Over the course of the last thirty years, phenomenology has replaced aesthetics as the philosophical discourse of choice for dance studies, prodding scholars to think about a broad continuum of moving bodies within the cultures they inhabit. Generally speaking, phenomenology is the study of how the world is perceived, rather than the study of the essence of things as objects or images of our consciousness. It is a way of describing the world as we live in it—a philosophical approach that positions the body as a central aspect of that lived experience. Flipping Descartes’s “I think therefore I am” on its (in)famous head, phenomenology, as developed by Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, seeks to account for the structures of our situated “being-in-the-world.” This approach focuses on the body-based somatic and perceptual senses (including space and touch), as well as the more verbal and conscious aspects of our existence. I am deeply appreciative of phenomenology’s multifaceted analysis—from discussions of posture to issues of ethical behavior—of the ways our bodies both shape and are shaped by our life experiences. Paying attention to how our corporeal engagement with the world creates meaning in our lives. – Ann Cooper Albright, performer, choreographer, and feminist scholar, quote from “Situated Dancing: Notes from Three Decades in Contact with Phenomenology,” 2011.
Within the context of this course we would like you to seriously consider your body as a central part of your research. Use and understand your lived experience and how it can relate to modernity, creativity, art, and technology.
Watch video > This is a video introduction to Michel Foucault. Foucault was a philosophical historian who questioned many of our assumptions about how much better the world is today compared with the past.
As a student, I was introduced to writer John Berger and the philosopher Michele Foucault.
In Foucault I found myself intrigued by his analysis of discipline as a mechanism of power. Discipline regulates the behavior of individuals in the social body. This is done by monitoring the organization of space (architecture etc.), time (timetables) and people’s activity and behavior (drills, posture, movement). It is enforced with the aid of systems of surveillance. Foucault emphasizes that power is not discipline, rather discipline is simply one way in which power can be exercised. Michel Foucault (London: Sage, 2005).
To discuss discipline from my perspective as a white female, it is important to understand that the common era and understanding of discipline is born from the classical age when it was discovered that the body could be an object and target of power. It was from this concept that docility, a body that is manipulatable, could be subjected, used, transformed and improved. Discipline could then be used in justify the following, “The human body was entering a machinery of power that explores it, breaks it down and rearranges it…it defined how one may have a hold over others’ bodies, not only so that they may do what one wishes, but so that they may operate as one wishes, with the techniques, the speed and the efficiency that one determines”
(Michel Foucault: Key Concepts, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2014). Foucault is defining control that requires domination and subordination. If you can control the body you can control the people.
In Berger I found myself surprised by five words that helped me to better understand everything I had felt, but never quite had the words to say.
Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight. – John Berger, “Ways of Seeing,” 1972.
It is also important to consider the following:
- CONTEXT: Berger’s idea that looking is a political act, perhaps even a historically constructed process – such that where and when we see something will affect what we see.
- BEWARE of Mystification: We live in an entirely different reality from the past, be aware of what we think the past was trying to represent.
Berger invites us to see and know the world differently: “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled,” Berger was a public intellectual, using his position to speak out against social injustices and uplift artists and activists.
After attending Alan Warbuton’s talk in the fall of 2019, I couldn’t help but think about how art and technology relate in terms of structures of power. Warburton discussed how technology has advanced to incorporate new methods of surveillance and manipulation including, but not limited to: facial recognition, geolocating, and machine learning. Through advanced software and photoreal CGI, a copy could be made of a person, maybe me, that might be undistinguishable from the real person (me) when transmitted via screen.
He asks us, “When we are beyond the Uncanny Valley, that strange place where things are almost real… but not quite. After decades of innovation, where we can conjure just about anything with software. The battle for photoreal CGI has been won, so the question is… what happens now?
Technology, power, and creativity have often been critically linked through funding sources, which are often military in nature. As you may know, many early machines and were built during wartime through military innovation. In fact, even current research here on campus is DoD funded.
Mechanical innovation, creativity, and art have often been in awe and at odds with each other.
For example, the Precisionists celebrated the age of the machine and its influence on the American landscape with hard edges, lines, and geometry.
Charles Sheeler, American Landscape, 1930.
While others critiqued the machine by exploding them…
Mexican Artist, Damián Ortega’s Disassembled Art Installation “Cosmic Thing” 2002.
Though not a critique of technology, definitely a critique of systems of power.
Shirin Neshat’s photographs and video installations illuminate the gender and cultural conflicts of her native Iran.
An important aspect of Turbulent is that women in Iran are prohibited from singing in public, and there are no recordings by female musicians. The piece took off in various directions and brought about other important questions about the male and female contrast in relation to the social structure. The ultimate question was how each would go about reaching a level of mystical expression inherent in the Sufi music. – Shirin Neshat
Watch Francis Alÿs’, Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing – Paradox of Praxis 1 (1997) a performance examining dynamics of power and labor >
For more than nine hours, Alÿs pushed a block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it completely melted. Hour after hour he moved the block until finally it was reduced to no more than an ice cube suitable for a whisky on the rocks, so small that he could casually kick it along the street.
The piece examines day to day life in Mexico City. Though considered an absurd use of one’s effort, time, and labor, the act of pushing the block of ice around the city center was done to symbolize the frustration waiting that everyday residents of Mexico City endure in an effort to improve their living conditions.
As availability shifts and modern technologies become more accessible to the public, artists are motivated, inspired and able to reinvent and consider new conceptual explorations of software, hardware, and tools beyond their original purpose.
Trisha Baga is an American artist working mainly in video and performance. Her approach is open and intuitive, with a homespun aesthetic that might incorporate screen effects, recordings of herself singing layered over soundtracks, scenes spliced together and improvised props. Picking up on chance constellations of objects in her bedroom, or familiar images cast in a new light, she is interested in the “common things” that surround us, using these to guide phenomenological compositions about the act of looking and recognizing, and the potentiality that might lie in the gap between. Her work could be said to foreground distraction as a methodology: With an approach to narrative that recalls the logic of browsing online and hyperlinks, she allows herself the space to drift, notice and find. – Text from Claire Bishop, ArtForum January 2013
Sondra Perry! is an American interdisciplinary artist who works with video, computer-based media, and performance. She explores themes of race, identity, family history, and technology.
In Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Perry foregrounds the limitations of digital software used to render human bodies. The artist’s avatar state that the computer program “could not replicate her fatness,” reflecting the small range of physical features used as the basis for the system’s templates. Through these sometimes humorous admissions, Perry shows that software is not neutral and structural biases influence their creation.
Double Quadruple Etcetera Etcetera I & II includes digital animations of dancers moving through a studio. The body is then covered using the content aware function in photoshop. Performed by Danny Giles and Joiri Minaya.
Krzysztof Wodiczko is a Polish artist renowned for his large-scale slide and video projects on architectural facades and monuments. War, conflict, trauma, memory, and communication in the public sphere are some of the major themes of an oeuvre that spans four decades. His practice, known as Interrogative Design, combines art and technology as a critical design practice in order to highlight marginal social communities and add legitimacy to cultural issues that are often given little design attention.
During this unit on we think about switches, logic, and often ideas of true and false. Binaries are complex and are often limiting in their scope. As you create your ideas for Project no. 1 consider what is absent? Who or what voices are not heard?