I am devising a performance in a gallery that combines interactive video installation and dancers becoming-creature. I postulate that the interactive installation prepares spectators to examine their frame of reference and participate in their own viewing of the live performance. A creative process derived from Deleuzian philosophy of “becoming-animal” removes the need to align with prescribed identities by asking the dancers to tune in to and follow their unique movement desires. To examine the work on these topics, I have chosen books, articles, choreography, and installations that deal with these areas of research.
Theories written by Deleuze, Guattari, and Lepecki address becoming-animal in performance. Deleuze and Guattari define becomings-animal not as the mimicry of an animal, but as a molecular becoming. A body’s physical make-up does not change yet becoming allows a being to enter a state of ongoing affective liminality. In a state of becoming, a being is unclassifiable, creating a self that subverts culturally specific identity borders (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). These are concepts that I continually bring into conversations and mediations during rehearsals with the performers. Lepecki cites Deleuze throughout his book, Singularities. In fact, Deleuze coined the term “singularity” to refer to collective individuation (individuality that happens communally), which Lepecki believes is needed in order to bring community back into an individualistic neoliberal society. Then, Lepecki addresses the human made human-animal border and argues that crossing this border allows people to deviate from societal expectations (Lepecki 2016).
In my choreographic research, I lead the performers through movement meditations in which dancers tune in to their impulses and sensations of power. Through verbal cues, I lead the performers to try on different body shapes and textures, explore different habitats, and notice where this body receives sensations. By honing their impulses, power, and imagination the dancers create a creature that they continue to explore and discover throughout the choreographic process. In doing so, they create movement beyond what they have learned in techniques classes. I also hope that this process expands their own creative processes and their self-perception both in and out of their dance studio.
Kay Anderson and Laura Cull address implicit power structures at play in conceptualizing humans as animals. Like Lepecki, Anderson examines the creation of a border between human and animal, and the implications of this border. As cultivation became the “civilized” way of living, according to the colonizer, a power structure between humans, plants, and animals emerged. With this came the belief that the mind needs to control (or cultivate) the body’s animal impulses. Since the colonized cultural practices differed, colonizers saw racialized others as less civilized and therefore needing to be controlled like animals (Anderson 2000). Using a somatic and meditative approach that tunes into impulses and imagination, I believe that this creative process subverts the historically Eurocentric wish to control bodies with minds by letting the conscious mind back away and inviting impulses to drive. This process also contests the notion of animals as lesser than humans by substituting the word “animal” with “creature,” which can include revered fictitious or mythical beings. Additionally, each person’s attention to the feeling of power swelling in their body as they conceive of their creature integrates the feeling of powerfulness with the practice of becoming creature.
While Anderson addresses issues of power that coincide with the projection of animality on others, Cull writes about issues of power when one’s own practice involves becoming-animal. Where is the animal’s agency? While noting that we cannot comprehend the impact becoming-animal has on animals, Cull states that ethical becomings-animal, require that both animals and humans need the ability to perform becoming (Cull 2012). As dancers practice becoming-creature rather than animal in my creative research, I question whether this power relationship exists in this process. Just as the dancers imagine the creatures into being, they imagine becoming creature as much as the creature becoming them.
Marcela Levi’s Natureza Monstruosa (2011) and Eiko & Koma’s Wallow (Otake 1984) both include becoming-animal. The animal is monster in Levi’s work. Interestingly, monsters tend to have power that humans do not, so it differs from the typical human-animal power structure. In this piece, people act like monsters, and the world becomes tranquil once the people disappear. Levi seems to argue that power creates monsters—it does not control them. Like Levi, I trouble the power dynamic between humans and animals by using the process of becoming-creature to create movement. Creatures are less definable and, therefore, carry a less predictable power relationship with humans. Because each performer carries their own movement histories and discovers their own creature, each person’s movement is unique. I do, however, coach for my own concept of power in movement: groundedness, spine movement, weighted pelvises, partnering, etc. Wallow also troubles the power dynamic by creating a blurry divide between human and animal, as Eiko and Koma Otake appear to be seals. Like Eiko & Koma, I intent for the mutual becomings between human and creature to also blur this divide as the performs remain themselves while also taking on characteristics of the creature with whom they join.
The performance installations that I studied, also deal with the state of becoming. Two installations, Conspiracy Archives (Kozel, Guðjónsdóttir, Ginslov, and Lim, 2018) and felt room;on paper (Bieringa, 2019) both archive previous performances. While neither of the performances directly reference becoming, the meditative affective states that the dancers enter seem to align with Cull’s explanation of becoming in performance as unidentifiable, unsettling, and fascinating (Cull 2012, 192). The somatic states that the performers in my project enter create movement qualities that are unique to each person and hard to describe with words. For some, their gaze softens or their eyes close. Their head moves slightly backwards in space as they listen more to the impulses that arise in becoming state than to their physical surroundings. There are often extended periods of slowness or stillness as they listen and wait for impulses to arise. Once the impulses drive the dancers to move, what arises varies from slow, deliberate waving fingers to darting through the space and colliding with other bodies.
These interactive multimedia installations also support my installations complication of temporality and place. Nick Kaye writes that multimedia work creates paradoxes between place and placelessness as installations exist is a specific place (such as the Urban Art Space galley), while video content plays in the installation’s specific place but is displaced from its original location (such as the woods or underwater). Kaye also states that interactive video installations complicate time as the person who interacts with the installation experiences both the ephemeral nowness of their actions impact on the media and the repeatability of recorded video (Kaye, 2007). Conspiracy Archives’ mixed reality installation includes the real-world location of still images in a specific place, while people’s mobile devices react to the still images and play video from a displaced place (Kozel, Guðjónsdóttir, Ginslov, and Lim, 2018). The darkness in felt room;on paper’s gallery space makes the surroundings invisible, seeming to create a placelessness within the gallery (Bieringa, 2019). While this counters Kaye’s argument that installations have a specific place, it still complicates placeness.
I intend to use the paradox of place to complicate the placeness of the live and mediated choreography. A video of each dancer in a place that resembles their creature’s habitat plays in the installation and project onto the gallery’s walls. Viewers interact with the video installation, changing which dancer they see and whether they see the dancer in their creature’s environment or in a gallery-like space. Because performers in the installation’s video are displaced, the installation suggests that the live performers might also exist in a different place. This place exists in their imagination, and they are both in that imagined place and in the gallery space simultaneously.
Kaye’s conception of time holds up as both installations repeat video from a live performance, but because of the interactivity, a person’s experience of it may differ every time. In his discussion of interactive media installations, Kaye identifies the audience as a coproducer of the work (Kaye, 2007). This is true of Conspiracy Archives as the viewer controls when the video plays and of felt room;on paper as the viewer authors which part of the video is visible. This is an essential element of my work, as each audience member discovers their authorship/agency in their experience of the work. Coauthorship creates complex story lines as many scenarios take place simultaneously and each audience member chooses which parts of the scenario they experience. In my work, this complexity takes place both in the installation, as audience members control which video they see, and in the live performance as three groups of dancers perform simultaneously throughout the space and viewers choose what they watch by relocating themselves in the gallery.
Anderson, Kay. 2000. “‘The Beast Within’: Race, Humanity, and Animality.” Society and Space 18. 301-230.
Angier, D. Chase. 2015. “As the Air Moves Back From You.” As the Air Moves Back From You 2016. https://www.astheairmovesbackfromyou.com
Bieringa, Olive. 2019. felt room;on paper. Body Cartography Project. https://bodycartography.org/portfolio/felt-room-video-installation/
Cull, Laura. 2012. “Affect in Deleuze, Hijikata, and Coates: The Politics of Becoming-Animal in Performance.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 26(2)189-203.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible” in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Kaye, Nick. 2007. Multi-media: video—installation—performance. New York: Routledge University Press
Kozel, Susan, Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir, Jeannette Ginslov, and Keith Lim. 2018. Conspiracy Archives. Lecture, Columbus, OH, September 27.
Lepecki, André. 2016. Singularities: Dance in the Age of Performance. New York: Routledge.
Levi, Marcela. 2011. Natureza Monstruosa. Directed by Pipoca Cine Video. SescTV 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm9cy5bYYUc
Otake, Eiko, and Koma Otake. 1984. Wallow. Edited by Jeff Bush. Vimeo 2010. https://vimeo.com/9690716