Living Data dance

Movement patterns of dancers are data that add to visalising increasing variability of climatic conditions.

Movement patterns of dancers are data that add to visalising increasing variability of climatic conditions.

Dancers Ashley Macqueen, Belinda Cussens, Caterina Macciola, Mike Green, Catherine Magill and Cliff improvise with the first iteration of the animation, Oceanic Living Data. The animation is cast through silk plankton mesh. The mesh once trawled the Southern Ocean for plankton as part of an ongoing program to monitor the health of the world’s oceans.

The first iteration of Oceanic Living Data is performed by dancers Caterina Mocciola and Ashley Macqueen and musician Fabio Muccini. They improvised within projections of animated tracings of scientific data and human gestures. 

In Contact Improvisation, choreographic forms evolve through movement patterns generated by dancers through sensing flows of energy between each other. Although no performance is the same, signature movement patterns of individuals can be recognised. As in the data projected, patterns of movement change over short and long time periods.

Changes in movement patterns can be triggered by environmental change. For example, last night, when these photographs were taken, the sun was setting, temperature was falling and traffic noise from cars and planes was increasing. Towards the end of the evening the dancers became still, as if listening within and beyond themselves for silence. It seemed as if the group was claiming space and time beyond the busy urban life outside. The complex beauty of the patterns in the dance made me think of the complex beauty in the forces that shape the natural world.

Movement patterns of live performers add another set of data for observers to process. What new meanings does their dance add to understanding human connection to the natural world?

Introduction to presentation, Monday 7 May, Rozelle School of Visual Arts:

Tonight the Living Data installation is presented for the first time with live performers. The presentation will run for approximately 30 minutes. As the lights are lowered you will see animations projected on silk mesh that once trawled for plankton in the South Ocean.

Plankton are key indicators of the health of the oceans. Scientists study plankton, along with other plants and animals, for their responses to changes in our climate. Measurable changes in behaviours of plants and animals become data for scientists to study. Although I can’t predict how you will understand this work, my hunch is that you may recognise humans as data. Like many artists who seek to understand our place in the world, we learn from science, and our own experience, that we are part of a whole living system. Our hope is that something of your knowledge of this is reflected in the work.

When water freezes its molecules move more slowly and closer together.

The idea of heirarchical patch dynamics implies that all entities are dynamically connected and that connections are made at many scales of space and time.

About Lisa Roberts

Project leader
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13 Responses to Living Data dance

  1. Lisa Roberts says:

    Dear Barbara,

    Three thoughts in return:

    1.
    Sadly I agree that ‘Some people are just not very interested in patterns, just like I don’t have any interest in pastrymaking’ and yet humans are often described as ‘pattern-making creatures’. This suggests that many people are losing knowledge of natural connection to the world. Pattern-making may be understood as the thinking with feeling that we practice instinctively in order to survive, as in the calculating and gut feeling responses that stir us to flee from danger. The danger now is to continue ‘business as usual’.

    I am optimistic that we are part of a groundswell of people who are literally coming to our senses by recognising and acting in response to shifts in natural patterns that only recently have been revealed by science and are now being made visible through the arts.

    My hope is that joy comes with recognising beauty in the patterns. Joy may be the key to recognising our place within the flow of energy that IS the natural system that sustains us within the whole.

    2.
    Yes! ‘People working in these fields need support, and a support group of connected, like-minded people gives strength and nourishment and inspiration to each member’. You have created such a community! And the Living Data project connects artists and scientists and, just recently, farmers of the land and sea, who WANT to share their knowledge of the changing natural patterns. We recognise that we work outside the consumer-based system, and yet are integral to developing a replacement system based on natural systems, based on symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships. Artist Eveline Kolijn expresses this beautifully here on Living Data.

    3. ‘Could you describe the area in animation, and then like layers of onion, strip away all that needs to be protected and leave wasteland.’
    That’s something I could do, yes!

  2. Lisa Roberts says:

    Barbara replies:

    Dear Lisa,

    Three comments:
    *I’m puzzled that the universal aspect is strongly apparent only to some people.

    Like you, I have always enjoyed recognising the repetition of patterns in different mediums. I think this is a personal characteristic, like some people have a talent and interest for languages, or football, collecting shoes or pastrymaking.

    I don’t think that everybody, nor indeed every dancer, has this same connect with the joy of pattern exploration, and you and I have that devotion in common, it is also a part of our mutual dance interest. I like the exploration in dance of patterns in movement, space, groups, dimensions, enchainments, using my students as a medium. You have a very special talent, you see these patterns and draw them, translating them for others to enable them to see what you see. I have never met anyone with this talent before.

    People do see the universality of patterns if they materialise visually, as you cleverly reveal them. But whether they feel joy in that revelation, is another issue. Some people are just not very interested in patterns, just like I don’t have any interest in pastrymaking.

    * BUT I question the value of continuing to make this kind of work to present to people who are already receptive.

    But there is a value. People working in these fields need support, and a support group of connected, like-minded people gives strength and nourishment and inspiration to each member. The strength of being in a group allows for consolidation of ideas, and the initiation of further growth. I think your particular work and talent materialises and makes concrete inaccessible pattern-play to those who aren’t sensitive to it.

    *Presentation at the Antarctic Treaty meeting next month, to appeal to policy makers, not scientists or artists, to protect the rare ice-free territories of Antarctica.

    THOUGHTS:
    Usually there are two avenues of appeal, one for the benefit of future generations, the other for financial gain. The reason ‘for scientific research’ is only permitted when it isn’t wanted for something that makes money. Protecting territories that might have useful sources or energy has caused wars. Tourism can help to fund territories that are special. (money again!!!) And possession gives advantage to the possessor. Policy makers need to have a conscience, and do they? Are they so pragmatic that they have lost vision and empathy and conscience? Could you describe the area in animation, and then like layers of onion, strip away all that needs to be protected and leave wasteland. Shock?? What’s in it for them……….????? Why should they……..? These are questions.

    Just some random thoughts, sorry it’s a bit like stream of consciousness. Sleep deprivation! That’s my excuse, are you suffering that too?

    Love Barbara

  3. Lisa Roberts says:

    It makes sense that you are predisposed to understanding climate change because as a contact dancer you express body knowledge of connection to other people and the environment. The challenge is to reconnect other people to this primal knowledge.

  4. Lisa Roberts says:

    Dear Barbara,

    A few thoughts in response (there is so much in what you say!)…

    Thank you for your depth of attention to this work. It reflects how other dancers have responded, who similarly come at it more from experience of movement than as spectators. But you do attend through your thinking mind as well as feeling body.

    You’ve reminded me of a moment when I was 12, hearing Laural Martyn (my first ballet teacher) saying she could identify a potential dancer in a child by their need to keep moving rather than sitting watching. At the time I felt deeply puzzled and somehow audacious (training to be a dancer) because as she said that I knew in my bones that I was something in between. Some identity yet to be developed. An Ugly Duckling moment. So thank you for that insight. That memory makes sense of many life decisions since that time.

    You’ve helped me see how how the data, the art and environment are three layers in the drama (of human understanding?).

    I’m puzzled that the universal aspect is strongly apparent only to some people.

    Co-ordinating this event was deeply satisfying. The purpose was to connect and thank the scientists and artists who have worked with me on making the animations, and I feel that the event succeeded in that regard. BUT I question the value of continuing to make this kind of work to present to people who are already receptive.

    Now that puzzling childhood memory makes sense of my present challenge that attracts my full attention.

    The challenge is to make animations to appeal to policy makers, not scientists or artists, to protect the natural environment.

  5. Lisa Roberts says:

    On Saturday 19 May dancer/choreographer/teacher Barbara Cuckson Emails:

    A few of my thoughts…..
    I loved what you have instigated and what you have achieved!

    1. How does combining scientific data with artistic responses to the data add to understanding?
    I am personally more in tune with own-experience rather than spectator experience. As a spectator in this case however, I enjoyed and appreciated the unfolding group creation: the improvisatory aspects, the effects on each person contributing to it, the ideas growing as a chain of momentum.
    Using scientific premise, thought and data to develop understanding of the universality of patterns in movement, expressions of life, links, chains and reactions inspires many artists.The perception then enables personifying and appropriating scientific material for use as starting point in artistic creation, in order to communicate thoughts and ideas and philosophies.
    In the case of this work, it firstly be presents visualisation of the scientific data, (the initiator) enhancing the links within science, artistic thought and the environment, the one instigating the human reaction, (or the way it is perceived), the other illuminating the consequences. This then adds to the comprehension of what is happening in the environment.
    The environment is a third player in the drama, the scientific data, the human emotion being the other two.That is my interpretation of what I see in this work.

    2. Does the work raise awareness of our selves as part of the natural world?Definitely yes, but I suspect more so for the participants and the live audience, because film is one stage removed. the universality aspect is strongly apparent.

    3. Where can this work most effectively contribute to advancing understanding of climate change?
    Amongst those already receptive

  6. Beautiful work Lisa. Congratulations.
    Rena

  7. Lisa, thanks for sharing this with me.
    I can see the forms in contact, the spontaneous release and closing and falling and rising and opening and tightening as beautifully representing the organic movement patterns of algae and krill and other creatures that live in water. After all we are mostly water ourselves, 70-80% and out movement is informed by movement of water. I am sure there is a lot of movement like that happening inside our bodies inside our watery realm of blood vessels, spinal fluid, inside our organs.
    The interesting thing about contact as dance form is its non stylized nature, its spontaneous, organic unfolding in response to gravity, touch, momentum, listening to our own inner shifting landscape and listening to and feeling the shifting in the other and then moving in response. When we move like that we do look more naturally, more organically more like other creatures, other living organisms. I agree with Vikki that the film works for me when Cat is dancing against dark background. Her white moving body becomes another light speckle that moves in relation to the animation on the screen. I can take it all in my peripheral vision and let my mind make connections. I don’t feel a need for much text and “spoonfeeding”. I feel we all have poetic metaphoric creative side that can make deeper connections. I like the challenge and lack of words leaving my imagination and mind to fire off its own connections ideas and meanings.
    Rena Czaplinska
    architect, dancer, teacher and artist

  8. Nick Fury says:

    Hi Lisa
    Congrats on the show last night, it was lovely. I cant say much in relation to your 3 questions – being a contact dancer myself, when I dance, I aspire to keep my mind attentive to the sensual, right-brain realm (specifically; the touch of another body, the shifting of weight, listening, falling, etc) and away from the conceptual. There’s no room for it. So I may be able to take in background music as a secondary source of information that affects the way I move, but I have no disc-space left to consider left brain concepts or intellectual ideas. Even visuals would seem to be a bit of a distraction. I get it, that the organic movement of life forms maybe translates into a contact dance context, but that doesn’t seem like any big deal apart from the fact that its beautiful to watch. I care greatly about climate change but I cant say my understanding of scientific data was enhanced particularly. Maybe we can say the organic processes we share with krill unite us and remind us we are ultimately one and that their demise is ultimately our own, but we kinda know that anyway, don’t you think?

  9. Lisa Roberts says:

    Cynthia Pannucci
    Founder/Director
    Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI) writes:

    Congrats! it’s wonderful to see your Living Data piece as it was meant and
    also look forward to viewing the edited version with the live dancers from
    last night. It’s curious how more and more of the visual arts are including
    a performative element in their work these days. Below I share some thoughts
    off the top of my head in reaction to viewing the Vimeo piece you just
    uploaded… meant to be “constructive” input from a general audience
    perspective.

    There were parts of the animation that were not as apparent re: their
    intended meaning, like the change in temp affecting algae. Was the algae the
    blob-like form that was moving but I did not see it changing? Another part
    was when shapes like bits of torn paper came together to form flower-like
    shapes. Was that meant to represent something in the ocean? The stick-figure
    human forms flowed so smoothly with the music… a great combination! Were
    the human hands after the algae meant to symbolize humans changing the temp
    of the water via their actions? I loved your animations, they were superbly
    “timed” and so delicate. Liked the screen mesh itself lit-up as if in a bolt
    of lighting, the running figure, and footprints. I don’t know if alveoli are
    only found in humans which could change the public’s perception. You
    probably don’t want to be more didactic, but work intended for a general
    public might need more text.

    I viewed it twice, but will come back to it again.
    thanks for sending, we’ll add it to ocean project folder.

    Good luck with your up-coming presentations; will be interesting to hear
    reactions based on audience type…. however, your ultimate audience is the
    general public, so just keep that in mind.

    cheers,

    Cynthia Pannucci
    Founder/Director
    Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI)
    begun in New York City, now international
    serving the art-sci-tech field for 24-years
    asci@asci.org
    http://www.asci.org

  10. Lisa says:

    Thanks Vikki, for your feedback.

    Because people process information in different ways, ways of presenting the installation will be different depending on the context and audience.

    For example, at the CCMLAR conference dinner I included part of the video recording taken at Monday’s live performance in the installation. It was magical to see a physical dance within an animated dance, and an installation within an installation. Scientists seemed to enjoy walking through the mesh of animated forms, as well as standing to watch it as a movie.

    Next installation of the work will be in Hobart at the Grand Chancellor next month, for the Antarctic Treaty meeting. Because the audience will include key policy makers I’m making another version with more explanatory text. The trick is to balance scientific accuracy with poetic form. So I am seeking advice from people with more literary skill than me!

  11. Lisa says:

    Vikki Quill Emails:

    I love the idea of total blackness with spotlights just on the mesh and the dancer – that helps join the two for me in the darkness of my mind!

    I guess the question as you will be thinking is: is this performance or is it presentation?

    I found the dancer’s role confusing – I knew I was meant to make a connection but I couldn’t see it. The bleached out image of the man on the beach was more effective for me.

    I personally feel the most feasible way at this stage to bring it into the 3 dimensional world is still as an exhibition with film of dancers. Just having the krill go from mesh to wall is brilliant.

    The idea of presentation in the built environment is fabulous but perhaps as an exhibition more than performance.

    Walking into a space with music on and film of people and silks hanging I feel would allow the mind to make the connections you’re wanting us to make.

  12. Lisa Roberts says:

    Thanks for your insights, Carina and Nick.

    I agree absolutely that further written explanation is needed in order to reach the general public. The next audience will be policy makers who are not necessarily scientists, so further written text will be essential.

    Scientists have provided some ‘stories’ to integrate, so I have work to do!

    Last week the installation was presented (without live performers) to a bunch of climate change scientists at CCAMLR. The minimal text was quite appropriate in that context. But I agree that the message must reach beyond the science community!

  13. Lisa Roberts says:

    Comments received by Email appear, with permissions:

    From Carina J. Lee, 11 May:

    1. How does combining scientific data with artistic responses to the data add to understanding?
    The work in itself was a beautiful piece – you really understand movement, which from experience in animation is a tricky thing to grasp. The hand rendered form of animals and landmass and data were charming however slightly abstract. The animation would benefit from clearer written explanations. Maybe you could do a preamble exhibition with stills from the animation so that people could read up about things before watching the show.

    2. Does the work raise awareness of our selves as part of the natural world?

    Yes – the human forms paired with the dancer tied in the human part.

    3. Where can this work most effectively contribute to advancing understanding of climate change?

    With clearer explanations, we feel this animation will not only be entertaining, and beautiful, but also more informative – creating a stronger contribution to the climate change cause!