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Reflection : Re-takes
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A montage of writings on digital performance
remixed by Sylvie Parent and Angus Leech


"In Sanskrit and Indian mythology, avatar means a Hindu deity's incarnation. The deities took various avatara in order to accomplish different worldly tasks. Seduction of a princess required an attractive youth avatar, as fighting a demon needed a lion or another beast like incarnation. Currently, avatara or avatars... refer to people's incarnations, or representations, in virtual worlds. Like the avatara of Hindu deities, the avatara of people should also, naturally, be designed to be useful to whatever task they are needed for."
"... The Natyasastra, a Sanskrit manual of acting written and compiled between 450 BC and 200 AD, outlines two approaches to performance. One is lokadharmi (the path of nature/the world) and the other natyadharmi (the path of art/dance). Lokadharmi stresses conversational dialogue and familiar movement, as natyadharmi stresses music, dance, poetry and song... As it is impossible with Web technology in hand to replicate daily life reality, I believe our way with MVWs (Multiuser Virtual Worlds) must be that of natyadharmi. Having chosen the way, let us use all its potential including sound and music."

~ Mika Tuomola, Drama and the Digital Domain, in: Digital Creativity, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1999. See: www.mlab.uiah.fi

Des mondes à définir

« Depuis le succès d'Habitat de Lucasfilms, premier MUD développé il y a une dizaine d'années comme jeu à grande échelle pour et sur le réseau, les avatars ont tendance à prendre des formes stéréotypées, apparentées sur le plan graphique à certains personnages de bandes dessinées ou de dessins animés. De plus, leurs interactions dans les espaces vierges du cyberespace sont généralement conformes aux us et coutumes de nos sociétés existantes. Ce recours aux anciennes modalités de reconnaissance sociale est sans doute un phénomène transitoire, en attendant le développement de protocoles spécifiques aux espaces engendrés par les réseaux. Il est vrai que, avant d'établir nos règles d'échange sur l'agora, nos moeurs épistolaires, nos rituels téléphoniques, nous avons longtemps expérimenté afin de fixer par consensus les formules de politesse qui conviennent à l'Homo plus ou moins hierarchicus. Bien sûr, il n'y a aucune raison pour que nos interactions dans le cyberespace soient exemptes des jeux de pouvoir qui caractérisent la plupart de nos activités communautaires; il est d'ailleurs évident que nous pouvons plus aisément nous repérer dans cet espace dès lors qu'il reproduit un fonctionnement social familier. Mais en plaquant hâtivement sur les espaces virtuels partagés ces seuls protocoles - sous des formes simplistes, de surcroît - nous risquons de freiner l'exploration véritable de ces nouveaux mondes. »

~ Sally Jane Norman, « Les avatars de la scène numérique », Images numériques, l'aventure du regard, École régionale des beaux-arts de Rennes, mai 1007, p.91.


"Online theater is both pseudonymous and anonymous. Only if the people behind the online mask-names choose to reveal themselves does one know anything about their physical selves. Moreover, there is always some doubt about what is being revealed, since there is no way to know if the mask has been peeled away to reveal yet another mask instead of a face. This focuses the spotlight on the mask-personae while at the same time plunging the shadow players into the alluring darkness of mystery... "
"... If dream is the psyche's favorite theater, it is not the only one. We are constantly attempting to recreate that theater in the upperworld, through the imagination... What happens in online theater is the immediate embodiment of the imagination; what you think comes immediately to light and life. This embodiment is the online world's transformation of the physical bodies that so dominate our usual life. Online this body is absent, replaced both as subject and object by the activity of imagination."

~ Antoinette LaFarge, "A World Exhilarating and Wrong: Theatrical Improvisation on the Internet", Leonardo Online Journal, Vol.28, No.5, 1995. See: http://yin.arts.uci.edu/~forger/leo95.html


"Today many of us are anxious about the proliferation of virtual bodies made possible through motion capture and digital editing... The glorification of the technologized body in The Matrix, and other recent science fiction films, television ads, and music videos offers a fascinating challenge to the dance world, where real living breathing bodies have been at the heart of the profession. How will dancers deal with the digital acrobatics of the computer age?... The advent of the digital age has brought great challenges... as it increasingly threatens the efficacy of the live moving body. And yet, the beauty of the challenge seems to lie in the fact that moving human bodies are still at the centre of the debate over human nature. Regardless of the deeper messages in Gap ads, movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or The Matrix, the human body is still there, being presented as beautiful, expressive, and capable of incredibly meaningful motion. Moreover, it seems clear that in both dance and contemporary popular film, choreographers are seeking to render the artificial as more human: by using technology to more fully express a uniquely rich human imagination, in all of its creativity and complexity. As J.P. Telotte writes in his book, Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film, the direction in which we are headed is "less toward showing the human as ever more artificial than toward rendering the artificial as ever more human... "

~ Naomi M. Jackson, Man or Machine? Forging Humanness in Contemporary Dance, in: Brian Webb (ed.), The Responsive Body: A Language of Contemporary Dance (Banff Centre Press: 2002).


"Why are so many Native artists embracing performance as the vehicle for their stories and imagery... I think perhaps what is key to this all... is that the undelineated structure, or nature of performance art simply lends itself so well to the (traditional/cultural?) creative process of the Native artist/educator as she considers all the attendant variables... to telling her particular story. In performance art, she has the freedom to choose and gather the elements (visuals, layered with text, technology, music, movement, song, silence) she needs to be able to tell her story... Throughout our history, we create art to tell stories of who we are and the culture that keeps us, and it matters not the medium, or how many dimensions. Two dimensionally in drawing, painting, printing, and of course the written word. In music and song. In 3-D sculptural forms, through installations, to theatre sets. Through live performance. In animation, film, and video, and now out in cyberspace. And I think that virtually all of this work is driven by a cultural imperative, the need to pass onto the next generation the knowledge of who we are. But we now have the added obligation to re-contextualize the essence of the old stories and their formats into a contemporary environment and understanding... With the use of performance art by contemporary Native artists, something different, something new is happening, and growing. A form, a structure deeply resonant with how we've always told story, but now with access to much higher tech tools to create the necessary elements."

~ Aiyyana Maracle, Performance Art and the Native Artist, in: Brice Canyon (ed.), Live at the End of the Century: Aspects of Performance Art in Vancouver (Vancouver: Grunt Gallery, 2000).

Plain Text

"Why call it performance if it's really text? Mainly because we still think of text as something written, but Plaintext Players texts are genuinely performed - a unique hybrid of drama, fiction, poetry, confession, and oral storytelling. This work tends toward absurdity, extravagance, humor, and surprise. Under cover of a Rabelaisian surface, the performers explore unsettling psychic terrain: gender and identity shifts; the attractions of violence and cruelty; the boundaries between truth, lies, and stories. Online performance exploits a number of the most idiosyncratic aspects of the Internet: the sense of being immersed in a virtual world; the ability of people anywhere in the real world to be virtually present in the same time-space; the collective preference for pseudonymous interaction; and the beauty of lag as a disrupter of normal communications. Moreover, it takes advantage of the fact that what is perceived as the lowest of low tech in the computer world (text) is paradoxically an enormously high-bandwidth medium for ideas, for personal adventure, for imaginal experience generally."

~ FAQ, Plaintext Players Web site: http://yin.arts.uci.edu/~players/

Telematic Tension

"If you define the aesthetic of the medium by defining the essence and integrity of the medium, then the creation of "good" art, in the case of telecommunications, means you create a situation that provides some form of communication between people and maximizes the technology's capabilities. But there must be a quality of tension that defines the "communication". If you don't create tension in the work, you're not really looking at the qualities of the medium, or the qualities of the art."

~ Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, Welcome to Electronic Café International, in: Linda Jacobson (ed.), Cyberarts: Exploring Art and Technology (San Francisco: A Miller Freeman, 1992)

Death at the Palace.com

"As Palace owners, "gods", we can eject anybody from our server, and block their re-entry. This is known as being "killed" - a rather dramatic name for a minor prohibition, which reflects the performative qualities of avatar identity: if you can't play, then you don't exist. We're often silenced in this fashion during online interventions, but have never used this option in our own Palace... But one incident raised many questions for me about online spectatorship: an avatar at one show erased our backdrop, graffitied the room, and spoke continuously throughout the performance. Vicki and I, still in character, tried to erase and repaint, and for a while we were all in some animated Jackson Pollock painting. Then I got a "god" message from Leena: "Shall we kill her?" Nobody has ever asked me that before. I saw our show being obliterated and in a heartbeat replied "Yes". It's a moral dilemma, however small, and exposes some conventional expectations for spectator interaction."

~ Karla Ptacek, "Learning How To Kill", www.avatarbodycollision.org

Telematic Embrace

"[T]he persistent self-reflection one experiences on a computer screen interrupts the mantric union of technology and intuition, network and node. It is a constant reminder that the telematic participant is inevitably a perpetual observer, a voyeur whose electronic relationships are autoerotic soliloquies in a pornographic global mirror... the telematic embrace is seductive and appealing, perhaps more so for its elusiveness, for the impossibility of possessing it, for its insistence on keeping the relationship tantalizingly connected but always at a distance."

~ Edward A. Shanken, Technology and Intuition: A Love Story? Roy Ascott's Telematic Embrace, published in Leonardo Online Journal, Vol. 30, No.1, 1997. See: http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/Leonardo/isast/articles/shanken.html . For more on Roy Ascott himself, see also: E. Shanken (ed.), Roy Ascott's Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology, and Consciousness, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003)

Carnival Connections

"The essentials of Commedia dell'Art can be found in almost any form of ritual and entertainment rising from people themselves, whether we refer to the masked celebration of the communal past of the Mudmen of Makehuku, to the rules of costume and behaviour in funerals and weddings, or to... the masked identities of virtual community events. Mikhail Bakhtin would say that this is the case because all these events originate from the same source of human folklore, play, and carnival: "[T]here's no division between performers and observers...At the time of carnival one can live only according to its own rules. In this sense, carnival wasn't a form of artistic theatre, but like life's own real (but temporary) form. It wasn't only acted out, but actually almost lived out (during the carnival). So, in carnival the play itself becomes life for a while."

~ Mika Tuomola, Drama and the Digital Domain, in: Digital Creativity, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1999. See: www.mlab.uiah.fi/9events/mika1.html


« Qu'il s'agisse d'incarner un emploi au sens théâtral ou cinématographique ou d'incarner un personnage (cf."character" en anglais), l'essentiel reste le rôle que va jouer ce caractère dans l'écriture de l'ensemble de l'oeuvre dans laquelle il n'est qu'un élément en interaction avec d'autres. Dans un monde virtuel, à la différence d'un film ou d'une pièce de théâtre traditionnelle, le rôle de ces caractères que sont les avatars n'est pas déjà écrit. En revanche, il y a des codes, des règles d'interaction, une prédestination de certains espaces pour un certain type d'action, voire la rencontre programmée d'acteurs virtuels interagissant avec les avatars des joueurs qui viennent participer à ce scénario interactif en train de s'écrire. De ce point de vue, les avatars sont les caractères d'une dramaturgie interactive qui peut déboucher sur une oeuvre collaborative.
Les règles d'écriture en réseau de ces nouvelles formes d'interaction théâtrale s'élaborent au travers de la mise en relation de ces caractères. Le rôle du personnage comme caractère de cette méta-écriture dramaturgique prend sa source dans l'histoire des arts du spectacle et, tout particulièrement, dans l'art des marionnettes. De nombreux amateurs de marionnettes ont en effet souligné cette double valence symbolique de la marionnette à la fois personnage et signe d'écriture. »

~ Isabelle Rieusset-Lemarié, « Au-delà de l'illusion du « corps de substitution », l'avatar caractère d'une écriture interactive », anomalie : digital arts, no.2, 2002.

Virtual Actors

"It's hard to give up the Frankenstein dream of imaginary worlds that exist entirely inside the machine - of stories that run on their own digital steam... Speaking at a recent conference on electronic art, Sherry Turkle argued: "We are moving away via MUDs, Tamagotchi, etc., from a conception of the computer as a reflection of self to one where the computer is an interactive other"... Computers are wonderful for organizing rules and procedures; they are not yet, despite our best efforts, very good at knowing which story twist is captivating and which is dull. Maybe some now-unimaginable breakthrough in computer science will allow the invention of an algorithm for narrative pleasure... "

~ Scott Rosenberg, Clicking for Godot, in: Salon.com, October 2, 1997. See: http://archive.salon.com/21st/feature/1997/10/02godot.html

Théâtre de la résistance

« L'utilisation des nouvelles technologies revêt également une dimension politique. Le Critical Art Ensemble appelle ainsi à "un théâtre postmoderne de la résistance". "L'efficacité de ce lieu de résistance est nécessairement liée à l'utilisation de scènes recombinatoires imbriquées les unes dans les autres et située entre la vie virtuelle et la vie quotidienne. Autrement dit, il faut que chacun affronte ses images électroniques et leur techno-matrice. Il est temps d'élaborer des stratégies qui portent atteinte à l'autorité virtuelle, parce que pour le moment, il n'y en a pas", avant de conclure, "le théâtre de la résistance est le théâtre électronique". »

~ Franck Bauchard, Théâtre et spectacle vivant : Création théâtrale et technologie numérique, Interdisciplinarité des arts numériques, 13 novembre 1998 : http://www.labart.univ-paris8.fr/ciren/conferences/131198/pages/bauch.html (link no longer active)


"Currently the evolving genres of digital television, computer games and avatar worlds are seeking and developing new applications and formats... One emerging need for all of these platforms is to develop digital characters with communication skills and storytelling capabilities... Chatterbots are interactive characters that can be simply defined as "bots that talk". Usually chatterbots are programmed to recognize keywords - words and patterns of sentences. When the user types something that bot recognizes, it replies something else back."

~ Leena Saarinen, Interactive Characters: Communication and Drama in Digital Media, unpublished research proposal, 2003.

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