[dance-tech] Re: Action, Reaction, and Phenomenon

  • From: "Johannes Birringer" <Johannes.Birringer@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <MEDIA-ARTS-AND-DANCE@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 24 Oct 2008 19:44:45 +0100

hello all:

not sure whether this review (below) was forwarded by Simon for us to discuss, 
but i now have had time to read it, and am very grateful to find out about this 
exhibition and the way (the writer says) it introduces or stages participatory 
experiences of embodiment,  action/reaction patterns, sensorial experience of 
ourselves/the space or environment, etc .  

Embodiment, here applied to the interactional setting of the show, is a 
category of phemenological assumption now used so frequently and relentlessly 
that one must tell oneself that one ought to know what it is, and i am not 
always sure.  Same goes for affect(s). 

i wonder whether others felt like commenting on what is written here, and how 
you read it or sense it ?

Johannes Birringer
Dap Lab


Action, Reaction, and Phenomenon
By Nathaniel Stern      on Wednesday, October 15th, 2008        at 11:55 am.

In his book, Parables for the Virtual, Brian Massumi calls for "movement, 
sensation, and qualities of experience" to be put back into our understandings 
of embodiment. He says that contemporary society comprehends bodies, and by 
extension the world, almost exclusively through linguistic and visual 
apprehension. They are defined by their images, their symbols, what they look 
like and how we write and talk about them. Massumi wants to instead "engage 
with continuity," to encourage a processual and active approach to embodied 
experience. In essence, Massumi proposes that our theories "feel" again. 
"Act/React," curator George Fifield's "dream exhibition" that opened at the 
Milwaukee Art Museum on October 4th, picks up on these phenomenologist 
principles. He and his selected artists invite viewer-participants to 
physically explore their embodied and continuous relationships to each other, 
the screen, space, biology, art history and perhaps more.

Fifield is quick to point out that all the works on show are unhindered by 
traditional interface objects such as the mouse and keyboard. Most of them 
instead employ computer vision technologies, more commonly known as interactive 
video. Here, the combined use of digital video cameras and custom computer 
software allows each artwork to "see," and respond to, bodies, colors and/or 
motion in the space of the museum. The few works not using cameras in this 
fashion employ similar technologies towards the same end. While this 
homogeneity means that the works might at first seem too similar in their 
interactions, their one-to-one responsiveness, and their lack of other new 
media-specific explorations -- such as networked art or dynamic appropriation 
and re-mixing systems -- it also accomplishes something most museum-based 
"state of the digital art" shows don't. It uses just one avenue of interest by 
contemporary media artists in order to dig much deeper into what their practice 
means, and why it's important. "Act/React" encourages an extremely varied and 
nuanced investigation of our embodied experiences in our own surroundings. As 
the curator himself notes in the Museum's press release, "If in the last 
century the crisis of representation was resolved by new ways of seeing, then 
in the twenty-first century the challenge is for artists to suggest new ways of 
experiencing...This is contemporary art about contemporary existence." This 
exhibition, in other words, implores us to look at action and reaction, at our 
embodied relationships, as critical experience. It is a contemporary 
investigation of phenomenology.

Near the entrance of the show, Scott Snibbe's Boundary Functions (1998) begins 
by literalizing the fine line between publicly constructed and personally 
constituted space, between "you (plural)" and "me." As his audience members 
cross the threshold onto the interactive platform, the work draws and projects 
a real-time Voronoi diagram around them. No matter how many people are present 
(and moving) in the installation, each gets a continual partitioning of exactly 
the same size: lines that separate them. Snibbe says his initial inspiration 
for the work came out of a desire to reveal how we relate to one another, how 
we define ourselves and the physical space of our bodies through, and with, 
those around us. When he turned it on, however, his revelation wound up 
changing that relationship itself: we immediately want to use our bodies to 
trap or destroy or trick the piece and what it re-presents. It was after seeing 
his own creation in action that Snibbe began referring to himself as a "social 
artist" -- given that he doesn't just reveal, but actually affects, social 

Further into the exhibition space, this is followed by Snibbe's Deep 
Walls(2003), where viewers' shadows are recorded and played back in a grid of 
sixteen cinematic squares. Participants dance and shake and explore with their 
shadows between the projection and screen, and every active performance snippet 
is stored as a silhouetted animation in one of its comic book-like boxes. Each 
video sequence replaces one that was there before. Here, we are creating 
embodied and dynamic signs within a greater, collaborative structure; we 
continuously find and make our own language and meaning with and through our 
bodies. We tell and re-tell and co-tell embodied stories, through movement.

Echo Evolution (1999) is the next work on show, produced by Liz Phillips, an 
artist effectively working with interactivity for 40 some-odd years. It asks 
for viewers to navigate through a large dark room, and responds with real-time 
noise and neon lights. Where you move, how quickly you do so, and where others 
are in relation to you and the space, all direct the piece's output. Although 
potentially the richest piece in its complexity, the non-transparency of the 
interaction and its rules unfortunately made this work the weakest on the 
exhibition. Most viewers were trying to understand how it worked, rather than 
exploring their bodies in relation to that interaction. I've seen far better 
installations by Phillips, and think this one was an ineffectual choice in the 
context of the greater show.

Brian Knep's premiering Healing Pool (2008) continues his explorations of 
biologically inspired generative algorithms. This room-sized petri dish 
features a floor that is covered in projected "cells" that active participants 
walk through/over, leaving tears and empty space in their wake. The 
installation then "heals" itself by growing new cells as seams and scars, never 
again to repeat any of its previous patterns. Knep's work pushes at the 
conceptual boundaries of how we understand growth, healing, organic structures 
and temporal inter-activity. It's a work that is mostly playful on its surface, 
and extremely subtle in its visual difference over time. So subtle, in fact, 
that it's very easy to miss its doubled gesture towards emergence theory: both 
how simple systems can create complexity, and how our embodied interactions, 
which seemingly change little, have lasting and forever-changing effects.
Simon Fildes

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