Selected Courses on Digital Art-UOWM

30 Οκτωβρίου 2016


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Certain Fragments: Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment

Contemporary Performance/Technology
Author(s): Johannes BirringerSource: Theatre Journal, Vol. 51, No. 4,
Theatre and Technology (Dec., 1999), pp. 361-381
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable
Accessed: 16/08/2010 09:29
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Contemporary Performance/Technology
Johannes Birringer
Stelarc, The Third Hand, Tokyo, 1992. Photo: S. Hunter. Reproduced with permission of the artist.
1. Movement/History
The history of Western performance in the twentieth century, outside of the
established traditions of theatre, ballet, opera and orchestral music, is indebted to the
avant-garde movements in the visual arts. It is also intertwined with the evolution of
technological media whose impact on our cultural environments has now entered the
Johannes Birringer is an
independent choreographer/filmmaker and artistic director of AlienNation Co.,
an international multimedia ensemble based in Houston. He is the author of several books, including
Theatre, Theory, Postmodernism (1991), Media and Performance: along the border (1998),
and Performance on the Edge: Transformations of Culture (forthcoming). His most recent dance
productions include Parachute (1998), North by South (1998), and migbot (1999); he is currently
a new sci-fi opera titled MIRAK. The project website is at
Theatre Journal 51 (1999) 361-381? 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

362 / Johannes Birringer
digital stage at which the computer recodes all communications and art forms. In this
global context, recent exhibitions such as Out of Actions: between performance and the
object, 1949-1979 (The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1998), along with
many international theatre and dance festivals of the 1980s and 1990s have prompted
us to recognize the forgotten history of complex transcultural connections between
Western avant-gardes and contemporaneous process-based art in Eastern Europe,
Latin America, and Asia. Performance is a cosmopolitan media art, so to speak, its
ephemeral existence inevitably linked to a technological dimension since its gestural
visuality has always tended toward capturing the fleeting moment in photography
and film.
The photograph of the performance allows the performance to travel, and in some
cases (for example, Ana Mendieta’s “Silueta” series created in Mexico from 1973 to
1977), performances are staged exclusively for the camera. Choreographers discovered
that dance-on-film or video dance is a composite medium in its own right: the
choreography is created specifically for the camera. Making dances for the camera has
become not only a cinematographic alternative to theatre-dance but has motivated
choreographers to re-conceive the aesthetics of dance for the theatre, the impact of
which is evident in the cinematic quality of many contemporary dance works. Video
has thus effected a transition in two directions, opening up a new screen space for
movement images (concurrent with the evolution of music television), as well as
bringing new modes of digital image processing and nonlinear editing to the practice
of composition and scenography onstage. This essay addresses similar transitions and
will examine new dance and its pioneering research on the interface between
movement and computer.
In light of current experiments in motion capture, computer animation, digital paint
and sound programs, 3-D modeling, and interactive design, the history of motion
studies and choreography in photography, film, and video seems vital for a critical
recognition of the shift that is taking place in performance technologies. Contemporary
video dance and motion capture technology can be historically traced back to the
photographic motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge at the end of the nineteenth
century. Muybridge had invented a system of positioning numerous cameras in a line
and snapping photographs in rapid succession to capture movement in ways never
seen before. These momentary, frozen shots, when viewed in sequence, created a
cinematic unfolding of movement in both human and animal subjects in a manner that
revolutionized our ability to comprehend movement itself. Douglas Rosenberg, video
artist and director of the American Dance Festival’s Video Archival Program, has
pointed out in numerous internet discussions that dance for the camera occupies a
wholly different space than dance for the theatre. On the one hand, it is true that video
dance, as the precursor of digital dancing and web-based dance, is a hybrid form,
existing in a virtual space contextualized by the medium and method of recording.

As Rosenberg emphasizes, it is not a substitute for, or in conflict with, the live theatrical performance of a dance, but rather a wholly separate yet equally powerful way of creating dance-works. From Eadweard Muybridge to Maya Deren and beyond, into the contemporary era, image makers have rigorously explored dance for the camera in all of its permutations. Since the earliest days of photography, artists working with optical mediums have been fascinated by the possibility of recording human movement, and in particular, dance. In doing so, they have CONTEMPORARY TECHNOLOGY/PERFORMANCE / 363 left us with not only an archive of the history of dance situated in the architectural space or site of film and video but as well, are responsible for creating the genre we refer to as Dance for the Camera.

On the other hand, the impact of digital technology on the moving image (video,
cinema) is quite paradoxical, if we recall that the history of fictional films as live action
films is grounded in lens-based photographic recordings of reality?actions that took
place in real physical space. If traditional narrative cinema evolved from manual
ar mation  the little loop in the Zootrope? to the dynamic visual realism of Holly
wood motion pictures, the new digital cinema with its 3-D computer animations and
paint, morphing, and compositing technologies replaces film with painterly and
graphic techniques. In the arena of digital animation and special effects, physical
reality and shot footage are merely elements among many others that can be generated
and manipulated through algorithmic image processing.


Similarly, when I work on
CD-ROM design (using Director software) or QuickTime movies of my performance,
I manually manipulate the digital files, retouching the images, compressing their size.
My software merges the various file types and renders the images and sounds. I can
write the files on a CD or post my QuickTime movie as a loop on the Web. In preparing
my dance for a multimedia CD-ROM or the Web, I need to rethink the choreography
and design it for these different platforms and their interactive structures. Some very
large questions arise, however; for example, how to remain in “real time” or how to
bring the digital performance back into “real space,” if I want to use the digital images
as projections in the theatre. For the performer working with a motion capture body
suit (wired to the computer during the capture), there is the additional problem of
severely limited motion-range and a general sense of diminished expression. Digital
dancing on the Web faces similar limitations: small bandwidth, tiny size of the video
clips, slow modems, delays and frame drop-outs. For dance, seemingly predicated on
the visceral physicality, fluidity, and kinetic-emotional impact of the body in space, the
implications of motion capture and digital editing are tantalizing: the dancing will be
diminished or altered altogether. Choreography becomes drawing, movement is
“rendered” in abstract animations; or my frame rate may be low and thus the
QuickTime movie looks like a badly executed exercise from Meyerhold’s biomechan
ics. Computer animation and performance on the Web are new media, their limitations
will create new possibilities, and although I cannot predict the development of real
time (streaming) web technologies, I expect that the new media will challenge the way
we design the architectures of our digital performances. Oskar Schlemmer’s fascina
tion with the marionette and the perfected motion of dematerialized technical
organisms (animated Kunstfiguren) comes to mind, as modernism seems caught in a
strange loop. I would suggest that with Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar’s Riverbed
Design Company (now based at MassMOCA), which is on the cutting edge of these
*See Douglas Rosenberg, “Video Space: A Site For Choreography,”
archive/DanceTech99/author.html. Those interested in these online discussions may consider joining
the dtz (dance&technology zone) maillist. Contact:
See Lev Manovich’s provocative archaeology of moving pictures leading to his thesis that in the
age of digitization, cinema’s identity as a media art is destroyed since “cinema can no longer be clearly
distinguished from animation” and subordinates the cinematic to the painterly and to special effects
simulation. Manovich’s “What is Digital Cinema?” appears in The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New
Media, ed. Peter Lunenfeld (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999), 172-92.

364 / Johannes Birringer
Bill T. Jones/Riverbed, Ghostcatching, virtual dance installation, New York, 1999. Webstills
reproduced with permission of Riverbed/Bill T. Jones.
design experiments and collaborates with Merce Cunningham and Bill T. Jones on the
creation of computer-animated dance in virtual space, Schlemmer’s Bauhaus aesthetic
has come full circle.
As it is utilized in Riverbed’s Hand-drawn Spaces project (Cunningham) and the
virtual dance installation Ghostcatching (Jones), optical motion capture can be defined
as the computer hardware and software which enable digital three-dimensional
representation of recording moving bodies. Recording sessions involve the placement
of markers or sensors in strategic positions on the performer’s body; cameras
surrounding the performer track these sensors in time and space, feeding the
information to a central workstation for consolidation into a single data file. Motion
capture files can subsequently drive the movement of simulated figures on the
computer, where they can be merged, connected, resequenced and mapped onto other
anatomies in an animation program called Character Studio. With this animation tool,
the animator-choreographer is able to draw out and reconfigure the abstracted
motions and trajectories of the dance, or the ghost of the dance.3
These performance-design experiments, I suggest, are linked more intimately to the
visual arts and filmic media than to theatre, and the absence of narrative content is
symptomatic for the history of such experimentation in American postmodern dance.
Robert Wilson, who recently created his first 3-D digital opera, Monsters of Grace, is a
3 See Paul Kaiser, “Steps,” in Ghostcatching, exhibition catalogue published by The Cooper Union
School of Art in New York City on the occasion of the installation of Riverbed’s collaborative dance
animation project with Bill T. Jones, January 6-February 13, 1999. The catalogue contains vivid
descriptions of the technical and aesthetic process as well as numerous color illustrations of the digital
installation. The color stills were also published on the Internet at
ghostcatching, and on Riverbed’s website: Another significant “mocap”
project was initiated by producer/choreographer Scott deLahunta during a residency at the University
of Aarhus, Denmark, in the spring of 1999. The research team, including deLahunta, Torunn Kjolner,
Susan Rethorst, Kim Madsen, Erik Soldtfeldt, Susan Kozel, Claude Aebersold, and Luca Ruzza,
engaged a series of digital performance workshops utilizing magnetic motion capture (Ascension
Motion Star Wireless), animation (MAYA), and projection technologies. The project culminated in a
production workshop, Digital Theatre Experimentarium (May-15 June 1999) and the premi?re of White
on White, with choreography by Susan Rethorst and animation by Soren Birk Jacobsen. A comprehen
sive Project Website was posted at

fellow-traveler, and his preoccupation with design, light, and abstract movement
composition follows the same formalist logic. All of the Wilson productions I have
seen, including his collaborations with East German playwright Heiner M?ller, were
marked by a depersonalized formalist aesthetic of the painterly which, comparable to
Cunningham’s choreography, emphasized technical execution and precision, drawing
lines in space and filtering out all psychological and emotional connotations. We might
argue that the current experiments in dance/technology follow this aesthetic logic;
there is only a small step from a preoccupation with pure movement research to
motion capture and computer animation. But we will also discover contradictions, and
Bill T. Jones’s collaboration with Riverbed rather surprised me, given his deep
involvement in complex narrative dance works that grappled with the political history
of racism and homophobia and the body’s mortality (such as The Last Supper at Uncle
Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land; Still/Here). The disembodied, ghostly lines in Jones’s
virtual dance installation perhaps point to his willingness to explore the underlying,
implicit fragility of the body’s muscular movement, which is inevitably a movement?
over time?towards disintegration or degeneration. In the language of video technol
ogy, the contours of Jones’s figure, seen in the cubic box which resembles Laban’s
spatial concept of the “kinesphere” (the total volume of the body’s potential move
ment), appear as a second or third generation of the source. The actual body is not, or
no longer, here. The animated lines, in this digital theatre of disappearance, are slowly
fading away, and the dance leaves behind the copies of traces.
While choreographing Still/Here (1995), Jones in fact had begun to incorporate video
projections as testimonies in his stage dance, following earlier precedents of perform
ance art and dance that used video and 16mm film projections. Performers used
cameras as soon as the technology became more widely accessible. For example, the
Australia-based artist Stelarc already showed microfilms of the inside of his stomach
and lungs at an exhibition in Tokyo in 1973.1 always considered Stelarc a choreogra
pher of movement and the body’s extensions, and I knew the photographs of his
suspension performances long before I saw him enact his current experiments with
prosthetic devices and “fractal flesh,” plugging himself into the World Wide Web via
electrodes connected to his body. Stelarc quite literally “animates” his own body,
testing the human-machine interfaces of our so-called cyberspatial future. On the
other hand, the charcoal drawings of South African artist William Kentridge, which
were among the most provocative works shown at the 1997 “documenta” (the
international visual arts exhibition shown every five years in Kassel, Germany),
present a different form of digital storytelling at the end of the century. He trans
formed the drawings into animated films (Felix in Exile, 1994 and History of the Main
Complaint, 1996) that appeared like dark expressionist landscapes, CT4 scans of a
history of violent repression and memory, guilt and forgetting. Closely linked to this
technology of animation, Kentridge’s theatrical work with puppets betrays a perva
sive historical sensitivity towards the confluences of painting, sculpture, theatre,
literature and philosophy. His Ubu and the Truth Commission (1997) is highly self
conscious of the political implications of the erasures and permutations in his
“drawings for projection,” and of the agents behind his manipulated wooden puppets.
Computerized tomography.

366 / Johannes Birringer
His choreography of the puppets and the puppeteers emphasizes the ironic distanc
ing effect of the puppeteer (who is conventionally “invisible” and gives movement and
voice to the puppet) whose ambiguous, neutral role is here accentuated. In one scene
Pa Ubu, played by a live actor, lulls the dog puppet to sleep, then opens it up and steals
some of the evidence it carries in its body, while the puppeteers stand upstage and
watch carefully. The human puppets and the animal puppets give testimony to the
Truth Commission; they are memory images. They become the medium of history. But
the animators, who stand by silently or manipulate the puppets, are also always
perceived as interpreters and translators, giving voice to the accounts of the victims.
Kentridge’s multimedia production, partly adapted from Jarry’s Ubu Roi, animates
characters and roles, narrative and epic conventions, and shifts brilliantly between
documentary drama and burlesque, cartoonish gestures, extending the languages of
performance while grappling with haunting moral issues.5 Finally, his work does not
foreground a particular technological aesthetic but integrates the media into a meta
physical performance that seeks to navigate the complex nature of memory.
It became a common strategy among historians to look at the relations between the
live arts (performances, actions) and the visual arts through the lens of modern and
postmodern avant-gardes that challenged the representational mechanisms and bound
aries of the visual and plastic art disciplines. Performance art, as Live Art was called in
the U.S. after the radical transformations effected by the 1960s counterculture, thus
inherited the name and legacy of the modernist (visual) arts?for example the stylistic
and conceptual dimensions of futurism, constructivism, cubism, surrealism, dada, and
abstraction?while being understood as time-based and closer to the theatrical
character of the concert. Since most “concerts,” whether visual, musical or theatrical,
were centered in the actions of the performer, there was always a strong emphasis on
the role of body in performance, even if it involved the displacement of the physical
body as such, as it was conceived in the elaborate designs and constructed architec
tures of the Bauhaus performances. When women performers began to focus on their
physical, spiritual and sexual bodies and autobiographies, body art was still under
stood primarily as a modernist art form. As Carolee Schneemann pointed out in the
early 1960s, she treated her body as an “extension” of the canvas and the visual
medium in which she worked. Today, when we speak of extensions of the body, we
generally refer to technologies and computer-assisted interactive designs in which the
body moves or functions as a MIDI6 device.
Since the 1960s movements in happening, body art, Fluxus, conceptual art and pop
art, the entire paradigm of high art has shifted, and the blurring of boundaries and the
confluences between art, technology, and popular media have widened the spectrum
of “performance art” to a point where actions, events, concerts and installations could
include any combination of media or (in)formal means of presentation. This blurring
of the notion of performance makes it difficult to reinvent particular aesthetic criteria
5 For an incisive critical interpretation of Kentridge’s use of the “mixed media” role of puppeteers
and his collaboration with Johannesburg’s Handspring Puppet Company, see Yvette Coetzee,

Invisible,” South African Theatre Journal 12.1-2 (1998), 35-51.
See also Leah Oilman, “William Kentridge: Ghosts and Erasures,” Art in America 87.1 (1999), 70-75;
Musical Instrument Digital Interface.

that delimit our understanding of art process. Since the legendary collaborations
between John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham (which preceded
the influential work of Robert Wilson) or between the choreographers of the Judson
Church, the method of composition (process) in dance and visual performance media
has been of primary interest, especially since most performance events are ephemeral
and cannot be collected into permanent museum exhibitions. Most of the actions and
happenings of the 1960s in fact sought to blur the distinctions between art and life and
thus programmatically undermined the institutional conditions of the art-object and
its value in the market. According to Allan Kaprow, who coined the term “happen
ing,” such events were structured so that there was no difference between performers
and audience.7 The work existed as long as the happening lasted. In today’s internet
terms, the work exists for as long as you are logged on.
Ironically, we now have seen retrospective exhibitions of Fluxus art, body art, and
site-specific art actions, and the myth of performance as subversion and transgression
(and as anti-commodity) has to be relativized, especially in light of the expanded
spectrum I noted above. Over the past fifteen years, it became apparent that many
artistic strategies in performance art also became functionally useful for a whole range
of cultural expressions ranging from public art, video art, graphic art and political or
grass-roots activism to commercial media (music, television, advertising) and to
processes in ethnography, social psychology and therapy. At the same time, the notion
of “composition” has undergone significant changes since current generations of
young artists grow up with video and electronic media that imply and facilitate the
convenient sampling, mixing and remaking of the products of consumer culture. Most
of the reference points of contemporary media art are indeed the experiences and
lifestyles of media culture itself. As in ambient music, such media art may approxi
mate abstraction and minimalism, but its materials are mainly constructed from
consumer culture and the vast storage of recorded data in music, film and television.
The model of the contemporary artist-mixer is the DJ.
More important, however, is the new paradigm change we are experiencing near the
end of the century, namely the shift from the analog spectrum to the digital era of
recording, transmission and global communications (computer, ISDN8 and Internet
networks). The history of performance in this century is marked by the advent of new
technologies of representation (photography, film, video, synthesizer, MIDI, computer,
etc), and it is particularly interesting to reconsider the radical challenges of the 1960s
anti-aesthetic movement in light of the 1990s “happenings”?for example internet
based or online event-improvisations that also claim to subvert the differences
7 The term was first used in the title for Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, performed at
Reuben Gallery in New York in 1959. Subsequently, Kaprow explained his concepts in his book
Assemblage, Environment & Happening (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1966). For an excellent, illustrated
book on the history of performance art, see Elizabeth Jappe, Performance?Ritual?Prozess (Munich:
Prestel, 1993). The new media museum at ZKM (Zentrum f?r Kunst und Medientechnologie) in
Karlsruhe has now published an illustrated catalogue that traces the history of recent media arts and
interactive installations; see Hans-Peter Schwarz, Medien-Kunst-Geschichte (Munich: Prestel, 1997). For
other important handbooks on performance and media art, see RoseLee Goldberg, The Art of
Performance (New York: Dutton, 1984) and Frank Popper, Art of the Electronic Age (London: Thames and
Hudson Ltd, 1993).
Integrated Services Digital Network.

368 / Johannes Birringer
Company in Space, Escape Velocity, IDAT99, Tempe, 1999. Videostill: Johannes Birringer.
between performers/users and audiences. In the 1990s, working digitally and being
digital evoke a new futurism of virtual performance possibilities; its new technological
catchword is “interactivity,” yet its compositional method is still based on design and
on the instant feedback that we have known since the rise of closed-circuit video.
In a recent teleperformance created during “International Dance and Technology
1999” (IDAT) in Arizona, the Australian Company in Space staged Escape Velocity as a
duet between two dancers, two cameras, and two projectors linked by a direct online
connection between the Web Cafe at Arizona State University and a performance
space in Melbourne. The live mix effectively merged the two dancers, layering the
choreography and the bodies in a spellbinding, transparent symmetry across a vast
spatial and temporal gap. It was transparent insofar as we knew that the teleconfer
ence had been set up between Arizona and Australia, we could see the audience
“Down Under,” and when Hellen Sky started her dance in front of our eyes, we could
see the projected image of her sister dancing the same choreography in Melbourne,
and the two camera artists on either end of the performance began to interact with the
performers and send their video signals through the line. At various points during the
performance we could imagine the dancers being at-one, the sisters becoming a
composite dancer floating in a third space created by the overlaid projections which
included film footage of several outdoor locations (a forest, a desert). Even more
hauntingly, the apparent symmetry of the dance of course was not precise; tiny delays
in the transmission became part of the choreography and entered into the dialogue
between present physical body and technologically mediated body. Ironically, of

course, both dancers were simultaneously mediated and transprojected. At the
moment when these dispersions become possible, all safe parameters of the body’s
relationship to space, time and place have shifted. We witnessed a dialogue between
ghosts mixed onto the pixilated, filtered and manipulated surface of the filmic space
created by the projectors, the dance a traveling across time, the body morphing and
aging right in front of us.9
In the following, I want to track some of the virtual implications of interactivity, and
draw attention to cross-over
experiments in dance and other performance processes.
My main conceptual metaphor is not dependent on the technological aesthetic that
marks our digital era. Rather, I trust my own artistic evolution from theatre and music
into dance and technology, and I am particularly indebted to the experience of
collaboration I have had, on both sides of the Atlantic and in Latin America, as I
traveled with members of my company AlienNation Co. and participated in many
workshops and site-specific performance actions with others. The main trajectory of
my understanding the evolution of performance media, therefore, is movement, and
my historical understanding of technology derives from improvisation and composi
tion through physical, body-centered research.
2. Dancing with Technology
Techniques and technologies of artmaking have existed for many centuries, and
modern processes of composition, choreography and scenography have been com
pletely accustomed to using and manipulating media within the specific production
Company in Space, directed by Hellen Sky and John McCormick, are recognized as one of
Australia’s most innovative performance companies, pushing computer and communications tech
nologies to access new pathways between performer and audience.
Escape Velocity was performed at Arizona State University on Saturday, February 27, 1999, with
choreography by Hellen Sky (Arizona) and Louise Taube (Australia), computer design and operation
by John McCormick (Australia), original score and interactive sound design by Garth Paine (Arizona),
and camera performance by Luke Pither (Arizona) and Kelli Dipple (Australia). Using teleconferenc
ing systems to bring dancers in the two locations together in the same virtual space, the composer in
addition used VNS and MAX (MIDI sound software) to sense the video image of the choreography
and create a layer of interactive sound fed into the mix with pre-structured material. Paine also used
Supercollider to generate material that was controlled by an audience member at ID AT moving a
mouse around on the screen of a browser at that end. He then converted those mouse positions into
MIDI and a Supercollider patch at the other end which was also fed back into the mix. As my
description indicates, with these performance experiments it is vital to recognize the team work that
underlies the aesthetic production. Earlier that day at ID AT, another remarkable performance was
presented by the collaborative team Half/Angel (dancer/writer Jools Gilson-Ellis, Ireland, and
composer Richard Povall, Ohio). The Secret Project centered its thematic material in the use of
interactive technologies in the context of live performance. Using motion sensing (BigEye) and other
interactive softwares, the team explored the interaction of choreographies, original text/vocals and
soundscapes. Rather than attempting to control a virtual stage space, Half/Angel sought to extend the
actual and metaphorical motion of the performers into sonic and visual landscapes. With new
softwares enabling a radical re-thinking of the body in physical and digital space, Gilson-Ellis
challenged us to experience choreography as live musical composition and vocalization of the poetry
she had written. In her movement, she literally danced with her arms and voice as extended musical
instruments that can layer and caress the textscapes/soundscapes (programmed by Povall) she
triggered in space through her interaction with the camera-sensor. The Secret Project was one of the
most subtle and moving performances shown at ID AT, gaining attention for its astonishing integration
of interactive live dance/sound and voice.

370 / Johannes Birringer
apparatus of a given work process. The hierarchical and gender relations within
production have undergone considerable changes, although the body-based time arts
and their training systems, often connected to schools and theatre institutions, have
maintained some old-fashioned or reactionary habits of specialization that need to
change in the era of “shareware.” Modes of production in the arts may differ, as do the
assumptions and choices made and the principles with which training and creative
process are conducted. What may be qualitatively new today is the impact of
increasingly complex computer technologies upon the human side of the production
relation, that is on the psychology and perception of the performers themselves, on
our physical experience and cognitive accommodation of multiple environments of
Again, these impacts may play out differently in different social, cultural and
gendered contexts. If some of these environments now are virtual, I want to ask how
we incorporate digital tools of composition in our creative process, and how immersive
and projective computer-generated temporality and space (digitized form, content,
movement, image, sound) affect the kinesthetic and psychological experience in our
lived body. In a very pragmatic sense, then, I’d like to ask whether our working habits
are fundamentally altered. And although I’m sure many of us will not necessarily ever
have access to high-tech science or computer laboratories in the way William Forsythe
did during his CD-ROM project for the Frankfurt Ballet (Improvisation Technologies), I
am confident that we can test technological improvisations in any space that we
ordinarily use to rehearse and work together. The main impetus for the exploration, in
a basic political sense, is to work against the grain of the privatizing tendency of our
era of PCs and to publicize collaborative creative work by extending our diverse
knowledge of low-end or high-end equipment, raising the stakes for our own
interaction with technical systems.
I do not know where the work with digital media will take us, although I have been
interested in mixed media art for quite some time, at least since the mid-1980s when I
decided to abandon text-based theatre and begin a series of collaborative projects
focused on the exploration of “social movement” (performance, travel, immigration,
urban living) and the mediation of image/sound movements. The most constructive
dimension of this shift in my work was learning to dance and to understand
choreographies and sc?nographies of movement in an expanded sense of their
relationships to the images, projections, and imaginations of the subjective physical
body. At the same time I became increasingly interested in video/film, photography,
music and the visual arts, and I can trace almost all of my work back to the conceptual
influence of these media on my experience of physical movement and the rhythms and
motions of the stories we tell with our bodies in specific environments or constructed
spaces. Although the visual sensibility may appear to be dominant in such multimedia
performance work, it is also important to remember that physical rehearsal involves
all our kinesthetic and synesthetic senses, and the experience of space, time, energy,
balance/imbalance, weight, scale, texture, color, sound and touch gain a crucial
significance if we construct fully mediated environments. I have also come to value
“touch” in a very concrete way, insofar as much of my work involves cross-cultural
collaboration with people I get to know intimately during the process of creation.
Touching in rehearsal is a fundamental basis of performing together and of getting to

know the distance or proximity of space between our bodies, the weight of our bodies,
and the boundaries of our imagination.
In recent years, artists in the dance communities have wanted to respond to the
increasing presence of imaging/recording and electronic technologies in the culture
and the exhibition contexts in which we work. A range of responses or negotiations
can be observed at this point. When I was invited to the School of New Dance
Development Amsterdam (SNDO) in 1996, we gathered for a workshop entitled
“Connecting Bodies” which foregrounded the use of technology in dance. The
technological workshop was ensconced inside a two-week international forum (“Bod
ies of Influence”) for professional experimental dance artists working in a wide variety
of movement, sound, improvisation, meditation, body-awareness and release tech
niques, to come together and exchange ideas about making and presenting work in
today’s climate. The actual technological workshop thus inserted itself into the nodes
of a wider space of practices, including SNDO’s hosting of specific dance-related
“networking activities,” such as a video collection project, an audio installation, an
internet access room, a special project on cooperative networking, the development of
an “improvisation performance” event, and the temporary opening of the Stamina
Choreographic Computer Atelier, exhibited for hands-on training by its founders
Bianca van Dillen and Mari-Jan Boer.10 Participating in “Connecting Bodies” thus
meant shifting the focus to another side of bodily praxis, namely the sharing of bodies
of information that originate in what the Canadian installation artist David Rokeby
calls the “very nervous system” of technological interfaces. I want to summarize some
of these interfaces in the following.
We looked at Thecla Schiphorst’s “LifeForms” program she wrote for Cunningham;
this software is now widely used in the design of movement sequences for human and
other articulated figures. We also saw her Bodymaps, an interactive installation
activated by the viewer’s touch, and other digital animation software installed in the
terminals at the Choreographic Computer Atelier. We watched a performance with
STEIM’s “Big Eye” computer program, involving video cameras that convert a live
dancer’s movement to MIDI messages controlling lights, image projection, and sound
onstage. STEIM is Amsterdam’s well-known Foundation of Electro-Instrumental
10 The “Bodies of Influence/Connecting Bodies” conference /workshop was held at SNDO on June
9-21, 1996, organized by Ric Allsopp and Scott deLahunta. My references are to the weekend
conference on the connections between dance and technology. Direct quotations are from my video
transcription and from additional transcripts kindly provided by Scott deLahunta. I wish to thank the
authors for their permission to quote them, and I especially thank Diana Theodores for her incisive and
challenging synopsis of the various media demonstrations and theoretical premises she focused under
“technography,” the term she coined to address the mutually informing processes of technology and
choreography. The references to Dancing with the Virtual Dervish: Virtual Body are drawn from Immersed
in Technology: Art and Virtual Environments, ed. Mary Ann Moser (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), and
additional references to OSMOSE and the work of David Rokeby are based on my on-site visits at the
Ricco/Maresca Gallery (New York City) and Gallery 2 (Chicago Art Institute). Paul Sermon and
Rokeby were featured in the exhibit The Presence of Touch, organized by the School of the Chicago Art
Institute’s Department of Fiber, Sept. 20-Nov. 1, 1996. Other important recent video and digital art
exhibitions include Rites of Passage: Art for the End of the Century (T?te Gallery, London 1995);
Sonambiente (Berlin 1996); Being & Time: The Emergence of Video Projection (Albright-Knox Art Gallery,
Buffalo 1996); Mediascape (Guggenheim Museum, New York 1996); and Body M?canique: Artistic
Explorations of Digital Reality (Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, 1998-99).

372 / Johannes Birringer
Music, and electronic composer Joel Ryan came to our workshop to demonstrate his
current live sound processing for choreographer William Forsythe. Amanda Steggell
and Pier Platou gave a very funny video lecture on their recent M@aggie’s Love Bytes
concert, which combines media dance performances and music in real and virtual
spaces, allowing dancers in actual space to interact with multi-layered sound, text and
realtime videoimages beamed through online Internet facilities. Motion capture
technology and character animation were introduced as an “extension” or simulation
of human body motion when virtual-studio producer Peter Mulder patiently ex
plained the most arcane new features of his NOB-Interactive Laboratory?for ex
ample, the operations of “Kinemation” (motion capture integrating forward and
inverse kinematics), “Digital Doll” (animated skeletons that can be connected to each
other in any configuration), and “Smart Skin” (character animation that can be taught
to behave according to skeletal position or time).
Heidi Gilpin demonstrated segments from Forsythe’s CD-ROM-formatted Improvi
sation Technologies.11 Andrea Zapp introduced new theories of the interactive viewer
and the confusion of the senses in the Telematic Dreaming project by Paul Sermon; and
Kitsou Dubois, a researcher at the National Center of French Spatial Studies, demon
strated new dance ideas derived from experiments in microgravity and weightless
ness. The symposium began with a theoretical exposition on “Choreography, Women,
and the Gift of Dance” by Andr? Lepecki, and ended with Diana Theodores’s
comprehensive inventory of new perspectives on “technography.” Indeed, women
choreographers and their gifts of dancing have shaped much of twentieth-century
dance history, but it is perhaps even more poignant to realize how many women have
entered the technological realm of programming and redesigning interface systems
that can incorporate movement ideas and choreographies. There are different angles
from which to approach such incorporations and the nature of the interface, and we
must keep in mind that the computer as a medium is strongly biased since it operates
purely logically and in very tiny playing fields of integrated circuits. Even if it is
patched up with other media (video cameras, projectors, image processors, synthesiz
ers, MIDI managers, sound systems, and so on), it remains a machinic device
operating on programmed code, treating everything quantitatively as information
based on cybernetic models of positive /negative feedback loops and pattern recogni
tion. The quantity of information it processes is mathematically defined, and the kind
of information it processes depends on the way the program is coded to read pattern
and randomness. All operations revolve around binary code. Since so much energy in
cultural theory is spent on decentering the dualisms of Cartesian rationality, the
The CD-ROM was created at the Zentrum f?r Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe,
Germany, with interface design by Volker Kuchelmeister and Christian Ziegler. A revised version of
Improvisation Technologies was published on CD-ROM as a special issue of the ZKM digital arts edition.
Divided into 60 video chapters, the CD-ROM is made up of lecture demonstrations in which William
Forsythe shows the essential principles of his improvisation techniques. Dance sequences, performed
specially by Frankfurt Ballet members Christine Buerkle, Noah D. Gelber, Thomas McManus and
Crystal Pite, can be called up as further illustrations. Also included is a document of improvisation
practice: Forsythe’s performance of Solo, filmed in 1995 by Thomas Lovell Balogh. The CD-ROM is in
English only, and is accompanied by an illustrated English/German booklet featuring an interview
with William Forsythe and an essay by dance critic Roslyn Sulcas. The CD-ROM also premiered at
Dance Screen 99 (International Festival for Dance in the Media) in Cologne, 9-13 June 1999.

persistence of binary logic in computer technology effectively shifts attention to the
quality and the activation of the interface configuration and the artistic and social
practices that mobilize the interface, including the unresolved contradiction that the
computer may not be concerned about Cartesian mind/body or gender distinctions
when it reads bodies or physical actions, like everything else, as information.
Schiphorst argues that it remains vital, of course, to write code, as in the “LifeForms”
software, that applies an understanding of anatomy and body movement while
allowing the user to modify predefined movement possibilities. On the other hand,
most participants at the SNDO conference arriving at the issue from the side of dance
and performance practice expressed their interest in the points of contact between
what takes place in the human-scaled physical space and the information systems. As
Gilpin suggested, we need not wait for digital technology, or think of it as a device for
body representation, but empower ourselves as informers for technological interface
design. We may not have an influential language yet to impress corporeal aesthetics
upon network and computer surface design, and Gilpin is asking for “a discourse that
can actually deal in articulate ways with movement and dynamism of any kind, not
just moving bodies.” But dance surely has articulated its operational, conceptual, and
aesthetic systems, and since they already exist in the same media environment as
digital technologies, their physicalities necessarily interact with virruality. The ques
tion is, rather, how the interaction changes the images and sounds in cyberspace, the
virtual geography of potentially infinite computational possibilities in a “place” that is
not a place, or how the interaction can generate new kinds of “places,” either between
dance and multimedia activities or along and within real-time multi-sensory immer
sion environments.
Furthermore, interaction with virtuality potentially or actually modifies human
proprioception, as Dubois’s research on weightlessness confirms. She points out that
the dynamic conditions of movement are altered when “the sources of information
provided by inertia-gravitational force disappear. The absence of gravity is lived as an
aggression from sensorial origin.” The new sensorial images are unusual and conflictual,
and they effect space sickness, “a sort of disease of adaptation.” In weightlessness or
free floating, every movement can induce a totally unexpected displacement, and in
approaching new possibilities of being in this space, one has to concentrate on the
internal space of one’s body (organs are reorganized, blurring the references to
internal space) and the interaction with external space as well as on the imagination as
it is stimulated by the new environment. Dubois is committed to exploring the
exchange between space techniques and dance after she realized during parabolic
flights that in a fluid universe of weightlessness the body needs to construct a
subjective referential or inner vertical in order to apprehend external space and react to
it: “The inner vertical can be felt as an infinite spiral; on the outside everything is
relative and one experiences an extraordinary fluidity of movement.” Her dance
research is now influenced by her interest in the “space in-between” internal body
space and external space, and she tells us that in her choreography she searches for a
“quality of movement where the dancers are always in a situation of experimentation,
a state of unstable balance … an interactivity between that movement quality and
systems of sc?nographie apparitions which blur habitual references to the gravity axis
of the spectators themselves, thus creating a phenomenon of resonance in their own

374 / Johannes Birringer
This notion of “sc?nographie apparition” can be linked to the role played by “video
ghosts” in interactive designs of movement (for example, Bill T. Jones’s use of video as
testimony in the choreography of Still/Here). In terms of the nodes, or zones of
turbulence, we currently have at least four models of interaction in digital art. First, the
basic point-and-click or touch-screen interactivity of computer-based multimedia
projects, either encoded in CD-ROM formats or left on a hard drive, is confined to a
site-specific installation, and thus comparable to video installations or intermedia
exhibitions that may include user-access to the Net/ The screen/monitor or its
projection remains the primary surface of information, although hypertext or
hypermedia formats imply a non-linear, non-sequential information structure that is
unlike the performance experience in real time, especially since hypermedia is
digitized information allowing the user to manipulate it in ways that are not possible
for the viewer of a
performance in real space.
Second, the potential extension into the Net implies distance and spatial separation.
The circuitry of telemedia can link locations and thus an interactivity that is not a one
way communication (as in broadcast media) but an engagement involving reciprocity
and feedback. Reciprocity opens the possibility of altering and transforming the terms
of reference of the exchange; multiple connections between sites create greater
turbulence and dynamism among the connected surfaces. In the case of Paul Sermon’s
Telematic Dreaming, two separate interfaces are installed in separate locations con
nected via ISDN digital telephone network. The two separate installations in them
selves are dynamic installations that function as customized videoconferencing
systems inviting interaction with users. The success of the “performance” depends on
the creative input of the audiences at both ends. Screen or video projection surface is
replaced by rooms with a bed or sofa, a TV, a carpet. The rooms come alive when the
user steps inside and acts. The bed in each location has a camera situated directly
above it, sending a live video image of the bed, and a person (“A”) on it, to a video
projector located above the other bed in the other location. The live video image is
projected down on the bed with another person (“B”) on it. A second camera, next to
the video projector, sends a live video image of the projection of “A” with “B” acting
upon it back to a TV monitor that is next to the bed with “A.” The telepresent image
functions like a mirror that reflects one person interacting with another person’s
Zapp describes this scenario as a dynamic system with considerable psychological
complexity, since the viewer actually becomes a physical user who is able to
experience theatrical roles or spontaneous playful behavior, like acting, pantomime,
and visceral movement or choreographic possibilities. The physical bed with its social
meanings can provoke emotional responses heightened by the telematic experience,
since geographical distance is dissolved in the interaction with another person. The
ability to exist outside the user’s own space and time is created by the real sense of
touch (the bed), enhanced by an acute shift of senses in the telematic space, which
Zapp (who has worked with Sermon in Japan) explains as a conversion of sight and
touch. The two users in distant places exchange their tactile senses and touch each
other by replacing their hands with their eyes. While it might be difficult emotionally
to interact with a stranger on a bed in a public installation, the bed interface actually
creates a new level of virtual consciousness and immersion affect. The participants act
in real space but manipulate themselves in virtual space, the projection field of

interaction. Zapp goes so far as to claim that although the image representation is
analog?reaching out with the hand or touching and reacting is shown in physical
visible form?the telematic performance affects consciousness of body and self in such
a way that the user’s attention, initially focused on the real bed, after a while is no
more concentrated on the immediate environment but on the distant telematic one and
the virtual movement. The cause and effect interactions of the body extend through
fiber optic network, and the shift in sensory perception may dislocate the awareness of
where the body movement resides. Zapp argues persuasively that such a shift, which
implies controlling and “feeling” virtual touch with the eyes, often leads users to
explore different sensitivities, and a perhaps unfamiliar playfulness, in the contact and
emotional exchange with the other. On the other hand, I feel that such visual
“controlling” of tactile sensibility forecloses the most intimate sense we possess while
shifting attention to the screen/projection-as-skin.
The intermixing of analog and telematic media in this installation project suggests
that interactive electronic art does not depend on a particular technological mode
(analog, digital, radio, video, modem, satellite) but on the quality or conceptual
structure of the meeting points and conduits of interactive levels. As a third example,
then, M@aggie’s Love Bytes opens up the possibility, which has also been explored in
spatially separate music concerts linked up via satellite or Internet, to stage a dance
concert in one location to a real-time audience while inviting the input participation of
other artists, connected via modem and Internet, so that externally transmitted video
images (from QuickTime cameras), sound-samples, voices and texts can be instanta
neously integrated and layered onto the closed-circuit video projection and soundmix
in the real space. The choreographer becomes a virtuality-DJ. The real space perform
ance is also filmed with digital cameras and projected to the virtual site on the Net,
and since the dancers are moving in front of the local video projection (hooked to the
Mac) that is already a projection of the integrative virtual concert, Steggell could be
seen as “choreographing” a live mix both for local audiences and for Web collabora
tors. Her work with present and absent collaborators utilizes the Web playfully for
what she calls the “postmodernism” of “time warping and space bending,” and this
warping indeed functions as an aesthetic of chance events in which the dance between
pattern and randomness replaces all known, stable contours of unitary time-space
theatricality. Wftien she first “staged” the event in a discotheque in Copenhagen, Web
browsers from as far away as Tokyo and San Francisco tuned in to drop off sound and
video samples, turning the dance-music concert into a kind of electronic quilt pieced
together by the multiple-site collaborations. The quilt-concert migrating across the Net
intimates an idea of collaborative performance that is largely unexplored in its effects
on content, structure, and reception, since we would have to substitute more familiar
principles of the rehearsed and structured collaboration process with the defining
features of the digital and distributed medium where such “information pieces” may
not belong to anyone any longer, and where the completely unpredictable “dance”
may be as electrifying as senseless. Moreover, the live internet switching demands
such an amount of high-tech equipment, lines, and cable connections to work properly
that the smallest bug in the system can bring it all down, which has to be considered
part of the unpredictability pattern.
Finally, a fourth model of digital art would remove the intersection of actual and
virtual performance and place interactivity inside immersive virtual environments. I

376 / Johannes Birringer
don’t know of any examples where full immersion has been tested without the
hitherto existing limitations of strapping the viewer/user to body suit, headphones
and data glove, which implies wiring the body to the computer and shifting the
kinesthetic experience to the simulated spatiality produced for eyes and ears inside
the headphones. At the current stage of VR12 research, the wiring is still necessary,
which obviously reduces the number of users who can actively move into virtual
performance spaces at one time. Canadian artist Char Davis’s metaphorical recon
structions of nature in the fully interactive OSMOSE environment (which included an
interface driven by the user’s breath and balance) caused much attention when it was
exhibited in 1996. Other large-scale immersive environments were built during a
research project at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada, and the photo and video
documentations of Diane J. Gromola and Yacov Sharir’s Dancing with the Virtual
Dervish: Virtual Bodies (1994) display it as an ongoing project consisting of cyberspace
“chambers” constructed as a fully connected lattice. Sound and VR artist Marcos
Novak, who works with Gromola and Sharir, calls them “Worlds in Progress,” and
the chamber he programmed presents a space of abstracted forms, lines of light, and
geometric constructs. Sharir, however, is seen dancing in the “Virtual Body” chamber
that is rendered as a three-dimensional simulation of an enormous virtual body
configuring the immersive environment out of visualizations of X-rays, sonograms,
and other medical and MRI13 data of Gromola’s real body. Her virtualized body
becomes an architecture that can be “inhabited,” and for Sharir it is the performance
space for an interactive dance that engages both the three-dimensional simulation of
Gromola’s hollow body and the digitized images (video feedback) of himself dancing
within these layers of virtual images. The tracking devices in his headphones and
dataglove give him the illusion of multiple body experiences at high navigational
speed, causing a sensation of disembodiment and disconnection since his point of
view, which can change at a flick of the wrist, doesn’t establish a full perceptional
grasp of the interior body landscape as a coherent body Rather, the interior body
tends to dissolve into an inchoate environment of giant organs, endless strips of
tissue, cavernous bones, curves, lines, and shapes. The virtual-body environment, in
other words, doesn’t pretend to be realistic; it is a reconceptualized space mapped by
numbers of code.
Gromola is aware of the disembodiment effect caused by disorientation, but she
designed the space in this way to explore transcendent spiritual states of pain, since
for her the “dervish” effect (in Sufi dancing) enables her to link a function of virtuality
with her experience of medical treatment of chronic illness. While her conceptual
relocation of her body as a virtual stage is truly astounding, what is more difficult to
understand is Sharir’s relationship to it and his assumptions about choreographing his
movements and video images in response to his distressed, disoriented body
experience. Is his internal experience translated into conscious movement choices or
do we see him react to a state of disconnection from himself? In the documentation of
the experiment he expresses considerable uncertainty, wondering how agency and self
are altered by immersion, and how a virtual environment and the possibilities of
“distributed performance” can redefine performance venues. This raises another
Virtual Reality.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

question, namely how an audience without headphones would watch the dance of the
VR performer.
As Theodores pointed out in her expos? on “technography,” interactive immersive
computer technologies extend and transform the shape of movement and choreogra
phy, and if digital media can penetrate the materiality of the body, then our perceptual
and ontological notions of embodiment are profoundly questioned: “We can challenge
and/or confuse all existing senses we have of order and of norms, spatially, biome
chanically, kinesthetically, and aesthetically. Classical frameworks of symmetry, specific
body architecture, notions of sequence, and even the way we recognize our own
sensory responses and faculties?all of these are challenged and reordered radically
and perhaps liberatingly As we shed the ingrained ideas of what the body ought to
do, we enter into a new aesthetic and experiential order.” While it is true that the
collaboration between digital technology and choreography potentially expands the
concept of non-phenomenological information and virtuality just as much as it
expands the concept of what the body is, it is less clear how the audience is integrated
and transformed into interactive users, since most of the practical experiments to date
are made by the artists/programmers and designers themselves.
The research experiments necessary for the evolution of a new dance /technology
aesthetic became the focus of heated debate at IDAT99, after choreographer Susan
Kozel presented her current work in motion capture and declined to entertain
questions about the aesthetic direction of her process. I was among those who
Troika Ranch, In Plane, IDAT99, Tempe, 1999. Videostills: Johannes Birringer.

378 / Johannes Birringer
wondered aloud whether the dancer, strapped up with wires and constrained in her
movement to a tiny platform area prepared for the optical motion capture, is willingly
compromising her potential range of movement, effort/shape, motivation and con
tent-oriented expression to the point where watching the dance (I hesitate to call it
choreography) is neither interesting nor stimulating for a conceptual evaluation of
interface technology. The severely diminished movement, which on the videotape she
showed looked like banal, repetitive improvisations with arm and upper body motion,
struck me as a kind of impoverished minimalism that fails to be enhanced by the
interplay with her computer-generated shadow images and animations projected on
the wall behind her. The project she presented, Ghosts and Astronauts, is obviously in an
early laboratory phase, and I am inclined to agree with Kozel that there is an inevitable
gain and loss in experimentation, that we need time and exposure to motion capture
technologies in order to develop a specific language of movement expression that
enables a perceptual expansion or new mental awareness for the audience. Choreogra
phy with motion capture, in other words, may not necessarily be feasible with the
existing or dominant (modern) dance vocabularies, and thus Kozel’s videotape was
misleading. Rather than focusing on her movement and what it interacts with, we may
have to “inhabit” an altered space, listening to or sensing a different kind of dialogue
that takes place between the “animator” and that which she generates. In Kozel’s case,
the dancer’s motions are charted onto animated (geometric) figures, which she is
exploring as “new life-forms” (following the tenets of Artificial Intelligence), and for
her the bouncing cubes on the screen were far from being depersonalized and abstract.
Stunningly, Kozel claims that it is possible, through the intimate connection she and
her collaborators have developed with the technological instruments and the software,
to identify the quality of the motion of the animated cubes according to the dancer
who was wearing the sensors. Even if I didn’t doubt this claim and the romantic
subjectivism that underlies it, I wouldn’t know how to integrate it into my earlier
reaction to the lack of content of this work, especially if I cannot share the intimacy of
exploration as an audience member.
To build full-scale theatres for larger immersive audience interactivity or osmosis is
as yet technically unimaginable, and the experience of some of the lab tests shown at
IDAT99 made me impatient and yet curious. Unlike the role of the experimenter
herself, my input role as user was quite minimal; in a sense, the body’s intelligence
doesn’t get involved in informing the interface configuration, and as in Dancing with
the Virtual Dervish, the question of the reconstitution of limits or borderlines between
the interior and the exterior is not adequately addressed. On the “mirror stage” of such
environments, the constitution of specific kinds of distances between self and the
digital surface, the “other,” seems crucial for the exploration of physical and psychic
confusion or disorganization of the senses. One way to investigate these boundaries, I
think, is to challenge the biological organism or organic movement in relation to
surface intensities and in the tactile meeting of surfaces and animated figures. What
can these sensors tell us about our mental landscapes; how do they move us into new
sensory and conceptual territories?
Telematic Dreaming and OSMOSE challenge our assumptions about the connection
between vision, touch and hearing, and my idea of dancing with technologies, in fact,
is related precisely to the phenomenal interface between movement (and movement
copy) and digital video projection as a performative projection of another moving skin

Jools Gilson-Ellis/Richard Povall, The Secret Project, IDAT99, Tempe, 1999.
Videostills: Johannes Birringer.
or tactile surface linked to proprioception and neurochemical reactions?all the
delicate and subliminal feedback mechanisms that move the brain to know the
positions, tensions, and feelings of the body and its parts. My ideas for “Lively Bodies
Lively Machines” (LBLM), the workshop I teach every summer, evolved from this
thinking about deep contact between organic and non-organic surfaces or projec
tions.14 A decisive issue in our thinking about technology and choreography is the
The LBLM workshop in performance technologies was first created for the Split Screen Festival at
University College Chichester (England) in 1996, and was held there again in 1998. It has been taught

380 / Johannes Birringer
question of commensurability. In this regard, Theodores quoted Kozel’s prediction
that “if technology is regarded as abstract, logical and mechanical and bodies are seen
as organic matter only, then the two will be mutually hostile. But if technology and
bodies are seen additionally in terms of flows of energy or intensity or as fluid
dynamics, then there is ground for collaboration.” If indeed the technology in our
performance experiments was driven by the experience of the body itself, then
knowledge of the body and its silent languages can inform ways of connecting with
non-phenomenological structures in digital art. Or it can influence visual or sonic
digital environments in such a way that they transmit information sensually or
heighten the physicality experienced in the electronic interface, as it is the case in
Rokeby’s “very nervous systems” (interactive sound installations) or in Pamela Z and
Laetitia Sonami’s work with DataGloves or DataSuits and multiple controllers, where
the spatial sound events triggered by persons moving inside the interface can create a
phantasmatic aura and affect their acoustic behavior, both inside the space and after
leaving it.
Theodores posits that the notion of “disembodiment” in technological immersion is
resisted here for its perpetuation of the transcendent metaphysics of mindspace over
body intelligence. Indeed, the thinking and sensing body empowered by technology
offers up, in reverse, visceral languages of bones, organs, fluids, and even of seeing
inside a movement. This would bring us, in choreographic terms, to the notion of
“impossible anatomies,” or the “impossible body,” as Merce Cunningham suggested
in his experiments with LifeForms. Zapp, Dubois, and Schiphorst would add that new
systems of behavior can be informed by the absent presence of electronic bodies in
telematic media, while unstable/weightless bodies or the animated models of LifeForms
both hint at giving more materiality to “spaces in-between,” to non-solid presences or
vanished presences, to unlikely gestures (unlikely for trained movement behavior),
and to possibilities of movements as yet unseen, which Schiphorst joyfully compares
to the “shock of freedom.” Furthermore, technology as a compositional tool, as
opposed to its recording and archival functions, assumes as a
starting point such cross
overs to an impossible body aesthetic. Theodores is correct in reminding us that the
“thrill of the unnatural is reaffirmed by technology in much the same way that
aesthetic pleasure was derived originally from classical ballet in terms of virtuoso
technique and ‘unnatural’ acts. The technologically possible anti-gravitational body,
the multi-layered, extended, enlarged, the vanishing, the inside-out bodies of the
virtual and the immersed invite us to a new definition of artifice, of the extra-ordinary,
and thus to new desires for the performing body.”
This idea of the unnatural desiring body offers a fascinating, erotic, and deeply
politicized ground for performance/media practice, since it also reminds us of a wide
range of contemporary performance art focused on the production of the “other,” the
foreign, the abnormal and dysfunctional, the diseased, and the abject body15 As a
in other countries, most recently at the Nordic Solo dance festival-forum in Copenhagen (summer
1999), and it is generally offered at festivals, summer schools, and residency programs to students and
practitioners from diverse artistic backgrounds.
15 For a new critical study of the excluded, marginalized and repressed representations of bodies in
modern dance, see Ramsey Burt, Alien Bodies (London: Routledge, 1998). For studies of contemporary
performance art, see Rebecca Schneider, The Explicit Body in Performance (London: Routledge, 1997);

political site, the body thus performs already a potentially dysfunctional role vis-?-vis
technological abstraction and recuperation/dispersion, and I agree with Theodores
that the concept of “instantaneity” needs to be carefully examined as an effect of
technology’s affording us access to instant transactions, transformations and morphings.
Technological composition or technography, in this sense, “can disappear before it
has ever fully appeared,” raising the issue of both a “radical forgetting and a radical
remembering as perhaps two emerging ideologies of technography.” Linking this to
my examples of animated puppet theatre and online performance, the notion of
instantaneity forces us to reflect on the contemporary experience of browsing,
saturation and image/data transmission speed; if all art/information is speeding up,
the very speed and intensity of technological advance are in themselves an informing
agent of choreography, which also implies that the notion of an “aura” of the
instantaneous loses its mystique. We would simply have to learn, once again, how to
operate or function without the familiar integrity of an older physics of space, time,
and mass. In the new parameters of digitally-enhanced performance, compositional
dramaturgies or hierarchical structures or linear movement/narrative are substituted
by templates of varying intensities, screen spaces, and lattice structures. In such
noncentric spaces there is no stable point of view, and body forms and movement
forms can be transformed and “disappeared” in many unforeseeable ways. In new
performance research, such technological and bodily contingencies need to be tested
in order to create physical platforms or stages on which such work can be exchanged
with audiences.16
Linda S. Kauffman, Bad Girls and Sick Boys: Fantasies in Contemporary Art and Culture (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1998); Kathy O’Dell, Contract with the Skin: Masochism, Performance Art
and the 1970s (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); Rodney Sappington and Tyler
Stallings, eds., Uncontrollable Bodies (Seattle: Bay Press, 1994); Catherine Ugwu, ed., Let’s Get It On: The
Politics of Black Performance (London: ICA, 1995); and Amelia Jones, Body Art: Performing the Subject
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998). See also the essays in the special issue on
“Sexuality and Cyberspace: Performing the Digital Body/’ published in Women and Performance 9.1
16 For a more extensive discussion of my ideas on “scanning dance” and “impossible anatomies,”
see my book Media and Performance: along the border (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1998), 27-144.



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