Media Theory for the 21st Century

February 11, 2008

Everybody dance now!

Filed under: Discussion — hbench @ 5:07 am

This week’s readings are focused on embodiment, and my way into that topic is, of course, through dance. I am always asking how bodies are reconfigured through their mediation, and what kinds of choreographies are thereby enabled. For centuries, media have been called upon to rescue dance from its constant disappearing act—whether through representations in painting and sculpture, print descriptions and notations, video recordings, motion capture, etc. Dance is constantly memorializing itself in other media, shoring itself up against time. But media do not always function solely in a documentary capacity. There is a whole field of artists, usually called dance-media or dance-tech, that incorporate media as creative elements and not simply as mechanisms for storing a performance for later analysis or revival.In my own work, I am particularly interested in how dance appears on the Web. Because of our discussions last week on attention and this week on bodily engagement, I will focus my presentation on the work of Simon Ellis, namely his Microflicks, made for iPods and other small screens, and the dad.project. These two projects actually encompass many individual choreographies to which new content is added with relative frequency and are not single, integrated pieces. This is a trend in current artistic projects using the Web as a site for dance. But I get ahead of myself.I want to lay a little groundwork before we get to Ellis. He is by no means the only choreographer working with dance made specifically for the Web (i.e. not documentary in nature), though choreographers are often surprised to realize that there are others similarly inclined. In the mid-1990s, choreographers embedded hyperlinked still images in HTML pages or used animated GIFs. See for example Marianne Goldberg’s Be To Want I and Molissa Fenley’s Latitudes. They eventually graduated to Director, a few with CD-Roms such as Igloo’s Windows98 and Richard Lord’s Waterfall, and then to Flash, which is now the most commonly used software. Using Flash, some choreographers decompose their dances created for video into individual shots that users organize and playback, sometimes in multiple frames simultaneously. Examples of this approach include Katrina McPherson and Simon Fildes’s Big and The Truth:The Truth. Others create a more tactile engagement than is achieved through radio buttons and comparable selection modes. Pieces such as Nicholas Clauss’s Somnambules ask viewers to see sensuously. They create textured and layered images that give a sense of the quality of motion but interrupt one’s ability to fully apprehend an image visually. Still others invite computer users, often, but not exclusively, “dancers,” to contribute their own content to the project or site. Katrina McPherson and Simon Fildes’s Move-Me, Richard Siegel and Hillary Goidell’s If/Then Opensource, and Simon Ellis and David Corbet’s dad.project fall under this category of work.Briefly, in dad.project, Ellis has invited users to submit 60 frames, edited however they choose, of themselves dancing. Some have also included statements about why they enjoy dancing, as per Ellis’s instructions. Once Ellis has uploaded the contributed dance, users actuate the piece by mousing over the image. Each dance has a clear beginning, but an unspecified ending. The frames are navigable forward and backward, allowing users to spend as much or as little time with each piece as they desire. Ellis’s Microflicks, on the other hand, are highly-edited two-second choreographies. Ellis has limited each of these dances to only 50 frames of video footage. In looking at a few of these pieces, I am interested in how dancing images convey any sense of bodiliness at such a rapid speed.I will put these pieces more explicitly in conversation with the readings in a separate post.harmony 

1 Comment »

  1. My attempts at formatting are being quite ignored, so I’m sorry it looks like someone just vomited letters on the screen.

    Comment by hbench — February 11, 2008 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

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