reading assignment // Digital Performance by Steve Dixon

Digital Performance: A History of New Media in Theater, Dance, Performance Art and Installation by Steve Dixon

As the title suggests, the book discusses the impact of computer technology on the performing arts. The book is divided into two main sections; histories, theories and contexts of digital performances & specific practices and practitioners. Since this is a pretty long book, I’ll be focusing more on the second part of the book.

Steve Dixon defines digital performance as “broadly to include all performance works where computer technologies play a key role rather than a subsidiary one in content, techniques, aesthetics, or delivery forms.”

Dixon gives an example of digital performances as one that incorporates projections that have been digitally created or manipulated. However, the performing arts are equipped with audiovisual equipment, thus the prevalence of technology in the performing arts has become omnipresent. By that example, just with the use of some projections or speakers could be defined as a digital performance. In my opinion, what separates these technologies from being classified as a digital performance is by how the technology is being manipulated by the performance. In a way, there should be an output and an input, where for example, the projections act as an output, and the movements of a dancer is an input that controls the projections (output).

Example of a digital performance using dancers and projections.

He mentions how the internet has allowed for collaborations with no barrier in geographical distance. Let’s look at the social media app, TikTok. Albeit, not the best quality of performances, nonetheless it allows people from all over the globe to collaborate with one another to create a short performance together that can be viewed by everyone around the world.

In the next part of my review, I have divided it into two sections based on the chapters that have most intrigued me.

Virtual Bodies

“Virtual bodies are new visual representations of the body, but do not alter the physical composition of their referent flesh and bones. Virtual bodies may appear to be bodily transformations to the (receiver’s) eye and mind, but no actual metamorphosis takes place within the (sender’s/performer’s) actual body. The virtual body is an inherently theatrical entity, and there is an enormous amount of suspension of disbelief going on in relation to it.”

In this chapter, Dixon speaks a lot about the disembodiment of the virtual body from the physical. I believe from what I have read (correct me if I’m wrong), Dixon’s view of the virtual body is that it is not less authentic and not disembodied from its physical body.

An example he gave to “support” his view is the artwork, Telematic Dreaming (1992) by Susan Kozel/Paul Sermon. Before this reading, I had heard of this installation from one of my other interactive classes. However, after this reading, I have a completely different impression. Kozel describes how after days being engrossed in her virtual body, her actual/real body began to rebel and asserting its presence. This goes to show that both bodies can’t be split from each other and needs to find the right balance.

Furthermore, Kozel recounts how sexual as well as violent encounters, even though experienced through her virtual body, was often felt by her real body. Thus, she concludes how the virtual body is an “alternative, yet still material body, inescapably connected to its corporeal embodiment”.

What I personally got out of this chapter is how the virtual body cannot be separated from the actual body. For example, when we play multiplayer video games, our avatars in the game acts as a virtual body. Even though your avatar may get attacked by monsters, our actual body doesn’t experience it, but relationships/friendships build through these games are not virtually based, these connections metamorphosises into the real world.

Performing Interactivity

This chapter stood out to me for obvious reasons.

A big question in interactive art, is how do you dub an artwork as “interactive”.

“If one turns on a light switch, the process is interactive—something is received in exchange—but no real dialogue takes place. In precisely the same way, many and arguably most products and artworks dubbed “interactive”—for example, the majority of CD-ROMs—should more accurately be termed “reactive.”

Interactive should be defined as a reciprocal exchange between a transmitter and receiver, thus invoking a response. For example, a tv offers only one-way communication from a transmitter to a receiver, and the receiver is not able to provide a response.

Interactive art, on the other hand, must invoke a response, thus creating a dialogue.

“But in interactive installations and performances where the user/audience member is directly addressed and can respond meaningfully, the performer becomes a “you,” operating in the second person rather than the third by nature of the direct interaction with the viewer, even when the performer is mediatized on a screen.”

The book defines interactive art in 4 types and ranked according to the depth of interaction;

  • Navigation
  • Participation
  • Conversation
  • Collaboration

For our project, Matapolis, I would consider it as a mixture of navigation, participation and conversation. Navigation – in the Q&A segments of the tour, participants will press buttons to hear answers to predetermined questions. Participation – in the green light district, participants must follow the green spotlight by moving around the space. Conversation – throughout the entire tour, participants will lose points if they do not adhere to rules. Based on the adherence to the rules, they will either leave the country or be sent to jail.


Personally, the reason I chose this book is primarily that I have been involved in the performing arts for most of my life (through dance and drama). I gained a new perspective on digital performance, as I practised more traditional performing arts that do not involve technology. Hence, to see how technology can be integrated into the performing arts is revolutionary.


INTER-MISSION // reflections

Who are they?

“INTER—MISSION is an art collective dedicated to discourses of technology in art initiated in 2016 by Urich LAU and TEOW Yue Han. Focusing on interdisciplinary and collaborative works in video art, audiovisual, performance, installation and interactive art. The collective aims to inhabit the gap between technologically engaged artworks, artists and audiences.” – from their website

From this statement, we understand that this is an initiative started by a group of artist that discusses the use of technology in art in their works .

“INTER—MISSION builds transnational networks to promote sustained dialogue and engagement with media practices. It creates a space that encourages collaboration, reflection and participation in our ever-changing technological environment through interactive performances, installation, video screenings, international and interdisciplinary dialogues, and knowledge sharing.” – from their website

Quite self-explanatory. They use various mediums in their artworks that are meant to engage with the audience.

The lapse project

As with the rest of their artworks, the Lapse Project focuses on technology in art. However, it focuses on the Singapore context regarding the accelerated digitisation of the environment. In my opinion, this is probably in relation to Singapore’s future plans to be a SMART nation.

Using digital manipulation, the installation highlights the idea of “lapse” by erasing Singapore’s art museums displayed through various mediums. Personally, I feel that this is a commentary on the disappearance of Singapore’s identity with the advancement in technology.


In this virtual reality experience, viewers are situated where the Arts House stood, that had been “digitally erased”. As an important historical monument in Singapore, viewers were to reflect on the disappearance of the building.

Taken from

What stood out in this artwork was the medium chosen.

The virtual reality experience provided viewers with a different perspective and when viewers remove this goggles, they return back to reality. It is interesting because the experience in VR shows the absence of the Arts House, however, the exhibition was being held inside the Arts House. So, when viewers remove the goggles, they are immediately made aware of the presence of the building that they are currently situated at. I believe that the artwork could possibly have a different impact if it was in a different building.


Visitors from 24 hours ago are reflected on the CRT monitor – the past and present seem to coexist in the same space. I believe this is befitting in the context of the venue the exhibition was located in. The Arts House has a long history and is now being used as an art venue. The memories of the past are still reflected in the walls and interior of the building but the building now holds new meaning to the present.


In this artwork, various monuments, such as the National Museum, National Gallery, and Singapore Art Museum are digitally erased.

Taken from

You know the phrase “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”?

I felt that this exhibition exemplifies that. Often times, these buildings are overlooked, but the absence of these 3 cultural institutions will become apparent and leave a big gap in the surroundings. Personally, as much as I’m aware of the existence and historic significance of these buildings, I’m not “appreciative” of them. I would just walk past and don’t pay much attention to it.

This made me wonder, why is it that we only take notice when it’s gone?


I may not have visited this exhibition in person, but the message of the exhibition is very clear. It seemed like very thought-provoking artworks that encourage visitors to reflect on the significance of the history and cultures of the buildings in Singapore and how technology might impact this impression in the future.



AURA by Nick Verstand // inspiring artwork

“Studio Nick Verstand has created an immersive audiovisual installation that reinterprets people’s emotions as pulsing light compositions.” – excerpt from Nick Verstand’s website.


Making use of multiple wearable biosensors that detects participant’s brainwaves, heart-wave variability and galvanic skin response, these data are translated into a light composition, varying in form, colour and intensity, as a symbolic representation.

For a change of visualisation of participant’s emotion, the installation includes an audio component to influence participant’s emotions.

“AURA explores how this perceptual process influences the understanding of ourselves and of each other. The installation symbolises the materialisation of (internal) metaphysical space into (external) physical space.” – excerpt from Nick Verstand’s website.

The medium used as mentioned on the website: biosensors, RGB lasers, hazer, 8.1 speaker system, NAP framework

The installation visually pays tribute to Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works, in exploring light as a medium.

Anthony McCall “Solid Light Works” at Pioneer Works, New York, 2018
AURA by Nick Verstrand



Designed by Nick Verstand, a contemporary artist, “researching human perception through spatial audiovisual compositions”.

Just a simple look at his previous works on his website, we can see a common theme in many of his artworks that encompasses the idea of human perception such as;

  • Between Mind and Matter (“exploring the subtle and diffuse transition space between physical and perceived reality)
  • ANIMA (investigates the emotional relationship between humans and artificial entities)
ANIMA by Nick Verstand
Between Mind and Matter by Nick Verstand

The installation was exhibited in the Dutch Design Week, the largest design event in northern Europe, hosted in the Netherlands. The DDW features over more than 2600 designers with 350,000 visitors.

AURA was selected as one of Dezeen’s top 10 installations of 2017, an architecture and design magazine.


I am a sucker for artworks that invokes or encompasses human emotions.

As a designer, I envisioned creating artworks targeting social or environmental issues. Thus, Nick Verstand’s artworks are great examples of installations with a social context.

Just last semester, Bryan and I created an interactive artwork titled Inter-macy, that discusses the physical relationship between 2 people by visualizing participant’s heart rate on LED strips. The visualization was also influenced by the participants’ physical interaction with one another through holding hands. Click here to have a look at our project: Inter-macy.

In a way, I see some resemblance between Inter-macy and AURA. One thing that stood out in AURA for me was the material used. The RGB lasers, often used in his works, has some sort of psychedelic effect which is entrancing, keeping participants captivated. Furthermore, the addition of a hazer adds to the experience, making the visuals even more bewitching.

Also, I found it interesting how he created this artwork as a personal experience for the participants. I believe the individualize experience allows participants to be absorbed into the artwork and to reflect on their emotions.

However, one thing I would question is the location of the installation. I believe the space or location of the artwork affects the emotions or feelings of a person. When in an exhibition space, I believe our emotions are greatly influenced by the atmosphere of the space. AURA does include a sound component that is suppose to change up participant’s emotions. However, I think it would be interesting to place this installation in a public space where the atmosphere doesn’t impact a person’s emotions. Hence, we would be able to see more variation in emotions.

My beliefs are that emotions are unique to each person. As much as we universally can feel a certain emotion; sad, angry, happy, etc; our perception of an emotion may not coincide with another’s perception. In essence, my idea of sadness or happiness may not be the same as you.

To me, AURA not only puts into question your own perception of emotions but the emotions of those around you. The visualization of the emotions of others that you might not detect through observing their facial expression or body language, you get a sneak peek into someone’s else emotions in that experience.