Interaction, movement, and dance at DIS 2010

Denmark. Århus. DIS 2010. I was particularly excited to be presenting the first detailed paper on Graffiti Dance (an art performance I co-organized last year with Renata Sheppard and Jürgen Schible). Unfortunately, Naaman wasn’t there; it’s fun for the two of us to storm into a distant country…hilarity ensues. The conference itself was spectacular. With all time lows for acceptance rates (I believe full papers were at 15% and short papers somewhere north of 21%; 2008 had about a 34% acceptance rate), the talks covered everything from prototypes to rich qualitative studies. Aaron Houssian liveblogged all three days in case you need to catch up: [Day 1, Day 2, Day 3]. I spoke on Day 3, the morning after we build a nail gun sculpture.

Now with any good talk you present, you should have some new insight to your work. In this case, I decided not to present what’s in the published article which covers some theory, design process, and system—concluding with an informal exit interview with the audience and the dancers. You should check out the video describing the performance on Vimeo. Instead, I presented the providence of the idea; how three artists far apart from each other made this happen.

First, as it was pointed out to me, nothing new was really created to make this installation happen. There were these system components for other performances that we reused to make something completely unique. The Computer Scientist in me appreciated this deeply. Sometimes, in particular with art, we fight for novelty. Henri Toulouse Lautrec put it best:

In our time there are many artists who do something because it is new.. they see their value and their justification in this newness. They are deceiving themselves.. novelty is seldom the essential. This has to do with one thing only.. making a subject better from its intrinsic nature.

Second, this takes a group painting and stencil image session and maps the on-screen movement (created by the scurry of 4 mouse cursors and brushes scrambling to create an image) and maps it to movement in the audience (facilitated through dancers). Why not map the dancers to the drawn image, rather than the movement of the cursors? It occurs to me (after a few discussions with Renata) that most approches proxy movement through audio cues, drawn images, or time of day. Our performances thing about connected action between people. Motion tied to motion is a much stronger link than an image tied to motion. Movement is not a proxy. This relates to a responsive dress Renata and I made last year, the lights in the dress respond to the dancers movements.

Light Dress

Finally, this performance carries the larger research agenda of mine: how do we build for connected synchronized action? For this embodiment that is this performance, that’s worth a longer journal paper.

[Note: once the ACM Digital Library hosts the proceedings, I’ll add a link to the published paper here]

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