Seeding ideas research and development residency week at Barbican Centre London

A week spent with scientists, technologists, and artists to explore the world of virtual reality (VR).

Here is a short edit of footage taken at the interactive sharing we did at the end of the week:

Here are some of the things that emerged for me through a week of seeding ideas between the fields of: Molecular Dynamics (MD); Virtual Reality; Composing Sound for VR: Visual Aesthetics of MD and for VR (working with Neural Networks computer leaning software); and (my field) Dance – specifically how the body and the movement of bodies operate within the spaces of VR and how MD might inform new movement vocabulary.

I started the week gaining insight into the world of MD and more specifically how a vocabulary of terms used to describe the movement and interaction of particles, can translate into the movement of the body; of bodies.

I pulled together a series of phrases and concepts taken from MD and started to re-imagine them as movement scores for one or more bodies in a given space.

Score 1.

  1. The notion of a stable system, of s state of equilibrium
  2. A “poke” as a force exerted on a bond in this system
  3. The “tipping point” where the bond is forced to move into a new position to re-find the equilibrium, this is a “flip”

The movement score works with different roles for two bodies. One body attends to continuing to re-find a pre-decided neutral position whilst the other exerts force onto her different body parts. When the first body feels that the amount pf energy needed to regain the neutral position is too much, a new ‘neutral’ position is found.

Score 2.

The form of the tetrahedron comes into play in the protein structures of MD. This form is also used by Rudolf Laban as a geometry of reach outside of the body. Laban’s ‘Kinesphere’ is used by dancers to acknowledge “the sphere around the body whose periphery can be reached by easily extended limbs without stepping away from that place which is the point of support when standing on one foot” (1966, p.10).

‘Tetrahedron Dances’ is a score that works with the idea of two or more dancers moving in their own tetrahedrons, but that these geometries overlap and move into each other. The dancers cannot touch as they are in two (imagined) separate spaces despite overlapping and coming into close contact.

Dancers can be aware whilst they are moving, of the points, surfaces and edges, as well as the ‘space inside’.

These could be visible or invisible structures.

The tetrahedrons could be moved along pathways that mimic the pathways of protein folding, which contain specific spatial qualities such as; loop, helix, twist, and broad sheets.

Insert picture of ‘Protein’ by Gemma Anderson.

Score 3.

Movement verbs that have come from MD and can be taken into a score or specific movement vocabulary for which I borrow a title from Nancy Stark Smith’s phrase of her “Underscore” which is “Agitating the Mass” (some with sub-sections):

Flip

Rotate

Vibrate

Fold – integrate/Spread

Loop / Arc

Oscillate – Stretch/Recoil and Expand/Contract (breathing)

Helix

Wave

Wag

We made short solo dancers based on these movement verbs.

Score 4.

Grip scores

I found out that the bonds in a protein can be weak and strong, but it is very often only the strong bonds that are defined/represented and / or are meaningful to scientists. It was further explained to me though that the weak bonds were essential to the stability or equilibrium of the system and formed a ‘web-like’ system around the strong bonds.

I thought about a scale of touch between bodies, from a strong grab or grasp through which could move through the whole weight of a body to a light touch, a barely touching touch, to a touch that occurred through the air as a conduit.

We experimented with the presence and absence of touch and of weight in a duet score working with push and pull qualities.

On day 3, I was asked to present a short talk about my reflections on the following statement: “dynamics and movement arises from the perpetual ebb and flow that occurs in the spaces between centre and periphery”.

I talked about about what centre and periphery mean to me: when I think about my centre I think about a place in my body; about two inches down from my naval and deep in the centre between front and back. When I take my attention there it slows me down; I like the idea that it enables me to move at the speed of my attention (Nita Little). Laban writes; “movement starts from the body centre, flowing out to the kinesphere”. I think about an Indian drum and the limbs of my body acting as tassels off the spine (Eric Hawkins). (The ‘backbone’ of a protein in MD has ‘residues’ that come off it which I can liken to this idea).

A “Centre of Gravity” implies a relationship between the centre and the ground, and this needs to be established before I can reach out to the periphery of my kinesphere or reachesphere. I can also share my COG with another body or bodies (such as in the form of Contact Improvisation).

Laban talks about the periphery as the extent of our reach, all around the body as a kinesphere, or what I will term “reachesphere”-  boundaried, geometric available movement space. What happens beyond these defined reachable edges? The spaces beyond our reach? When we fall off-balance we can move into these spaces, and the spaces of our periphery can be shared or extended through other (human and non-human) bodies:

We can extend our periphery with non-human materials, such as a sword or a stick, a piece of fabric or cotton thread, a wire.

And with other human bodies – ‘Human Towers’ are organised structures, assemblages, networks, in which there is a physical language of communication through nuanced weight distribution, posture ad balance. The movement of the tower is a shared thing between all bodies involved.

Score 5.

I am interested in how the quality of this movement language between bodies that share centre and periphery can change, for example; with sequential, wave-like quality or move in more integrated, unified fashion, how it can  be direct or indirect, organised or chaotic. How touch, or “strong bonds” are essential in the communication between bodies, and how the “weak bonds”, the non-touch can be represented.

The non-touch or “weak bonds” is the relational space between bodies. This space is not set or defined, it is elastic, and we meet each other through this elastic space, through our peripheries, beyond our bodies. “[t]he field is not a bubble, it is elastic, moving, not spatial – extendable, reducible” (Nita Little).

Score 6.

Collective assemblages

Centre and periphery

Tuning exercises for collective bodies

As we ventured into the latter half of the week, I was keen to engage with the relationship between the sound and the movement of bodies in the space and how it might be possible (using Kinect cameras to map the bodies and to write functions for how they moved in relation to the space and to each other) to create different sounds through the collective forming, integrating, spreading, passing through etc … of bodies; to work with the pathways inherent in MD.

In the last couple days, I also worked more extensively with the VR technology; spending time in the dynamic VR world of MD forms.

Human and Nonhuman

Moving from the touch scores which used air as a conduit, to moving together with both physical and imagined materials between us – to see what effects this would have on our movement qualities, interactions and therefore our relationship to each other and to the space around us.

We worked through the notion of the 5 elements, prevalent in Chinese medicine and systems of spiritual belief; wood, water, metal, earth, and fire. I thought about the way in which we ‘touch’ or communicate through technology and in virtual spaces, and whether the qualities of these ‘transactions’ adhered to any of the elemental systems.

Score 6. Working in VR

The stick became part of the VR set-up, as a method for 1. Enabling the body to move “from centre” and with an extended periphery, and as a means by which to create VR molecular landscapes into which observing participants could physically explore.

The way in which this score worked was for the dancer to be “in control” of the visual landscape in VR and for the participant to occupy the VR space. The dancer is not wearing the VR headset so is able to be “present” in both in the physical and the virtual space (this is achieved through experience in the virtual space and a learnt understanding of what movements are required for specific visual effects and dynamics etc.). This way of working interested me in terms of the nature of the roles of performer and participant: In my experience, I felt an intimate one-to-one relationship between performer and participant, but also a sense of being observed or witnessed by many others.

Score 7.

I would be interested in creating a responsive haptic landscape through which the bodies need to move in VR; a landscape perhaps that include the bodies of performers, and one which reveals more information through the ways in which it is touched. I would also like to work with sound to enable a participant in VR to understand more about their positionality in space and in relation to other bodies in the space.