By Joe Ferguson
Innovation is key to art's production methods through time. During the 19th Century, a group of young artists embraced new pigments; along with an innovative way to transport paint--the collapsible metal tube--artists left the studio to create Impressionism. By the mid-20th Century, the art world embraced photography and film. As we continue artistic innovation into the 21st Century, it is now time for critics and collectors to accept digital art.
Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that digital art at its core is not a visual medium. Underlying all those images is code—a complex language created from an arrangement of words and numbers that seems chaotic and meaningless to those outside of the technology industry. In a 2012 Artforum article, art historian Claire Bishop stated, “While many artists use digital technology, how many really confront the question of what it means to think, see, and filter affect through the digital? How many thematize this, or reflect deeply on how we experience, and are altered by, the digitization of our existence?”
November 14th through the 16th at Kunst-Stoff Arts in San Francisco, the dance and theater troupe Footloose addressed the issue of how we bridge the digital and natural in their new piece Skinetic Zone.
Skinetic Zone was a walk-around performance installation, in which audience members and performers interacted with living sculptures and digital art. The piece was inspired by graphic novels and told the story of a society enraptured by its technology, but out of touch with the world in which it resided. Performers wore Myo gesture-tracking armbands that controlled a 3D projection mapping installation--the lead character wore two Myo armbands that provided him with a magical power to control his surrounding space. There was no recorded video--all of the projections were done in real time. In the end, other beings spoke up in defense of the natural world.
The piece took place over half an hour with lots of changes in themes, costumes, and choreography. The installation consumed the entire performance area with the 3D projection linking the space and movements as a visual narrative. The audience was encouraged to “get in there,” and when we didn’t go to them, the performers came to us.
Footloose incorporated dance, performance, narrative, recognizable imagery, spectacle, and interactivity to present a digital presence that was not overwhelming, and was reactive to human intervention. The story was not the familiar one of technology out of control, but rather one of over-ambitious creators exceeding the limits of the natural world, and a society caught up--and lost--in its own creation. As a story pertinent to our times, it was relatable, and perhaps to some, one that could be embraced.
Skinetic Zone: Magical Technology and Performance Installation was presented at Kunst-Stoff Arts in partnership with Central Market NOW. Skinetic Zone was a collaboration between Daniel Anderson, Maria Chenut, and Mary Alice Fry.
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