somehow personal – An Installation

“somehow personal” is a interactive media and movement based installation. The space was curated to provide spaces for contemplation/observation, interactive media interaction, and build-able projection surfaces. This multiplicitous environment was made to encourage and allow space for movement exploration and observation which created a feedback loop through participant and spectators. An audio/text sound score was delivered through headphones and many iterations were tested to attempt to make the space immersive in it’s design as well as how and where the various intermedia elements were organized.

The bulk of my research surrounding this project grew out of an interest in investigating immersive and interactive dance theatre and how it is conceived, created, and applied from the viewpoint of both the audience/participant and performers. I fixated on Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot, Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, and other various dance and theatre companies that have high attention to narrative, production value, and audience/performer relationship. An integral and preliminary piece of text has been Minh Cao’s dissertation entitled Engaging the Body in Immersive Theatre: Sleep No More and the Rhetoric of Arrhythmic Experience. I supplemented this and many other readings by creating and experimenting with 3D environments and interactive possibilities in Isadora, honing my skills on the actual nuts and bolts of creating with this software.

In my research I discovered studies on immersive theatre that outlined the various ways audience members react to their role. Generally it was polarized between feeling freedom of choice as an adventure and the frustration of lack of narrative or instruction as disabling. Other readings (from Cao’s text) included the expansion to occupational psychosis and trained incapacity. Occupational psychosis centered around the idea that when we as humans are immersed in our realities (jobs, interests, lovers, etc.) will not only affect our choices but how we perceive the world around us as well. Cao described trained incapacity as the paralysis of autonomous decision making created by routine and thus are lack of awareness to subtle changes or shifts. That training ourselves does not always create new knowledge but conditions us to see from only that singular point of view. When used in the context of Sleep No More, Caos’s dissertational subject, the creators can use this knowledge to reorder, rearrange, and re-imagine the user experience. One extremely visceral line was “incongruity has the possibility to rupture our orientation,” thus leading us to feel more disoriented and immersed in the experience.

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The sound score for my work took on many different shapes at different points in the process. I began the semester leisurely reading Bluets by Maggie Nelson which quickly became a great visual and creative influence for my work. In a beginning iteration of the installation I used her words directly to make a narrative available to those interacting in my installation. After some faculty guidance and consulting the article Textual Matter by Peter Dickinson, in which Dickinson describes the use of text is not limited to its actual content but has phonetic material and value, this lead to the development of my most recent sound-scape which incorporated musical elements, original writing, and a verbal stream of consciousness. I really connected with the idea of text as “sonic score” versus a “prophecy” that Dickinson outlines. I also received invaluable feedback from classmates after a test run in which I learned the text was not as accessible as I had planned, and created more of a wash over the environment. In a space deemed available for contemplation it seemed only appropriate to offer, in jumbling trains of thought, a non-linear narrative, rich in casual conversational energy. In abstracting or unhinging the plot I realized I didn’t want to demand that the participant follow the words but instead offer another outlet into the work.

Running with this idea of incongruity and how to understand and account for these ideas of trained incapacity and occupational psychosis came into play as the installation developed and became more fine-tuned. I questioned how to make the space benevolent and curious by using incongruity to offer multiple outlets to many types of audiences instead of disorienting all. The concept of incongruity also helped me as a designer when deciding the how’s and where’s of the actual set up. One major item that I felt important was to keep the audio, and ones accessibility for it, personal and immersive by delivering it not over a speaker system but through individual headphones for each participant. Personal headphones, which usually used to cut oneself off from the world, created a different kind of community where the individuals were able to shared in this communal disconnected experience. It was designed as a tool for uniformity as opposed to experience unison, which I believe helps bridge the gap in our individual trained incapacities. This was inspired by observations as well from Chunky Move’s An Act of Now and Dana Foglia Dance’s show Vatic.

The installation itself was presented in multiple iterations in the Motion Lab in the Advanced Computing Center for Art and Design at The Ohio State University. I utilized and programmed motion tracking technology for the interaction with what was deemed the ‘blue orb’ and used recycled materials to provide buildable shapes as a regenerating projection surface. The pieces of this surface were made to fit together in a singular wall type shape and enough were made that the weight would not be able to hold all and the fallible structure could crumble, therefore regenerating for the next participant. When users entered the space, they constructed many different kinds of formations for the projecting video to be shown on. I even observed some participants building behind and already projected structure. Engrossed in the audio from their headphones and busy with a task in their hands, a different contemplative environment emerged.

“(When) asked the question of how to define the term “immersive,” Felix Barrett–founder of Punchdrunk–responded: It’s the empowerment of the audience in the sense that they’re put at the center of action; they’re the pivot from which everything else spins. It’s the creation of parallel theatrical universes within which audiences forget that they’re an audience, and thus their status within the work shifts.” (emphasis mine)

Another small but mighty design element was the addition of seating spaces. The benches provided an outlet for curious onlookers to observe, and then after studying the interactions with the orb by other participants, began to investigate. This feedback loop allowed for a “consumptive spectatorship” and also provided an accumulating movement vocabulary as participants who were once spectators, try out what interactions they saw working for others and begin to explore new more varied movement interactions. This community formed a small but real bridge in whatever trained incapacities or occupational psychosis they entered with. I had questioned my use/addition/necessity for dance to be inserted into this project (naturally as a choreographer) but found as the experience began to develop, setting up situations for movement to happen was much more fruitful, both to product and to research.

In an installation like this, time and the space itself is fragmentary in nature. In most theatrical productions you leave as the curtains close, elements may linger but the actual event ceases to exist. In this vain, the curation of curiosity was an important ingredient for my installation. The composite experience of the interactive media, space design, art pieces, audio component, task based projections, space for contemplation and observation, and room for exploration lead a large majority of visitors to stay longer than the constraints of the nine minute audio track. Some of my earlier Isadora designed interactions were complicated to make but easy to “figure out” by participants in the space and thus drew less interest. In the end, using a variety of the concepts studied (especially incongruity) a saturation point of “understanding” the space seemed to not be reached. This allowed me to observe many experiences for participants, including the concept of immersion in an interactive world. I am excited to note this as I see my work moving forward as striking interest in not only movement makers, theatre goers, and art enthusiasts but designers, programmers, and interactive media artists alike.

Moving forward, I am curious how my work this semester can translate more into a performative space. I am constantly interested in what ‘interactive’ and ‘immersive’ mean and for whom. The benefit of the audience or the participant, and/or both? Can both exist in a production that I devise simultaneously? This leads me to end with a continued curiosity to keep studying the aesthetic and practical applications of these tools by the artists in the field laying groundwork for curious and eager Masters students like myself.

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