P(AR)ticipate: body of experience/body of work/body as archive
An exploration of openness, otherness and porosity
—Jeannette Ginslov, video dance artist, lecturer at The Space, Dundee and Angus College, Dundee, Scotland; Director of Screendance Africa (Pty) Ltd and Ginslov Media Studio
A subjective sense of bodily movement and unique sense of touch makes us self aware and forms our somatic and haptic engagement with the world. Through our bodies, we make contact, contain, remember and remake living stories, create memories, narratives and meaning for ourselves and others.
This paper describes how openness, porosity and audience reception of personal somatic and haptic memory affected the creation and negotiation of an ongoing interdisciplinary performance work called P(AR)ticipate: body of experience/body of work/body as archive. This is an immersive, autobiographical, participatory and live installation that uses analogue drawings, improvised dance, screendance and the AR (Augmented Reality) app Aurasma to capture, access and share personal and somatic memories of living in an apartheid and democratic South Africa. These formed part of “the body of experience” and “the body as archive” section. It includes an archive of live dance performances, documentary footage, spanning twenty-five years. This formed part of the “body of work” section. The idea was conceived and developed during a six-week self funded Dance-tech.net residency at the Lake Studios in Berlin, where it premiered on 30 August 2014. It has since been performed three times in Scotland during 2015, for the Senses showcase at the Dance Base in Edinburgh, at the Hannah Maclure Centre in Dundee as part of the decoding space exhibition, and at the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts) Glasgow for the D-Word screendance showcase.
The performance of P(AR)ticipate highlights and encourages revealing, extracting, capturing, sharing and participation in my personal narratives, accumulated dance archive and somatic experiences of living and working in apartheid and democratic South Africa. This was facilitated through the use of analogue and digital technologies: a video camera, a smartphone app and the internet. My personal memories, somatic experiences, archives and narratives were written, drawn, video recorded and uploaded to a cloud on an apps server. During the performance, audiences walked on the “stage” or in the installation with a smartphone or tablet following the channel housing my uploaded archives. The setting is not the traditional theatrical proscenium arch set up, with a seated audience in the auditorium. The audience becomes a participant by physically walking on the “stage” or in the installation space, using their mobile devices to trigger the media attached to the images in the performance space. I also dance in the installation space, reiterating the somatic memories, in real time during the performance.
P(AR)ticipate, then, demonstrates a porosity between live and mediated experience as audiences enter a networked environment, a field of fleshy and digital networked media, moving through living archives of somatic memory and intimacies, negotiating and participating in visual and auditory affordances that the interaction design provides. They access the media by physically participating in, walking around, reaching for, kneeling and bending to trigger the tagged images with their smart phones. The mobile device becomes a tool of extrapolation, a magnifying glass revealing hidden layers of haptics, affect and memory. In effect they are dancing with the media, with me, my memories, a quiet dance of participation, touching intimacies, with moments of surprise in and around points of contact, using the AR as portals to other times and places.
AR is a mobile app technology that uses Wi-Fi or 4G and allows the superimposition of digital media over the real time view on one’s smartphone camera, thereby augmenting what we can literally see with video, animation or graphics. The AR app uses a tagging system to connect and trigger digital media, archived on the app’s server and uses image or location recognition software to recognise images or GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates that then trigger the archived media. In P(AR)ticipate, audiences hold their devices over screen grabs of the screendance works archived on the server. The videos then spring to life, mostly always eliciting positive surprised haptic responses.
Audiences are invited through touch to find out more about me. They touch their screens and have visceral responses to the haptic imagery captured by the technologies. Their very first reaction, when the videos that are streaming from the server onto their devices is always, “Wow!”, “It’s amazing” or “How is this happening?” Sometimes they jump a little in their chest or they take a sharp inhalation and eyebrows shoot upwards when they view the haptic videos. Then they become more curious and try to visit all the tagged images. Sometimes, mostly males, use two devices, one in front of the other, trying to re-remediate the relationship between analogue and the already mediated. Some participants see me in the middle of the room with tags on my body and attempt to move with me, with their device still in their hands, their eyes and body focused on trying to keep the media playing on the connection between moving image, device, bodies and the internet. They also enjoy placing their hands in the camera’s viewfinder so that it comingles with my video playing on the device. It is as if they desire to touch the augmented digital material and perceive a sensation of touching it.
This for me is what haptic imagery is all about. It enlivens one’s sense of touch, even if digital.
Laura U Marks (2000) states that the haptic imagery is about tactility, the visceral, texture, proximity, contact, touch. They may be extreme close-ups, disturbing the mastery of reading the image, engaging the viewer with the moving images rather than narrative or character. However in her book Carnal Resonance (2011), media theorist Susanna Paasonen addresses experiences of online porn largely through the notion of affect as intensities of experience, resonances, and ambiguous feelings. To Paasonen, affect is about carnal responses, immediate and direct bodily sensations, tactility, texture, proximity and gut responses by viewers. Affects are forces that cut across and connect different bodies and when watching online porn are associated with authentic reactions to amateur video production. The more “home-made” the video is, the more authentic and affective — carnal and erotic. Special technical effects and slick production values cause a distancing. However according to phenomenologist Susan Kozel (2013), affect is more subtle, about varying experiences of intensity, and is located beyond the domains of logic and reason. It is about changes of shape, colour and form.
“This passage of intensities is like a vibration or a shimmering, in the sense that shimmering is based on change and is not a static state. Viewed this way, affect might travel through familiar states but it may also participate in the creation of something that did not exist previously, in what I am somewhat reductively calling ‘change’” (Kozel 2013, 6).
“Affective forces need not be forceful, they can be barely detectable shifts in relationality between ourselves and our built environments, or between bodies in urban spaces mediated by technologies exploring a body’s ongoing ‘immersion in the world’s obstinacies and rhythms’” (Gregg & Seigworth 2010, 1, cited in Kozel 2012, 76).
Porosity of experience: Processes and outcomes
The research for P(AR)ticipate started with my exploring the notion of otherness that I experienced whilst growing up and living in an apartheid and democratic South Africa, the moment of my becoming aware of being part of a dominant racial group, of being White in a White racist society. Most importantly I remembered those moments when that oblivion lifted. I also focused on the events where I encountered racism and oblivion in others, of being oblivious to racial identity and privilege and the inevitable invisibility to one’s own identity that usually accompanies this oblivion.
“body of experience”
It started with my recalling events in my life that seemed pivotal to my understanding of what was going on around me in South Africa during the oppressive apartheid years. Investigating and revisiting these events on my own in a rehearsal studio, I tried to locate where in the body emotions were arising from, which could also mean where the emotion is possibly remembered or stored. During this reflective and creative process, which lasted many hours working through various states and phases, I danced, moved, cried, wept, laughed, talked, yelled, wrote, drew, and recorded vocally narratives of my life, capturing them with a small Sony Handycam. I also walked outdoors in a nearby forest narrating the events of my life on the voice recorder on my iPhone. These were later used in the text that became part of the final performance and formed part of the “body of experience.”
Example: Oblivion lifts (1973)
My father picked me up three times a week, after my Ballet classes in the centre of town, at the Rita Liebowitz Ballet School, West Street Durban. I would wait anxiously sometimes inside the building if he was late. A White thirteen-year-old, in a deserted centre of town, after the shops were closed, was not a good thing … Anyway, after picking me up one day, chatting about this and that, we came to an intersection where we often stopped on the way home. I looked up the street past the intersection. I saw a throng of Black people, men and women, walking or rather trudging down Warrick Street on their way to the Station. It was a wide pavement full of adult Black people intent on getting home. I looked at this and grew silent. My father waited for the lights to turn green. We drove past and I continued staring at the mass of people. I turned to my father and asked: “How come I’m in a car being driven home and all these people are walking to the station?”
My father’s head snapped round to look at me directly. “Well!” he said, “A young girl like you should not be thinking about things like that!”
“body as archive”
Additionally, I drew out my experiences in analogue shapes using pen and paper, recording in abstract form somatic drawings or hieroglyphs. Drawing hieroglyphs is a methodology created by choreographer Nancy Stark, enabling one to describe or draw or capture somatic states occurring in the body, in analogue form.
I then choreographed ten somatic movement sequences, using the hieroglyphs as an impulse for a sequence of movements. The movement sequences were short, improvised and were physically connected to the remembered event, the location of the event, and how it felt emotionally at the time. Most importantly I tried to locate where in my body the impulse, or memory was located, or how I felt at the time and how I felt upon revisitation. These were video taped and edited using the X-ray effect in iMovie. These screendance works are in effect haptic as they are grounded in triggering visceral responses from viewers and reveal close up parts of my body that seem strange or unclichéd. Below is an example of a hieroglyph and a haptic video that I drew and choreographed to describe an intense personal experience in South Africa.
The more subtle videos reveal affect and, thinking back now, connect with times after the Apartheid era had ended. The ten haptic videos are viewable in this YouTube playlist.
“body of work”
This section includes a number of my stage works that resonated with the notion of otherness and racism or that I felt that I had created in resistance to the Nationalist government during the time of apartheid. One critical work was Sandstone (1988) which was banned after its first live performance at the Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg, for being in “poor taste” and became part of the agit-prop movement that grew during the Cultural Boycott of South Africa. Many regard this work as the first South African screendance work.
I also curated dance works that I had choreographed which reflected a time of democracy, awareness and “freedom” and created a soundtrack for the performance layering the sounds of the haptic videos in recurring and layered loops. Here is the playlist of archived work.
The Aurasma application, downloadable on mobile devices, enables the transformation of images and objects into tags or triggers for virtual content, known as “auras”. Some performance video clips were auras, linked to (or rather emanating from) my drawn hieroglyphs, which I printed on A4-size pieces of paper and pasted on the walls and scattered on the floor of the performance space. I printed smaller ones and pasted these on my body hoping that viewers or audiences would view the tags that were on me, close up, whilst I moved very slowly in the space — a contact improvisation of sorts using the Wi-Fi as a point of contact. I then also wrote ten two-minute narratives that reflected these events but these remained untagged and analogue in format.
Performance and porosity
The participant enters the space after downloading the Aurasma app and following the P(AR)ticipate channel. I am dancing in the middle of the space, sometimes performing snatches of the haptic choreography or movements of my solo dance works. The narratives are pasted on the walls to be read, the hieroglyphs are pasted on the walls and scattered on the floor. The viewer negotiates and accesses the media floating in this space that is suspended over the images on the wall, the floor and on my moving body. The soundtrack plays. The entire space feels suspended, networked with invisible layers, mutable, dialogic and relational.
When I was performing with very small hieroglyphs on my body I encouraged viewers to come right up to me, where we moved slowly together, in a slow mediated dance, both willing the media to be triggered, to feel connected and remain in a contact/connection/participation improvisation. Some viewers did in fact come right up and we moved slowly together, in a slow mediated dance, both willing the media to be triggered, to feel connected and remain in a contact improvisation via the internet. Sometimes we lost connection but found a synergy again when I saw that the viewer had the video running again on their phone. Always there is a look of relief when the video is triggered again, not forgetting that I cannot see the video looping on the devices as it was turned towards the participant’s point of view or face. I am also in a way part of this participation, reading somatic, emotional and proprioceptive gestures from the audience, and then responding to this. Below is the performance video of the premier where this is briefly revealed:
My somatic memories, haptic events and personal emotional memory reflecting events twenty-five to thirty years ago are being expressed and released as data that is stored in a cloud and shared. During my intense artistic residency I was really researching where my body’s memory is stored and if by accessing this, is one able to recall the actual emotional state and affective state, or is one just remembering it as one last thought about it? Is that the first or last memory you have of an event? As a dancer and choreographer, one is highly attuned and sensitive to one’s body and locating body signifiers is part of a choreographer’s job. One remembers perhaps globally first and then pinpoints the exact location in the body where the emotion is felt or the memory of that emotion. However with my remembered body up in the cloud, archived and stored and shareable, I have essentially become data. My lived time has become data. I don’t know how to respond to this as I share a lot of information online and I enjoyed the experience of sharing my personal memories with my audiences.
What do you think, feel, how do you move?
Social theorist and philosopher Brian Massumi (2002) claims that when we are in motion we undergo intuitive experiences and interactions with the environment. We forego the linguistic models of coding and try to find a “semiotics willing to engage with continuity” (Massumi 2002, 4). It is in this ever present kinesis, movement and change that we experience things. The body unfolds in its own transition, its own variation supporting philosopher Merleau-Ponty’s idea that this is how we anchor our bodies to the world, expressing and functioning in spaces of “muddy, unmediated relatedness” (Gregg and Seigworth 2010, 4, cited in Kozel 2012, 91). Film theorist Rudolph Arnheim (1957) furthers the idea and claims that our eyes constantly work in cooperation and are connected with the rest of the moving body. A person is always relating to the environment in a state of presence, synthesising, perceiving the experience of objects with the mind and the body or an embodied mind. This approach is dynamic and enactive according to philosopher Alva Noë (2004). Consciousness becomes a combination of “mind with a body, a being which can only get to the truth of things because its body is, as it were, embedded in those things” (Merleau-Ponty 2005, 56).
My strategy as a screendance maker has always been to explore an enactive approach using the camera and edit to create what Paasonen calls “carnal resonances” (2011) or Deleuze’s affect images, or those “dizzy disappearance of fixed points” (Deleuze 2005, 77). As a consequence the images become liquid, less stable and visceral or what Deleuze (ibid.) would call melting, boiling and coagulating. The camera needs to tease, sniff and nudge out the haptic and affect. It is here that the screendance maker needs to be awake, alive, in order to capture, connect viscerally with the affect and haptics being delivered. The camera should be handled with intuition that is fresh and engaged so that moments of liminality, between the techne and the live spontaneous body may take place. Mainly it is about capturing the spontaneous body with a spontaneous camera. When footage is created with this in mind and distributed through the internet using AR and tagged within an interaction design, we are creating hot spots or vortexes of “techno-fleshy” moments tagged to images or places in time and space. This is archived and shared through the AR. The haptic nature of these hotspots draws people in, they relate, review and revisit. They are not seated but visit each tag out of curiosity.
AR sets up a relational aesthetic and has the ability to shape choreographic and theatrical formations that have not yet been fully explored. This may challenge the current perception and framing of theatre, dance and choreography. For Laura Kriefman from Guerilla Dance Project, augmented dance and theatre “is a specialised and evolving form — where the choreographic language is interrogated not for form or content sake, but in response to the changing stimuli and physical liberties of the technology itself” (Kriefman 2014). These experiential encounters consequently liberate the choreographic language from more traditional vocabularies and settings. Audiences partake rather than consume. The production and reception of this mediated dance form is dialogical, inter-human and temporal. P(AR)ticipate encourages rendezvous experiences for the audience. They participate and engage physically in the space, in the work and archive, rather than remain seating gazing upon an auratic object such as a Henry Moore statue for example or a live dance performance within a traditional proscenium arch setting.
If one takes the entire installation into consideration, the room, myself in an immersive field of flesh, data and technology, it could be seen as an organism or a body, a “body without organs” . It could also be seen as reflecting or representing in a real space the posthuman subject, one that is “contingent on power formations that are time-bound, and consequently temporary and contingent upon social action and interaction” (Braidotti 2013, 189). The posthuman subject is “fully immersed in and immanent to a network of non-human (animal, vegetable, viral) relations” (ibid., 193). By extension then it could be seen to reflect a form of subjectivity, “with relational linkages of the contaminating kind/viral kind, which interconnect it to a variety of others, starting from the environmental or eco-others and include the technological apparatus”. This then is an act of “unfolding the self into the world, whist enfolding the world within” (ibid., 193).
As an artist I have opened my internal somatic liminal self to others using the internet. Should I worry about this? Data mining is taking place even as I walk to the local supermarket, my every step traceable as I carry my iPhone on me all the time. I write on my laptop, Wi-Fi streaming through the walls and my fingertips. I feel this has become the norm and nothing is going to stop this. Questions then surface: Where are the filters? How do I block this? Do I need to? Is the sharing of information and data diminishing my sense of agency? Is this ethical? What happens to all my online data? How is it being used? Has my body become viral? Do I know about this? Should I worry?
 See the notion of assemblage: http://www.rhizomes.net/issue5/poke/glossary.html based on Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987) http://projectlamar.com/media/A-Thousand-Plateaus.pdf
About the author
Jeannette Ginslov is a specialist in Video Dance for AR, screen and internet and directs, shoots and edits her own works that centre around affect, the moving body and its digital materiality. Her artistic practice also examines digital movement within AR installation settings, investigating live performance and augmented choreographies that may be used to trigger, perform and archive somatic memory across bodies and networked mobile devices.
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Online Video resources