Sunday, 21 June 2009
SDHS2009 at Stanford University, California, USA
The 2009 conference of SDHS (Society of Dance History Scholars) Topographies, Site, Bodies, Technologies was held at Stanford University, California, USA this year.
I presented two papers: The first was an individual paper presentation delivered from my Second Life Wellington Railway Station - In the Company of Strangers - Negotiating the parameters of Indeterminacy; a study of the Roaming Body and Departure in Urban Spaces.
The second paper was entitled: The Human Analogue in Mixed-Reality. This paper was delivered at a Weltec location on the island of Koru - the sphere.
I include both papers here , just as I delivered them, together with a post-presentation critique.
Lecture podium in Wellington Railway Station with SDHS 2009 conference logo and abstract
Paper 1: Individual Paper Presentation
Video1 : Departed - Movement 1 - In the Company of Strangers
Welcome to the SDHS audience at Stanford University in California and welcome to the audience at this Second Life Wellington Railway Station. Thank you all for coming to this presentation. The full abstract for my Masters project is available on my website and from the bilboards here, at the station.
The title of this Paper Abstract is: In the Company of Strangers - Negotiating the parameters of Indeterminacy; a study of the Roaming Body and Departure in Urban Spaces
This paper scrutinizes Indeterminacy as a mediating force impinging upon our behaviour and its subsequent impact on the nature and constituency of engagements and dialogue between people in selected urban spaces. Concepts centering on the dynamics of departure, temporality and embodiment are being investigated in both Real Life and the Multi User Virtual Environment, Second Life.
In my research/practice, which underpins the concepts in this paper, interventionist dance strategies are being used to prompt and interrogate the constituents of encounters and departures in designated public places. Experimental movement frameworks employed are informed by the discipline of Contact Improvisation Dance and Authentic Movement. The working process is being documented using a range of video narrative.
Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation Duke University Press, Durham & London, (p.5).
Def: 'The Roaming Body' - the body as entity which can never be fully committed to a set position or location in space and time (Mike Baker Feb 09)
Rollo presenting at SDHS 2009 c/o Johnnie Wendt
Embodying Surfaces 1
Certain forces are examined here, which give rise to a description of the human body witnessed in the context of contemporary, urban environments, as a roaming entity. This particular description of the body defines as a reality for us as humans a compelling, involuntary movement away from people and places with which we come into contact. Our roaming I maintain, is responsible in our behaviours for pre-emptive departure and the involuntary pursuit of the next moment - an inexorable, unfolding momentum into the omnipresent future, now past. I am reminded of a sign on the wall of a dance studio in Melbourne, Australia in 2008 during a Contact Improvisation Dance performance of, 'Excavate: A two-man dig' by David Corbet and Jacob Lehrer which stated enigmatically, 'The missing are here, the gone and the taken are with us’. Within the context of my work this becomes reversible and suggests the presence of the aforementioned pre-emptive state of departure; 'Those still here have left, the present and the given have departed and are no longer with us'. This notion is supported in Brian Massumi`s exploration of the ‘‘indeterminacy’ of the body – the realities facing the body which are incomplete without the recognition of another, constantly simultaneously-generated virtual description of ‘now’.’ Massumi posits that ‘this body’ is here, but also, ‘this presence and essentially when in motion, they are no longer with us, here, but ‘over there’, now ...'
As vitally as food, a life feeds upon such insubstantial yet potent ephemera as habits, memories and tropisms - movement in response to a stimulus. Could it be that an unconscious skillset of which we are largely unaware, exercised through the event of departure is one of those stimuli? Our leaving. Perhaps today, as never before, is this unconscious predilection to locate ourselves in the onward surge of movement away from that previous moment, so relevant to our search for both, our collective and individual sense of belonging ... as if we had a choice and were not swept on, regardless ...
Our sense of identity is founded in our ability to belong, to adhere to those places and people in our world which bring a sense of worth into our lives - social interactions; the indicators of our allegiance to particular communities or groups through shared beliefs, values or practices. Yet ultimately, we reside within and our personal cartographies are traversed and reconciled alone. Perhaps never before has the issue of belonging been so under siege in relation to that perception of our Self as a lost locus, a place from which once having made forays in the wider pursuit of a sense-of-place, among people and spaces of meaning with our autonomy intact, we sometimes cannot find our way back.
Embodying Surfaces 2
Despite the frequent dislocation of our time in spaces, has the apparently successful pursuit of our personal freedoms; our ability to navigate inter-personal terrain with fluency and authority, our sense of autonomy in selfhood, robbed us of that cherished sense of belonging to ourSelf and is there still a more subtle, insidious force acting upon us? A climate of indeterminacy - that uneasy beat of dark wings, has always dominated the terrain which we, as humans have had to negotiate, evident in the ways in which our choices are made, in our actions which appear to prevail, in our relations with others, in the spaces we displace and in the times which we traverse. Despite possible desires to stay put, in life the notion of our leaving is central to our existence.
In my research practice I am positing a new Urban Myth. My contention is that all our exchanges, whether they be either apparently resolved engagements, casual encounters or by-passed conversations with people and places, are governed by the agency of departure, evident in these exchanges through the presence of indeterminacy. That is departure experienced by all. Leaving as a phenomenon. The act of leaving as it unfolds together with arrival, is an indeterminant, yet these are uneasy twins in one another`s company and in their location of binary status, both departure and arrival can be defined as events which are central to that process we call change. For us, as time-based creatures, movement away ensures that there are constantly present, small, overlooked dramas with their attendant poignancies expressed within the simplest, most mundane, everyday dynamics between people and places. One could say that the surface or ‘stage’ for my work that you see here, together with the two descriptions of Wellington Railway Station at rush-hour, is also the moving body itself; my own and that of my partner - the body as a roaming transformative surface or screen - the human as Analogue. This body identity travels and transits in place and time from one description of the Real to another. 'Place' can be defined here, as simply a point of temporary purchase within change. When I teach CI Dance I interpret or voice this state as 'looking for ledges' - places of momentary pause, stillness or balance - a traveller in temporary residence locating on or against his or her partner for a heartbeat or two.
Embodying Surfaces 3
In my movement enquiry, I am concerned with the investigation of what I will call the spaces 'between recognized content’ in our lived experience. I am interested how indeterminacy via the Roaming/Leaving Body may influence or to a significant extent, mediate the nature of exchanges between people in urban contexts.
The video playing here is an expression of an intimate, small-conversation between enabled surfaces or screens - both, Real Life dancers bodies and avatars (indeed, as simulacra I believe that they both possess avatar virtuality) perceived as surfaces upon which the human analogue can write and overwrite layers of feeling, present intent and dialogue now past. I wanted to introduce a sense of small but strong drama - a tableau of clenched feeling which we can sometimes witness in public places; a sense of passion, of despair, of pathos at our fate which is to be swept up in this constant movement away from those places and people which sustain our sense of belonging. Our conversation through movement is compressed by time - impending departure often narrows our sensibilities and where we had hours to talk, to smile, to share empathy, thoughts, hopes and aspirations, suddenly there is no time. Private, personal dialogue which largely remains invisible in public spaces becomes larger than life for us - illuminated with undisguised feeling.
The work is mildly interventionist in terms of how it is inserted in the flow of commuters and how this catalyses a response – creating for the people walking past, a private tableau between two people made public, a virtual, half-witnessed-half-remembered-later moment, representative of the myriad of disjunct dialogues and discreet micro-dramas within scenes of departure which may occur in these kinds of public spaces. I am interested in suggesting to the perceptions of those people who notice us, through traces of naturally-occurring incongruity in our behaviour, the opportunity for our bodies and activity to be moving surfaces, redolent with questions, with meaning which may be just out of reach. Equally, the crowd is a moving screen upon which through my movement, I may make marks and leave traces - subtly intervene in the flood of crowd-intent with questions which for them, may outlive the journey home, to be recalled over the evening meal, or perhaps next year in a reflective moment. I am pursuing some participation on the part of the viewer without necessarily, any overt interaction. A witnessing. As witnessed and witnesser we both of us leave traces of our presence which are inscribed on the surfaces of the present at this point in this place.
Video 2: Embodying Surfaces - the Human Analogue - ICS
When we take these traces into Second Life our human analogue takes this corporeal activity and transforms the performative present into cyber configurations of now-past avatar embodiment, across real-digital interfaces. In 'Networked Performance' on Turbulence.org, Ashley Ferro-Murray comments on Erin Manning`s assertion that: '... where technology is less a tool than an active assemblage of potential techniques that feed from and move with a becoming-body.”
This is an accurate description of how I perceive, both, my Real station video work and my avatar and station build in Second Life, not so much as tools for my ideas, but an assemblage of past feeling and perception informed by my present desires and intentions. This Second Life station, this Facet of the Real becomes an apt, living record of the past traversed by our Roaming Bodies from which we may depart through the present in that pursuit of the next, future moment. Through this video-work - these multiple surfaces - runs another strand of our analogue propensity for transformative embodiment. Here, my Second Life avatar is in discussion with another, Sonja Scorbal. Together as manifestations of the Roaming Body, we comprise the projection of our surrogate selves - a vicarious embodiment which moves in space and time paradoxically with my past videoed dancing body. Our conversation is intentionally one-sided with Sonja`s comments and queries truncated by my silence and the onrush of the next moment. Even her farewell is cut short.
Embodying Surfaces 4
Mark Hansen, in Bodies in Code, (2006) sees the embodiment of function manifesting through the human body, acting as a kind of seismographic wand - Hansen, (2006:p5-6). He maintains that: ‘… all reality is mixed reality’, Hansen quotes Brian Massumi who maintains the existence of the analogue manifests as a transformative entity: Always on arrival a transformative feeling of the outside, a feeling of thought sensation is the being of the analog(sic). This is the analog(sic) in a sense close to the technical meaning, as a continuously variable impulse or momentum that can cross from one qualitatively different medium into another. Like electricity into sound waves. Or heat into pain, Or light waves into vision. Or vision into imagination. Or noise in the ear into music in the heart. Or outside coming in. Variable continuity across the qualitatively different: continuity of transformation. (Massumi, Parables for the Virtual ... 2002:p.135)
We, as humans, are all movement practitioners and as such through our internal analogue we possess the innate capacity to map and transform continuously, the many real and virtual realities of which our existence is comprised. Hansen maintains that the reason why so many of us now operate in so-called virtual, metaverse worlds with apparent ease, is because we have always done so - we encounter without comment, a myriad of moments which we could describe as virtual every day in our 'real life' existence. The shift for us as 'analogue' where the process within us as humans which brings metaverse technologies like Second Life together with our natural perceptions, supports a function which expands the scope of our natural perception and integrates real-world and virtual realities to arrive at a more homogeonous blended-reality. I am working in Second Life because my Roaming Body has taken me there and under the auspices of my analogue potential, I can perhaps more easily explore the interplay within Real Life where Second Life becomes a facet of the Real. Here I can converse, witness and belong as analogue, while making critical commentary upon yet another field of departure.
SL station audience with Rollo Presenting at SDHS 2009 c/o Johnnie Wendt
To use Massumi`s phrase, the body`s 'potential to vary' suggests an alignment which juxtaposes, yet does not necessarily subordinate the Realbody to the Cyberbody, while analogue capabilites are present in both. Massumi suggests that the body in movement means accepting the body in its occupation of space and time as a paradox: that there is an incorporeal dimension of the body itself. Of it, but not it. Indeterminate, coincident, but real and material. Something apart yet intrinsic and inseparable. Massumi calls this echo a, ‘Fellow-travelling dimension of the same reality’. I call this echo the Roaming Body. Zimmerman tells us that, 'Humans are not entities, but the clearings in which entities appear'. Here lies affirmation of analogue potential in the Roaming Body. Yet perhaps analogue and Roaming Body are one and the same? In this time-based context, it could be said that the body is present but within its indeterminacy, the time-based embodiment of ‘body’ has already moved on. In qualifying his argument, Massumi paraphrases Deleuze in saying that the problem with dominant modes of cultural and literary theory is not that they are too abstract to grasp the solidity or corporeal fabric of the real. The problem is that these modes are not abstract enough to grasp the real incorporeality of what we take to be real. Through lived states of indeterminacy and leaving, analogue potential through transformative embodiment in the Roaming Body perceptual register, re-inforces our description of the virtual incorporeality of the real that surrounds us everyday.
Finish here 2179 words
Mike Baker 21.6.09
I have for the last two months been in contact with Emily Roehl, the technician designated to liaise with me during the Stanford conference. Emily was immensely helpful and despite the fact that she had never been in SL before, she very quickly became acclimatised and put a significant amount of time into developing those skills necessary to facilitate a smooth running of Second Life projection at the conference. I am indebted to her. We had a number of meetings at which I introduced her to the basic methods of communication, movement and camera controls in-life. We also discussed a broad range of my needs which were required to be met at the conference. I think the frequency and nature of our connection in life was just right and very positive in its outcome.
In preparation for the presentation in the station, I updated my abstract in the station and created four notecard dispensers from which could be taken information about my presentation for any visitors to the station/guests to the presentation. Clare Atkins (SLENZ) provided some scripted bench seats for the audience very kindly and I also attempted to prep a 'button' shortcut next to the lecture podium which controlled my videos. This eventually proved to be too unreliable and on the day I went back to bringing in the videos from YouTube in the usual manner. Grateful thanks to Todd Cochrane and Aaron Griffiths of SLENZ for their assistance with the abstract bilboards and the notecard dispensers. Also to John Waugh (SLENZ) for his write- up of my part in this event on the SLENZ blog.
I had 15 minutes to read my paper followed by 20 minutes of question time. My presentation began well with visuals and sound functioning clearly, but unfortunately after 10 minutes, Second Life crashed without warning. This was a general crash which brought down 30,000 users for about an hour. This is the first time this has happened for some months which was most unfortunate and very frustrating. I immediately went to Plan B which was to use Skype to finish my presentation. I managed to complete this without further trouble and responded to some interesting questions concerning sudden, unforeseen departures, longing and memory! After my initial disappointment, I adopted a philosophical stance and saw the appropriateness of this occurring - pre-emptive departure is, after all, one of the aspects that I am investigating. Both, the SL and Stanford audiences were very supportive and fortunately everyone had seen the videos at least once before the system crash.
I subsequently found out that because the previous presenters had taken longer than their 15 minutes, I had only ten minutes with less question time. I found this a highly questionable practice where the facilitators responsible should have been more vigilant. However, this is all very real practice and experience for me and not uncommon at conference events and I feel grateful that I actually had good audiences in both venues. Often at these large conference events only a few people show up due to the broad range of presentations going on at once.
Topographies Sites, Bodies, and Technologies - SDHS Conference June 19-22, 2009 Stanford University, San Francisco, California
1) Envisioning virtual cartographies for corporeal interaction: dance and performance convergent applications of Second Life 3D Metaverse social environment. (Isabel Valverde, Mike Baker)
2) Real Dance and Dancing in metaverse : from the activity by INETDANCE Japan
3) The Human Analogue in Mixed-Reality by Mike Baker
Image from Roundtable Discussion Panel introducing Mike - live broadcast from Stanford University, California, USA. Image c/o Yukihiko Yoshinada
I would like to discuss possibilities for investigation into transformative embodiment through human analogue potential.
At the end of my presentation, I would like to hear any questions, feelings and observations from the floor on the following: What do people understand about analogue capabilities and the existence of enabled or embodied surfaces or 'living screens' which become the receptacles for present and past inscriptions? How might these reflect/transpose human desires or interpretative potential in the generation of dance work? Also please ask any questions or pursue trains of thought that you might have.
Video 1 - Embodying surfaces - the Human Analogue - In the Company of Strangers
The theorist Jacques Ranciere describes 'surface' as a paratactical space - a site of exchange, where language, images and actions collide and transform one another - a place of slippage between spaces. Stephane Mallarmé has defined dance as a form of writing on the surface of the floor with the intent to transpose this mark-making to the written page - transformative embodiment across surfaces. Post-modern thinking has sought to erode the paradigm in the modernist separation of surface worlds by challenging the sturdiness of the boundaries between these surfaces. In my current Masters in dance and video project, 'In the Company of Strangers', one of the strands of my work has been to explore that the concept of spaces and their content be perceived as surfaces, which possess the potential to be enabled, inscribed or embodied.
I have been investigating this concept in Real Life through structured improvisation movement modes in commuter rush-hour crowds, in Wellington Railway Station in New Zealand, Aotearoa. I have also constructed a simulacrum of this station on the NZ eduisland of Koru in the Multi User Virtual Environment of Second Life and I am bringing the videos of my Real Life dance into this Second Life railway station - at one level of perception an enabled, embodied surface meeting another, equally enabled, embodied surface. When I began this project, I began to investigate the basic premise that the 'real' is influenced by the virtual, all the time and everywhere - in Real Life; that we experience moments which could be described as 'virtual' every day which, through our human analogue properties, we either remain oblivious to, ignore, or assimilate and transform, rendering those virtual moments as real. Within this context, Second Life as a fully-immersive environment manifests as an extended 'virtual' event in which we may reside for a longer period of time; an extended layer of the Real. This means that Second Life itself, like so many aspects of Real Life, becomes another screen - not only literally, but a surface construct which may be encountered, left and re-encountered, manipulated and inscribed, ignored or selectively dismissed by our analogue facility in the pursuit of transformative embodiment.
Mark Hansen, in Bodies in Code, (2006) sees the embodiment of function manifesting through the human body, acting as a kind of seismographic wand - Hansen, (p5-6). He maintains that: ‘… all reality is mixed reality’, Hansen talks about the existence of the analogue as a transformative entity: Always on arrival a transformative feeling of the outside, a feeling of thought sensation is the being of the analog(sic). This is the analog(sic) in a sense close to the technical meaning, as a continuously variable impulse or momentum that can cross from one qualitatively different medium into another. Like electricity into sound waves. Or heat into pain, Or light waves into vision. Or vision into imagination. Or noise in the ear into music in the heart. Or outside coming in. Variable continuity across the qualitatively different: continuity of transformation. (p.135)
We are all movement practitioners subject to time and as such, through our internal analogue we possess the innate capacity to perceive, transform and combine continuously, the many real and virtual realities of which our existence is comprised. Hansen maintains that the reason why so many of us now operate in so-called virtual worlds with apparent ease, is because we have always done so. Davin Heckman in empyre - undocumented worker, turbulence.org, has this to say of issues relating to capturing the present:
I think of the question of "presence." Whenever we enter into the problem of representing a particular event, we take the "present" and repackage for a different or deferred experience ... It's like taking a drug to have the experience of dreaming while awake, of looking at a snapshot to have the experience of being with someone who is absent, etc. ...
For me, Heckman is voicing here the very transformation process to which I am referring - the analogue transformation of snapshot into remembered experience ... it is the analogue`s role to bridge that gap of difference between present and past, event and representation.
Image from Roundtable Discussion panel - c/o Yukihiko Yoshinada
My intention through my analogue being-in-change (Henri Bergson) where resides an embodied 'becoming' between worlds, is to explore how this dual identity - this 'difference' may evolve into a single, blended reality. To use Brian Massumi`s phrase, the body`s 'potential to vary' suggests an alignment which juxtaposes, yet does not necessarily subordinate the Cyberbody to the Realbody while analogue capabilites are present in both. When we take these video traces into Second Life, our Human Analogue assimilates this corporeal activity and transforms it into cyber configurations of avatar embodiment, across real-digital interfaces.
With the aid of my avatar, Rollo Kohime, I have constructed screens which have evolved into a simulacra of commuter crowds flowing through the Second Life station. A crowd-screen or surface with its subjective associations. One could say that the surface or ‘stage’ for my work, rather than two descriptions of Wellington Railway Station at rush-hour, is equally accurately, the moving body itself - the body as a roaming transformative screen - the human as Analogue. This body identity travels and transits in place and time from one description of the Real to another. In my dance enquiry, I am concerned with the investigation of what I will call the spaces 'between recognized content’ in our lived experience. Within the video playing here is an expression of an intimate, small-conversation between the Real Life dancers, Mike and Fiona, these same dancers (due to their videoed separation from their original present-tense performative context) perceived as temporally-based Real Life avatars and then the Second Life avatars, Rollo and Sonja - these personna in their different descriptions perceived as surfaces, upon which can be written and overwritten layers of feeling, present and future intent, dialogue, past traces or residue. Equally, the Real Life crowd is a moving screen upon which through my movement, I may make marks - subtly intervene in the rushing flood of crowd-intent with unsettling movement and interaction, with questions which for them, may outlive the journey home, to be recalled over the evening meal, or perhaps next year in a reflective moment.
Embodying Surfaces 5
In 'Maintaining the Digital Embodiment Link to Performance', Andrew Bucksbarg suggests a positive extension, rich with possibilites inherent in metaverse environments like Second Life; 'Are networked simulated worlds much more similar to our dreams and imaginings than to the clunking improbability of a physical world? Unlike traditional media forms, do video games, simulations and other newer media perform the opposite of the suspension of disbelief? Do they encourage an extension of the imaginable? If the utopic promise of humanity is creative imagination, then it makes sense that methodologies for communication and content creation, which form a blank screen onto which this imagination can occur, are the ideal medium- the metaverse or meta design system.'
Potentially, then, imagination itself becomes a screen and if we recognize a process of surface activation and embodiment through the medium or surface of imagination in Real Life, we have a meld of what once were descriptions of Real and Virtual screens existing in this Blended Reality that we inhabit, everyday. For Susanne Langer, a dancer`s body must transcend the energetic, physical body while performing - the performing body must project the illusion of 'virtual force' to fully constitute a work of art. For me this force is not virtual and it is not an illusion. I am seeking in my own work, to bring together various embodied aspects of the Real which may ultimately constitute a composite description of this force.
10mins reading time (1378 words)
Mike Baker 21.6.09
I had been invited to present at this Roundtable discussion group by Isabel Valverde last year. I am grateful to Isabel to have had this opportunity but in hindsight, preparing and presenting two papers for one event is extremely challenging, particularly when one of the presentations is collaborative with people who are not in the same country/time-zone. We all suffered from poor communication, confusion in trying to arrive at consistent meeting times and then once meeting, to be able to achieve our aims when none of us had the technical skills necessary to coordinate a menu of videos, images and powerpoint presentations without outside assistance. This was most marked for me at this event, where in my individual presentation, I was able to do almost everything myself and therefore to plan my time accordingly, making my aims achievable. But this is to be expected in collaborative works. It takes enormous energy, time and patience just communicating sometimes. This was good experience for me, though - I have done a lot of collaborative work over the years but not with other artists who are so far away. This development goes with the digital territory that we are occupying, with the attendant problems and frustrations. My main issue was that the two presentations were quite different so I had to prepare two separate abstracts/objectives. I do have sufficient breadth in my body of work to be able to carry this out but it has been demanding wearing different conceptual hats - and becoming excited about both directions.
As technical assistant for the event I was able to secure Emily who so efficiently facilitated for me in my individual presentation earlier in the day. In the days immediately preceding the presentation there had been problems bringing in the videos to the screen using a sensitized texture on a 'button', rather than streaming Mp4s from YouTube into the actual land location (which is what I have been doing all along). On the day this proved to be a major issue. I had arrived early to get my video playing because I was first up and this was running well. This had to stop to bring in a live broadcast from Stanford and when it came time to play again, it would not play in our Second Life location, so Emily played it straight from YouTube to the Stanford audience. I presented my paper without problems, with good sound clarity. Unfortunately, when it came to Yukihiko`s and Isabel`s presentations I had very poor network capabilities and failed to hear their delivery clearly. I filmed sections of both of these presentations using SnapzPro on my Mac and I will be sending copies to Isabel and Yukihiko. These examples are actually interesting for their mis-communication, their disfunctional activity, representing the other side of Second Life; the digital anomaly, the truncated signal, the unrezzed narrative.
To sum up, There was some good content and solid commitment to making these presentations work, despite the difficulties. We all presented on the day and we were all heard by the respective audiences. The work was affected to different degrees by the unpredictability of the technologies that we were using and there was failure in our primary, followed by success in our secondary technology strategies for back-up.
Once again, I am indebted to Isabel Valverde, Yukihiko Yoshida, Todd Cochrane, Emily Roehl for their roles in this endeavour. I will be trying to learn from this event to make sure as far as possible, that my next conference presentation on Friday 26th June at PSI#15 at Zagreb, Croatia, will be as smooth as possible.