encounterBLOG 16 November, 2007, opening night

encounter as „blog“ is writing as if we were together, at this event, in this location (and its networked co-sites), communicating a shared experience. or experiences that perhaps need to be articulated and exchanged to obtain a sense of what this CYNETart festival aims to do. it’s the 11th edition of the computer-based arts festival in Dresden, and i think it’s the first time the festival has a blog.

i am not a blogger, and thus have little experience in this form of social chat or internet reportage/diaries, but our team will upload videos and images of each event-night (see image archive, on the left) and you can get an impression of some of the installations and performances. my writing will interweave with the images and sounds, and also add some particles of live interviews, overheard conversations. let’s start with the first night and the action (after the opening speeches by the representatives of the city, the european centre for the arts hellerau, and the cynetart festival itself) – and an impression of the great hall at hellerau.

what you see when you enter is elongated vast space, in elegant darkness with some small pools of light emanating from floor, the stair cases of the audience platforms, the ceiling. in the enormous, newly renovated Festspielhaus, designed after visions by early modernist innovators (Adolphe Appia, Emile Jacques Dalcroze, architect Tessenow) about a hundred years ago, there is no separation of performance and audience spaces, the hall is performance-space, open platform. tonight, visitors are invited to sit down on two opposite sides, facing each other. The audience is an inter-face. in the center areas, we might call them the mouth, the forehead, there are arenas that will come alive in the interactive performances.

the building is vast, and it has a foyer and wing spaces – the wings are performance studios here used for installation and performance exhibitions, and during the evening the visitors wander between the sides, left – center – right, again as if to traverse the symmetrical sides of a face, the yin and yang of artistic energies finding concentrated expression in midst of our presence. on the west side, upstairs, is Markus Kison’s „Touched Echo“ – a documentation of a project constructed in Dresden and dealing with the darkest hours of the city during the last world war. on the east side there is Sonia Cillari’s live installation – you walk into the space as if into a future lab, the body of the artist waiting for you to expore transformations of the projected environment. More about her later.


in sequence, there are three performances on opening night.


the sound environment and parameters are composed by Wilfried Jentzsch, the performer is Dresden dancer Udo Zickwolf. Under dim, warm light, Zickwolf enters on the „forehead“ and sits down on a cushion, beginning a slow, careful, fully quiet and concentrated meditation-performance, using at most a gentle shift of hands, fingers, and position of head, barely moving his upight torso. The musical environment, partly influenced by Zickwolf’s gestures, creates the responsive world of sound in which this performance envelops us, more peripherally, synaesthetically. we don’t have to look at the dancer as this is not a dance (in a traditional sense).

mimpi is perhaps an indication where cynetart_07 is moving — the festival and its performances experiment with presences and with virtualities, potentialities. In this opening performance, quite apropos perhaps in regard to Hellerau’s early history (Dalcroze), the performer pays attention to small changes in energies, creating or following almost imperceptible impulses. Zickwolf speaks of „impulses“ when he refers to the Buddhist underpinnings of the work, and he fondly remembers the John Cage of the 50s and 60s, when the composer explored the chances in the atmosphere, the weather, the world. in Mimpi, we listen to two systems, a sound world and a movement-energy system, performed by Zickwolf, each of the world is partly autonomous, and of course they are intertwined, as the performer may respond to sounds, and also affect some of those we hear or can distinguish (such as the gongs near the end). the last part of the sonic performance is impressive, gaining in quality and subtlety, while the first half seemed not well mixed (in the sound diffusion) and actually marred by a sound system that could not manage the vast size of the hall. the impressions we are left with are of Udo’s small, delicate surrender to this vastness, he barely moved at the end, and this reduction has its own complex problems, of course, as the question of energies, or gestural energy (how is energy visually moved, indicated, communicated, to what audience and in what art context or meditation context, and why have we not heard much of the meditative computer arts? Brian Eno’s installations seem ages ago…) would be raised as both a physiological and spiritual issue, and then as an interactive performance challenge. i got the impression that i could not often recognize any interfacial relation between Zickwolf and the music, and i trust this autonomy of the two systems was intended, which makes it an interesting case of interactive art, of the second or new generation of non (1:1) mapping of interfaces. the mapping here is non-transparent, a connection in the first half of the performance non-apparent.


conceived by Klaus Nicolai (one of the co-founders of cynetart) and developed by Matthias H√§rtig, this ambitions project takes the subtitle of this year’s festival as its basis for creating a networked/distributed site for performance encounters. here the telematic connection links three sites, at this point, namely Dresden-Hellerau, St Petersberg (State Ballet Theatre studios of L. Jakobson), and Norrk√∂ping (BitNet Productions Studio). after a short introduction by Nicolai, a young dancer (Valentina Cabro) slowly approaches the „mouth“ area of the great hall: the floor is now illuminated by a sepia-toned overhead video projection, and a grid appears (sometimes it is just a white or grey canvas, a suprematist floor alive with projected distant presences). Cabro steps onto the digital/virtual space.

the performance is set into a theatrical framework, lights go down, hushed silence (astonishingly, as many other frameworks are imaginable, and network connections usually are messy, chatty and nervous, accompanied by all kinds of communicational back and forths). as Cabro explores movement patterns on this floor, we notice that she must be monitored (followed) and analyzed by a camera vision system, and the programmers (Frider Weiss, who wrote the Eyecon system, here collaborating with H√§rtig, Daniel M√ľhe and Jacok Korn) have worked to construct an abstracted live „doubling“ of the performer’s body in telepresence space, providing for the confluences of these data doubles coming in (across the network) from St Petersburg and Norrk√∂ping. in Russia, the performance team includes Jury Didevich, Dmitry Letakhosvky, Dmitry Dubov; in Sweden, the team includes Christian Bjorklund and Emelie Bardon.

„doubling“ might be the wrong word. what we experience in the performance is, first, a topological dance, live performer with/on top of her own data, then exploring the „encounter“ – the duet with a differently contoured projected presence (the Russian), then meeting a third, differently contoured data presence.

the data shadows are configured as „bodies“ only in so far as they behave like nervous physiological organisms, but in this Tele-plateau_01 there is no attempt at realism, at representation. the encounter is a virtual dance of felt, assumed presences, implied presences. At some point, half-way through the „plateau“, a crystal-clear voice is heard, it must be the Russian dancer’s voice, and we follow her cadences and begin to think we are in the presence of a voice speaking to us from a vast distance. occasionally the sound crackles, there are small lags and interruptions, usually a clear sign of the network conditions for streaming media.

meanwhile we observe a person (later the audience is asked to step on the floor and explore for themselves) meeting an other in virtual space, their shadowy distorted geometric „anatomies“ (squares, curvatures, angular grids, flickering lines, cubes, etc) floating, moving, appearing and disappearing across the flat plane of the floor. There is no light used except the light of the video projector, leaving the live dancer at a disadvantage, she is not quite three dimensional, and the audiene is staring at the virtual nervous system under her feet. then we hear the German dancer’s voice, and soon we deduce the text is the same (Russian and German), and since the German dancer does not speak, i infer the sound is prerecorded and not live communicated.

regardless of these contradictions, the performance has a structure and form and intense intelligibility which is thought-provoking, especially as the nature of such a „tele-plateau“, as a social, creative encounter-space, the modes and etiquettes of performing through bodies and bodies-in-code, with others, others unseen and perhaps unheard but materialized, need to be composed.

at this point, tele-plateau_01 is a vision for such an encounter space for digital embodiment across distances. a utopia. when nicolai speaks of the future global-networked citizen, the „Weltb√ľrger,“ and envisions tele-sociality and social networks co-producing new art or new forms of creative communication (translocal collaboration), he is not far off. Not from the encounter spaces we already have, in the Web, on Skype, in multiplayer games, in Second Life, in YouTube culture, blog culture (?), to the cyber pavillons that were initiated here in Dresden already, where the skate boarders zoomed through the public cyber-pavillon and heard the sounds they generated, imagined themselves heard and seen else-where.

but still, he is far off from a social and practical engagement with the vicissitudes of speaking to (or performing with) an other, or even several others at the same time, in China, in Russia, in Sweden, in Poland or in England. artistic criteria are also unexplored, unevolved. there are none, except we tend to know when an event bores us, or has no particular meaning apart from the hype surrounding the new, the innovative (come to see our performance in SL !), the technological tools. artistic criteria include compositional and presentational forms, as well as communicational or interface design aspects that link the functional with the expressive and emotional (affective).

the bodies-in-code, the severe abstraction of data analyzed in capture and projected as moving digital body-schemata (contoured or fragmented geometries) may share a universal mathematical code now, as the machine vision reads the motion it sees. but the machine of course knows nothing about persons, contexts, languages, and the voices, which is one of our most complex and spectral embodiments of the self, the presence of self/self-expression. the performance of tele-plateau_o1 has a severely spectral character, nothing there convinces me of the thereness of the others. which may only show that imagination of the social might or some imaginings are more sceptical than others. I did not witness an encounter between persons.

„Se Mi Sei Vicino“

the doors open to the east studio, and near the end of the roonm, a woman stands still, awaiting us. it is quiet in the room, which is mostly illuminated only by two strong video projectors shooting white light on square behind and to the right of the still person. she will remain standing still for over an hour, inviting the visitors to interact with her presence, touch her or the space that is her body field – she is inviting „being seen,“ as choreographer Deborah Hay used to call it in her dance workshops. but more than that, this is an invitation to become involved, to engage the quietly present figure on her small stage. to „perform“ for her?

Cillari is not a dancer but an architect and digital artist, and it’s intriguing to think of the differences in method here. the installation is quite unrelated to dance, in fact, and yet there are undercurrents (in the physiological and kinesthetic and meditative dimensions) linking it with mimpi. furthermore, she is not just asking to be be seen and interfaced with – the interface is a wholly mediated one, and what changes in our perceptions of her, of the interface-architecture or the tele-presence, is the mediated architecture of Cillari’s „body“ projected onto the two screens. what moves on the screens is the „mediaskins“ – the abstract skin-etal representations.

[as it turns out, i am wrong to asssume it is Sonia herself who stands inside the performance installation. as i am told later that evening, the woman standing on the platform is local dancer Ariane Thalheim who works as an independent dance artist with the group Schott AG]

Cillari’s work, Se Mi Sei Vicino, is an installation designed collaboratively with Stephen Pickles (environment programming) and Tobias Grewenig (sound). it could called a proximity-sensing „body-environment,“ and its premise reminds me of socio-biological research into the danger thresholds of human and animal beings – at which point is a threat perceived, or when is an approach to the body and one’s sense of existence considered harmless, friendly, intimate?

in Cillari’s body-environment, interaction is actuated by the visitor who needs to step onto the black floor and approach the installation-performer. the latter is positioned on a 7×7 square feet black square that has a smaller white square drawn just under her body. the audience at Hellerau is not shy at all, quickly the members of the audience go on, interact with the still woman and explore the effects of touching her space. the space of her body and the space surrounding her skin and her clothes are the interfaces. Cillari’s idea is to measure human encounters (via the software and its sensing capabilities), and the participants can realize that the boundaries of the self extend beyond the skin. The sensor floor on which the performer is standing functions as a human antenna; when a participant comes close to her or touches her, the body gestures are registered as electromagnetic activity. The large projections show real-time algorithmic organisms connected to audio compositions: quiet and standing still, with no interference, these projected skeletons (their abstract figuration resembles a skeleton but when they are stretched and distended, these skeletons begin to look like skin-textures) simply hover in default mode. they change their form drastically and furiously according to fluctuations in the electromagnetic field. they distort, they are torn this way and that way. The relative distance between the bodies on the platform determines what is to be seen and heard, how drastic the fluctuations and stretchings of the mediaskins are.

this installation is the highlight of the opening night – it is transparent and brilliantly conceived/realized, and clearly depends on the proactive „user“ (audience-participant) to come alive and become meaningful in the direct physical and electro-magnetic encounter. there is an immediate encounter between bodies, and a translated encounter (using a scientific approach to human embodiment that explores the nature of the electromagentic waves). the encounter is re-projected simultaneously — the visualizations are enormously captivating, and they have a strange architectural and anthropomorphic/anatomical quality, as one might expect if remembering ancient architectural theory. The digital nervous field is sometimes ennervating, as the sound is quite strong and propulsive, and the only weakness in the work might be that there is no development (in the interactive behavior or in the relational aesthetic of the work as a whole), no growth of intelligence in the states/behaviors, at least not to my perception. the installation is loopular, in so far that the behavior of the projected responses depends on the coding of the sensorial activities (performed by the audience). Most audience participators, although each obviously approaching the still-standing Ariane Thalheim uniquely, gradually end up repeating the same kind of gestures of approach, nearly touching, touching, keeping polite distance or polite intimacy. No one exerted any violence or aggression (as it was once experienced in a body installation by Marina Abramovic, when she left a knife lying next to her naked body, and a member of the audience took this to mean an invitation to cut her). In the digital era, the cutting and the sampling are done digitally and through code, a certain direct element of danger (as we know it from remote control or surveillance technology) is camouflaged. But Se Mi Sei Vicino is a captivating experience: to be in this room and observe the crowd, individuals leaving the chorus and engaging the performer, stepping onto the platea/plateau, detecting the waves that surround and flow through us.

i end by noting that the book/catalogue, published for the festival, appeared on time, and is ready:

¬ĽDie Welt als virtuelles Environment¬ę

(in english and german. 200 pages, ISBN 978-3-9810247-3-9, 15,00 Euro)
Saturday we expect a special event at 22:oo, a live net performance streamed to Hellerau from Hong Kong. More soon.


johannes birringer

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