Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Haunting Performance: coffin waters

Moby-Dick  SPOILER ALERT:

At the end of Moby-Dick, Ishamel alone is left to tell his story of disaster at sea, and he keeps himself afloat on a coffin life-buoy, alerting us, again, to the themes of life in/as death reflected in various iterations throughout the novel.

I was reminded of this scene recently at an exhibition opening in Poland….

At the opening of the Telling the Baltic exhibition in Gdansk (October 18, 2012) Polish artist/dancer Anna Steller performed her piece “unrelenting beauty of disaster, ” a reflection on the sinking by  torpedo of the passenger line ”Wilhelm Gustloff”  in 1945. In this disastrous sinking, 9000 people were killed in 63 minutes, revealing the Baltic Sea as a graveyard with many hidden stories, and bodies,  in her depths.

I was struck by the unsettling performance, held at night outside the Gdansk Science and Technology Park  which housed the exhibit. Lit only by flashlights held by the audience, the performance became a very visceral connection to a body-in-movement and its metamorphosis from birth to death, and sea to land, and back again,  as well as an affirmation of the intimate connectedness of these two states  and sites.

The coffin-shaped aquarium glowed with an  eerie intensity that seemed to emanate from the water, or from the body in the water (who could tell?), and the power of  Steller’s  hands, as they touched the sides of the “coffin,” grasped the edges to heave the body out, and fling themselves skywards, was itself an appeal  to tactility and its power to touch us. Of course, for me, it was also an homage ( unintentional?) to James Whale’s brilliant Frankenstein, and the iconic creation scene where the body is shot through with electricity, resulting in a quivering monster-hand to affirm life came from death. “It’s Alive! It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” I nearly shrieked, but thankfully didn’t. Given the fact, I had also just taught Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for the bajillionth time, the birth imagery and themes of  maternal materiality were also close “at hand”  (yuk, yuk) for reference.

Below are a series of stills  from the performance I shot, in the dark, on an iPad…

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Performing Exhibitions: dis-playing with art

The upcoming Art Line research seminar I am organizing on Oct 26, 2012 at BTH  promises to be extra-awesome.

There is a great line-up of artists and scholars, and all will come together to demo and reflect on their own work curating, exhibiting, and creating performative media art. I’m very happy to have such an interesting group of creative talent on hand to explore a topic so close to my current research.

Following a talk I will give with my collaborator Daniel Spikol (computer scientist, Malmö Högskola), I will also be demoing a live/mediated performance with Astrid Selling Sjöberg and Kristin Borgehed, incredible folk musicians and scholars from the Folk Practice Academy. Inspired by the (s)AND project, we will use my poetic texts, live music and song,  iPad generated sound-art, video projections and photographs created by my colleagues Martin Arvebro  (videographer) and Ida Gustavsson (photographer) to explore and perform the eco/echo-systems of  Baltic landscapes and the stories they circulate.

Check out the seminar details:

poster image“Performing Exhibitions: Displaying Digital Art and Media” is a seminar exploring exhibition, curation, and performative practices in digital art and mixed media. How does digitally-mediated art engage human actors, embodied agents, and sensory input? What factors influence exhibition and curation choices when displaying innovative art, technology and media forms? How do media artists work to enhance and/or perform liveness and human sensation? What questions do researchers explore when working with the aesthetics of techno-human interfaces? These are the questions we will examine. Featured speakers include an International range of artists, curators, researchers, and scientists working across disciplines and media contexts.

Featured Speakers: Ada Auf Der Strasse (media artist, dancer); Lissa Holloway-Attaway (digital media researcher/mixed media performance); Elektro Moon Vision: Elwira Wojtunik and Popesz Csaba Láng (visual artists/live performance  duo); Susan Kozel (media artist/researcher, dancer); Jacob Lillemose (curator); Jesper Norda, (sound artist); Mateusz Pek, (digital artist); Rebecca Rouse (digital media researcher/theater performance studies); Daniel Spikol (computer science/digital media researcher); Teresa Wennberg (mixed media artist/researcher);

Special Performance: Astrid Selling Sjöberg, Kristin Borgehed (Folk Musicians)

Session Moderators: Maria Engberg, Talan Memmott (Senior Lecturers, BTH, Digital Culture and Communication)

Special Installation: Baltic Agora (Mateusz Pek)

This seminar is sponsored by the Department of Culture and Communication at BTH and by Art Line, an EU-funded project exploring art in public, physical and virtual space in the southern Baltic region

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Moby Marathon Remixing

The late spring and summer were packed full with exciting trips and research, and sometimes a combo of both, but I haven’t really updated my activities for a while–a little longer than intended. I guess that’s a sign of being busy…

This fall too has immersed me in teaching, including a new course called Digital Bodies in Literature, which I am offering as an exclusive undergraduate seminar elective (3 students only!) in The Digital Culture and Communication Program. More on that in a later post and the ways it has engaged me in thinking again about those-oh-so-troublesome non-human bodies

Whaling Captian reads Moby-Dick

A “real” 19th C whaling ship Captain begins the reading at the Mystic Museum outdoor stage.

I do want to highlight, however,  a trip from this past August which I am “revisiting “a lot lately in light of developments in an on-going “marathon” project (a literal and figurative description).

This summer while in the US, I went to Mystic, Connecticut and to the Mystic Seaport Museum for the annual  “Moby-Dick Marathon”–a non-stop 24 hour reading of the complete text of Melville’s Moby-Dick. And, yes, it was almost exactly 24 hours, although unlike a few Moby die-hards, I wasn’t present for the whole time. I did get to read some key chapters, and favorites of mine, though– Chapters 10 and 133–for example. It was thrilling and a little surreal, particularly as I read the Chapter 133, “The Chase: First Day” aboard the Charles W. Morgan, an original 19th century whaler being restored at the museum and currently in dry-dock. Reading aloud to the crowd, some of whom who had spent the night on the ship, and from noon the day before at other museum locations, and then finally speaking the lines “There she blows! – there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!” which signals the first sighting of the whale itself in the entire novel, actually gave me goose bumps. I definitely got my Melville geek on, just a little bit. It was the 27th annual reading in Mystic, but the first for me. What an out-of-body (and yet embodied) experience!

everyone reads Moby

Mo’ Moby reading aboard ship

Besides getting to hang out with true Melville fans (as you’d have to be to participate in a reading of this type), I was also there to do some research on how to stage such a marathon reading, as I am hoping to  create my own “(Re-)Mixed-up & (Re-)Mediated Moby-Dick Marathon”  in May 2013 (or possibly September 2013, if I need/am allowed extra time). This will be a cornerstone event in the launch of the first iteration of the “(Re-) Mapping Moby Project.”  (A video outlining this project in more detail is also available online and I’ve blogged about it as well.) My conversations with organizers and museum staff, who were very generous to share ideas and methods, were very helpful and key to helping me think through the organization of my own event.

reading Moby-Dick

All manner of devices were used during the marathon to read the text, smart phones to paperback.

The event will be included as part of Art Line sponsored Digital Performance Festival I’m coordinating to further my research in, and efforts to help create, a sustainable Digital Art Platform.  As part of Art Line, many of the International partners are working to create a “platform” for knowledge exchange in the southern Baltic region for exploring art innovation in public, physical and virtual spaces. This means both making a literal platform, included as part of the Art Line website in the form of commissioned art works, contests, and dissemination of events, but also sharing best.practices, artifacts, and experiences working in these arenas. My plan for the festival is to invite artists from the Southern Baltic region, and beyond, to participate in the festival with works that foreground performance in physical and virtual space. I hope to represent a variety of performance practices and media, including sound artists, dancers, visual media, musicians, and mixed-media theater.

large fisherman statue

Moby-sized fisherman statue at Blekinge Museum archives in Rosenholm, along with Telling the Baltic artists and story-collectors

At the core of the festival will be the “(Re-)Mixed-up & (Re-)Mediated Moby-Dick Marathon Reading.”  Similar to, and yet significantly different from, a traditional marathon reading, we will include a non-stop live reading of the novel from key sites in Karlskrona inspired by “Moby” settings.

ship hanging in Admirality Church, Kalrksrona

Ships hang from the ceiling in the old wooden Admirality Church (Amiralitetskyrkan) in Karlskrona

(As a town situated on the sea with a long-naval history, this is not so difficult really. We don’t have whales, but we have old wooden churches with ships inside, giant Moby-sized fishermen, and lots of water and shore line to inspire pantheistic musings. )

twitter team

Twitter Team onboard the Charles W. Morgan sends updates and pop culture references.

But our marathon also will be punctuated with skype-readings from participants in global locations, social media reflections, artistic media “renderings” of content, and other public interventions and performances that accompany the reading. In Mystic,  there was a twitter team on hand to “tweet” updates and references, but we hope to extend substantially  the use of social and other media at our event.

Melville “himself” showed up to read the epilogue

The reading is intended as an extension of many of the goals articulated in the “(Re-) Mapping Moby Project.” My research there is focused on exploring textual innovation, new interpretive strategies, and media production through a critical awareness of embodied performance. By “staging” the novel in our mediated marathon, I hope to draw attention to the ways in which mixed media practices can offer methods for knowing-differently, for coming to a deeper onto-epistemological understanding of “texts” and media  (to borrow  a term from Karen Barad and her reflections on posthumanist performativity) . As impacted as I was by the purity, density, and sheer volume of Melville’s words when I listened to them read aloud during the marathon in Mystic, I felt too there was another dimension of connectedness that might be offered to the “reader” if she were to become even more fully immersed in the text through a variety of other creative renderings.

After all, the body of the whale, in all its fleshy layered-ness, in all its blank-page whiteness, offers multitudinous possibilities for representation…

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows- a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? (–“The Whiteness of the Whale,” Moby-Dick)

papier mache whale

Marathon readers and museum visitors help construct a papier mache Moby in the shipyard throughout the reading: an other kind of material remix

Other organic bodies too (human, cellular, textual, and tactile), in tandem with their  motile and sensory properties, can be foregrounded in the mixed media experiences we create. In my current Moby-work, I draw historical parallels to Melville’s radical review of 19th century techno-culture and the methods he uses to deliberately rework the nature of textuality and the body (of the whale) in his Romantic quest narrative. The white whale, an elusive and yet enormous un-presence in the aesthetics of Melville’s work is an earlier example of material augmentation referenced in the contemporary digital work we are creating. The use of augmented reality, social media, and live-action in combination with other media interventions in the text, is key to investigating how mixed media

papier mache Moby

all whales, eventually, are white….

experiences can revolutionize material methods for (re-) experiencing traditional literary narratives. Moby-Dick as an inspirational base text is already radical and materially eccentric, begging the reader to take narrative risks, and so I am heeding the call, and into the swirling center I go, round and round, “slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex.” Send me a life-buoy coffin. Or maybe just a Rachel-like rescue vessel. Or maybe just some cake…

The “Great White Cake,” served at the end of the marathon reading in Mystic to celebrate Melville’s Birthday

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