A rather crazy five days for me, dramas with friends far away and then Lily, Bonnie’s sister coming into the project. Today then was another morning of working on improvisation systems out in the black box (now with grey floor) of the Temperance Hall in South Melbourne (where apparently you can’t drink inside…).
A question of is this process of generating movement dehumanising, does it create dancers who are just interchangeable blobs, or does it lend itself to some radical apprehension of self through movement? Personally, the more I think about this approach to both generating movement and improvising, the more I find in each concept, an endless unfolding brought about by considering what a body is doing when it’s in a particular modality.
We were doing a bunch of 9-point stuff today, which is both rather basic, in the sense of being an exersise or task that intensifies specific understanding of a body or parts of a body in space, and also fiendishly complex for exactly the same reasons. I came to think the term ‘point’ is slightly misleading in that it implies an infinitesimally small dot of only one dimension and as such does not engender a intuitive visualisation of it having a front, back, sides, top, and bottom. So I described it instead as a small box that you could approach with a limb from any path or direction and then with whatever surface of that limb describe one surface of this box. This immediately lends itself to the idea of, say, describing one side of the box while approaching it from another, creating much more complex paths.
Back in Temperance Hall then, and talking about yesterday when Bonnie came out to the Centre with me to be shown around and also to see the VR Theatre. She was really quite awestruck by some of the visualisations of galaxies colliding and 3-D maps of the large scale structure of the universe, and just … I think that’s what’s important for me in this, or really in all my work, to make people feel something and want to know more, and to have that kind of reaction when seeing the visualisations in very convincing 3-D after talking about all this stuff for the past few days was really satisfying.
The previous night I’d been restless with thoughts, trying to deal with concepts that are far beyond my ability to grasp … I was thinking it’s like when you’re really fit from dancing and then go for a run for the first time in ages, and all the muscles are really strong in a particular way, but in running coordination they are so unfamiliar … the next day is pain. This is mostly my brain these two weeks. So I was thinking about Bonnie coming to the centre, and really agonising over where to start everything and the large monsters of ideas that I couldn’t reconcile when I thought it might be rather fun to try mapping the 3-D visualisations onto our bodies while in the VR Theatre.
Watching the animations with Bonnie it was so obvious this was a good idea.
So after two weeks, things are coalescing into … something. There’s a number of … ideas, things, areas, vaguely defined concepts that could become something, and simultaneously an idea of what it could look like when we get into Temperance Hall in late-February.
Firstly there is the literal data mapping, how to get various groups and clumps of data that can be represented in various 2- and 3-dimensional forms onto the rather inaccurate and prone to infirmity sack of bones and goo that is a body. This entails for me at least an endless plummet through research where one three-letter acronym like, say, SPH (that’s Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics) leads all the way back to Kepler and 2- and 3- body problems. mmm … elliptical orbits and eccentricities. That is to say, fun holiday reading.
Then simultaneous with this is the incomprehensibility of these papers and the research here. At best trying to read a paper can be an aesthetic experience where the mathematical symbols are the equivalent of calligraphy and there’s some kind of beauty in the whorls of glyphs and surrounding white space. This led me, circuitously, back to Forsythe and how ALIE/N A(C)TION was assembled. I think here, the interest lies not simply in the mechanisms invoked, but rather the process as alluding to ways to think of how choreography might be generated.
Veering off from this was a couple of days spent re-reading Leibniz’s Monadologie (the – duh – eponymous name of this piece) and being quite stunned by the logical genius necessitated in attributing a mechanical (of some description) universe to a divine creator. Which, via stalking Chris on the internet caused me to remember he also is rather fond of the history and philosophy of science. So there is this third thread that somehow manages to make sense of this, which was I suppose the original conceptual starting point of this piece.
Through this I have rather masses to read on the history of constellations, their mythology, changing cartography, and … Cartography. I suppose the fourth thread that is entwined with the third and also the first simply because in very real terms what is done here is a mapping of the universe on myriad scales, from large structure stretching over billions of light years where there is an explicit temporal duration in the map, to almost humanly apprehensible scales in mapping the barely attained structures of distant solar systems.
Finally there is something of the human in this, sort of like the anthropic principle, that is to say the universe is here because we’re here to observe it to be here. This is both something of the wonder and awe present in looking up and trying to make sense of what we see in the night sky that over millennia has led to astrophysics as it is now, and also the people who work here, who despite their interests that are so far from the mundane as to appear close to witchcraft nonetheless are human.
And with this then is trying to make all this somehow human, something that exists within the realm of what it means to be a person and … I guess this is one of my concerns in all my work.
Yesterday Bonnie was sitting here with me and I played her a video from the Hinode Observatory Satellite showing chromospheric loops on the sun, and had sunn0))) playing It took the night to remember from Black 1 and photos of them in concert …
Kinda good, no?
I am at Swinburne. I have an office. It’s half way to the first floor (or second if you’re counting that way). Out the window that doesn’t open but would like to are trees and old red brick buildings. It feels Academic. Below me is a café with good coffee and bad food (I think I saw an organic shop near the train station (That would be Glenferrie if you would care to stalk me)). Above me are two floors of people whose names start with Dr and Prof, and who say things like, “Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics … cool!”. I feel remarkable stupid.
And, I have a new laptop for the duration, a special little MacBook that seems to like omitting letters, I think I’m not used to the keyboard yet. And! Playtime with fun stuff. And! 1Gb ethernet line.
So, amidst currently chatting with Daniel who is in KL airport on an 13 hour stopover, and Gala who is in Adelaide, I’m trying to make some kind of sense of all this, both intellectually and practically. The practicalities for the duration of the residency are doing class each day, rehearsing with Bonnie and Luke, and being at the Centre. Which means 12 hour days are likely, and working out a schedule that allows for minimal amounts of pain is going to be very important.
I started with Bonnie yesterday in Napier St, lots of memories of playing in the upstairs studio, and a slow process of remembering the tools of improvisation. I have I think an feeling of what the piece could be. Usually a work has a colour, an ambience, something I grope my way towards, and this is … well, yeah, black.
Yesterday and today I was reading Modeling Formation of the Solar System, an introduction to the equations that describe ellipses, orbital elements, eccentricity, and on to 2- and 3- body problems. It’s nice to be thinking in this way, to have to make myself understand, and what I was saying to someone in Adelaide, for my brain to feel like it’s not cruising but is, like a muscle aching from exertion, experiencing pain.
This came about from one of the papers that grabbed my attention when I was doing some pre-residency research a few weeks ago. Dr Sarah Maddison’s Gap Formation in the Dust Layers of 3D Protoplanetary Disks. I suppose I can see a similarity in methodology in how such astrophysical modeling occurs, compared to how I consider assembling rules and so on in the formation of tasks or choreography. (Interesting how language has failed me lately, as if I no longer have the words to describe what I’m thinking). This in turn, at the limit of my understanding led to the above introductory modeling, and a bunch of questions.
What is: Smooth Particle Hydrodynamics? Shakura & Sunyaev Viscosity Parameter? Epstein drag regime? And so today to a late afternoon conversation with Dr Sarah Maddison on her work. She was very coherent in explaining these and other aspects of her research to me, and obviously really passionate about it too, and I’ve come away with several books that are going to keep me occupied for ideally years but probably can be thought of as rather lascivious summer reading.
So what else am I thinking of?
My reason for dancing was seeing the Frankfurt Ballet, and also too my reason for choreographing. My earliest works were simply derived from reading interviews with him, harvesting his references to collaborators, eating like a carnivore on any elaboration of processes, wallowing in all of this and trying to make something from that. As an aside, it’s an interesting approach to read a description of how a work was made and from these artifacts alone make a new piece.
When I was working with Gala and Bonnie on temperance last year I started thinking again about this approach to making what could be described as pure movement (in reality, I’ve found that the approaches to making anything from abstract movement to utter theatre are fundamentally the same, but for the moment I’m thinking of what is dance in a recognisable sense), and amidst references to Leibniz, the Age of Reason and other things, again went back to William Forsythe.
This time, it was a work I’ve never seen, but through descriptions of and imagining I have, like Roland Barthes’ Japan in Empire of Signs, a conjured memory of ALIE/N A(C)TION that is more real than the real thing. I think rather than explain my continued attraction to this work, reading Dana Caspersen’s piece on working with Bill does much better.
There is then multiple strands that are far from having commonality living here, how to make literal representations of research that exists on scales far outside those of human senses, the history of astronomy and science since the Age of Reason both as events within themselves and as manifestations of the insatiable human curiosity to know things for the sake of knowing, evolving a system of choreographing that is not shackled to steps and counts, then also perhaps a very abstract response to the research here that is so impenetrable, and …
The cycle of works of extermination, hell, pestilence all coming from Jean Baudrillard’s text Symbolic Exchange and Death is concerned specifically with the dehumanising of individuals, the diminishment of human rights. While I was making all the people i can remember sleeping with… it occurred to me that is it very easy to criticise existing norms, but much harder to imagine new ones, and then to live them. In being especially obtuse here, and also feeling as if in a void, one of the things that attracts me to science is this imagining of a world bigger than this, to go beyond what is already here, and perhaps in doing so to in a very real sense cause a new world to evolve.
I was sitting at Cibo around lunchtime, getting ready to visit some sex shops around Hindley St looking for instruction manuals on Shibari, Japanese rope bondage, and to have a chat with Sally at ACArts about the choreography of ballet curtain calls. I got a call from ANAT, also in Hindley St, and responsible for all kinds of art-science fun.
Waah! I’m still bursting out in laughter at inappropriate moments, and completely, completely amazed they and Arts Victoria decided my lunatic proposal on Leibniz, 17th century science, 20th century astrophysics and dance dance dance was worth funding for an amount I have never come close to receiving before. I’m almost embarrassed to think how much.
I can’t even say any more. I’m sitting down but I need a drink. Absinthe!
I love astronomy so much. (I get to hang out at Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing,)
It was only three years ago but seems … one of those entanglings with a person that are outside of time, so we didn’t see each other for much of the next eighteen months and then the next, it seems we were always around or that two months shifted out of our geographical closeness is not so far from the first one and a half years in immensity. On occasion, she remarked in a semi-joking way I’d been her mentor, and that might be a daunting thing for me and my irresponsibility were the contra not also true. After-all, I’m here in Adelaide because she decided the best way to expedite my departure from Melbourne was to make sure I got on the plane.
Of course I’m talking about beautiful and talented dancer and choreographer and very dear friend Gala Moody, who has been in all of my performances since 2004 and I’ve even had fun being in a couple of hers, who has been one of those people who is so rare in life.
Gala is on a two month crazy sojourn across Europe, from Madrid and Michael Carter to Zürich and Cornelia and SiWiC (and the Limmat and … oh so homesick thinking of …) and to Athens and horribleness of taxi drivers and transcendentalness of The Forsythe Company and on …
I wasn’t blogging when I went to DanceWEB in 2003, though used my camera until it was worn. Of all my adventures in dancing that started only because I saw Frankfurt Ballet perform so long ago, Vienna and the ImPulsTanz Festival is one of the dwellers in the stratosphere, for the dance, for the performances, for the life of being a European dancer in summer and endless days and nights and moments of revelation like when I saw Jan Fabre, moments that again changed my life. To know you are in the right place, and all this is important, from eating in the kitchen to gigantic spectacles of theatre.
Gala goes to DanceWEB. Gala blogs at flyhatched.org. (And takes photos).
In William Forsythe’s Improvisation Technologies dvd, he demonstrates the drawing of lines in space as an exersise in geometric analysis. The visual appearance of the lines is done in post-production, an addition to help clarify various operations on pre-existing objects. Adam Synnott started his development showing of In the bones of children in much the same way, except in eight years or so the ease with which technology can allow us to do really complex things means we get to see dancers Alison Currie and Kynan Hughes do all this is real time.
I would characterise this showing as something of a lecture as much as a work in progress. Adam received a grant from SA Youth Arts Board to develop visual and audio tracking techniques, and his work with Jason Lam in designing the software and hardware and Sasha’s audio is as much the focus of this research project as the choreography and narrative structure of the emerging work. Conceptually what they are doing is close to Frieder Weiß in both Glow and with Emily Fernandez in sense, though their use of infra-red triggers on the dancers’ bodies and begins from their bodies rather than a development in interactive lighting.
I’m struggling with the difficulty of making a rather dry descriptive log of what was said, who moved where and what happened, and the far more thrilling, visceral performance of bodies extended by objects. I suppose it is convenient to imagine our bodies finish at our skin, a surface between self and other, but how far does the haze of influence, of heat, the faint electro-magnetic fields, the aura of bacteria and other symbiotic organisms neither us nor individual. So I don’t really ascribe to the conceit of bodies merging with technology, rather it’s objects that unfold what is already present; our world becomes larger because of this.
So, the showing was divided into two sections, the first a clear description from Adam and demonstration from the dancers of the results of the research, and the second being In the bones of the children itself. Holding the triggers, the dancers draw lines that appear on the back-projected screen behind, improvising, and looking a lot like early Chunky Move choreography from the days of Luke Smiles. There’s something really amazing about this simplicity, what Forsythe originally could only make apparent in post-production now is done easily in real time through the incredible flowering of simple, accessible technology in the last ten years.
Technology certainly gives me a thrill in a very geeky way, but it’s the poetic ability to cause gasps of pleasure that is for me what makes it so human. One of the demonstrations was Rain, that could bounce off extended limbs, and flow like water over the outlines of Alison and Kynan’s bodies, and when they touched hands creating a small pool that slowly filled, then pulled their hands apart, the puddle splattering and dropping away … something quite sublime.
Following that was the Quake Arena frag-fest of Blood Guitar, drawing portraits in blood across a 9-square grid on the screen, sucking it to a point, moving in and out to generate it in myriad ways, and maybe to add gravity, wind, turbulence, then rotating it in space to pour down in torrents. Then the pin grid, combining all the ideas shown previously as individual concepts. From what Adam was showing me in January this year, in early stages of coding, it’s astounding how far he and they have all come.
Something I thought with Emily Fernandez’s sense was the nature of projection, the need to back-project in order to eliminate the issue of shadows cutting the video, and the general lack of intensity of the projector light source itself. This tends to under-lighting on the dancers becoming wraiths and shadows lost in the transfixing luminance of the screen. The screen itself is also an issue, being structurally no different from a cyclorama behind a proscenium arch of a classical ballet mise en scene of previous centuries. Within the wonderful play of technology there also needs to be a critique of the elements used to frame it. Modular led screens, stacks of televisions, multiple overlapping projectors, archaic Baroque illumination, so many ways to not fall into the easy choice of a background. Illumination, both of the dancers and of the projection is something that can’t be one compromised to the other.
Some things I was also thinking of was of piping the information sucked in from the cameras instead of into a video projection to go into avatars in Second Life, to have them moving and performing as sinister split personalities, not necessarily even human, maybe avian, maybe not even of Earth. For us we would see the real performers and the projection of Second Life, and for those in 2L, they would see the avatars then the real performance as video.
And on to the work itself, a somnambulistic nightmare in a witching hour nuclear facility, Mr Stewart-Baxter and Miss Cumberdale meet at 1:11am, the old lag handing over the reins to the new girl. I thought if it was November 11, that would have also been appropriate. My immediate thought was of the creepy BBC nuclear terrorism drama from the 1980s, Edge of Darkness, ghosts, spies, treachery, a hidden facility beneath the guttering bowels of vertiginous subterranean caverns, part of the blackness of the late 80s nuclear desolation of Thatcher, Reagan and the eviscerated Soviet Union.
Also was a reminiscence of Chris Morris’s Jam, slow-motion, unfocussed, a narrative not begun on the first page, maybe a commencement of hostilities, maybe a duel of preternatural wills, maybe the correct protocol for nuclear training. Narcoleptic gongfu, occluded pronouncements, words drifting in and out of focus, tension and a horrid waiting for something to happen. Then both of them standing, a dim background of heavy metal, Alison stuck hand extended like a car crash, jumping and getting shoved, damaged fighting bodies. Alison as a dancer and performer is vastly more confident from a few months ago, possessing a clarity, sharpness and ease in moving, making time to dance in the choreography. Together with Kynan they have become one of those duos who seem to have an unearthly connection, that only grows the more time they are together.
For me the first chair-bound confrontation was the most successful and coherent in terms of choreography, the second duo was perhaps diminished by steps. There is a vast territory to explore within the context of the narrative in these aerial collisions and destruction of orbits, that didn’t really get satisfactorily developed. Perhaps that’s just my current disinterest in making steps and the profusion of sameness in movement that on occasion In the bones of children got so far from.
This dissatisfaction also extended to the soundscape when it slipped into ambient beats and electronic blandness. It’s just too easy and sounds like a bunch of random loops in GarageBand. Contra this, the audio of the first section was entirely suited, slowing the progress down as if holding back time.
I think a lot of any criticisms I have are probably minor given that this was a two week development, and one thing Adam repeated constantly was that, yes we could do that but we didn’t have the time. The time to develop the technology should be measured in months and years, and the choreography and narrative needs a separate block of months just for itself. Two weeks is a painfully small allotment.
A few months ago I got really excited by the Stereo satellites 3-D photographs and videos of the sun, there’s something colossal, menacing and gothic about what we see as a blinding white-ish disc revealed as a seething monster, scabbed and pockmarked, slowly boiling and fringed with an alien halo. It’s not what we imagine the sun god would look like.
So last night when the sun had properly set and Leigh Warren studios were murky, Gala and I tried to remember how to dance. It’s been eight months since we made temperance in Melbourne with Bonnie and there was a gap in our our duo where she should be sitting. For now it is just us, though maybe two more could arrive sometime, if it gets beyond whatever we do in the next couple of weeks. The genesis of monadologie back in February has remained fairly constant to now – Leibniz and his text, boris and Sunn0))), and of course the Stereo videos.
It’s kind of a conversation between people, like chamber music. It’s also … if science now, to observe the universe on any scale is to be understood, it’s only through layers of intermediaries; Mercury as the messenger of the gods. Three hundred years ago, Newton, Hooke, Leibniz observed the universe through tools that only barely stretched our senses beyond their means, and the tools themselves could be understood or manufactured by a person. I was thinking about this when I was applying for the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics residency, that what bodies moving and choreography can’t do is a literal one-to-one representation of data. A body of data being apprehended through a digital interface, can do this, representing it as audio, or light, or … a body can only ever approximate, and never is each iteration the same as the last.
It was … embarrassing last night to realise after the months passed how quickly our ability to improvise on a formal system vanishes, and that before we can even get to the stage of considering how to assemble movement, we have to relearn how to move. It is really pleasurable though to return to dancing, and to all the Forsythe stuff I seem to have accumulated.
The process then is fairly straightforward, in that systems of improvisation build up movement while videoing, then we cut and paste the good bits and try to learn them. Late last night though, I thought, “yeah but that’s just a bunch of steps, isn’t it? Aren’t I trying to get away from that?”
So the continuation of this is to create a bunch of rules that describe what happens if you find yourself in a particular situation, like if my location is very close to the front of gala, then do this set of instructions or else do these other ones. Because it’s all established with really formal improvisation techniques that can also be used to analyse whatever you’re doing while you’re doing it, there’s clear paths to dismantle whatever existing phrase we happen to be in the middle of.
I also thought that to have a film running, kinda as an external source of input, so say it’s Bladerunner, which could be in its entirety or cut up into a string of short pieces, then every time the blimp floats past advertising off-world living, the ‘blimp phrase’ has to be done. Ultimately it’s removing the act of choreographing one step from the ossification of making and setting steps. Step-making is a clear, well-worn and inescapable path that proceeds both spatially and temporally in a fixed manner. I’m trying to do something like a cascade, where whatever starting point there is, the movement keeps branching and bifurcating, cutting back across itself, slowing and speeding up, like a braided river, any path can be taken.
Twice this week I’ve been asked to give wishes, the first a list of fifteen for a magazine, and the second last night at the Forsythe Company‘s four hour performance Human Writes. This is the third time I’ve seen the company since the epiphany of In the Middle, Artifact, and Limb’s Theorem in 1994 that made me give up everything to dance, and these three occasions are absolutely the best art I have seen, but last night was especially poignant, as anyone who is familiar with the tribulations Eleanor Roosevelt and John Peters Humphrey endured to see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights become real.
There is a gaping absence of humanity and responsibility, of the kind of necessary empathy that allows such a declaration to exist in the current world leaders, including the United Nations. Without such a leadership, others are beholden to make a difference, effectively to make the failure of leadership irrelevant and certainly that obligation falls upon artists. It is also self-evident that the jingoistic hubris of economics and the market to save the world, and bring freedom is worth nothing, as is any act of the world’s nations which do not come from the spirit and the letter of the Declaration.
“Human Writes” parallels the arduous history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The work stages an allegory of the UNDH’s contentious origins, persistent contradictions, and the continuing obstacles to its implementation. The performers have been given the task of writing language from various translations of the UNDH. The inscription of the UNDH undertaken in “Human Writes” is subject, however, to one overriding rule: the act of writing must be accompanied by a parallel inhibition of that effort. No stroke or character may be directly accomplished. The performers will thus be compelled to resort to strategies of indirection. Any and every mark that contributes to the formation of a single letter must be the result of physical restraint, encumbrance or resistance. To take a phrase from Jean-François Lyotard, we might say that these limit-rules force a recognition that “humankind continues to be inhabited by the inhuman”.
“Human Writes” is, in part, an effort to explore the uses of choreographic concepts as a tool for participatory human rights education. During the course of the evening, the performers will enlist the assistance of the audience. We encourage you to join them in their work. In staging a collaboration between performers and audience, “Human Writes” seeks to engage both the performers and their audience-participants to reflect on the roles of art in building a culture of human rights, and to experience the difficulties of “righting” human wrongs in a world in which we human beings have yet to become fully human.
We must (il faut) more than ever stand on the side of human rights. We need (il faut) human rights. We are in need of them and they are in need, for there is always a lack, a shortfall, a falling short, an insufficiency, human rights are never sufficient.