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In this guest post, Dance Centre Artist-in-Residence Julianne Chapple considers some of the processes and ideas in her research - and robots:
“Unlike his avant-garde colleagues, Schlemmer did not succumb to euphoria about progress, but rather looked for the new human being in the new era: less as an utopian promise than as a search for meaning in the fragmented, disjointed world that resulted from the First World War. The centrifugal forces of technology and science made it necessary to conceive the human being anew.” – Philipp Oswalt, editor
I read a lot about robots. Much of my dance work relates to the place of the human body in our ever-changing technological landscape and the ways in which contemporary culture infiltrates that body.
My current project, Suf(fix), is an exploration of movement and sculpture, created in collaboration with dancers Robert Azevedo, Caitlin Brown, Maxine Chadburn, Kirstyn Konig, Antonio Somera, Ashley Whitehead and visual artist Ed Spence. Also in the studio with us is Chick Snipper, acting as outside eye and mentor. This work, while somewhat inspired by transhumanist technology, is an abstract exploration of the body's limitations, with the sculptural objects acting as extensions of a dancer's shape, sometimes inhibiting, sometimes extenuating. The sculptures take on personalities of their own, at times reading as metaphors for personal struggles, objects of beauty or grotesque distortions of the human form.
A large part of my choreographic process takes place outside of the studio. It can manifest as writing or drawing, recording drunken conversations about art, or watching endless youtube videos of robots. I do a lot of reading loosely related to the work I'm making, and in this instance, my research has taken me to some bizarre terrain.
I had learned about a robot called Bina48 a while ago. She is a twitchy mechanical bust that can converse using complex A.I. programmes based off of conversations with a real woman named Bina Rothblatt. I had originally disregarded this project as somewhat uninteresting. The machine is glitchy; the ambitious concept not fully realized.
Recently I picked up a non-fiction book called 'Virtually Human: The Promise and the Peril of Digital Immortality'. At first I didn't realize that it was written by Martine Rothblatt, Bina's real life partner and a wife so devoted that she had a robotic clone of her lover commissioned so that they would never be apart. So far this sounds like the plot of a mediocre sci-fi but it gets much weirder.
In the book, Martine proposes 'mind files' that could contain all the information of a human's personality and memories. She isn't waiting for that technology to happen, she has already set up a foundation that can allegedly store that information so that people today can create their data clones and wait for the technological revolution to make their immortality feasible. In fact you can sign up to do it right now. Of course, it does mean devoting yourself to the Teresem Movement, a transreligion created by the Rothblatts and run by their son. It is based in an ashram in Florida and promotes a future where all consciousness is connected and every believer will live forever in the cosmos. It seems free to join but the cult-like aspects of this organization are making me question the whole narrative. If these people are truly at the cutting edge of technology why does their website look like it was made on Geocities? Is Bina48 really advanced A.I or has the programming involved been wildly overstated? If I've been duped, at least I'm not the only one. There is even a Youtube video of Morgan Freeman interviewing Bina and her robotic counterpart.
What does this have to do with my choreographic process? At this point maybe nothing. But perhaps this weird internet deep-dive has led me back to something that drew me to performance in the first place. At times, the trained body in motion seems to transcend physical limitations. And maybe enjoying this virtuosity is connected to those deep-seated survival instincts that push humanity to grasp at eternity. We recognize that bodies are fleeting and we hope for something more. In these dancers we face our dreams, and conversely, our seemingly imminent mortality.
These are the kinds of grandiose half-formed ideas that I like to take into the studio. I suspect that nothing of these musings will be apparent in the work. Actually, sharing this part of my artistic process is a little unnerving, as it generally remains private. But these strange tangents are a big part of what drives me to create, this curiosity in the world, that I bring back to my own body, and makes me want to move.
Studio Showing: Julianne Chapple's Suf(fix) – work in progress
Thursday May 12, 2016 at 5pm at Scotiabank Dance Centre. Free admission.
Part of The Dance Centre's Artist-in-Residence program.
Photos of Suf(fix) in rehearsal by Ed Spence.
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