All Entries: January 2015

Temporary Distortion:
Up close and impersonal with a mediatized lens
New York City
January 3, 2015
Upcoming: ‘My Voice Has an Echo in it’
PS122′s COIL FESTIVAL in New York City
Co-presented with Ideal Glass Gallery
22 East 2nd Street
Jan 07 – 6pm to 12am
Jan 08 – 6pm to 12am
Jan 09 – 6pm to 12am
Jan 10 – 6pm to 12am
Jan 11 – 12pm to 6pm
by Angie Eng
All photos courtesy of Temporary Distortion Music
on video by John Sulley from ‘My Voice Has an Echo in it’
Perception is being reconfigured by the mediatized lens thickened by television, microscopes, binoculars, 3-D goggles, the internet and other apparati that extend how we view the world. We communicate with loved ones through Skype and Facetime. Doctors perform surgery looking through an endoscopy camera screened on a computer. War machines are driven through video game interfaces. With social media we are able to maintain intimacy and have relationships at a distance. Individuals are isolated in their living rooms sharing the same experience through a screened box. To describe an experience we may refer to a film or a viral Youtube video rather than a book or play that everyone used to have seen or experienced. These changes in habits and perception by media are not only changing the way we view the world, but also how we recreate that world in performance. The hybrid digital performances of Temporary Distortion reflect this mediatized ontology in their televisual scenography, stunted dramaturgy and non-linear approach to narrative.
I will first talk about the concept of televisual imagination depicted in their style and approach of the acting and design of their earlier pieces. Televisual imagination is creativity through a mass media gaze. It is described by theorist Philip Auslander in his book, Liveness that analyzes the impact of a culture dominated by mass media on live performance. I will quickly present images of various productions to illustrate mediatization in the style of their set design. I will show excerpts of their trilogy series that deconstructs film tropes using actors as narrators underneath video. I will conclude with their most recent production, My Voice has an Echo in it as a example of a new form of performance arising out of the mediatized gaze.
The scenography evokes a large television. Cables are strewn in piles around the set that emphasize electrical connections. Instead of hiding the machine, we are reminded of it. Performers stand or sit on the same plane, mostly in one place with a frozen gaze looking straight in the direction of -nowhere.
They are housed in shallow boxes or sets that are no deeper than a few feet. It has an illusion of the television or computer monitor whereby light initially captivates the audience before the narrative. The drama of the spectacle mimics the television’s immediacy and intimacy felt as image and sound are being transported to the viewer’s lap. When interviewing Director Kenneth Collins he mentioned of his early work, ‘As an audience member you had the sense of proximity of it, it felt immersive even though it was really small.’ His description of his set design conjures up the act of sitting and watching in front of the television and that sensation of being immersed inside of a story that is projected out with a glass window dividng you from a virtual reality a few feet in front of you. As a painter, poet, set designer, visual artist and theatre director, Collins paints his sets with light. Spotlights directed at the audience or backlighting a static performer are devices to avoid the film over-dominating your attention.
Other scenographic tricks to ensure that all stage elements weigh in equally are: the use of monochrome primary colors such as deep blues and reds. Director Kenneth Collins describes his style of set design as ‘framed light’. Light comes alive, much like Richard Foreman’s use of blaring lights inside of a James Turrell room.
Light is warm and present. It shapes the scene in over-saturated primary color. It frames characters. It gives depth to shallowness. It manipulates your eye from one side of the motionless stage to another. Radio play comes to mind.
Theatre actor and Producer Robert Edmond Jones predicted in the 1940’s this new ontology of film in theatre, ‘slight and subtle indications of place and mood, -by ingenious arrangements of necessary properties, by the groupings of actors, by an evocation use of sound and light (Jones 145) Colored light almost become characters you can imagine being called Ruby, Sapphire, Forest or Ebony.
In his early productions, such as Someone in the Ghost Box Told Me it Was You, the video is presented on small portable monitors dispersed around the set much like in a Terry Gilliam film.
In Gilliam’s films, people have screens attached to their faces or have apparati that enable them to are look at one view through multiple perspectives. Gilliam’s style is also an example of the simulation of a mediatized gaze. In Temporary Distortion’s productions monitors are placed at eye level in relationship to the performers’ faces (on the ground, above heads, off to the side).
The inclusion of monitors with talking heads act as both object and subject technology to borrow from Jennifer Parker-Starbuck’s cyborg theatre taxonomy. As objects onstage, the video is assisting the action and representing apparatus” of the mise en scene. But these objects are activated to create a new cyborg subjectivity, a human/machine hybrid, as they stand in for the performers’ head while introducing a new digital gaze.
A quote from Auslander’s book Liveness sums up mediatized resonance that occurs between representation and re-representation in Temporary Distortion: the live and the mediatized is ‘an image of mirrors facing each other and bouncing an image back and forth between them. If the relationship between the live and the mediatized could be understood as the infinite regress this image suggests, then one would expect that after live performances had become more like mediatized ones, mediatized performances would start to resemble live performances that had internalized mediatization. Subsequent live performances would mirror those mediatized representations. And so on.’ (Auslander 187)
Here in this excerpt of Americana Kamakazi we witness the mediatization of the characters who are split between corporeal and virtual. With the use of screens the company highlights the idea that you are not looking at the actor in conflict with its virtual representation, but a corporeal body that is just one element of the stage to illustrate a story. The actor and the video representation of the Japanese female character do not seem displaced nor replaced, but actually split. She appears in a horror movie and at other moments of the performance she is in front of us narrating the movie or acting in front of us. Both serve as memory of events. Other actors appear on set as narrators as well as actors of the film that mimic the genre of the Japanese horror film.
In NewYorkLand a film is projected above the actors. We are not certain which is the signifier, the pointing finger, or signified, the concept, as they serve both simultaneously. The corporeal actor is sometimes performing to the virtual presence rather than film character supporting the spectacle narrative which we witness in the majority of employment of moving image in theatre. However, there are moments when ephemeral video describes the setting, daily habits and stereotypes of the material representation. The actor on stage represents both the cop in the film and the actuality of the cop profession. They illustrate how signified and signifier are constantly shifting roles. Traditional privileging of the material (corporeal) over the immaterial (film/video) is a less common occurrence in mediatized digital performance.
The distant gaze of the performers reminds one of side effects of the information media age. Billions of people in front of computers and televisions, absent in the room, very present on-line or transported inside media. We have all been there morphed in our chairs, only our pointer finger moves up and down like an insect antennae or the thumb on the remote moves like a lizard head. As we are immersed in front of our screen, someone enters the room and asks ‘Are you there?’ You respond, glazed-eyes wide open looking out into the world through a screen, not turning in their direction, half paying attention to your own utterance ‘uhhhh (pause) huhhh’. It’s this mood, the ‘here, but not quite present’ that Temporary Distortion captures so well in their delivery of body and voice and the feeling of absence in presence. All lines if any are delivered in a low whisper, slowly, methodically and disembodied. Yes, even creepy. Collins says of the tone, ‘ a lot of it is taking place in your mind when you are hearing sort of what they are speaking about.’ At times its even difficult to follow their non-linear narrative especially with the actors’ delivery lacks gesture and emotion.
However, video assists the narrative with the dramaturgy that is minimized on stage. In all of their work, the performers are almost petrified. In this excerpt Welcome to Nowhere a couple is recounting their thoughts and feelings without emotion as their video representations kiss above their heads. The film actors’ performances are more natural, more expressive than the performers on stage. The majority of the time the body and voice move at the same ultra slow motion pace as the video. This theatrical device taps into our ability to seamlessly jump back and forth between the video screen and corporeal actors. It is not a magical diversion. It is more like conducting in space. We are not hearing one instrument, but the whole symphony and come away with a phenomenological experience.
Imagine a pendulum tip dragging in the sand. Each time it moves from one end it pushes sand further away and then brings back sand toward the other end forming fissures and hills. With the pendulum, as the frequency increases, you see harmonics pop up even if it appears entirely random. The viewer is unable to gauge how much sand of one side was pushed over to the other. How much mediatization is in the gaze of the spectator of today and how much does the live reflect that mediatized gaze? We don’t really know. It’s probably more than we realize
But, what we do know is it’s inevitable that how we perceive the world is constantly being conditioned by media, media is formed by actuality that is then influenced by living through film, television and computers. German media theorists Norbert Bolz and William Van Reijen mention television, film and the computer are ‘frameworks that perform our perception of the world.’ The content, form and style of Temporary Distortion exemplifies what contemporary media theorist Matthew Causey described as a symbiosis of media in performance. He states in his writings on Theatre and Performance in Digital Culture: ‘Performance has taken on the ontology of the technological.’ As long as we are turning on and tuning into screens and virtual realities, we will witness more hybrid forms of performance like Temporary Distoration’s durational performative installation quasi cinematic theatre.
Angie Eng ( is a media artist who works in video, installation and time-based performance. Her work has been performed and exhibited at established venues such as, Whitney Museum at Philip Morris, Lincoln Center Video Festival, The Kitchen, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, Roulette Intermedium , Bronx Museum, Artists Space, Art in General , Anthology Film Archives, Experimental Intermedia and Cité de la Musique. Her videos have been included in digital art festivals in local and international venues in Cuba, France, Greece, Japan, Holland, Germany, Former Yugoslavia and Canada. For her multimedia and new media projects she has received grants and commissions : New Radio and Performing Arts, Harvestworks, Art In General, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, New York State Council on the Arts, Jerome Foundation, Alternative Museum, and Experimental TV Center Finishing Funds and Foundation for Contemporary Arts. She has worked with composers, dancers, theatre, sound and video artists including: Ron Anderson (Molecules), Rhys Chatham, Audrey Chen, Luke DuBois, Vincent Epplay, Yuko Fujiyama, Jon Giles, Andy Grayton, Sofi Hémon, Jason Kao Hwang, Simon Hostettler, Jessica Higgins, Hoppy Kamiyama, Zach Layton, Okkyung Lee, David Linton, Jarryd Lowder, Shoko Nagai, Matthew Ostrowski, Jean Jacques Palix, Zeena Parkins, Ludovic Poulet, Rémi Préchac, Liminal Projects, Kyoko Kitamura, David Linton, Thierry Madiot, Geoff Matters, Ikue Mori, Pauline Oliveros, Jane Scarpantoni, Peter Scherer, Kevin Shea (Talibam), David Simms (Jesus Lizards), Jim Staley, Satoshi Takeishi, Yumiko Tanaka,Keiko Uenishi, Elisabeth Valletti, Vire Volte Theatre, Nancy Meli Walker and David Weinstein. She is also a European correspondent for AOA (Artist Organized Art) to support a critical dialogue between artists, art practice and dissemination via public events. She lives between New York City and Paris.


#permalink posted by Artist Organized Art: 1/03/15 09:44:13 AM


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