Dad-project

dad-project-big

Authors: Simon Ellis & David Corbet
Format: Online Flash Animation,&nbs
Duration: Interactive

Available at: http://skellis.net/dad.project/index.php


Research Statement

CONTEXT

In 1997, Philip Auslander presented a paper at the Performance Studies Conference in Atlanta, Georgia titled Ontology vs. History: Making Distinctions Between the Live and the Mediatized. In the paper, Auslander lamented the “strong tendency in performance theory to place live performance and mediatized or technologized forms in opposition to one another” (Auslander, 1997 www). Further to this, Auslander invited a reconsideration of the relationship between live and mediatized forms in which “it is necessary to investigate that relationship as historical and contingent, not as ontologically given or technologically determined” (Auslander, 1997 www). More specifically, up until the advent of recording technologies live performance was just known as performance. Thus, the capacity for liveness emerged with the capacity for mediatisation, or in Auslander’s words, “the ‘live’ can only be defined as ‘that which can be recorded’” (Auslander, 1997 www). 

The contested and unsettled ontology of liveness by Auslander offers a re/consideration of web technologies and locations as performative arenas. This stretching of the limbs of liveness also de-privileges traditional performance modalities such as dance and theatre, and inevitably impacts on conventional attitudes towards the archive and/or forms of performance documentation.

PROVOCATIONS

dad-project has emerged from these concerns and possibilities via an accumulated series of digital flickbooks viewed as a performative and dynamic archive of movement and movement practitioners. The critical facets of dad-project – simple interactivity and the illusion of movement generated via the visual perceptual system, performance data that are submitted (‘choreographed’) by artists/performers, and the construction of a potentially limitless archive/database – were developed in response to the following provocations:

 As much as traditional performance has embraced mediatization, how can this embrace be rethought by seeking to generate moving image outcomes (in which the body is present) that interrogate or modify the mediatized-liveness nexus?

To what degree can performativity be present in digital archives? What are the conditions for the perceptual experience of viewers that offer a semblance of performativity in a mediatized artefact?

METHODOLOGY/DEVELOPMENT

After its initial conceptual development in September 2004, dad-project was created during two periods of research and development. In May/June 2005, the digital flickbooks were hard coded in Flash and HTML to establish a set of curatorial and technical guidelines. It was at this point that the look, sound and feel of the flickbooks as digital ‘objects’ was determined through a range of theoretical, practical and aesthetic decisions. These included a renegotiation or ‘prying apart’ of temporal components of screendance, and a consideration of the history of film’s development (e.g. kineographs and other forms of animation). In July 2006, the flickbook template was recoded in PHP and Flash in order to generate the two ‘live’ facets of the project: i) the Flash animation was designed to load the 60 still images (and text) dynamically when called or initiated by the user; and ii) the MySQL database at the core of dad-project was developed to enable user-based contributions to the archive.

OUTCOMES
As practice-led research, the ‘findings’ of dad-project are contained in and stimulated by the practice and the artistic-scholarly outcomes or representations of that practice. This is in direct contrast to practice as research projects in which the practice has a “partial and functional role within [a] final ‘argument’” (Douglas, Scopa, & Gray, 2000 www). 

Rather than setting out to answer the research provocations, dad-project has involved the presentation of the animation and archival practice-led outcomes as poetic artefacts. These outcomes invite epistemological readings or points of entry into a partial, contained and subjective (micro)world of stillness, movement, and remembering. 

The single animation 1 comprising dad-project exists in an equivocal state: archive, performance, object, choreography/improvisation, and both still and moving image. The precariousness of its presence invites an assessment of the dad-project animation(s) as a practice-led moving image research outcome with two emergent concerns: 

1) The generation of an auto-archive as the project is developed, performed, watched or submitted to, downloaded, used and interacted with. This is in direct contrast to one of the central concerns facing performance based practice-led research in which the research artefacts or documentation are inevitably referring to another (often termed ‘original’) artistic event or activity. In dad-project the archive exists as both artistic outcome and documentation and further imbricates the performance-documentation relationship. 

2) The location of the author for each iteration of the dad-project flickbook is nebulous, and decentralised. Is this author the artist responsible for submitting the images, the artist holding the camera filming the dancer/movement practitioner, the movement practitioner featured in the animation, the user who decides which collection of images to call and who then is responsible for hovering over the images to cause the action and who finally owns the perceptual experience of the outcome, or perhaps even the two initiators of dad-project? This flicking between authorial possibilities invites a complex reading of who is responsible for performativity in other live-mediatized environments.

The web-based outcome comprising the coded and submitted elements of dad-project affords opportunities for the user-viewer-performer to animate the ‘static’ embodied images that are presented: to make them move, to contribute to their liveness, and to subtly experience performativity reframed beyond conventional performance contexts. The dad-project archive is open to contributions by artists around the world. Visit www.dad-project.net for details.

1. This is a critical point: user initiated viewing of a particular ‘dancer’ loads archived images and text into the same (single) Flash animation.

References
Auslander, P. (1997). Ontology vs. History: Making Distinctions Between the Live and the Mediatized. Performance Studies Conference. Retrieved 15 April, 2004, from http://webcast/gatech.edu/papers/arch/Auslander.html

Douglas, A., Scopa, K., & Gray, C. (2000). Research Through Practice: Positioning the Practitioner as Researcher. Working Papers in Art and Design Vol I. Retrieved 15 April, 2004, from http://www.herts.ac.uk/artdes/research/papers/wpades/vol1/douglas2.html

Dad-project initiated by:
Dr. Simon Ellis
Choreographer & Research Fellow
Performance Studies
University of Northampton
se@skellis.net 
www.skellis.net 

David Corbet
Performance and multimedia practitioner
, Melbourne 
dc@slightly.net 
www.slightly.net


Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows

Review 1: reject from DVD, but publish link to online work subject to rewrite of statement
Dad-project is a web-based project which seeks to question notions of mediatized performance, through a ‘performative and dynamic archive of movement and movement practitioners’. As it currently stands, both the submitted disc and online website act as repository and archive of short (50 or 60 frame) sequences of dance/movement. From an initial menu page, which presents a choice of 15 named performers, the viewer can select a performer and load a flash animation page featuring that performer’s image sequence. The sequence is viewed by scrolling the mouse over the initial first image which appears in a window in the centre of the web page. What the authors describe as a ‘virtual flickerbook’ is then controlled and played back by the user/viewer, who is able to ‘scrub’ backwards and forwards through the image sequence, stopping on an individual image if they so wish, or scrubbing quickly or slowly through the image sequence, and thereby ‘animating’ the performer. The online version of the project presents an open call for submissions and facilitates anyone to load up a sequence of images of their choosing and creation to the project, with currently 36 dance/performance sequences viewable on line, at the time of writing. Each performer of work, may also submit a 12 word text statement which can be seen at the top of the animated screen, revealed word by word in time as the user’s mouse scrubs over the animation window. The website also features two pages of background information text about the project.

For this reviewer with a background in the visual arts, video and new media production, Dad-project exploits some recent developments on new media technology for audiences to submit and input archival image based material, and for user’s of that material to interact with it. The exploration and exploitation of this technology within Dad-project is of itself not particularly innovative with regards to platform/technology based research, nor from a visual arts/media production point of view particularly innovative stylistically.

However, Dad-project most certainly does conform to a view of practice-based research as ‘process based research’, with particular relevance to dance and the performing arts and arising issues of mediatized performance. How successfully it engages in these issues, or how innovative these engagements are, this reviewer feels underqualified to quantify.

Having said that, dad-project, at this time appears to be a collection evidence collated during the initial course of a research project, which as yet has drawn no conclusions or outcomes, or even begun to contextualise its findings.

Additional Notes on Supporting Statement
The supporting statement presents the background to the project and some context to the thinking behind the research questions. It presents thoroughly the research question, at length, and little else.

Research Question

The research question appears to have been thoroughly thought through and clearly presented.

Context

There is little reference to wider research context.

Methods
Whilst dad-project itself is a method of collecting evidence towards evaluating the research question, methods and contexts for evaluating the findings are not given. How the evidence is to be approached and evaluated is not indicated.

Outcomes

At present there are no outcomes indicated or evidenced.

Quality

With no outcomes evidenced, no quality indicators are subsequently present.

Criteria
The authors of dad-project set themselves the questions:
‘As much as traditional performance has embraced mediatization, what are the creative possibilities for rethinking this embrace by seeking to generate moving image outcomes (in which the body is present) that interrogate or modify the mediatized-liveness nexus? To what degree can perfomativity be present in digital archives? What are the conditions for the perceptual experience of viewers that offer a semblance of performativity in a mediatized artefact?’

What is not clear from the project is how the web based element of the project serves to answer/address these questions, or what methods, contexts and criteria will be used to evaluate the findings of the practice.

Review 2: Accept for online publication with rewritten statement
This is an interesting project that allows dancers to upload Flash based flick book movies of movement – the movies are then controlled by the user mouse scrolling over the image.

The statement poses some interesting and difficult research questions primarily cast round post Auslander debates about liveness, performance and mediatization.

The project is actually most successful in ways that do not necessarily answer the author’s own questions. As an open source user controlled archive for the analysis of movement this would appear to be a really fruitful resource. I could certainly see it being really useful in terms of performers being able to think about their own work and teachers being able to use the site as a resource. So this seems to be a really useful platform for developing scholarly resources for the analysis and archiving of movement.

The project certainly does address its first research question of exploring the ‘creative possibilities’ of ‘mediatized liveness’ but then like all ‘exploring possibilities’ this is rather imprecise question. The second question: ‘to what degree can performativity be present in digital archives’ is also addressed in the work but the answer seems to lie more in the performativity of the user and software rather than the dancer who becomes our ‘puppet’ in this configuration. 
Again the work seems to deny the possibilities raised in the third research question in so far as ‘the semblance of performativity’ lies so entirely under the control of the user – the dancers here have no agency to collaborate with the user in order to produce a more performative experience. So the work in away denies the possibilities hinted at in the research questions.

This is I think a useful outcome. The work may not succeed in answering its own questions but it does produce other useful research outcomes along the way. Creative research is rarely linear.

Review 3:
I can see that it might be useful to be able to scrub back and forth through the images if you wanted to see how the movement is initiated physically, say, if you wanted to learn the sequence…

Practically speaking, potential contributors have to do quite a bit – I note several recommendations for downloading different software – in order to join in, which I could imagine would deter many (also the question why you “like” dancing is a bit feeble, in my view).

In the background section, he talks about flickbooks as an “impetus to consider the world inbetween the seen – to imagine the life between the photos/images… Shifts and glimpses of places, free from any form of linear animation”, but all of the artists who’ve submitted work have selected their stills so that, scrubbing from left to right, the viewer will see a pretty direct representation of the linear animation that would have occurred live…

He talks about “subtly undermin[ing] the deeply embedded hierarchy in which the “live” body is considered to be the acme of performance practice” but I guess that, by mostly (all?) choosing stills which make clear the ‘right’ e.g. start-to-finish reading of the movement, (even though the viewer can scrub this way and that) the contributors to this open submissions site have overridden this…

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