Kunst i det digitale feltet (Art in the digital field) - Amanda Steggell
Published: 11.02.2000
Bjarne Kvinsland/Kunstnett Norge

- How do you look at your own experience with the Internet and other digital media as arenas for stage art?

- It is a possibility to explore and develop non-linear dramaturgies in a networking environment. As a choreographer I work with the potential sculpting of movement, of bodies, of mechanical, electronic and fleshy nature through time(zones) and space(s). This has involved developing interfaces for autonomous bodies to create dynamic networking environments in which performance can take place. The stage is the host space. It may be a single physical location, a club, a gallery, a theatre, a terminal which houses the environment, or it may be a network of connected diverse, geographically separated, real and virtual spaces. Roles become synonymous with functions, as no distinction is made between technician, performer, and virtual characters. Digital tools become a medium through which the performer communicates.

- Can you provide some examples on technology-based dance performances that you feel are successful?

- I actually don't believe that you can have a technology-based dance performance. However, the current most popular Japanese game-hall activity amongst the youth, Dance Dance Revolution2, rocks the third-party-player and the disembodied God-role out of the game. Players execute dance sequences on sensor pads in accordance to visual patterns or scores issued on a screen to the accompaniment of upbeat music. Points are awarded when you successfully complete a registered sequence by hitting the appropriate sensor pads on the correct beat of the music. Direct audio and visual feedback is given to a physical action involving the whole body. You are the player acting in the first person.

- Dance Dance Revolution2 transcends the point-scoring game genre as crowds gather around to watch players perform creative feats between the beats, striking the pads with elbows, hands, performing headspins, etc. Being totally familiar with the interface the dancer(s) are able to bend the rules of the game without infringing on them, expressing individuality, virtuosity and creativity through this loophole. This is not technology-based dance performance, but dance-based performance in symbiotic play with the machine. It is the purest form of dance-technology fusion I have experienced succeeding the Pointe shoe. All other possible examples I could give would be hybrid forms.

- What is the gain, culturally speaking, in taking digital media into use?

- Sampling and recycling of cultural references and putting them in a new context gives artists the possibility to comment upon, criticise, juxtapose and manipulate the mediated experiences of a fragmented world in the information age. However, while digital technologies flood the markets, older analogue hands-on equipment is becoming increasingly more fashionable, which in turn can be seen as sampling nostalgia.

- Stage art on the Internet is a relatively new expression. How do you evaluate this form of expression, and which characteristics, if any, is it that make this expression into something which is qualitatively new?

- The tabloids and mass media in general still want us to believe that it's not only relatively, but brand new! There was recently a horrible example from VG and Dagbladet (and Kunstnett Norge!), about Teater Ibsen making the first Norwegian theatre performance on the Internet. This is a very commonplace hype, where a very poor electronic representation of physical stage presence is presented as Live Art. (Red. anm. Vi skrev i vår henvisning til Teater Ibsen at de "reklamerte med" at de ga verdens første teaterforestilling på nett. Først eller ei - vi kan vel anta at de med "teaterforestilling" mente en klassisk 3-akter.)

- Generally speaking though, if you look at Kunstnett Norge's own register of online theatre and dance activities, you will get a pretty good idea of the general status, mostly existing as a source of information, a documentation or representation of traditional performances and techniques, with a couple of exceptions. The same applies on an international level. If you visit the Motherboard site you will see that most of the material is of a documentary nature. This is because we work with live art, which is transient, and the Internet is one node in a string of several platforms of communication. The "old" that remains is the sense of ritual, getting to the right place at the right time in the right mode with the right gear.

- The "new" is finding methods of cramming information down phone lines in a manner that communicates artistic content. From the poor man's telematic presence evoked through the use of videoconferencing shareware, to sound, image and text exchange, movement - the shifting of information - is of essence. Shifting text- and soundbytes in realtime via the Internet is an easier task than shifting the physical body. In order to evoke a feeling of liveness, of physical presence, you have to adapt your mode of work while retaining the essence. One way of being lively is to give the audience the power of intervention, and the best way is to utilise the social colloquialisms already present in net exchange, which involves operating in a social space. In this manner performance on the net becomes site-specific. Narrative forms give way to multilogs and simultaneous happenings. The fluctuating rates of transmission and reception influence the dramaturgy. We become engaged in an improvisational flowchart of some scripted events and a large dose of fuzzy logic.

- What background do you expect the stage artist in the future to have, and will it be natural to have a more developed focus on technological means in the education for stage artist such as dancers, actors, etc.?

- There'll be a new generation of kids geared up to technology and gadgetry long before they even arrive at dance or theatre institutions. If art is to change the way we perceive the world, then educational institutions will have to find the means to facilitate the coming generations. So the answer is yes, a more developed focus on technological means in education will be natural.

- This is already happening abroad, mainly in universities, but also in institutions such as the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam. Norway seems a bit slow on the uptake. Hybrid forms almost always emerge when performers get to use digital technologies. As modes of production change as a result of using digital technologies, more attention should also be given to certain aspects of production which the "creative" people often hand over to the "technicians", thus creating and maintaining something not yet fully integrated.

- What will be the significance of the technology-based art in ten years?

- A blown out lightbulb cannot reveal the absence or presence of an electrical current but your finger in the socket can.

- What is the status of digital pop culture on the Internet?

- In the early nineties, there was a massive wave of dj's and later vj's who were quick to pick up on digital technologies as creative tools. Working in social settings, drawing mainly on pop iconology and sampling in a process of urban jamming, the transition from video reels and cassette decks was a natural progression, and the Internet provided a social space and a platform for geek exchanges. Simultaneously, institutions such as e.g. Steim and Waag (Society for Old and New Media) were developing softwares targeted at, and developed in collaboration with performance artists, which facilitate the manipulation of recorded and live sound and visual information in realtime.

- As both Steim and Waag have somehow emerged from the Fluxus movement, these softwares have an arty "edge", and in this way offer an alternative to off-the-shelf, expensive, corporate products, and this appealed to the clublanders. After an initial enthusiasm following the release and demonstration of these products, artists with limited knowledge of digital technologies struggled to master the softwares developed for their use, while the clublanders were ready to experiment. Due to this interest Steim and Waag have experienced a boost in their hip-factor, and have been egged on to develop their softwares further to accommodate new demands posed on tech-lists and discussion groups etc. on the internet.

- Contrary to specific art and technology mailing lists, these have not included discussions about artistic content but have provided a platform of practical technical information exchange and support on how to realise ideas. This cross-pollination between digital pop culture and art institutions has become so established that radical fractions such as m9ndfukc (mindfuck - m9ndfukc.com) are contesting these institutions and their products, calling them corporate fascists. M9ndfukc have developed their own software, NATO, which allows for more flexibility of expression if you can master the extremely complex interface and put up with a possible bombardment of political subversive abuse when you ask for support.

- Which perspectives do you believe are important to bring into future work with technology and art?

- Networking as a resource, a connection structure, and a philosophy as a valuable asset to carry into the future, rather than the commodification of "art and new technology" as one big marketing ploy.

- How would you describe the conditions for working with technology and art while based in Norway?

- The "cyber art" scene seems to dominate work with art and digital technologies in the consciousness of the public in Norway, and this can be stifling at times, with a small group defining the aesthetics. So it is important to have the possibility to travel abroad, to see how others are working in order get a wider perspective on things.

- With regards to working with performance I have to say that the process of selecting freelance performers becomes more difficult. Dancers, for example, through their training and the nature of their work, most often have limited experience in this field, and generally resist working within it. For this reason Motherboard has chosen to collaborate with multifunctioners with skills ranging from performance, video manipulation, dance, music, acting, storytelling, stage design and net.art as well as a competence in digital technologies. We do not find these combined skills in Norway alone.

- There are valuable resources here in the north, which are supportive of this experimental work, notably NoTAM, Kunstakademiet i Trondheim and recently BEK. Our main funding has been project support from Norsk Kulturråd, but without the support of an international network of institutions and individuals we would not be able to carry out this work.

- Which are your five favourite links?

Mac OS System Error Codes: 1 to 32767
Space Rogue's Whacked Mac Archives
Society for Old and New Media
®*ark (artmark)