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

  • From: Nathaniel Stern <nathaniel.stern@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Johannes.Birringer@xxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2008 22:58:30 -0500

Hi All:

Given that there is a bit of discussion about my article going on here, I thought I'd just chime in and let you know I'm lingering in the background and listening as a member of the list, and appreciate and welcome all of your responses (although I'll point out it gets cut off in the middle, at least in this mail - the whole article can be found at the link below). I'm here if anyone has any direct comments or questions they'd like to say or ask me, or if you want to pass my email address along to anyone else who might, for that matter.... I'll also mention that I'm currently working on my PhD dissertation, which takes a longer look at some of the ideas presented in the article, and would be happy to send it along after submission at the end of the year, if anyone has interest and lets me know.

The promised link: http://rhizome.org/editorial/1969



On Nov 1, 2008, at 3:32 PM, Johannes Birringer wrote:

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 their 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 still 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 stand
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... etc.

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 viewers, 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 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

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  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 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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