International Metabody Forum 2015 Intra-action, Madrid

XXI Century Quixotes: politics of the multisensorial body in the era of expressive homogenisation.

1-25 July 2015

The INTERNATIONAL METABODY FORUM 2015 proposes that one of the most far-reaching problems of our time is the new paradigm of government and control that advances through digitization and cybernetics, that poses unprecedented challenges to rights and freedoms as well as inducing unprecedented homogenization of expressions and relations, since it operates simplifying and giving form to our behavior patterns. Metabody proposes to not only analyze this process but also resist it inventing techniques and technologies that mobilize the complexity and richness of embodied interactions, as opposed to the reductive tendency of current information technologies.

Metabody is about reinventing and repurposing technology. It claims current information technologies simplify human expression and aims, through new ways of reappropriating technologies, expand the richness of bodily expression.

The Madrid forum offered an intimate experience to audiences across a series of 15 installation-performances, preceded by 9 days of open production and research process, the Metamedialab.

There are two aspects of interest to my research; investigating technologies for repurposing focused on body and movement, and expanding bodily interactions. Expanding bodily interactions is about communicating the ‘complexity and richness of embodied interactions’ through technology without simplifying meaning and intent. Within the context of my research, understanding this would help inform better design processes.

Metabody’s agenda states, ‘93% of our expressions are in the form of non verbal communication, yet current media reduce non verbal interactions to a highly reduced set of standardized and traceable gestures of interaction through interfaces’. I agree with this statement that technology is somewhat limiting in communicating bodily expression and movement. We have Skype and  Facetime allowing us to connect, but is this enough? My experimental studio work in 2014 working with a choreographer, Seeta Indrani, in London and dancers in Melbourne via Skype revealed the limitations as Indrani explains, ‘I was aware I was missing nuance, moments which might organically grow, take us off in other directions. Unspoken vibes.’ So how do we communicate the intricate subtleties of bodily movement?

During the 9 days 15 installations were developed and then presented daily as an iteration process to refine the work. Each group’s approach to technology and movement varied. Some focused on translating movement into sound and/or projections using sensory technology. One group built a robotic structure that reflected and invoked emotion based on an user’s movement within the space. Others built architectural forms to physically extend the body and therefore enhance movement.

Metakimosphere performance, featuring Vanessa Michielon

Metakimosphere performance, featuring Vanessa Michielon. New wearable design by Michele Danjoux, projection interaction design by Chris Bishop and sound design by Jonathan Reus and Johannes Birringer (c) DAP-Lab 2015.

As a participant of DAP-Lab’s Metakinesphere, it was a rewarding experience working with so many talented artists and dancers from around the world. The process and development was experimental. Johannes Birringer and Michèle Danjoux, the directors and facilitators of the Metakinesphere installation had a direction for the work, but welcomed us to contribute ideas and experiment. As a group we consisted of dancers, choreographers, art directors, sound artist, and a digital artist, myself. There were many fascinating ideas shared and in particular, Jonathan Reus Brodsky, the sound artist, and I discussed networking the projections and the sound data, so the projections would respond to movement and sound.

This for me would have been hugely valuable to my research investigating networks within performance, but we couldn’t develop it enough to introduce it into the performance installation. The workshops were structured so that at the end of each day we were presenting to a public audience. This meant we were focusing on producing a ‘working prototype’ by the end of each day.

The public presentations were valuable. They offered immediate feedback on the work we produced. This allowed us to see what worked and what didn’t and we could make improvements for each iteration. This reminds me of my daily practice as a digital developer, where we employ ‘agile’ methodologies, where we produce a ‘minimal viable product’ and test it with the public for feedback.

One of the interesting aspects I observed was how the public interacted with the installations. The public were given the opportunity to move, touch and play with the artworks. It became very clear which installations the audience were drawn too. The works that provided both visual and audio immediate feedback to their interactions were very popular.

Metakimosphere performance, featuring Miri Lee

Metakimosphere performance, featuring Miri Lee. Michele Danjoux and Johannes Birringer (c) DAP-Lab 2015.

The value for me was working with the dancers and Birringer’s structured improvised choreography. Working in this format helped me understand how to better design and develop the digital projections for the performance and the dancers. In combination with the audience’s reactions I could see immediately what could be improved. The Metabody forum in Madrid was very inspiring. Repurposing technology into architectural performance installations with a focus on movement demonstrated new ways of enhancing bodily expression. How can this now be captured to help inform digital designers and developers to better design digital environments?