A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. – Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”
Blocks of Continuality/Body, Image, and Algorithm, Koosil-ja/danceKUMIKO’s multimedia dance performance, explores “the coexistence of the digital and flesh worlds” to dramatize “the potential of a dynamically networked body situated in digital environment.”
At first you are drawn to the screens onstage, trying to grasp how the dancers are “playing” them, but soon this grows frustrating, and you realize that it makes much more sense to watch the dancers themselves, and the ways they are registering the onslaught of images and sounds. But even that starts to lose its centrality. One is ultimately left in a Benjaminian “state of distraction,” lost in the dizzying architecture of the digital network, bodies dancing through in fragmented bits and bytes.
In the opening series of pieces, images of traditional dancers, advertisements, famous paintings and sculptures, and other material flash up on the screens and the dancers cut and paste movements together from these digital sources. A girl kicks her foot against a wall, repeatedly. And the dancers follow suit. An African tribal ceremony shifts to a Picasso nude to an advertisement for cigarettes. The dancers seek to lose themselves—and the audience—in the gestural mix. It is not altogether unlike Merce Cunningham’s Cage-ian efforts to choreograph dance by improvisatory chance rather than controlled design. One is not surprised to learn that Hwang studied with Cunningham.
The final piece of the performance grows more intriguing when the dancers attach digital sensors to their bodies, and musician Geoff Gersh plays a large thumping pneumatic bar with his brain waves (also by digital sensor). Here the give and take between digital and flesh promises to be most “dynamically networked.” However, the results are a bit disappointing. The screens feature rather stereotypical “virtual world” imagery and the relationship between dancer movements and digital screens is predictable. The cyborg at this dance turns out to be a wallflower.
What is oddly the most compelling moment is when the dancers, musician, and technicians alike incorporate the wiring up of technology into the performance itself. The choice to lay bare the process of getting into digital gear, calibrating the equipment’s remote control capacities, and verbally announcing when the dance is about to begin (“Ready, ready, ready, go,” the call goes round) made visible the complex coordinations required in all networks. The digital, this Brechtian moment suggested, is above all else social.
It is indeed the sociality of the digital network that Koosil-ja and danceKUMIKO start to summon into heightened form. This sociality is where the flesh and the digital meet. The social body is between the buttons, on the beams, and in a digital ether whose long tail turns out to be embodied itself: it’s the foot of a young woman kicking against a wall.