The Performance Powered by Algorithms Exploring Non-spaces

Shade by Tarren Johnson and Mira O'Brien
Shade by Tarren Johnson and Mira O’Brien

Featuring rule-based choreography with broken glass sculptures in a walk-in installation to the sound of Tiffany’s 1987 hit, Shade is a performance that challenges the expressive properties of algorithmic art. Equal part children’s game and musical theatre, the piece demands the performers strive for creative expression around shifting structures while responding to a set of computer-generated rules.

Premiering at Tanztage 2017, an international dance festival for emerging choreographers, the piece delves into coded decision making, the power structures embedded in non-spaces and its effect on the body.

The unattainable illusion of privacy

Shade is directed and choreographed by Mira O’Brien and Tarren Johnson, who also performs alongside artists Winston Chmielinski and John Snyder. One of the performers is activated by an algorithm-generated musical command to alter the setting of glass planels, while the other responds to shifts in the structures. Yet the following commands are oblivious to the outcome and unresponsive to the level of success with which the command is fulfilled. This opens the performance up to the concept of syncopation, a rhythm or setting that disturbs our perception of time and space. And as the performers struggle to complete their tasks, leaving unfinished structures behind, they create a series of non-spaces with unexpected moments and architectonical compositions. Simultaneously, the performers inhabit these newly created structures where privacy becomes an unattainable illusion performed out of habit.

“I Think We’re Alone Now”

Shade also explores non-spaces as subject matter with an allegorical dimension. In one vignette they start singing “I Think We’re Alone Now”, the 1987 cover hit by Tiffany, also known as “queen of the mall”. Hence, alluding to shopping centres, the perceived freedom one has in them and its increasing deterioration and obsoleteness – punctuated by the broken glass installation. Glass, its transparencies and how the performers interact with it, also play a role in visualising the power structures occurring in said enclosed spaces – and how they are programmed to influence a certain type of shifting movement pattern. We are free to exist once we’re allowed into those spaces but at the price of being constantly watched and monitored. And to facilitate tangibility, the public is encouraged to move around the installation and inspect the moving and toned bodies.

Algorithmic compositions have been gaining momentum in art almost to the point of fetishisation. A fact that Johnson didn’t let slip by commissioning fashion designer Alicja Sowiar to design the see-through, latex-inspired and revealing costumes. But do the sartorial transparencies deviate attention from the thematic ones? Well let’s assume that’s part of the game.

Shade takes place during Tanztage at Sophiensaele, Berlin on 5 and 6 January 2017

Credits: Algorithmic Composition by Joel Cocks; Song Arrangement by Elisabeth Wood

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