This semester I am taking Intermedia with Norah Zuniga-Shaw. This course, offered to both undergrads and grads, serves as an opportunity for students to learn about, discuss, and collaboratively create Intermedia performance projects.
As someone who has not typically been attracted to working with technology in the past, I went into this course knowing that I’d feel a little out of my element. Throughout our lab time, our discussions, and our readings, I’ve attempted to work through those feelings of discomfort (and sometimes disinterest) to find some ways in which I can relate to the material and continue to grow as an artist. Here are just a few of the course elements that have drawn me in:
- Sensory-based exploration
While I wouldn’t say that I have an affinity for what contemporary performance often categorizes as “immersive environments,” I am drawn to physical sensations and practices that participating in mediated environments invite. In my own somatic, improvisatory, and choreographic practices, I rely heavily on sensation, energy awareness, and intuition in relationship to space. Right now I am working especially in outdoor environments. In essence, while the spaces might be different when working in mediated, immersive environments than in outdoor settings, the physical responses and modes of exploration have been quite similar. I am still responding to impulses in response to external stimulus from the space itself. This has been an exciting and comforting way for me to enter into the explorations in this class.
- Attention to Process
From my perspective, the intermedia creative process involves many more steps than a traditional choreographic model of working in the studio. While this may feel slightly cumbersome to someone like me who needs to gain more skill and practice working with lights, sound, or programs like Isadora, I love that that these elements encourage a real attention to process. In our labs, we’re able to focus just as much on how something comes together as making sure that something does, indeed, come together. Because we’re working in mediums outside of the physical body, a more easily traceable and visible process emerges. This serves both as documentation of what we’re exploring, but also makes it easier to integrate our media play into the work itself. Reading Steve Dixon’s “The Digital Double” was quite helpful in revealing this process, and I find myself drawn to the questions of content, process, and product that he discusses.
- Re-framing of “media”
Our reading of Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality proved really insightful for me, particularly in revealing that my understanding of “media” doesn’t have to exclusively refer to new technology. This site provides a wonderful way of tracking human interaction with media for hundreds, even thousands of years. From the Caves of Lascaux to Wagner to the Happenings in 1960s New York City, what we understand as multimedia performance today can be seen as a natural outgrowth of human artistic expression and play from the beginning of time. This makes me feel as though gaining more experience with the technological possibilities of dance performance is part of a continuum of knowledge that is actually part of my lineage AND part of my responsibility as professional artist. In addition, this conception has given me the permission to work with media that might be considered “old,” but in new ways for me. In a separate choreographic process outside of this course, I find myself increasingly drawn to writing and drawing on paper. It sounds sort of obvious, but the act of visualization my physical experiences on paper is quickly becoming a very important part of my process. It feels less like taking notes for memory than an embodied practice that proves just as insightful as the physical exploration.
Working with media in performance seems to produce a similar effect of choreographing a duet in the studio: without even trying, questions of relationship and identity emerge in the work. Intermedia exploration allows for a seemingly endless possibilities of partnerships between people and light, movement and sound, props and space, and more. Even our early investigations of portraits revealed how a traditional equation of choreographer + dancer instantly brings power, gender, sexuality, and more aspects of identity into play. Working with different colors, textures, and surfaces also point to our associations between humans and the materials we interact with. Many of our viewings reveal the ways in which media can affect our interpretations of identity as well (Anne Teresa deKeersmaeker’s FASE, Jerome Bel’s Veronqiue, NYU’s panel discussion on Black Portaiture, and others).In our labs, we have to navigate the joys and sometimes difficulties of group collaboration, and I’ve found myself oscillating between performing the roles I most comfortably identify with, and taking on tasks that, for whatever reason, feel “less like me.” I am drawn to directing, to seeing big pictures, to organizing, to negotiating between people, to helping create harmony, to finding a flow between all the moving parts. I am less comfortable with specific technical tasks, to sitting behind the desk, to being directed as a dancer, to reading how one element can change the entire reading of work, to giving someone else the time they need to reach their own conclusions. We all continue to grow. Overall, our lab time has been an enjoyable way to spend my Friday afternoons, and I feel lucky to have such talented people in the room who are giving so much of themselves and are committed to learning. Here is what we made for our first study:
I am looking forward to what the rest of semester brings to this course. In particular, I’m hoping to spend some more time behind the desk in our labs, and I hope that by semester’s end, I will have a more thorough toolbox of skills and experiences that I can take into future projects.