Reflection on Digital Theatre and Scenic Spectacle by Steve Dixon

Chapter 14 of Digital Performance: A History of New Media in Theater, Dance, Performance Art, and Installation by Steve Dixon focused on how the incorporation of media screens affected and enhanced the spatial possibilities of a traditional three-dimensional theater space. Digital projections, despite being two dimensional, offer “pliable and poetic space”. Pliable refers to the flexibility of the medium, for example, to view from multiple perspectives through various camera angles simultaneously. Visuals ranging from 360 panorama to extreme close ups and slow motion shots. With the combination of video editing, space and time may be altered by the artist build scenes impossible to materialize physically.

Poetic, the latter, I believe, refers to the “semiotic dialogue between screen image and stage action.” As seen in Robert Lepage’s performance, the use of computer technology can be used as a prop to deliver dramatized and surreal imagery. Dixon made an interesting point about how projected media is often used to “appeal to the senses rather than to the rational intellect”; drawing on the visceral instincts of the audience instead of intent. This statement brought Inter-Mission’s performance to mind. Was the “Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery” with INTER—MISSION trying to engage the audience consciously?  Is that why its meaning was lost in the process?

Under one of Dixon’s examples – The Builders Association, it was mentioned that “their Brechtian use of media displays reminds the audience of the dialectical interplay between the actors and the screen.” Brecht argues that theater should not blur the boundary of reality and allow the audience to view the performance more as a past event. I think this is where Matapolis would be classified under because Dixon also wrote that Brechtian critiques more on the aspects of culture and society more than the political. The use of “the ubiquity of electronic images and their falsifying and banal natures” is exactly what we are doing with Matapolis. Minus the live-actors, we are doing the same, creating distance between the viewer and the content by fictionalizing it. This way the audience can enjoy recognizing references close to home.

References

“Bertolt Brecht | Biography, Plays, Poems, & Facts”. 2019. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Bertolt-Brecht.

Dixon, Steve. 2015. Digital Performance: A History Of New Media In Theater. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Silk Road: Process (Part 2)

Silk was the main trade of the Silk Road and was mostly exclusive to nobility. To express the unreachable concept – being able to see but not touch, a disintegrating effect will be used to ‘decompose’ the fabric bit by bit.

Chosen Fabric Image:
Image from Threads of imagination Central Asian and Chinese Silk from 12th to the 19th Century

This image has been tested on MAN media wall, resolution is approved.

Mirrored Edit:

Mirrored to fit the entire Elbphilharmonie media wall.

Masking:

The end result will be the embroidery skeleton with the combination of smoke and dust particles for dramatic effect.

Screenshots:

The above is the first idea, which was to start off with the mysterious smoke and dust effect, then fade into waving fabric. The second idea I have is to layer the dust, fabric and smoke respectively. So when the fabric is disintegrated, a background can be seen for more dimension.

Still final result
Transition Test run:

Things to work on:

Problem number one is the masking. There is some misalignment when copy and pasting a working path. This will need to be solved to remove excessive displacement. Without this step, disintegrating may not be possible.

The second problem is Linear wipe and Particles. From previous attempts, these effects can only animate in a straight line from left to right. Ideally, the parts will disappear in different directions.

Silk Road: Process

Unravel

The Silk Road, as its name suggests, was a major set of trade routes revolving around the commerce of silk. It stretches from Europe all the way to Asia, bridging the East and West for the very first time.

While the decomposition was a reminder that such luster were not meant for commoners. The fabric selected were thus, chosen from cultures all over the globe; retaining their raw edges and revealing the age in time.

Storyboard
Begins with an existing fabric waving in the wind.
Just as the first fabric dissolves, the second moves in from the top and bottom simultaneously.
After the second is displayed for some time, the third will drift into view from behind; at an angle.
Before the third settles, the final piece will cross its path in preparation of the a final reveal.
After the third dissipates, the last piece will continue flowing upwards.
Just as it reaches its edge, it will start to disintegrate.
Test Renders

Life Circuit: I/O by Inter-Mission

23 August 2019, I attended an art performance by local art collective INTER-MISSION at National Gallery Singapore. It was a confusing two hours while I watched the events unfold before me. As I, then, neither had any prior knowledge of the artwork I was sitting on, nor could I understand what the artists were trying to do; to put it simply, it was strange. The whole time I was just thinking ‘What is happening?’ and ‘Why?’. Perhaps this is why they named it Happenings | “Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery” with INTER—MISSION. “Happenings”, quoted from Sue Kim (the writer from NGS), refers to an event in which the concept of ordinary things is revisited or a work in which the viewer may intervene. That still does not explain much so I thought looking into the original Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery in 1973 would shed more light to what I have seen.

Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery was first exhibited in 1973 at Seoul’s Myeong-Dong Gallery by Korean artist Lee Kang-So. According to the artist, the artwork came from, in my opinion, a casual encounter to existence; a.k.a. he fell into a sudden existential crisis. He describes the backstory as follow –

“One day, I visited a bar in the daytime to treat my senior at the university who came to see me. Although I feel the same now, but the bars at that time were intimate places like coffeehouses today. While exchanging glasses between the two of us at a lukewarm bar without any customers except for us, my gaze stayed on the wooden table and chairs. It seemed as if I was listening and seeing the sound of many people and an illusion full of smoke from cigarettes. The traces of rubbing off countless cigarettes on the table and chairs, burnt marks made by hot pots, and incessant mopping by the worker at the bar – all these seemed to make noises together. But all of this disappeared at once. I was there, and my senior was sitting in front of me, but we were there and not there at the same time. I could not prove it precisely. I could not be my senior sitting in front of me, and he could not be me. The bar I was experiencing could not be the same as the place he was encountering. Where were we?”

Immediately after that, Lee Kang So bought all the chairs an tables of his favourite pub and moved them to the gallery. It is significant to note that said pub is a traditional korean pub, a chumak. Hyperallergic writer Jaewon Che shares the symbolic and cultural value of the pub as it has “connotations parallel to western myth of the suffering male artist, who, tormented by the force of his own creativity and by the paralyzing, incomprehensible absurdities of the world that suppress him, finds, in the sweet oblivion of alcohol (and in the equally mystifying and unfathomable thing called woman)”. I have no way of paraphrasing that with my limited vocabulary but understand that it is a place of comfort for troubled souls. It was a common place in the 1960s-70s, a place where people vented and cried, a place where they dumped unwanted emotions. A part of everyday 70s korea manifested in a “sterile, white gallery environment”. Or is it?

In the original version of Bar in the Gallery, the scent or as Jaewon describes “the acrid odour of makgeolli” (the korean alcohol commonly consumed at the bars) was leaking out of the participants and filling the space. So the essence of the chumak, I imagined, was much more prominent then than it was when I attended INTER-MISSION’s rendition. It has been brought up in my research that the essence of a place is not dependent on its appearance. The essence of the chumak was fulfilled in the exhibition in 1973, however, it had been lost in INTER-MISSION’s performance. The cultural reference and intimacy to the makeshift bar is missing when the audience have no relation to it.

Then again, it is Happenings at the Bar in the Gallery, not the original work itself. Like a spin off of a novel, one of the same and different, Lee Kang So’s core concept of the instant, becoming and disappearing still remains. Sue Kim writes that the marks on the worn tables and benches allows the viewer a look into the past, “to hear sounds from the bar and feel the presence of former patrons, exciting the imagination and senses.” But honestly, while I was there, INTER-MISSION required my full attention. Plus, the ‘music’ was so noisy, I could not think and immerse in whatever the table was trying to have me feel.

Life Circuit is an ongoing project that INTER-MISSION started when they were founded in 2016, they have done a few other versions each in different locations; each seemingly more complicated than the first. In this variation, they hired three dancers, two performing live on site and another streaming live from Tokyo. They were all dancing in weird ways. Luckily for me, a fellow participant who sat opposite me was a friend of the artist and a member of Your Mother Gallery. He offered me a hint that it was something about noise and surveillance. which made sense because at one time there were three cameras targeted at me and my image was projected every where and all the way to Tokyo so that was a little unsettling for me.

By drawing from another Happening at the Bar Gallery, which also had dancers, I could possibly understand their movements a little. In reference to Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery, the dancers were trying to embody the objects of the bar and wandered between the audience and tables “”becoming” a body of rice wine being poured down a visitor’s shoulders or a cup swaying on the table.” So in a way the dancers were present at the bar and absent from it at the same time. That brings us back to the question of how the essence of the bar has changed because the ‘bar’ is pretty much incorporeal now. No more was it an opportunity to reminisce the familiar chumak but more of a time capsule, storing a memory of INTER-MISSION passing by.

At the end, the audience leave without any explanation of what they have seen, only a memory of it remains. Perhaps that follows the ephemerality of the original Disappearance:Bar in the Gallery.

Here is the link to some photos and videos I took of the performance.

References:

“Disappearance”: Lee Kang-So’s 1970s works at Gallery Hyundai, Seoul – original interview extract

Lee Kang-So’s Sensual Semiotics

https://www.nationalgallery.sg/blog/happenings-at-disappearance-bar-in-the-gallery

Jacquard by Google

Project Jacquard was created by Google’s Advanced Technology and Progress (ATAP) department to explore the possibilities of interactivity between the us users and our inseparable smart phones, namely through textiles. By weaving conductive threads into regular fabrics such as Denim, Project Jacquard has enabled cloth to recognise simple gestures that translates into controls; allowing it to become convenient interfaces for our phones and tablets.

“The yarn is created by replacing strands of thread with thin metal wires or conductive polymers. According to the team, their yarn is highly conductive as well as scalable, so it can be used in industrial weaving machines around the world.” Variations of colours, textures and patterns makes this product incredibly versatile.

Whenever we talk about interactivity in class, we are always referring to large scale projects and I think this one is a refreshing take. Due to the micro scale of threads, along with the familiarity of cloth, the end product may be unsurprisingly normal with an invisible interface. As creative technologist João Wilbert says “It’s somehow getting the technology out of the way and making interactions more natural and more seamless.”

In collaboration with Levi’s Commuter Range, Google developed a jacket designed for urban cyclist. So not only is it an interactive garment, it is a practical one that is water and odour-resistant. With a touch of the sleeve, users can access navigation prompts and information on nearby places, change their music, and even answer calls. Such gestures can also be programmed and customised to activate different commands through an app.

See here to check out its functions.

However, the ‘smart-ness’ of the jacket is limited as its sensitivity is only exclusive for touch patches on the cuff of the sleeve. A detachable smart tag as seen in the image will then transmit signals wirelessly to your device. It will also need to be recharge. So despite the jacket being washable once the smart tag is removed, I find the whole spectacle being ruined because the ‘natural’ and ‘seamless’ interaction is not that far from a touch-screen of my smartphone.

References:

https://www.dezeen.com/2016/05/26/google-project-jacquard-levis-commuter-jacket-interactive-denim-smart-fabric-garment-urban-cycling/

https://www.dezeen.com/2015/06/03/google-smartphone-interfaces-conductive-threads-clothes-textiles-project-jacquard/

https://atap.google.com/jacquard/

Silk Road: Tyrian Purple

The one thing that captivated me, out of all the research regarding the Silk Road, was Tyrian Purple, then, a symbol of power, authority and wealth. It was the first purple dye to not only produce such vivid range of pinks and violets but also said to be resistant to fade. It was harvested from Murex shellfishes, specifically the Murex trunculusPurpura lapillusHelix ianthina, and especially the Murex brandaris; each produces a different shade.

Types of Murex and their colours

The dye so was highly sought after, Silk Road traders would take detours just to obtain it. One can imagine its value as its production required thousands of these little shells. It was said that “10,000 shellfish would produce 1 gram of dyestuff, and that would only dye the hem of a garment in a deep colour”. The heap of the discarded shells would also reach a height of 40 meters high.

Of all its uses, I chose to focus on its use on Byzantine Silk for its influence as the combination became the core of Byzantine silk monopoly. It originates from Phoenicia, current day Lebanon, so it is also geologically more relevant.

The research have given me vibes of the the sea, ocean and water; connotations of waves and ripples. With the thought of Byzantine Silk as my main subject, I have found that often circle motifs are painted onto the silk and would fit well with the rippling effects. The shapes of the shells are rather interesting too and might open opportunities to explore the terrain of the spiral surface. Things are not set in stone yet, but one thing for sure is that Purple will be an accent colour.

Click Next to see my progress!

References:

http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat2/sub90/entry-5442.html

https://history1800ksweeney.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/tyrian-purple/

http://www.silkroutes.net/SilkRoadTravel-IpekYolu/P.htm 

https://www.ancient.eu/Tyrian_Purple/ 

https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=qcSsoJ0IXawC&pg=PA163&lpg=PA163&dq=silk+road+purple+dye&source=bl&ots=iBIGAPuuO5&sig=ACfU3U0CFA8ZnC8LHW9_WS2DwvCV0kKmZQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjI0IeJ7q_kAhWJ63MBHToyAuc4ChDoATAAegQICBAB#v=onepage&q=silk%20road%20purple%20dye&f=false

https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=bRVwAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA89&dq=tang+china+purple+robes&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi0vPGh86_kAhXUbSsKHb7hCywQ6AEIMTAB#v=onepage&q=tang%20china%20purple%20robes&f=false

tree

Description

This is an interactive installation of a tree that seeks attention. When one walks towards or around it, the tree draws it’s branches in and out as if its ‘calling out’ to the viewer. Its roots crawl beneath the grass, ‘speaking’ through sounds from nature when presence is felt; such as birds tweeting and crunching of leaves.

 

Concept

As natives of urbanity, we tend to overlook nature in motion because of their stillness and ordinarity. The tree, a representation of nature, reacts to an approaching viewer; showing eagerness to connect and bring us closer to those we often ignore. It is a bashful tree, its movement more prominent when approach from a far; smaller more minute when near. It is a static object ‘brought to life’ through human attributes, displaying modern communication tendencies by craving interaction but shuns away when confronted. Together with its miniature size, the tree evokes endearment and encourages viewers to reach out as well.

The interface of the tree includes the grass patch with leaves specifically placed to guide the viewer to step on the Audio switches underneath and the make-believe tree facade to the mechanism. It classifies under valued users as (preferably) only a single person interacts with it at a time. However, the viewer is not responsible for all events, only the majority of the results are dependent on the viewer. Even without the user, the tree will be wiggling some branches to attract interest.

It is a parallel of real world experience as the feedback is in real time and place. The tangibility of the tree allows viewers to feel better connected with it while searching barefoot for its ‘tickle spots’ and being able to step into a transformed space. The interface is has constant elements that provide continuity. Results are repetitive but in random sequence to create an open structure. The viewer is free to communicate however they like by walking, hopping, crawling, rolling etc on the grass to gain different combinations and discover how the tree will react.

 

Position of switch mark with leaf clusters
Ambient lighting
Interact by walking around
Curious viewer reaching out
Close up of mechanism
Parallel Circuit
Testing prior to final presentation
Contruction of canopy
Construction of tree trunk
Putting everything together

 

Artist Reference

Reflection of the Age

The tree was inspired by Slovak Designer Juraj Kotian’s Reflection of the Age. His work ” is a analogical visualization of the exaggerated desire for the unreachable — something that we lose as soon as we want more than we can ever get at that specific moment in time.” Similar to that, we wanted draw attention to our tree by tapping into one of the raw desires of humanity.

 

Technical Setup

  6x Ultrasonic Sensors

14x Servo Motors (180°)

  1x Aluminium Circuit Floor Mat (2m radius semicircle)

16x Sponge Switch

  6x Portable Chargers

 

Technical Description

Technical aspect of the tree is divided into two parts – moving branches and ‘talking’ roots.

The moving branches were made using servo motors, gears, ultrasonic sensors and Arduino to code the whole set up. Ultrasonic sensors measure the viewer’s distance from the tree using the Arduino library “HCSR04”. For every 50cm, the Arduino-coded gears moves at different angles – 40 / 80 / 120 / 160 degrees. As for the servos, Millis was used to replace Delay for the duration of the servo motor to reach a certain angle.

The ‘talking’ roots were made using brown paper, aluminium foil, sponges, wires. Serial port was used to communicate between Arduino and Processing. Whereas the source code to randomize the music played was from http://forum.arduino.cc/index.php?topic=96456.0 edited to fit the project.

 

Individual Responsibilities

Ying Hui – Coding communication between Processing and Arduino to produce sound effects when switches are stepped on in the floor mat.

Najiha – Construction and painting of tree bark and planting of branches and leaves.

Gladys – Construction of mechanism and canopy.

Jamie – Arduino coding of the interactive installation. Also assisted in wiring system and building of tree branches.

 

Individual Reflections

Jamie

https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/jlim233

– This project took a toll on me!! Prior to this project, I have never tried coding before, and it was really eye-opening. There were tons of information online to assist me on coding. I mainly did coding on Arduino, which meant tons of research and trying out of different codes and equipment. Firstly, I used PIR sensor to detect motion, which worked, but I realised that I’m unable to measure distance through the PIR sensor. I then switched to ultrasonic sensor, which is able to measure distance, but only in a straight line, and we tried to make do with it. When coding, the ultrasonic and servo motor coding had delay and delayed the whole circuit. This was a huge challenge as online information mostly used delay and i had no idea what to do. Thankfully, I overcame this challenge and used Millis instead. It was confusing initially as I didn’t understand how Millis worked but it managed to make the whole circuit not laggy! Another challenge I faced towards the very end of the project was trying to remove everything from the breadboard, and then solder and attach it to the tree. With some help, i understood how to make the circuit work without the breadboard. I also had a challenge in coding the servo motor as I wanted the servo to stop moving once the audience is at least 1.2m away. I keyed in a code, but it didn’t seem to work, but on some instances it worked.

 

YingHui

– Personally, for this project, while Jamie and Gladys work on the main code, I was part of the support crew with Najiha. I mainly took on the minor role of coding the floor mat and influenced the aesthetic of the whole installation by proposing the artificial grass mat. Originally, we were going for something more conceptual but because the grey coloured grass was too expensive and the product looked too realistic. Thus, the tree was made to match. As for the construction of the hidden circuit, the first idea to use photoresistors was too risky because the wire-parts were too fragile and prone to break under pressure.  So, I went with DIY switches with sponges and aluminium foil. Then there was the problem that if there is too little surface area, the circuit would not work. For example, when tape two pieces of aluminium foil on top of one another or when I attach a straight piece of wire on the aluminium foil. In the end, I wrapped the aluminium foil around each other and coiled the ends of the wires for better connection. Coding wise, things were fairly smooth. The only challenge would be the randomizing of sound played when pressing a switch. The plan was to print random strings of words (music title) as a variable of sort and allow minim library to read it. I had multiple methods such as StringLists, Arrays and ‘.shuffle’ to print random strings but minim was unable to read any of them. Eventually, after a night of countless iterations, I found that creating arrays of the AudioPlayer worked better than ‘arraying’ the sound files.

 

Najiha

https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/a160123

In this project, I did the construction and decoration of tree which is made up of cardboard, and some wooden sticks to hold the shape of trunk. As mentioned during presentation, scale was meant to be at least 1.7m to make it a realistic tree, but due to time constraint and limited resources, tree would be better off in a miniature size. The tree trunk was made of paper mache, black tissue paper, paint and roots were made with newspapers – ironically materials were by-products of trees. As for branches they were made up of sticks and leaves were mainly cut out by me. There were different variations of tree leaves but we stick to simple green ones instead.

I felt that this project had a good concept where something natural like a tree is given an electrical/technological element like servo motors and sensors. Because it is nice to combine two elements together and turn it into a concept that is relevant to Interstices. Practical-wise, I felt that coding was left completely to my other group members, so on one side there is a heavy duty coding and the other side is more on crafty-aspect of the tree. Even though I lead the team initially, everyone’s work was individualistic on most occasions and towards the end we manage to put everything in place and the installation went smoothly.

 

Gladys

https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/fook0010

– I am quite skeptical about how the tree would turn out in the beginning but I’m very relieved and glad everything came together! I could only finish finalising the design of the canopy 2/3 weeks before final submission because our group wasn’t sure which mechanism was the most suitable one to mimic the movement of branches. I tried pop-out paper mechanism but it was too flimsy to handle the weight of the branches, I tried cam mechanism but it was too bulky, hence I decided to go with the rack and pinion mechanism. I had trouble fixing the servo to the mechanism initially as I had to make sure that the rack had enough teeth when the gear turned 180degrees so that the rack wouldn’t fall off the canopy. We also wasted one week of our time as we bought the wrong servos and were figuring out how to control the speed and angle of the continuous servos. I had to cut the gears manually using thick paper to finalise the design before sending them to be laser cut. I needed to very precise and careful when I attached the pathway to guide the branches as the movements of the gears had to be very exact. If the pathway is slanted, the gear might get stuck and stop moving. Another challenge I faced was designing the branches as they had to be designed and positioned in a way such that it wouldn’t be too heavy and cause the moving mechanism to be unbalanced and fall off the tree. The wiring system was also a mess I had to make sure that the wires wouldn’t get in the way of the branches and gears.

 

Principles of New Media

First rule.

New Media refers to the means of mass communication using digital technologies which means “all new media objects can be described formally (mathematically)”; in the language of computers. So which part of the ‘tree’ is new media? At first glance, it is very much just a normal model of a tree, until someone approaches The only part of the ‘tree’ digitized is the automation – the code and the electrical components. Thought it is a piece of interactive art that uses digital technology, it does not classify under new media as a whole.

In the ‘tree’ project, we are transcoding psyche to give the illusion that the supposed ‘inanimate’ object is sentient. The sixth sense of presence is the “cultural layer” where as the “computer layer” is the Arduino and Processing code.

La maison sensible (from Intro to Interactive I)

Manovich states that “Media used in cultural communication will have discrete levels.” But he also states the opposite that it may not be applied to all kinds of cultural communication. Does body language have discrete units? Maybe not. But transcoded body language, has discrete units due to its “fractal structure”. Just like how art and design are 2 separate categories – design is art but art is not design, New media and interactive art co-exist in a similar way. Discrete units do not have any meaningful connotations unless you are making glitch art.

Ra9 added into the code (Detroit Become Human)

Discrete units of the computer code are purely technical and are meaningless yet it enhances the semantics of the artwork. Bridging the disconnection between audience and display. Because…

Second rule.

“A new media object is subject to algorithmic manipulations. in other words, media becomes programmable.” This type of programming leds to 2 closely related principles – automation and variability.

As the ‘tree’ is not a self-learning program, it is a “low-level” automation; “in which the computer user modifies or creates from scratch a media object using templates or simple algorithms.” Its feedback is pre-programmed and will not change.

Another way of identifying a “low-level” automation from a “high-level” one is that, the variability of a “low-level” automation is dependent on the user while the variability of a “high-level” automation is solely determined by the program itself.

“Computer characters can display intelligence and skills only because programs place severe limits on our possible interactions with them. Put differently, computers can pretend to be intelligent only by tricking us into using a very small part of who we are when we communicate with the.”

The ‘tree’ is also a special case of a “low-level” automation pretending to be a “high-level” one. As it is not an artificial intelligence (AI) program but it seems to understand meaning; as mentioned above in transcoding.

Lastly, the modularity of new media allows for easy editing. Manovich described to be building blocks of code, stating that “The objects themselves can be combined into even larger objects – without losing their independence.” The ‘tree’ comes in 2 parts – Branch and roots, which can be be removed and still function on their own. Removing the discrete units however, would ruin the entire system.

 

Reference:

The language of New Media by Lev Manovich