[NetBehaviour] telematic performance "The river of no one" - now online

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Fri Mar 25 21:05:33 CET 2022

dear all:
I've received interesting feedback off list, to the publishing of our real-time-remix of "The river of no one."   Since some of you may have worked in networked/online performance projects, I felt encouraged to start a little discussion – if you are willing to enter –  as the production process was not easy, and in retrospect: a very mixed bag, for many reasons. But I also sense that, when watching/listening to it, the modus of a telematic composition (with green screen technology and live interfaces of sound and image/graphic manipulation) may not altogether be clear to an audience,  nor enjoyable? And thus a waste of time.

I started working in telematic dance in 2000, for maybe five years, as a distracting side effort, fun and adventurous for sure, but cumbersome and hilariously complex logistically (we were 7 or 8 site-teams in numerous time zones, trying to work together, no rules). Then I gave up, it was just too
time consuming. A few years ago, I was lured to join Annie Abraham's "Distant Feeling" and "Distant Movement" gatherings, meditative encounters in which we performed together without seeing each other, just feeling the presences (or absences). It intrigued me a lot; as I saw it all coming, in my worst bad dreams, the zoom pandemic era. Awful.  

Then I heard from Suzon Fuks, soliciting contributions to an overview short on the history of online performance ("“Before the first” - https://vimeo.com/503467731). I sent something, but felt uncomfortable, and can't remember now why. As archival pseudo history, I guess, making little sense except of course, extremely nicely, pointing out that zoom (awful) was not new. 

Then last November, I was approached by Randall Packer and Third Space Network, offering me a residency for a new work, to be created over 8 - 10 weeks in 2022; a grant was received by Paul Sermon (of "Telematic Dreaming" fame) at University of Brighton, something I did not fully realize – a grant for UK-based artists in theatre & dance who could experiment – during dire pandemic times – with live real-time green-screem technologies of compositing, technically supported by the US-based Third Space Network. On to the Online World.

I signed up, with 3 other artists from my DAP-Lab company (which I co-direct with fashion designer Michèle Danjoux). We'd worked with wearable and immersive design choreographies for many years, in 2005 even launchinf a late night collaboration between Nottingham and Arizona-based dancers and designers ("tedr",  a strangely lovely wearable costume/design interface via old online broadcaster software, http://digitalcultures.org/exhibits.html)(http://people.brunel.ac.uk/dap/sensualtechnologies.html).  After that gig in 2005, we published articles on "telematic dress design", tongue in cheek, etc and moved on with our lives.

"The river of no one" made me want to seize the opportunity of a new online work focussing on the climate crisis, I had a conceptual plan, and my team (dancer/choreographer Zhi Xu, trans artist and sound designer Dee Kathleen, along with Michèle and myself)  we embarked on a poetic libretto I wrote, and handing over our sensorial process to the technical wizardry of Third Space Network, which for us meant (well for me, at least) a few steps backwards, into control systems & software protocols that made it hard for us to "touch" or connect, in this virtual environment, except through protocol and then automated cue systems which I found alienating and defeating. 

A telematic dance:  the two performers, one a dancer, one a sound artist, perform in their small home apartments' tech set-up (1.50 meter by 1.50 meter) in front of a green screen, laptop, mic, camera, etc.  They had no way of really seeing each other or the mix; if they glance, they see themselves on a monitor, mixed into the background & mid/foreground graphics, and they sometimes are in such midground or foreground, also cropped. They try to perform. They do not know where croplines were drawn, or changed, their scales changed too (they know they'd be enlarged or minusculed).  They need to perform intuitively and blindly. I noted this dilemma early on, each of us being in a different/distributed place, and tried to convey to my performers that they are on their own, really.     Distributed? second life?  forget it. 

I suggested to Zhi that he dance internally, with knowledge of where things might be in the composites. In scene 1.5 and 10,   I also asked him to wear Oculus Quest goggles, and bind strips of green-screen fabric around the eyes, with which he blinds himself. So that he cannot see anything.  This (in my poor conceptual ironic thinking) is what I think global warming or climate catastrophe means (whatever the anthropocene angle on it might be) to us humans -- erratic, blinded, destructive.  From the point of view of a bumble bee, inside an opium poppy –   I do not know what humans and blind humans look like; but watching war footage, and global warming warning, and storm and floor or radioactive Chernobyl site photographs, I almost don't dare to make art. This telematic thing we did, it feels old and fake, in one sense; in another sense, new and damaging, overcontrolled constructed, nonsensual, nonorganic, constricting. Never to be repeated.

with regards
Johannes Birringer


From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Johannes Birringer via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Wednesday, March 23, 2022 10:59

dear all
we have now launched a real-time mix of our telepresence stage work
'The river of no one' - created last week:


with regards,
Johannes Birringer

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