This week I saw Hiroaki Umeda talk at SAT about his use of technology and dance.
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Umeda is a choreographer, dancer (or in his words, “mover”), and multidisciplinary artist involved in the Japanese avant-garde scene.
His mission is a big one: to choreograph time and space.
His recent piece, Intensional Particle, features projected moving images, featuring pinpricks of light the size of one pixel that appear to be corresponding to his improvised body movements:

In the talk, we learn that the projections are responding to Umeda’s body movements via a gyro accelerometer, which measures static (e.g. gravity) and dynamic (e.g. sudden starts/stops) acceleration.
The description on his website says that in his performances Umeda “conjures images of dissolution of solids, sublimation of liquids, and algorithms of heat transference…yielding an entire universe that dances like a living organism” but what does “conjure” mean in this context? It is obviously primarily associative, as in Umeda’s use of projections conjure up associations with other images for the viewer. Could it also refer to a kind of summons–a command over the world around him? As he moves, lunging, low to the ground, beckoning at the streams of light, it’s a bit like Umeda is conducting the images as they stream and flow around him (and we know that in a way, he is, through the accelerometer). But then, other times it feel as if his body is in fact being pushed and pulled, stretched and folded, by the moving light.
The projections are both material and immaterial—there’s a texture to the stage that feels palpable, like a rainstorm— and Umeda’s body dissolves within the flickering curvatures of light to appear again, suddenly (and surprisingly) whole.
This spectacle of technology and body has me asking broader questions about my field of study:
– When speaking of spectacle, is an audience always required?
– Must that audience always participate through their perception, interpretation and projected understanding of the spectacle?
– If they fail to grasp the spectacle (mechanistically, thematically, aesthetically), can they still enjoy it?
– Is enjoyment important?
– Is it possible to ever really escape (our gravitation towards) anthropomorphization? Mimeticism? Signification?
– Is the aleatory the only factor that interrogates this?
– Does the aleatory still count for the spectator if it’s only perceived as random? (ie if it’s actually choreographed to look random, like the flickering “wicks” of those electric candles that you switch on at the bottom)
Umeda ends his talk by telling us about his next project: to choreograph water.
What will this look like?
Is imitation of non-human objects by humans any different than anthropomorphization, really?

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. I like how you ask, “is enjoyment important?” I’m interested in finding different models for evaluating art that are not based on enjoyment, or more specifically about evaluating life (in general!) not based on happiness / unhappiness. What lays beneath these perceptions or these qualifiers? Also, I love that he wants to “choreograph water.” No biggie

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About Hilary Bergen

Hilary Bergen is a PhD student in Humanities at Concordia University. She has an MA in English Literature (Concordia) and a BA in Modern Dance (U of Winnipeg). Her ongoing collaborations with choreographer Ming Hon incorporate improvised dance with live video feed and projections to explore screen culture, surveillance and the limits of the body. Her SSHRC-funded MA thesis was on the confluence of nostalgia, capitalism and the neo-pastoral in contemporary literature. Her work has been featured in Artciencia Journal, Matrix, Whether Magazine and Briarpatch.

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