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HASTAC III: Disciplinary Practices Panel

This panel featured Katherine Mezur (University ofWashington) presenting "New Medium: Ditching the Disciplinary Rules andFounding Tech/Performance" and Aden Evens (Dartmouth College) presenting "Desireand the Mouse." The third scheduled speaker, Lev Manovich (University ofCalifornia at San Diego), was unable to attend.

Katherine Mezur (Universityof Washington) and two University of Washington students, Eunsu Kang and Diana GarciaSnyder, who collaborated on an interactive dance performance called "PuPaa"joined us via webcam from Washington to discuss their work. Mezur'spresentation focused on the conceptualization of a new media, its presentation,aesthetics, and practices, which explores image play and the interactionbetween human bodies and technology.

Mezur is interested in looking at how digital art coalescesinto transitional space from three perspectives: that of the witness, thechoreographer, and the media artist. For her, one of the primarycharacteristics of technology is its slippery and elusive nature.  Attempts at incorporating technology intotraditional performances leads to rigidity of stage and screen, forcing bodiesand technologies into weird compromises in which human and technology barelyacknowledge one another.

The repeatability of media necessitates pushing the bordersof the possible: "We need to think big. We need to get rid of forms, sequences,protocol. For a while I thought that engineers should dance and dancers shouldtake a math class. Now I want a visual consciousness that unites."

Her example of a way in which we can experience a new mediais the 2008 performance of "PuPaa" (http://kangeunsu.com/pupaa/documentation.htm).In this work, directed by Kang and choreographed by Snyder, the slow movementsof the Butoh style of dance combine with the cameras and lights situated on thebodies of the dancers to communicate with the audience in a new way. (Anothersite: http://dxarts.washington.edu/~eskang/pupaa)

Eunsu Kang described her experience with the project byexplaining her background as a media artist interested in the post-human mediabody. She had previously experimented with mobile sound projection systems, butwhen she tried them, they did not convey the impression of merging into thehuman body but rather remained a device that the individual was wearing, ratherthan a part of him or her.

This was not her experience with "PuPaa." Initially thedancers in "PuPaa" were afraid of moving around with the devices and cords, butthen they began to sense it as a part of their body, as augmentation. Laterthey felt sad when they took off the devices (for example, they would say "Seeyou later!" to their machines) and they gave their equipment names. In additionto incorporating the bodies of the performers, "PuPaa" also involved theaudience: At the end of the show, one of the dancers is wearing a camera on herwrist and she points it at the audience, which is then projected onto a screenformed from the skirt of one of the performers.

During the Q&A, a member of the audience asked about thefuture of this type of performance and about the questions raised by preservingit digitally. Mazur responded by emphasizing that video recording is anotherkind of performance, but it is not THE performance experienced in the space byperformers and audience. Dynamic kinds of recording such as 3D offer possibilitiesbut live bodies are still essential.

Aden Evens(Dartmouth College) explored the nature of human-computer interaction in adifferent way by focusing on the mouse-based interface and its position in theexpression of desire. The mouse is a narrow, restricted interface that mediatesbetween the material and the abstract by translating human desires through asequence of elementary commands. Although a single click is a complex act thatinvolves hundreds of muscles and computer elements, it comes down to a binaryopposition: either the button is pressed or it is not.

The mouse operates on differential mathematics, recordingits numbers to the computer 1500 times per second, and excludes facets of touch(namely, it doesn't matter how hard the button is clicked). The materiality ofthe mouse is coded binary, as though the computer reaches out through it tointeract with the human body. Thus the user's body also becomes digitized andoriented towards the interface, translating human desires into a single binaryact.

The digital world is not the material world, but a worldgenerated by processes of abstraction in which touch is curtailed because whatyou are touching does not actually touch you back. The icon thus functions asthe complement to the mouse click because it becomes "whatever can be clicked."Even in the simplest case, the icon for a file does not resemble that file; itfunctions as a handle rather than a signifier. For Evens, this abstract natureis precisely that which makes the computer so powerful.

During the Q&A session, Mazur asked Evens about whetherhe has considered the emotional connection felt by the user: when she deletesan icon, she has an emotional reaction to her action. She wondered what happensto the user who interacts with the interface?

Evens discussed the potential of Mazur's work to understandhow the hybrid form of human and technology changes the way bodies work. Ratherthan simply working towards a more efficient input device, we should considerwhat it means and what is actually happening.

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