Ava Heller, Elise Knudson, and Melissa Guerrero in koosil-ja’s Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image, and Algorithm, photo by Yi-Chun Wu
Dance Theater Workshop was transformed into a laboratory last Thursday evening for koosil-ja/danceKUMIKO’s Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image, and Algorithm. Multiple flat screens hung from the ceiling, a musician sat upstage, a weird-looking contraption with tubes was placed in the downstage right corner, and a line of computer programmers worked on laptops along the front of the stage. These were some of the necessary components for koosil-ja’s exploration of movement, digital media, and visible and invisible aspects of the body. Based on her study of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy, koosil-ja utilized interactive computer programming and Live Processing – a technique for generating movement in real time – in this complicated, frustratingly incoherent experiment.
The detailed program notes explained that the work was split into three parts. First, Melissa Guerrero, Ava Heller, and Elise Knudson explored the Live Processing technique. They mimicked and combined movements from multiple video sources that could be seen on the suspended screens. Although the sources included photos of paintings from Louvre collections, traditional dances from Africa, Tibet, and India, and fashion advertisements, the program noted that koosil-ja eliminates narrative and politics. Rather, her focus is on depicting movement as “pure data”. The result showed three stoic dancers that seemed dehumanized, removed from their bodies in order to become the “pure data” that koosil-ja investigates.
Sitting at table: Robert Ramirez, koosil-ja, and Madeline Best. Standing behind table: Melissa Guerrero, Ava Heller, and Elise Knudson. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu
The second section exposed the technology behind the third part, in which the dancers wore sensors that integrated their movements from part one with 3D avatars in a virtual environment called Slum. Additionally, Geoff Gersh’s brain waves were processed by a computer that triggered a sound installation (this so-called meditation was merely a repetitive tapping on the wall from the contraption mentioned earlier). Layering a virtual world on top of a live one seemed problematic. If koosil-ja is solely interested in pure data and the dancers’ pure potential to create new movement, then why bother providing virtual characters and environments? The Live Processing movement was unrelated to the themes and concepts in the video sources, yet the avatars were in specific environments. “Desire” was a dancer who never leaves her room; “Hack” was an orphan thief who lives in the basement of the slum; and “Strata” is a man who lives in the streets of the slum. Although the dancers were robotic during Live Processing, the avatars looked even more so as they were controlled by the dancers’ movements. What is the purpose of Live Processing – and live performance – if the result in part three consisted of virtual actions from what looked like a lame video game?
The concept for Blocks was ambitious, but the layout of the piece and the program notes were overwhelming, and the process that was shared with the audience was incoherent. koosil-ja’s fascination with integrating media and movement is admirable, but the result was not reflective of technology’s intricacies and advances. Furthermore, stripping content of its narrative and context ignores that which makes it human, real, and intriguing.