned on sight and ejected from live online events because she adds her own elements to whatever performance or show she is attending – and some avatars don’t like others messing with their carefully crafted pixels. Once, during an artist’s talk, SaveMe joined the avatar speaker on stage and went at him with a (virtual) chainsaw. SaveMe playfully argues that pixels aren’t real, that she is free to do whatever she wants in her own screen and that if people don’t like her contributions they can mute her (an option in Second Life that, interestingly, most people don't choose to use). Nonetheless, SaveMe’s pixels elicit strong emotions and inspire people to take actions - the ejection of her avatar, banning, angry blogposts, facebook wars and the lodging of official complaints (all of which which SaveMe documents on her website - another component of her pretty badass shit-disturbing feedback loop:)). 

An avatar is, for some, much more than a puppet – for some an
avatar is a version of the self manifested in an idealized way. The
artist Micha Cardenas has been exploring her real life gender transition via an avatar
body/identity and experimenting with performances that interface her body
(via technological devices like heart monitors) with the virtual vision/version of herself; Sometimes it is the space itself that is idealized – like for my
artist friend living in a war torn country who explained the appeal of virtual
spaces very simply – “it is the only place I can go where the world is peaceful”. It is statements like these that make the idea of bringing idealized virtual space into the real world is so compelling.

Hybrid-reality spaces - essentially still virtual overlays
upon meatspace - are being explored by many of my collaborators -  Isabel Valverde and SensesPlaces, referenced
earlier in this thread, have created
a simple interface connecting the live person to their avatar via webcam - groups meet and contact dance in multiple realities at once;   Avatar Orchestra Metaverse use the
platform of Second Life as an instrument and bridge continents with sound, simultaneously
projecting virtual concerts to live spaces. Through these experiences we all become connected to each
other via movement and sound and sensation, via devices and interfaces, and we get immersed, existing in the
same place and time together, contributing to the effect while sharing the experience from unique perspectives. These hybrid reality experiments are precursors,
early tests exploring the possibilities of the augmented/merged space we see the
world headed towards becoming.


Looking forward to
the coming discussions.



liz solo


> From: nathaniel.stern at gmail.com
> Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2014 21:19:55 -0500
> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] "interactive"
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi everyone,
> Thanks for this Katja. I've just gotten my hands on your book, and have begun reading, admittedly out of order. I too concentrated on case studies, so I started there, and I'm really enjoying the descriptive and poetic nature of yours. Here, I'd love to hear more about your "modes of experience," and how they relate between the situation of art, and the practice of the everyday. Can you list a few modes, and maybe give one example in more depth?
> This really interested me as well:
> > So what I consider at the core of an aesthetics of interaction (in digital art) is exactly this feedback between the technological system/software/interactive installation and its activation/realization. Both aspects are subject to various spatial and temporal paradigms, can involve more or less materiality and afford more or less bodily presence and can be distributed to various degrees amongst the actors involved. 
> I've become more and more interested in what I've been calling the "implicit body." Whereas what Rebecca Schneider calls the explicit body in feminist performance art intervenes in and "unfolds" (the Latin root of explicit) the sedimented layers of signification that make up, for example, "woman" or "phallus," I like the to think that interactive art enfolds (Latin again) what Brian Massumi calls "sensible concepts" - the "physical experience of ideas." More on this in a bit.
> First, Johannes suggested we should perhaps start with what we mean by embodiment, and perhaps affect. I'll do my best to concisely say what I mean by them, in relation to such work. From p 2 of my book:
> -
> When we move and think and feel, we are, of course, a body. This body is constantly changing, in and through its ongoing relationships. This body is a dynamic form, full of potential. It is not ‘a body,’ as thing, but embodiment as incipient activity. Embodiment is a continuously emergent and active relation. It is our materialization and articulation, both as they occur, and about to occur. Embodiment is moving–thinking–feeling, it is the body’s potential to vary, it is the body’s relations to the outside. And embodiment, I contend, is what is staged in the best interactive art.
> -
> I tend to use Brian Massumi's definition of affect, it is is an autonomous, preconscious, embodied sense of the body. Here the body ‘moves as it feels, and it feels itself moving’ (Massumi, Parables, 2002: 1). Proprioception folds the external senses of tactility into the body – what we sense from our skin, for example, and how that feels. Affect and proprioception, together, make up sensation. Sensation (and affect) should not be confused with either perception, or "feelings," for that matter. Both of these are qualified: perception is an understanding of what we sense. Sensation happens before we’ve given word or thought to what is sensed, before we "make sense" of it. Sensation, like embodiment, is nascent; it is moving and thinking and feeling; it is potential and virtual and folding; it is occurring, and about to occur.
> And now back to interactive art (p. 3):
> -
> Interactive art frames moving–thinking–feeling as embodiment; here ‘the body’ is addressed as it is formed, and in relation. Interactive installations amplify how the body’s inscriptions, meanings, and matters unfold out, while the world’s sensations, concepts, and matters enfold in. The work creates situations that enhance, disrupt, and alter experience and action in ways that call attention to our varied relationships with and as both structure and matter. I suggest that new media has the ability to intervene in, and challenge, not only the construction of bodies and identities, but also the ongoing and emergent processes of embodiment, as they happen. My main focus throughout this text is a framework for the critical experience, practice, and analysis of contemporary art. I ask, ‘How might the body – as process and event – and its potential disruption or resistance, be attendant, provoked, and contextualized in interactive art?’
> -
> I go on in my case studies to propose "implicit body thematics" - relations that are "conceptually sensed" experienced and practiced with/in the frame of interactive art (for example: flesh-space with Nora Zuniga Shaw, body-language with Camille Utterback, social-anatomies with Mathieu Briand). 
> I should say that I too am a big fan of Kentridge's work, have worked with him in the past (when I lived in South Africa), and write about both his 9 Drawings for Projection (the famous trace and erase charcoals ) and Seeing Double (amazing stereoscopic light sculptures) in my book - wonderful work, which I believe also folds in time and space, matter and perception. Interestingly, in some upcoming art, Kentridge will be using skeleton tracking with Kinects, to animate dancing chairs with some of his lesser known mechatronic strategies. I wish we were able to talk about it here and now, but it's a ways off.
> Instead, here is another provocation. I can say without any doubt that the participants shown - who are having their view- and sound-points swapped with each other in real time - are actually closer to "groping at shadows" than in any other interactive artwork I know; and, in my opinion, it is an utterly brilliant intervention into communal sensation, perception, and being. http://www.mathieubriand.com/2001/sys05-ree03-se1-moe2-4/#5
> Warmly,
> nathaniel
> http://nathanielstern.com
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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