Janine Harrington: Artist in Residence at Brandwatch - PART 1

By Janine Harrington - Aug/ Sept 2016.

Through collaboration with South East Dance, I was recently selected by Brandwatch to be their Artist in Residence for Brighton Digital Festival 2016. The artist residency is a new undertaking for both Brandwatch and I, and will include experiments between dance and technology based upon my recent practice and insights into Brandwatch’s business in global data analytics. In the run up to the residency period, I reflected on some relations between dance and technology in my work. This will be the first of several posts about the residency.

I am interested in creating playful live encounters between audiences and dancers, and work mainly outside of theatre conventions in outdoor, studio and gallery contexts where people can move around and through the work. When I am making work, I think about the kind of invitation or proposition offered, the context, and the parameters and conventions involved. For me, this thinking develops in a symbiotic relationship between what the content will be (in this case dance) and how it will be navigated by those who experience it. Navigation is a key term for me, and constant reminder that spectating is an active process and that there are infinite variations in people’s attentional and cognitive process.  This also connects to access, both in terms of how the visitors move in the space, where they see from etc, and in terms of who can access what. An undercurrent in my work and something that I will continue to think about is accessibility. So far this has been mainly been thought about in terms of physical space and the kinds of thresholds people have to cross to get into theatres to see dance. 

Working in this way offers the potential for active real-time relationships to be formed between visitors and dancers, which in turn change what appears in the space. I work with this premise, to create choreography in which the potential of the movement is revealed through these activation relationships between visitors and dancers. I started to develop this way of working in 2010, with the support of a small encouragement grant from the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund and within the context of the MA Visual Arts programme at Camberwell College of Arts. In 2015 I redeveloped an early work The Performing Book and presented it at Brighton Festival in the outdoor programme.

In this performance the visitors learn how their own movements affect what the dancers do, and how. Each dancer has a phrase of movement which can be danced differently according to the position of the visitor, and in this sense the surface form of the choreography - what is danced at a given moment - is a negotiation between the dancers’ embodiment process and the visitors’ experimentation. I’ll try to explain this a little more clearly. Making this work is like a programming process in that the dancers and I develop the possibilities available to be danced, but what the dance actually looks like will always be connected to what the audiences do in the live encounter - in terms of their proximity to the dancers, the speed, and direction of their own movement. These parameters are connected to the shared space, and so we imagine a series of axes or grids underlying the space. The dancers each have a base phrase, which will only be danced in that form if the visitors walk at a particular distance from the dancers and at a moderate, constant speed. Otherwise it will increase in volume or shrink, speed up or slow down, or reverse in any combination and at varying degrees of difference from it’s original. To me it’s like a kind of programming because it’s building one end of a potential situation - the other side is the navigation process. It’s also a live processing challenge as we dance it, and this can support a social experience of embodied learning; one that involves closeness and distance, collaboration, learning and testing boundaries, of pleasure seeking and engineering awkward variations of the movement material. We are not trying to emulate machines, but rather modelling the visitors’ navigational processes on the kind of familiar processes that they use elsewhere such as when using smartphones or tablet devices.

Talking with Brandwatch early on, I was interested in the underlying logic of their processes - how they structure and visualise information. At the level of metaphor, there are similar processes involved in my choreographic work. For Brandwatch a search term is entered, refined and developed to hone in on a specific interest and then a result or set of results is delivered. This happens through language processing, and coding, which is also language. In my work a relationship is established between dancers and audience in a live body-to-body interface where the movement of one party changes the resulting dance offered by the other party. The movements of the visitors have the affect of whole body swipes and zooms.  The audience use trial and error to understand what is possible, building on their findings as they go to reveal different aspects of the dancing. For me this a spatial search query, not one which uses language, but one which uses the same materials as the result will bring.

As I have started to think about what I might do with the residency, I have become increasingly interested in this notion of spatial search query and started to think about it in terms of vision and blind spots, something that has come up a lot in my recent work Satelliser: a dance for the gallery. This interest is developing into something around what might be hiding in plain sight, just needing the right input to reveal it. At Brandwatch I will have access to 360° video technology, which I intend to experiment with, with this idea in mind.  This technology is becoming more interesting as it improves in specification and affordability, but it is still quite new and has some foreseeable draw backs. However, I am curious to explore what it might offer to dance as a format between live and video work. The audience are placed at the centre of the action and their attentional processes are needed to activate the content in a way that could be ever different, but the situation is not live performance. I think that choreographically this poses interest.

My research will be shared at Brighton Digital Festival in in a form to be determined towards the end of the residency period.

© Janine Harrington
Janine Harrington: Artist in Residence at Brandwatch - PART 1