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SPENCER RATANAVANH




Full Circle


2019
Dance



Can our interfaces connect
our embodied experiences?




Context


The process of creating most dances involve creating choreography during rehearsals that result in one overarchingly fixed performance that happens over and over again.

What happens if a dance is generated from the experience of the dancers dancing?

Goals


Investigate how technology can facilitate and enhance embodied connections.

Outcome


A dance in which real-time choreography is generated by visualizations of the muscular engagements of a dancer.

Performed at the NYU Dancers & Choreographers Alliance Fall Showcase.


Background


In the Fall of 2019, in my Science and Technology Studies classes, I analyzed the designs of various technologies. I traced the history of Human-Computer Interaction back to the electric push button, and studied how tools influence our cognition. One of the most striking examples were of compasses and clocks in Tokugawa Japan. They were once variable, meaning hours changed in length depending on the season. This had implications on both the social agreement of time and the structure of work days.

Thinking deeply about how technological interfaces have been able to shape entire societies, I became interested in the visual nature of our contemporary Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs). We primarily interact with them through our sight and hands: touch screens (tapping) and mouses (pointing and clicking). Though there are a range of reasons why other kinds kinds of sensory input are far less common, I wanted to investigate how these inputs could change our relationships to our machines as well as to each other as humans.

Process


I taught myself how to assemble circuits, solder, and work with Processing using my baseline knowledge of Java. 

     


    Numerical reading

Output logic
     Visual result


Test of sensor placement and relationship to visual output






The selection of different shapes were guided by concepts in psychology such as the Bouba/Kiki effect, which maps the relationships between speech and visual shapes. In working with visual outputs, my aim was to research how they could prompt different reactions from the dancer who was watching the screen.



During rehearsals, I prompted my dancers to react to the visualizations with these principles in mind, as well as for them to explore doing the opposite.



Thinking about how the performance itself could be partially ‘unblackboxed’, I left part of the code visible in the background, and put the laptop the Arduino was connected to onstage.



The two dancers, Marcos and Ingrid, said that the most fascinating part of the process and performance was that they felt like they could understand each other’s bodily states just by looking at the visualization.


Skills: Java, Processing, Arduino, soldering