Kinetech Arts and the Unpredictability of Artistic Systems

Hien Huynh in “Resonant Frequencies”. Photo by Weidong Yang, edited by Raymond Larrett

In the rehearsal studio, Hien Huynh punches the air with an electric-orange boxing glove. After a few punches, he stops and runs his gloved hand over his hair, letting it rest in the crest of his neck, in a moment of reflection. Not unlike a lobster claw, the glove becomes a soft, if uncanny, prosthetic device. In Kinetech Arts’ pieces, it is not uncommon for objects to take on a transformational path, thus bringing a quality of the ambiguous and unpredictable to the work. A few months earlier, in a piece that the company presented at Fresh festival, co-choreographer and performer Tanja London had sliced through a plastic package of skirt steak, unfolded the long and narrow piece of meat and cut three holes through it. Bringing it over her head, she wore it like a mask. Looking like she had turned her skin inside out, it seemed like on of the anatomical bodies of the mid 2000s exhibit Bodies… The Exhibition had sprung to life.

An electronic device, inserted in Huynh’s glove, captures his location in relation to the North Pole magnetic field and carries that information to the computer equipment set by Weidong Yang in the corner of the room. The data is automatically transferred into vibrations that create a sound environment, prompting Huynh and fellow dancer Juliet Paramor, creator of both movements and sounds, to become highly aware of the environment they are shaping as they evolve in it.

Led by cofounders Yang and Daiane Lopes da Silva, Kinetech Arts presents works at the intersection of dance and technology. Originally from China, Yang is a physicist, whose research focuses on quantum dots. Born and raised in Brazil, da Silva studied at the Municipal Ballet of São Paulo, Brazil and at P.A.R.T.S (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) in Brussels before moving to San Francisco. Through a shared love for dance, the pair met at a dance class at ODC and launched Kinetech Arts in 2013. Since then, they have been presenting works throughout the Bay, hosting talks by artists and scientists and organizing the DanceHack, a tech and dance event held annually.

The piece that Huynh is improvising for is Resonant Frequencies, which Kinetech Arts will present at the upcoming Walking Distance Dance Festival. As he punches the air, an electronic beat reverberates sharply in the room, reminding of an isolated heartbeat. The piece originated in 2016, while Yang was in residency at Djerassi along with Berlin-based choreographer Teoma Naccarato. Naccarato was doing research about the heartbeat for her piece Synchronism, an installation in which the cardiac, respiratory, and fluid sounds of viewers enlivened a multi-channel audio installation. Yang and da Silva were inspired by Naccarato’s explorations and made the heartbeat the theme of their upcoming DanceHack. During the year, Yang created a networked solution to enable live streaming of heartbeat data across large distance and several artists from Europe, including Naccarato, were able to use the system to live stream their hearbeat to a team of dancers and engineers at the DanceHack. When we met earlier in March, da Silva remembered that one participant used her heartbeat as a music score.

Yang and da Silva pursued their exploration of the heartbeat with Chamber, which was inspired by the internet of things, or IoT, a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. Yang found a way to mass produce sensors that could measure people’s heartbeat and allow them to connect via the net from around the world: “The heart beat becomes a string that links us all together,” he suggested. Da Silva added: “Nowadays, we hear so much about our differences. What do we have in common? The heart is the first muscle in our body that carries the rhythm of our life, our connection to our mother and to the world. If we are able to better listen, we can have a better understanding of each other. Maybe we can be on the same frequency and all our hearts can beat as one.”

Resonant Frequencies represents a culmination of Kinetech Arts’ research on the frequencies of heartbeats, with a renewed focus on a heightened sense of perception fostered by technology. In rehearsal, Da Silva encourages the performers as they are improvising: “If you are making the sound, how does that affect the way you move and relate to each other?” During the performance, the dancers will be immersed in the environment created from data collected live from their bodies as well as viewers’.

“I like to create environments that are somehow unpredictable, Yang offers. “When things become predictable, they are not alive anymore. In researching what makes a system interesting or intelligent, physicists discovered that when a system is too predictable, it collapses. When it’s totally unpredictable, it collapses as well. The artistic exploration is very similar. It is a discovery process where creativity is paramount. Philip Glass once said -I’m paraphrasing here- that he never knows what he is doing until the piece is about to be finished. So like a scientific research process, the artistic exploration needs to deal with the unknown. However a totally random process will most likely lead to nowhere. Certain structures or repeatable practices need to be in place so new concepts can be formulated and developed further. I call it structure in the meta level.”