- Mobile Performance
- Electric Speed
- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
[Mia hopping, video credits by Mia Keinänen]
alone or not: perception, body and social media is a choreographic frame for creating and exchanging bodily experiences. Participants send short SMS messages or tweets about their movement, actions and perceptions to each other. Together they create a social network of bodily movement that becomes a shared choreography that is documented in Twitter and the project's website.
It was difficult to get these ladies together on Skype at the same time since we were all in different countries in different time zones... somewhat representative of the conundrum they faced when developing their project "alone or not ". But below is an interview I did with them, pieced together from notes and a recording (I’m not a reporter so this is new territory for me), each taking turns to explain and describe the project. – Camille Baker
[Tweets, May 2009]
In 2010 the project Intuitweet received some attention through various networked performance media circles as a means to contribute to the area called Social Choreographies (started by Kozel, Keinänen and Rouhiainen in 2008) on the impetus of research project at the Aalto University in Helsinki that investigated intuition and creativity. The group started the project as a way to determine if Twitter was as banal as much of the cultural writing about it seemed to say it is (in terms of its potential for a performance arts project). Initially, Rouhiainen and Kozel were in different parts of the world from each other, so it made sense to try something that didn't require co-locality in order to be collaborative, and they had already used many types of networked communication to stay in touch. They had all been (or currently are) dancers and choreographers who wanted to find an immediate connection to each other and wanted to find a way to come together, live, even from within different countries. So the pair, plus Mia, started to work together on an improvisation using SMS, and occasionally a web interface, and then moved to using Twitter and called the project Intuitweet, to explore the limitations of the technology.
Intuitweet was also intended to illuminate what such an exploration might bring to their respective practices. What was observed was that if one of them received an SMS directly to their phone, the experience seemed more direct. From there, they started to form a studio practice together through the project. The result of the exploration was immediate and felt like a close and strong experience for each of the collaborators, especially at the start when all of them initiated the project in the same city. The name of the project follow up alone or not came from one of the tweets during the Intuitweet project, when the group found that the SMS function provided a very rich experience, and they wanted to share the experience they had had previously all together in Helsinki, tweeting each other messages to move or make a certain gesture and to feel an immediate reaction to respond. They wanted to share their individual bodily awareness with each other, an internal awareness, as well as their perceptions of the environment, even in images. They wanted other participants who became involved in the project to provide their own perceptions of one another from a distance, such as one of the tweets: "what's happening with your ears"? As part of alone or not, the invited many people to participate and hired a programmer to make an SMS base that could handle up to 60 people using the system at once, connecting directly to it with their phone (this was only available in Finland). The idea was to value the SMS system, but to have their own website and SMS gateway. Their previous project, Intuitweet, was based on inwardly sensing inwardly a movement intuition and coding it into a tweet. Once received this movement would then be improvised by the others, re-coded into a tweet and sent once again for further improvisation. For alone or not, they created their own score of nudges (which were movement starting points or perceptual guides). These nudges were not essential to the exchange but could act as movement impulses in case the larger group of anonymous participants needed help starting or maintaining the improvisation. Intuitweet was, thus, quite different from alone or not.
[improv, march 2010 Helsinki. photo: Laura Kauppinen]
alone or not was commissioned by Zodiak Centre for New Dance in Helsinki and funded by the Dance Art Council of Finland and the Arts Council of the Helsinki Metropolitan Region. Each project produced different movement qualities. alone or not had many more people involved, and was bigger with more funding, the motion became more of exploring perception in daily life and sharing body states across the ebb and flow of life. Intuitweet was more about sending particular movement patterns, qualities or gestures and seeing how these transformed as they migrated from body to tweet to body. Both offered a sense of one’s body map being open to and transformed by others through social networking.
alone or not had instructions for participants and was more open and subtle in the tasks, but extremely different. alone or not made people reflect more, with their own body modes sometimes being opposite from each other in a nice, comforting way; sometimes people were sharing the same state, even though they interestingly did not know the others they were interacting with or where in the world they were. The collaborators wanted to tweet photos and video during the performance, but it became technically too complicated and economically taxing, which was the limitation of the alone or not project.
[Mia ghosting, video credits by Mia Keinänen]
Why/how was mobile media essential? And how/why was it performative and was it essential for this work to be successful? (the following are from answers received in a follow up email)
Mia: The device influence has allowed me to feel less compartmentalised - using the phone to bring everything together. It allows me to be more free in my practice and daily – it requires more discipline.
Leena: It allows people to be more interactive and that leaves a documentary of traces. It requires the dancers to connect with people with technical expertise more than they would otherwise.
Susan: The traces produce their own archive that has its own life. The mobile tech has moved the body practices out into the world into our daily lives. If I can't get into the studio, then the studio is with me and the mobile devices help this, this would be helpful to dance artists if they try this there might be a more fluid distinction between performing and non-performing – we explored briefly the ‘video tweet’ to see if it might have the same impact as the short movement messages – to begin with, what is the visual equivalent of 140 characters? Is it 140 seconds of video? 14 seconds? one still frame? The visual tweets seemed to put us in the domain of screen dance and introduced different aesthetic and dynamic qualities. We received them differently; I found that I judged them as if they were small portraits or movement videos rather than receiving them as intimate messages from the moving body. This is not at all to dismiss the corporeal qualities of screen dance, but just to say that the mobile and visceral qualities of Intuitweet were more at home translated between bodies and words, the words of the tweets. There is still work to be done on the video tweet, in particular, what is the p.o.v of a movement sensation when the dancer herself is also the videographer?
I can also say that there were two unexpected by-products of these improvisations which really revealed its qualities not just as a performance experiment but as artistic research: an archive of tweets and a method for performative exploration of motion. (For a description of the methodological dimensions of this project see “Intuitive Improvisation: A phenomenological Method for Dance Experimentation with Mobile Digital Media.” and for a consideration of the archive of tweets as a score look out for “Collective Corporeality: Listening to the Body through Twitter” in a collection called Mobile Media Narratives edited by Jason Farman)
[improv, march 2010 Helsinki. photo: Laura Kauppinen]
What are you trying to do with this work in terms of the audience reception or interaction?
Leena: alone or not was set up by Zodiac to be a participatory performance to be streamed online; they saw it as an audience work because it was created through participation. The media set up made it easy to see how the audience could participate. Whenever the audience got or sent an SMS, they were performing on 2 levels: as a closed group, where they had to apply to participate, and that the other level was online.
What future potential do you see for the mobile media platform for making art / performance work in general and in your practice specifically?
The group would like to do a live performance and do a follow-up work, but are still analysing this work and trying to determine where to go next with this piece. alone or not definitely had an influence on their work and thinking as well as each of their new projects. The dance community has been very active in using technology (in Finland at least), as part of performance, but some in the group are worried that work like this it might aid in it becoming a bit more disembodied. They believe that doing both – digital and physical contact – are still essential and it is harder to maintain the connection and interaction with one another if your collaborators have never met. While meeting is not essential, it adds to the work and interaction if each can be attuned and have the same type of thinking. But all agree that in dance the main work is in the studio... The artists think that mobile performance and may have a future if it useful for the work. So far it is useful, (for them at least), however it has become less meaningful in some ways in general. As artists, they are trying to find ways for this type of work to have deeper interaction, since artists are always try to push in the opposite direction that the rest of the world is taking and go deeper.
[Back reach, video credits by Mia Keinänen]
Tell me a bit about your digital media art practice leading to this point in your career, and how your artistic journey has led to this collaboration? (the following are from answers received in a follow up email)
Leena: I worked with digital media in the 1990s in a group called Digital multa and the dance artist Tiina Jalkanen and musician-media artist Juhani Räisänen in Finland. After this, my artistic work has involved the camera and video camera mainly as a documentary device. It was the geographical distance between myself in Oslo, Susan who was in Boston, and Mia who was in Moscow at the time, when we shared the interest of exploring bodily intuition and improvisation that brought social media (Skype, Facebook and twitter) as well as bringing our mobile phones and SMS messages to the forefront of our collaboration. When we introduced our experiment to the Helsinki based Zodiak Center for New Dance, and they commissioned us as with alone or not one of their artistic projects, as an exchange of immediate social choreography on bodily experiences and reactions with a larger group began to be foreseeable.
Mia: I started to work with digital media upon moving to Cambridge, MA to work with a dance company in 1994. In fact, the reason for moving to Cambridge was tied to a project I was doing with a video artist Gretchen Schiller, a live dance performance with a video projection. While commuting to rehearse this piece from NYC to Cambridge, I auditioned for a full time job in a dance company, which I eventually got and thus moved. I had by then already a close working relationship with Gretchen (with whom I collaborated on many projects), which led me to be involved with the MIT Media Lab, first with Tod Machover's Brain Opera. So whilst I was working with the dance company (Paula Josa Jones Performance Works), I started to increasingly collaborate with digital media artists based in Boston, which are multiple since Boston/Cambridge is such a high tech area. I also worked at educational CD-ROM company for extra cash acquiring digital media skills. This led me to eventually apply and get in at Harvard, where I did a Masters in educational technologies, concentrating in art and media (classes at MIT and Harvard), and then continuing for a Doctorate in human development and psychology at Harvard. The first year of my doctorate studies I was actually at the MIT Media Lab full time, as a member of Gesture and Narrative Language Group with Justine Cassell thinking of various digital applications for story telling and children. While there, I continued doing some work with Tod, as well as with Joe Paradiso experimenting with his 'magic carpet' (movement and sound interactive device). I made a dance/movement video with visual artist Mark Bain that was accepted to Berlin Film Festival among other places. I also choreographed a dance performance for Boston Dance Umbrella together with light artist Seth Riskin. Being in Cambridge was instrumental for me in terms of digital media and dance. I was involved with many different kinds of projects and went to some conferences in art and technology, so that I learned quite a bit about the 'scene'. I moved away from the US, first to Norway, then to Finland, then to Russia and again back to Norway. Since then I have not done much digital media work, but more 'traditional' dance work and research, until the alone or not project. So alone or not feels at the same time familiar and new to me. It is familiar since I have been existing in the digital media and dance world on and off for 17 years. But new since this is a first project I am involved in using social media. The experience is very welcomed however, perhaps because it perfectly fits my life at the moment, living in different countries and moving frequently, and my current research on embodied cognition. It has felt like such a freedom to collaborate with like-minded colleagues over Twitter, which I did not like much before. It has really helped me to think through how corporeal experience could and should be shared more over social media, which tends to be very literary, as well as quite superficial. But there is nothing superficial about the corporeal experience, even if it is simple. It has been a nice reminder about the ways in which we dancers think and work in the studio. Getting to the studio can be sometimes a challenge with all the life and work demands. Our alone or not project has been kind of a living think tank for dance and improvisation thinking, that has nicely penetrated my daily routines. The feeling of having an extension to 'dance' with people – through these tweets, whom I don't even know, or who may not even have a dance background – has been exciting.
[Shadow squeak, video credits by Mia Keinänen]
Can you tell me about your other performance or interactive projects using mobile media or work related to this or in development for the future?
Leena: I continue to explore embodied consciousness or bodily awareness in interactive and participatory live events in my artistic work. At the moment immediate sound sampling and video feedback are the technological media used to support participatory performance. Developing ideas on using existing social media, and from the base created for the alone or not project is still up in the air with the artistic group, which also includes Mia Keinänen, Anne Koutonen, Susan Kozel, Samu Mielonen and Leena Rouhiainen.
Mia: Apart form the alone or not project, my projects have all had some kind of 'end product' that has been shown or performed, a performance with video, self standing video piece, a performance with interactive technological elements or technological devices, an interactive installation etc. This is the first project I have done using mobile media. I am interested in developing the material further to use it as a base for live performance, since live performance is important to me as a dance artist. I have also been discussing making a 'broken phone' type of Skype dance, together with my dance colleagues now scattered around the world. I do find the mobile technologies very exciting, in terms of breaking the boundaries of time and space. It is such a cliché, but true! However, I find myself being a more of a Luddite nowadays, a bit tired of all different apps and gadgets. I am just using tools that I find useful, and being very careful not to waste too much time investigating the newest and the greatest devices that can be such time vampires. Mobile technologies have created an interesting possibility to blend life and art, which is very satisfactory for me.
“Intuitive Improvisation: A phenomenological Method for Dance Experimentation with Mobile Digital Media.” Studia Philosophia, Universitatis Babes-Bolyai http://www.studia.ubbcluj.ro/download/pdf/557.pdf
“Collective Corporeality: Listening to the Body through Twitter”, in Mobile Media Narratives edited journal, editor Jason Farman.
See also Susan Kozel’s Affexity a new interdisciplinary pilot choreographic project examining affect, dance on screen and cities. A project of embedded choreographies, in the city of Malmö Sweden, accessed by Argon Augmented Reality Platform, via iPads and iPhones. http://turbulence.org/blog/2012/01/12/affexity-medea-event/