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

  • From: "Johannes Birringer" <Johannes.Birringer@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <dance-tech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2008 20:32:16 -0000

passing this on to all, with the author' s permission 
Von: Yvon.Bonenfant 
Gesendet: Do 10/30/2008 10:38

This text (Nathaniel Stern's review, see at bottom) is of great interest to me. 
The ocularist bias in the
understanding of embodiment has been a perpetual source of frustration
for me in terms of my own creative process and its interface with
academic discourse. Working with texture, fabric, and extended vocal
sound for the last years, the senses involved with the act of embodiment
have largely been hearing and the haptic. Besides the Marks' (2002) work
on haptic video and the recent Senses in Performance (2007)
Banes/Lepecki collection (in particular the articles on by Fisher and
Welton), as well as Pallasma's (2005) ideas about haptic architecture,
and some works in French addressing the haptic in contemporary visual
art, I find that real, felt, experiential frameworks for the
sensation-embodiment interface are fundamentally lacking in academic
discourse, particularly when the senses other than vision are engaged. I
know there have been endless critiques - particularly in French
scholarship - of the domination of thought by the eye, but these
critiques are made in the language of the eye. 

However there is a wide body of work about the felt notions of embodiment that 
come from various
strands of the psychological, ranging from body psychotherapy to
humanist psychological theories and increasingly neuropsychology. These
are often linked to the sensation-emotion-action-reaction continuum. It
is difficult to dialogue about these in the world of performance theory
because a/few people know about them and b/the philosophies of embodied
experience are often much better at describing and analysing embodiment
from an ocularist perspective rather than engaging sensation actively
and c/there is a Foucauldian and Deleuzian derived suspicion of all that
is psychological. Somehow we need to find ways to 'talk' about art
through the generation and reception of haptic sensation and not just
through ocularist-analytic languages, and not just through observation
(for phenomenology is a form of observation! = ocularist) and to find
radical new languages for articulating the experience of embodiment
rather than 'cold' analysis of it. I am working on this in my own way,
bit by bit, with an experimental tactile publication this December and
through other experiments, but this is a lonely field and we all have
very far to go, whether our work engages with technology or not.

I hope readers of this message understand that I am grateful for the wide
body of work that has attempted to theorise beyond the mind-body divide.
However I want to strive for work that talks in the lanugage of touch
and hearing. I want the very fingertips and nerve endings to do the
'talking', the skin surfaces to do the listening, and still understand
this as a form of rigour. 

If a group of any kind were set up to address these issues, I'd be most
interested. I don't have time to spearhead right now, though.



hello Katy,hello all:

oh, thanks for your extensive response, this is very good, what you say,
and i want to reflect on it,...
i was wondering whether everyone in the performance /  dance community had 
already adopted the term embodiment and how they use it, as I cme across it 
first in the context of "embodied artificial intelligence" and 
engineering/computer science problem solving regarding design principles ofr 
intelligent systems (and a few years back, those systems involved developing 
useful algorithms and robots).    I also think you are making assumptions about 
"participating" in such an installation or set of rules/algorithms, and thus 
about the intelligence of the system, yes?


Touchkate wrote
Sent: Sat 10/25/2008 7:13 PM

Dear Johannes, thanks for bringing this back...

I am not sure that I agree with you here... when you say...
"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. "

I think it is more than just the interactional setting that is determining 
the meaning of embodiment.
It is the fact that the audience become the subject of the installation, 
their movement ( a kinesthetic experience involving action and reaction to 
own image) is the subject matter of the projected shaddows in one  example
given.  (Then they become the spectacle for the next person and so  object but
have created and left the legacy of their own embodied  experience). 

The term embodiment is used loosely these days (in my experience) to  express
anything that involves a physical aspect of an  experience that is expressed
through or in the body, i.e, or a sensory  response expressed in a movement. 
The sensory motor aspect of the nervous  system requires that a sensory input
from any of the senses including touch  generates a motor response. Awareness
that this is happening is the  embodiment aspect, the realisation for the mind
in the moment that one is moving  in response rather than thinking it. 

In my view a verbal response is as valid as a motor response and so as  an
embodied response, just as walking away and not participating could be,  however
it is still a response but not termed embodied because it is not the 
"corporeality" of the moment here, they are wanting a fuller engaged body  based
response... reflexive not predetermined or conceived? 
Fifield is provoking thinking around the limited range of response that we 
have in contemporary society being based more on high brain rather than "of the
 body" type;
"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."

In the installations the space between viewer and the experience is  mediated
by the embodiment moment, the viewer is no longer standing back  observing
but actively participating and expressing in the space, it becomes a  lived
experience.  (social?)
Again this is an assumption that the more general responses (higher brain 
ones) are not also embodied, that the viewing experience, the presence of 
spectator is not also in some way an embodied experience as the affects are  
happening but not manifesting in movement that then becomes subject  matter?
The provocation here is experiential, moving away from the dependence of 
technology (the mouse and keyboard).

Maxine Sheets Johnstone is great on all this... the corporeality, the 
tactile kinesthetic aspect of being. This work is of the same philosophical  
point.  Massumi and Johnstone seem to sing from the same song  sheet. 

Have just spent 2 luscious days with Doug Rosenberg working with these very 
questions.  When the body the object of the experience is  it disembodied,
(e.g. 2 dimensional representation)?  Can the  subject matter of the virtual
world be experienced in an embodied way?  How  is it different when the real
person is performing within this  environment? 
simply and by way of clarification; when I place myself in the  installation
I am the subject, the mover, making gestural signs  or expressions of being. 
I then becomes the object when projected  onto a wall or screen, into a
virtual space, through direct feed from the  camera..  I am embodied as long as 
I am
dancing in front of them, but  disembodied when seen on the screen?  How so
if I am selecting and creating  the image, the moving body is mine?  My
experience is embodied, my  relationship to the projected me is also embodied,
experiential, live, resonant,  not spoken, written, analysed, linear, edited... 

I (and so the content) become objectified and disembodied if the people 
experiencing it cannot relate or respond to it in other than "linguistic or 
visual apprehension"?  I don't go along with that totally, as even the  visual
perception is supported and informed by our past experience and sensory 
affinities, associations that inform our response as much as the experience  
does... so
I may be moved by the quality, the sound waves, the colour, the scale  and so
affected in my gut as well as in my visual cortex... so hmmmmm is that  not
also embodied response?  Here not so, the debate is around a fuller  integrated
body based experience?

The whole experience can become participatory if others take my place in 
front of the camera and become the mover and image, seen by others, the  
 does this then become social?  I guess so as then we  are collectively
contributing to the experienced event over time.  The  essential aspect is about
the lived experience, that involves more than the  interpretative, language
based response, and technology.

I don't know if this elucidates...

In a message dated 24/10/2008 19:45:07 GMT Daylight Time, 
Johannes.Birringer@xxxxxxxxxxxx writes:

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 
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 
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. 
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 
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 
it's important. "Act/React" encourages an  extremely varied and nuanced
investigation of our embodied experiences in our  own surroundings. As the 
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 
in other words, implores us to look at action and  reaction, at our embodied
relationships, as critical experience. It is a  contemporary investigation of

Near the entrance of the  show, Scott Snibbe's Boundary Functions (1998)
begins by literalizing the fine  line between publicly constructed and 
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, 
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  behavior.

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 
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 
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 
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  
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 
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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