Do The Work

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will cly017_sm815a9anot have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is on a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” – Martha Graham

 

Today a friend reminded me that I’m thinking too much about what others think of me. She quoted Martha and said, “it’s not your business.” Thank you, friend. The more I read from other choreographers and talk with other dance artists and movement makers, the more I realize how everyone is simply saying, stay in there, keep following the questions, keep following your gut, stick to the process. The thing that strikes me, however, is how often it is said, which leads me to believe that it is necessary. So, here we go again, it’s not my business to care about what other people think of me, just to stay motivated and keep marching.

Photo: Dance Enthusiast

Thinking about Embodiment in VR

“VR is perfect for things you couldn’t do in the real world, but not for things you wouldn’t do in the real world. Flying to the moon like Superman is okay. Participating in virtual mass murder—especially if it is designed to be realistic—is not. This is a big deal. Everything we know about training in VR points to the realization that the medium is incredibly influential on future attitudes and behavior. We don’t want to train future terrorists on VR, or desensitize people to violent acts.”

Excerpt From: Jeremy Bailenson. “Experience on Demand.” iBooks.

I assume Bailenson’s statement about virtual mass murder is specifically geared toward a game that would portray you as a serial killer, but I wonder how that works with military, war, and first-person shooter games. Bailenson also describes from the above book three things to consider when creating VR. Does it need to be in VR? Don’t make people sick? Be safe.

Superhot (published by Superhot Team) is a first-person “shooter,” made for a lot of platforms, but I played it for the first (and only) time on the Oculus Quest. I quote the word shooter because you can pick up different weapons other than a gun to kill your assailants. You are loaded into a white room, with a white box to your left with a weapon on it. The first task is to figure out how to grab a weapon and shoot or stab the bright red bodies walking towards you. These bodies explode into shards of red when you are successful in making contact and as they drop their weapons, you can grab them and other weapons also appear around the board as well.

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The game requires you to duck, stab, shoot, dodge, hide, and find your way through a maze of white and red. I found my anxiety level rising as more and more red bodies came my way; it seemed as if they were so close, so quickly, and I had no time to respond. I found the world very disorienting and one time ended up lunging out of the way into my parent’s television. However, my 16-year-old cousin had no problem. Response time has to be very quick in this game. I found it difficult to grab the weapons and often died trying to get a weapon before I was killed by an oncoming red body.

I did not play this game long, the physical room was in jeopardy, but I can imagine how this game would appeal to people who like first-person shooters. I am not one of those people, however, the striking, clean artwork of red on white was stunning. The precision needed to pick up and hit your assailant required a skill I did not have, but perhaps if I kept playing, this game might heighten my reflexes. I wonder if I would have the same reaction in a non-VR platform? A little more distance between myself and the game might make all the difference.

Where is Superhot on the mass-murder spectrum? Even though it is not designed to be realistic, there are elements of realism that make you react as if you are being attacked. How realistic does the experience need to be to be considered mass-murder? How does the anxiety and frantic speed provoked in order to maim a body differ in the virtual world? Is it easier to stab or shoot this body because of their faceless and shard-like appearance that explodes when attacked of shards? Is this body’s absent frame enough to remove the empathy the player feels when completing these violent actions?

When a trigger is pulled or a stabbing motion practiced, it is imprinted on the body. The impulse, instinct, and musculature are trained into the muscle memory of the player’s body. When the repeated actions are practiced they are then housed in the player’s body as they complete this game and after. This is why VR is used for flight simulators and quarterbacks as they research gameplays.

Where is the line drawn and who determines whether VR content falls under the realm of “training future terrorists” or “desensitizing people to violent acts?”

Split wide open

With my perceptions split wide open (with the floodgates of information that is downloading into my brain) including Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Philosophers Husserl, Butler, Foucault, Kristeva, all bodies and their labels, “The Explicit Body,” Daphne Brooks’ “Bodies in Dissent,” Drew Leder’s “The Absent Body,” readings on the complicated reality of empathy, perception and archive (and that’s just a few, mostly from my Performing Bodies Theory course lead by Dr. Nadine George-Graves), I am wondering where my ideas begin and if I even have any. Everything has been done. Things I don’t want to do, things I wish I thought of and things that I don’t even understand. It’s been done. I’ve heard this before, but now with my brain so full, it feels overflowingly evident.

This past week I taught my first full improvisation class and was evaluated by the chair of the dance department. I spoke and some of my thoughts landed in my discussion/theory course and I lead my “sandbox” which is part of my Interdisciplinary Research Studio class. Teaching, leading and talking out of my mouth (as opposed to my body)…higher stakes, yes…and done. I say higher stakes, but I’m not in the real world with these stakes. I’m in a safe little bubble where there are quite a few people that care about movement, embodiment, and dance in the way I do. It is also quite obvious they care about teaching and are very knowledgable in this field.

However, I do question the nervousness I feel when presenting in this environment. I have presented during two open works-in-progress showings this year and both have been in the middle of experiments with unknown destinations and/or purpose.

“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art

I’m going to try to hold strong to the idea that right now is about experiments and possibly failed ones. It’s about my education, my self-exploration and not about what others think of me. Self-doubt is my ally.

It’s about trusting the process, coloring the lines and angling your approach

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My youngest daughter’s drawing (3 years old), but how I felt most of the semester.

This semester has resulted in a real community of support. My grad-cohort is awesome and most if not all the preliminary tools I need to make, write, create, put forth work and fail have been introduced to me in our “Foundations in Dance Research” course.

“Laban Systems: Movements, Methods, and Analytical Frameworks” has been a wonderful addition to the writing kind of making. Not only do I have a new treasure chest of descriptive words specifically crafted for movement, but also a new way to look at movement and a toolbox of sprinkles and ingredients to add to my movement-making process. “Aboutness” can be applied to my whole first semester here. Trying to frame and understand specifically what I am interested in is the “aboutness” of my work and my-artist-self.

My body feels strong and smart. I am articulate in my joints and muscles in a way that I haven’t been for a while and it feels amazing. Crystal Perkin’s Afro-Horton technique class was an integral part in this strength and agency as was my Pilates course. I was able to apply Pilates techniques in Crystal’s technique class. The integration of whole body movement in Pilates is something I am still working on but I now have a practice to bring with me for the next two years. Pilates challenged my self-motivation in multiple ways and Crystal’s class was my grounding force throughout the semester. Technique class is my home, I know how to be a dancer and trust the movement and my body, so once I gave into the discipline and physical effort, this class was healing and got me through other more tumultuous moments.

I believe the next two and a half years will result in a confident, strong, maker who can own her place in an academic setting. This department has a professionalism built into it that is transparent but also ingrained. Research is what you make it. Figuring out what specifically interests me is the hardest part. There seems to be a fine line between what I’m interested in and what falls flat. In this academic context, it’s about framing your questions and spending time figuring out your project and writing it down before you actually get to figure anything out. This backwards approach is difficult for me but a skill worth developing. It’s similar to grant writing, but with a different flavor I can’t quite place.

In the moments to come, I’m interested in exploring some new practices of making, perhaps more improvisatory or contact-based processes, perhaps some making with friends/current grads, perhaps some non-mandatory uses of technologies. I’m still working on what I’m interested in, who I’m interested in doing it with and how to get it done in this still new environment but I trust the process. At the end of the day, it’s about coloring inside and outside the lines. It’s about appreciating all approaches and angles but also figuring out where you fit into them, how to best apply them to help you grow and how you want to approach your own angles or angle your own approach.

The “aboutness” of Digital Recess

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A screen shot of a texture from our “Media First” study.

Our final performance in Intermedia was the culmination of three months of “digital recess” as coined by a former student of Norah’s. It was so exciting to have two willing participants wheeled into our playground like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”from Disney’s Magic Kingdom. That’s not a metaphor, they were sat in chairs and wheeled in. The participants/audience were brought into the space to witness, choose and be the performers often in absurd events like what we titled, “Dada Birthday Party” where we sat at a table and sang “Happy Birthday” to the participants in a surprising and upbeat way and then handed them a tiny mallet in front of a tiny cake and waited to see what would happen. The mallet referenced one of our readings by Soke Dinkla who wrote about one of the first Dadaist artists to include audience participation. “Ernst placed an ax next to one of his works to be used by the visitors in case they did not like the object.” (Dinkla, 280) We asked the participants to choose cards that would determine the next scene. The other three scenes were “Motion Capture,” “Hot Air Balloon” and “Box Head” which we yelled out when they chose the card. “Motion Capture,” a station that was from our second study, was a play on words, two people sat facing each other in chairs and one mimicked (captured) the movements (motion) of the person opposite them. “Hot Air Balloon” was giving the audience/performer a bag of unblown balloons and seeing what they would do when sitting on a white cube at the center of the space and “Box Head,” pulled from our first portrait study and had the person put their head on a box while we took a live feed of their face and asked them mundane questions about their life. Each situation was an experiment commenting on or inhabiting expectation and power. Other aspects of the piece included some movement developed from questions answered earlier in the work, saying a memory and throwing an imaginary ball to another person in the space and at times a voice over commentary, by yours truly. The aboutness of the work seemed to be community and absurdity or audience and performer or perhaps reflection and memory. 

As I discovered at the end of our last lab study, “Interactivity and Participation,” I’m interested and excited about the awkward moments and the moments that could change each performance. Throwing an audience member into the mix throws a wild card that is performatively exciting and something that my lab group played with the entire semester. In this study we focused on comparing viewed performance and interactivity in the form of stations. Tricking the audience that they might just sit and watch and then ushering them from station to station where they were to complete a similar “Box Head” and “Motion Capture” moment from our final experiment. Our third and final station was an array of “bric-a-brac” which had a sign that said, “Arrange.”  This was inspired by our readings from Dinkla about Duchamp’s ready-mades. At the end we performed some movements we captured during the “Motion Capture” station and watched peoples faces float around in bubbles captured from the “Box Head” station. The ideas of being seen and watched were at the forefront of the work.

Our second “Media First” study, came directly out of discovering textures that could be used as projections. Zooming into a moving object or objects, water, leaves blowing, bubbles rising, screens moving or a swing shifting can create a texture when projected into an environment. We gathered textures and then made a study using them. The Motion Lab has screens that can be moved into a circle which made us think of a carousel and I was particularly interested in how we could guide the audience’s gaze around the space.

I found Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” music video to be even more inspiring after having learned the origin of the projection magic she utilized. Jerome Bel’s “Veronique” Series is an almost poignant solo for a corp de ballet dancer from the Paris Opera. These and others were “Viewings” we watched throughout the semester. The course highlighted an array of artists using not only technology but also other mediums. Our reading from Simon Morely’s “Writing on the Wall” highlighted artists influenced by Duchamps “readymades” that began to experiment with mixed media approaches to panel art in the 1950s.  In the text I was interested with the “affichistes” and their ripping down advertisements and using them to create their own art. Intermedia is a course about creating with found objects. Everything we experimented with was already made, we just put it together in different ways. Use what you have to create something new.

The collection of topics, viewings, technologies and the history of media art we’ve explored has allowed me to place the concepts and people we’ve discussed in a way I couldn’t before. I can see how certain artists were influenced and where that landed their trajectory. I’m beginning to understand what interests I have and what kind of art I want to make. I’m beginning to understand my artistic world a little better and that is an important piece in trying to figure out what place I want to have in the puzzle. What’s the puzzle? That’s another question entirely. 

More Than Some Jam

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Image from ADF’s website found here.

Co-teaching grad students Josh Anderson and Gina Hoch-Stall opened their last Contact Improvisation class of the semester to the other students on Monday and it was a wonderful sharing of form, ability and spirit. The open class was an inclusive and attentive culmination to the semester. The warm atmosphere reminded me of the first time I had ever been to a Contact Jam, maybe…the summer of 2002 at American Dance Festival. Jenn Nugent and Paul Matteson were there in The Ark and perhaps David Dorfman. I remember being in awe of them flying through the air and across the space. The uncertainty of what was happening, the importance of each movement and the courage it took to try things out for myself amidst my heros and fellow newbies.

A bunch of years later it feels so different. Finally I am understanding the vibrant investigation of experimentation and how exciting it is when the unexpected happens. I feel like having children and also just being at the end of my 30’s has allowed me to let go of everyone else’s expectations and opinions of me so that I’m finally able to explore and be interested without thinking of others. Sometimes. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a Jam, but yesterday I found myself wanting to play with my new friends in a way that some old friends used to play. Connecticut’s Elm City Dance Collective taught me what I was relishing in last night: trust, play and surprise. I’m excited to find out that even in this still new environment I’m more interested in finding an unexpected conclusion than getting it “right” or indulging in every ounce of sensing what the other person’s weight is doing next. Or maybe I’m just impatient. Or as Josh has decided…”A bulldozer.” Maybe I’m finally ready to begin failing in order to find my edges.

A lovely moment with Emily of spritely play, a sitting discussion with Bita, a bombastic topsy-turvy interlude with Josh, an interruption of KJ and Yildiz’s tender moment and a rolling play with an unknown mover stay with me. Someone in the class described her experience as a hug that will allow her to achieve all her dreams this week. Me too.

 

What is dance about?

labanfloorThis photo is a projection on the white floor of OSU Dance’s 50th Anniversary Concert. It is a Labanotation score. 

Dance is about so many things.

Bebe Miller writes in Andrea Olsen’s “Between Brooklyn and Bearnstow: Translating through Dancing” the following notions about dance:

“Is it ever a repetition or is it a spiral cycle.” (Olsen, 32)

I am imaging a spiral cycle of something speeding up in time, or building or decreasing in intensity.

“There is a rise and fall, a breath, and there is a return.” (Olsen, 31)

It could be a repetition or just a movement in general. It could be the beginning or the end.

“I am less interested in technology as something to show. I am interested in what it changes about how we as humans in a community interact with it and because of it and alongside it.” (Olsen, 32)

There is something futurist about this statement. I think it is the ever-changing idea of technology.  Is she interested about what changes when we interact with it? How does it change our interaction? Does the presence of technology change our interactions with others, like through Facebook and texting or is it because technology itself is continually changing? And if it’s continually changing than does Miller mean that as it changes and because it changes our interactions and relationships to it and with it are always changing and different? If so, this is also true of our relationship with our community within an environment built around and/or with technology. Or is it all these things?

Dance is what you make it. Dance is questioning interaction. Dance is questioning alignment, movement, orientation, space, time, flow and weight. Dance is thinking. Dance is taking care of those around you. Dance is embodiment and doing.

Works Cited

Olsen, Andrea. 2009. “Between Brooklyn and Bearnstow: Translating through Dancing: An Interview with Bebe Miller” Contact Quarterly Summer/Fall: 28-33.