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  GRETCHEN SCHILLER

Body-screenographies, jumping back to leap forward

Whether it is of bodies, light, sound, natural or simulated forces, movement has been and continues to be, my subject of choreographic research [1]. Today, this research results in artistic projects which transform qualitative movement vocabularies across material forms and screens. These projects include movement-based installations which are choreographed specifically to elicit the general public's kinaesthetic awareness.

In the movement-based installation "trajets [2]" kinaesthetic relationships are choreographed, or better put, "choreomediated" among a specific architecture, screens and video images (camera, editing, post-production and real time processing) for the general public. This installation invites the public to stroll and wander in a kinaesthetically-rich and mediated environment with motorized floating screens…a body-screenography of sorts...

Within the context of this installation, both the general public and screens become in a sense, "dancers" or players. Together they "dance" and occupy the same artistic moving space. Not only do screens and "dancers" share the same movement space, but the general public triangulates the role of dancer, audience and choreographer. The participants move in the space, witness others behaviours, and engage in an informal yet structured choreographic event.

As the public moves through the installation, the screens open and close around each individual. The physical presence and position of the public is captured [3], and in turn, influences the ways in which the automated screens move in response to the public's movements. The rotational movement of each screen alters the space. The screens and visiting public together alter patterns in the installation space which affect the screens' direction, velocity and rotation and the publics' pathways or movement trajectories. These interactions which also include projected images[4] collectively constitute the choreography (organization of the kinaesthetic tensions in time and space) of the installation. As the screens rotate the room's fluid architecture shifts.

These public installations, www.trajets.net/quicktime.html are relatively new in the field of dance and installation art [5], yet what this paper illustrates, is how they draw on scientific and artistic movement research which took place at the end of the 19th century in France. Both American performing artist Loïe Fuller (1862-1928) and French scientist Etienne Jules Marey (1830-1904) created techniques [6] which mediated and materialized bodily movement beyond its ephemeral ever-changing nature.

Despite their disciplinary differences and methodologies, both Fuller and Marey sought to expand the scientific and artistic scope of movement perception and kinaesthetic awareness of the body-screened. Marey isolated the body into a controlled environment to capture quantitative shifts of movement over time with "movement-mapping" techniques. Fuller on the other hand, created an "expressive-screen" which transformed her body and its surrounding space into animalistic (serpentine) and elemental (fire) metaphors. Independent of each other, they both contributed to "what constitutes movement and kinaesthetic knowledge", one by framing, amplifying and converting movement into linear sequential two dimensional representations, and the other by creating performances which transfigure the expressive materiality of bodily movement.

Fuller's and Marey's seminal contributions to movement research are far beyond the scope of this paper. Yet, what is of interest, is how the emergent practice of movement-based interactive art can be read historically and situated within a larger field of "movement techniques" and "body screenographies" stemming from 19th century research in art (Fuller) and science (Marey).

Sketch by Colin Lombard, a visual transposition of "The Lily", ca 1900, photo Isaiah West Taber from Musée de l'Ecole de Nancy, Loïe Fuller Danseuse de l'art nouveau (2002) Paris: Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux.

Loïe Fuller's performances premiered in Paris at the Folies Bergère in 1892. Fuller was raised in the United States, but her artistic career and professional identity was born in France. She extended the figurative body by transforming and choreographing movements with mechanical and electronic techniques and strategies. Fuller attached meters of white fabric to bamboo cane shaped arm extensions to create a screen which enveloped her body. With this screen connected to her arms, she crafted and synchronized undulating flowing movement with coloured light projected onto the fabric.

Using these techniques Fuller transformed her body into illusions of fire, animals, and flowers. With a team, at times of 27 electricians, Fuller choreographed movement relationships between the moving-body screen and real time projection. Fuller's performance repertoire include titles such as La Serpentine: The Dance of the serpentine, The Violet; La Violette, and The Butterfly: Le Papillon (1892). Here she transformed the figurative female body with bodily screenographies into metamorphic and kinaesthetic sculptures (Lista 1994: 617-618) as the "…disparition du corps de la danseuse était en même temps nécessaire afin que le voile devienne lui-même l'espression du corps." (Lista: 130) The disappearance of the body of the dancer was necessary so that the screen became itself the expression of the body (my translation).

Her innovative contributions went far beyond transfiguring the materiality of bodily movement with body-screens. Fuller conceptualized stages made with mirrors, which would reflect movement beyond the body and into the architecture of the theatre. Already, at the beginning of her career, she had deposited four patents. These included: a new type of dress specially made for theatrical dance; a new form of stage design with optical illusions for theatrical dance (with lighting underneath the dancer); theatrical decorations made of a white wall garnished with stones, and a stage design with long mirrors upstage giving the space a polygon shaped impression (my abbreviated translation from (Lista: 618).

Running Man

Sketch by Colin Lombard. Runner wearing experimental shoes and holding the recording apparatus 1872 p. 27 from Animal mechanism. Braun, Marta (1992) Picturing Time. The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

As Fuller was introducing herself to the French public, with her body screenographic techniques transfiguring the body, Marey was framing and "screening" the body by creating instruments to study the movement of animals, bodies and atmospheric elements. Busy in his laboratory the Station Physiologique in the Bois de Bologne on the outskirts of Paris, Marey developed instruments to frame, isolate, amplify, record and analyze movement. The year that Fuller introduced performances of a moving butterfly, Marey was studying insect wing movements. In 1892 he published three articles: "Le vol des insectes étudiés par la photochronographie", "Le mouvement des êtres microscopiques analysé par la choronophotographie" and "Le mouvement du coeur, étudié par la chronophotographie."

The following year he published a paper on the movements of the swimming stingray. (Braun 1992: 434). Independent of each other, yet belonging to the same cultural and kinaesthetic climate, Marey and Fuller in their own way, were materializing new forms of movement perception converging the movements of animals, the environment and humans.

According to Marey, humans were ill equipped to perceive movement. He felt that recording instruments should be created and considered as "new senses of astonishing precision" (Braun: 40). Contrary to many of his colleagues, Marey defended and promoted "movement" as a viable research topic in the French scientific academy. Building upon Carl Ludwig's kymograph [7] (1847) Marey began by building the sphygmograph (1860): " The sphygmograph transformed the subjective character of pulse feeling into an objective, visual, graphic representation that was a permanent record of the transient event…" (Braun:18)

Marey transformed movement into a material "trajectoire spatiale" or "enveloppe temporelle" of continuous points in space. (Didi-Huberman 2004; 245) and continued to build instruments to study the movement of animals, the environment and people. He felt it necessary to supplement the human condition's inability to perceive the ever-changing nature of movement.

Marey wanted to isolate movement and detach it from its spatial and temporal condition in order to better visualize and analyze its quantitative nature by optically marking the human body, connecting air pumps to horse's hooves, and analysing trajectories of air current. His real-time instruments mapped movement onto two dimensional graphs and pictures. As Cartwright notes, his instruments became "mutually constitutive processes" of movement perception.

"As the horse's body motored the inscription device, so the kymograph inscription reconfigured the conception of the living body from within, rendering it an ordered living system - a system beset represented by graphical, temporal forms like the calibrated kymographic line or the incremental cinematic image for example."(Cartwright 2003: 24-26).

trajets

"trajets" Photo by Florence Morisot, Banff Centre for the Arts June 2000.

Like Marey, the installation "trajets" uses mutually constitutive processes of bodily movement and mapping feedback to help the public grasp their bodily movements. Mapping in "trajets" does not separate the subject of the public's movement experience from its representation, but instead seeks to develop a participatory dynamic which continuously maps and renders present movement perception between the participant and the given feedback experience. The intent in such a convergence is to draw attention to the general public's kinaesthetic sensations and the physical moving space surrounding them.

"trajets" depends on the physical participation of the general non-specialized public. At first, "trajets 2000 [8]" used computer vision to track the movement of the general public in the installation. In order to capture more people simultaneously and with more accuracy the team (footnote 2) pursued the design of a pressure-sensing floor. [9]

The interactive experience or the notion of rendering presence is articulated through motorised suspended screens moving in response to the visitor's paths: the screens spin and twitch in response to the visitor's body. The projected images are at times figurative (one recognises the body) and at other times more abstract showing traces of bodily movement. Here the screen is not only a projection surface, but also a dynamic participant in the choreography or "screenography" with video and force - based reactions. Like Fuller's "choreographies" or "screenographies" the screens in "trajets "dance". As the screens rotate the room's fluid architecture shifts. The rotational movement of each screen alters the space. As the public moves through the space, corridors open and close around each individual.

Unlike Fuller's prosthetic screen or écran-corps/écran-scène, the screens in "trajets" themselves are not attached to a body, but instead, they are electronically and digitally choreographed with stepper motors. Regardless of this difference, however, there is a common kinaesthetic pull or sensation of movement which occurs. The movement of the screens ripple around the bodies of the visitors like waves propagating around a body in water, like Fuller's undulating screen…

When watching Esterez's film "La Loïe Fuller" I felt a common physical response between Fuller's undulating screen and the swirving screens in "trajets". Like Fuller's screenographies, the projected images transform the qualititative nature of the space. Like Fuller's screens, the visiting public and screens in "trajets" carve space. Like Fuller's body, the public's body and the physical space together appear as metamorphic and dimensional trajectories in space.

In "trajets" each of the screens can have individual and idiosyncratic movement behavioural patterns which animate and personify them. The screens are not lined up together as in traditional linear projection conventions, but instead, scattered throughout a large space. A screen can move on its own account or it can belong to a set of movement behaviours with other screens. Individual and groups of screens receive and reflect video projection. At times the screens are double sided, that is each side receives a different video projection [10].

Mapping is not limited to a continuous linear series of dots or curbs in space on a two dimensional image (Marey). Instead, mapping is dynamic and dimensional. Both individual and grouping's of people influence the nature of the installation- one is not only aware of his or her body, but of a movement field of experiences or lived trajectories through space. The public's body in "trajets" has the opportunity to experience its own inner-felt movements kinaesthesia, a sense of empathy for other participant's movements and or physical connection to the images through dynamic mapping.

The choreographed elements (architecture, video, movement capture, screens) in this installation constitute a dynamic movement field of interactions or a kinesfield [11] within which the general public has the opportunity to become aware of movement within and around their bodies. These relational interactions shift the attention away from the body and screen as separate objects, and instead emphasize the differential and relational play of movement tensions which occur between them.

"trajets" brings together movement mapping techniques (Marey) and expressive screenography performances (Fuller) into a singular artistic and phenomenological experience for the general public. As a choreographer, I feel that it is necessary to supplement the human condition's inability to perceive the ever-changing nature of movement by creating techniques, artistic works and the conditions which draw attention to, or render present movement in our daily lives.


  1. For instance, works such as: Face à face, a videodance performance (1995), Camarà, a videodance documentary (1996), Suspended Ties, a videodance (1997) and Shifting Ground an installation (1999).
  2. trajets is co-directed with Susan Kozel (2000 and 2005). An ensemble of experts Robb Lovell (computer programmer and performer), Jonny Clark (composer), Pablo Mochcovsky (engineer and hardware floor designer), Shaun Roth (architect) and Scott Wilson (computer programmer and system designer) constitute the trajets team.
  3. Trajets 2000 used computer vision and the current version uses a pressure sensing floor.
  4. The choreographic and technical articulation of the projected images and magnetic movement simulation will be discussed in the book: Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity edited by Susan Broadhurst and Josephine Machon.
  5. Artists who explore movement-based interactive art include amongst others, Thecla Schiphorst, Andrea Davidson, Susan Kozel, Sarah Rubidge and Aline Veillat.
  6. I would like to thank Roberto Barbanti, Maître de conférences at the Université Paris VIII for highlighting the distinction between technology and technique. A technology is the discourse relating to a technique - often the term "technology" is used when we really mean "technique". See Barbanti, Roberto (2004) Visions techniciennes: de l'ultramédialité dans l'art. Nimes: Théétète.
  7. Carl Ludwig (1816-1895) introduced this first graphing device to physiology. (Braun: 18).
  8. This work was first commissioned for the Banff Television and Film Festival in Banff June, 2000. It is now commissioned by INCULT a Spanish company specializing in scientific and cultural exhibitions.
  9. Pablo Mochcovsky was the head hardware designer and engineer for the new pressure sensitive floor being used in the new version of trajets.
  10. This technique has been used for instance by American Video Artist Bill Viola.
  11. The kinesfield, describes this interactive process of one’s embodied state as relational to its environment through temporal and spatial phenomenological (subjectively felt) dynamic transactions. For more see : The Kinesfield, a study of movement-based interactive and choreographic art. Schiller PhD, 2003.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barbanti, Roberto (2004) Visions techniciennes: de l'ultramédialité dans l'art. Nimes: Théétète.

Braun, Marta (1992) Picturing Time. The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press.

Didi-Huberman, Georges. (2004) Mouvements de l'air. Etienne-Jules Marey, Photographe des Fluides Paris : Editions Gallimard.

Lista, Giovanni (1994) Loïe Fuller Danseuse de la Belle Epoque. Paris : Stock, Editions d'art Somogy.

Musée de l'Ecole de Nancy (2002) Loïe Fuller Danseuse de l'art nouveau. Paris: Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux.

Schiller, Gretchen (2003) PhD. The Kinesfield : a study of movement-based interactive and choreographic art. University of Plymouth, UK.

FILMOGRAPHY

Esterez, Arnaud (1999) "La Loïe Fuller", 9' Colour VHS. Angers: A Capella productions, France 2 TV 10 CNC, Dancer: Claire Dupont.


Gretchen Schiller is a Canadian choreographer working in the areas of mediadance and movement based interactive art. She received her undergraduate degree B.A at the University of Calgary, her M.A at UCLA and her PhD at the University of Plymouth in the Caiia-Star programme. She currently teaches and directs the Diplôme Création Audiovisuelle Numérique at the University Paul Valéry, Montpellier III. Her works have been presented and toured in Europe and North America. These include : trajets and Shifting Ground (installations) , Suspended Ties (videodance), Camarà (video documentary) and Face à Face (performance).