Reflexiones sobre Performance, Cultura y Tecnología




(page 4 of 4)


Johannes Birringer. Renato, do you consider your own theatre work in Brazil as a kind of "recombinant theatre" (recombinant poetics)?

Renato Cohen. I think you mean "recombinant" because I'm using some modernist texts such as Khlébnikov's poetry or references to Fernando Pessoa and others, but I think that my work concerns the performance and theatre intermedia and deal more with the phenomenological process. KA (1998) refers to a shamanistic approach to theatre, the performers work in trance; and Gotham SP (2001) is about madness and working with schizophrenic people. Also, I consider the media and the telematic path a new phenomenon. We are starting a new research for a play, with the provisional title MEDIA=MEDUSA (I took this reference from Chris Burden's recent work), working with the idea of "HyperPsyche," and using texts from the web as reference. So, I would like to situate my work more in the discovery of languages, rather than a recombinant poetic.

Johannes Birringer. Could you give a very brief summary of your work with the "mad actors" in Gotham SP, or how you think of your work with these actors/interactors?

Renato Cohen. The UEINZZ Group, which is directed by myself and Sergio Penna, is a group that has been together for seven years, exploring issues of mental illness with schizophrenic actors. The group has 20 actors, mixed with professionals as well as musicians and media artists. We have produced three plays - Ueinzz- A Journey to Babel (1997), working with cacophonic language, the pre-Babel path; then in DEDALUS (2000), we worked with the idea of the labyrinth (psychic and physical labyrinth). The last one, which is still happening, Gotham SP (2002-3), is based on the stories of the city and its inhabitants, using Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Batman stories and other references. A French Deleuzian group made a film about the process called JOKER-I'm The Coringa, which played in some alternative venues here.

I think these experiences are fundamental experiences, and I see the work as a kind of contemporary theatre, using special performances that produce a new relation of time, presence, embodiment and public reception. For instance, our actors have a special delay to answering in the dialogues (the play is scripted), it produces a certain Verfremdungs-Effekt. You feel a strong force developing over time in the performance, which is the presence of the madness, and the actors are language builders (for instance one of them said to me, in the rehearsal, that the labyrinth can move…)


Johannes Birringer. Renato -- would you comment on the Iliad Project ?

Renato Cohen. It was difficult to know what will happen in this project, since we only heard about the conceptual design for the work as it is being developed. The idea was interesting, but it seemed that the figuration (the aesthetic) was not as strong. This is, however, a general problem, which we see all the time, how to create strong work on both the technological and artistic levels.

Johannes Birringer. Of course one would have to say that, as a group, we have not yet fully articulated specific aesthetic criteria for interactive digital performance systems and recombinant art. Nor have we comprehensively proposed criteria that would extend "aesthetic" notions (including Bia's reference to Kant's Third Critique) toward criteria of interpretation and evaluation which respond to the specific digital operations we are discussing, to the specific emplacements or sculptural configurations or "distributed architectures" of our interactive environments, and to the experiential qualities or cognitive provocations achieved in an interface (sensorial, empathetic, emotional, intellectual, political, etc). If we use terms that refer to sculpture and architecture, or the material textures and designs of our installations, we need to address formal languages of aesthetics as well, I believe, whether we like it or not.

How do we address the poetics or "figuration" of digital performance (design as aesthetic value? programming and new software as cultural value? interactivity examined in terms of functionality and sensorial-cognitive impact, pleasure?)[17] or the "effectivity" of an interface or a "co-authored" dynamic performance system? How do we value narrative or abstraction in digital art? What are the new forms of hypertextual, emergent narrative in interactive media or networked performance/communication? Is complexity an important aspect, or the reframing of consciousness, or the intuitive enjoyment of the poetic elements of image, sound, text, and textures in an interactive environment which enhances intersubjective exchange?

Before I pose these questions to some of you, I want to mention an example from my own practice. I should emphasize that there are two distinct phases in the process of this production that one could evaluate and critique, the design and development phase, and the actual interactive exhibition phase. The problems that I see in the work refer precisely to the point Renato tried to make, namely the relation between the design production (programming, technical functionality) and the actual response behavior by audiences to the on-site artistic installation.

In the summer of 2002, shortly after the meeting in Los Angeles, I participated in a production workshop at the Festpielhaus Hellerau in Dresden, Germany. Organized by the Trans-Media Akademie Hellerau, this workshop brought together fifteen different teams who had been chosen on the basis of their design proposals for the development of a new interactive work dedicated to the composition of real-time interactive audio-visual spaces and virtual environments ("Real-Time and Presence" was the title of the overall project, which as partly funded by the European Union). The TMA Hellerau had laid out a time-line for the development of the project, first inviting numerous digital artists, programmers, choreographers, composers/musicians, and architects to gather in Germany (March 2002) to present their current artistic methods but especially their design and programming experience with particular interactive softwares and real-time DSP systems.

We listened to each other, and connections were made and partnerships discussed -- an initial process of networking which the organizers encouraged. We then went back to our countries and studios. In the following months, new works were conceptually developed (over the internet or through personal meetings), research and design processes sketched, and then formulated as production proposals. (<> <>)

By the time we met again for an intensive two-week workshop in July 2002, all these new "works" were merely in a more or less developed design stage, just as we have seen with the Iliad Project. The workshop was dedicated to the testing of the designs and programming ideas through a first experimental implementation or installation of the works-in-progress. The installations were shown to the public on the last day of the workshop, but it was made clear to our audiences that these exhibitions were still "in process" (unfinished). The event was remarkable, undoubtedly, not only for its spatial context, the parallel exhibitions in the huge and famous historical Festspielhaus Hellerau (built in 1911 to house Émile Jacques-Dalcroze's new School for Eurythmics), but also for the enormous efforts that went into providing space and electronic equipment and network infrastructures for so many complex interactive installations. I also found it remarkable that so many of the exhibited "processes" resembled open laboratories, in which various works in their alpha and beta stages were demonstrated to the public, with an emphasis on explicating and testing the interface designs and their functionalities. Very little care or thought was given, as yet, to the aesthetic configurations of the works.

In this sense, the first public exhibition of these processes resembled a design show of contemporary (digital) theoretical architecture -- the public could peruse the blueprints of future works, or try out some of the interactive interfaces which were already programmed to be used and experienced.

In discussions with other artists during the workshop I noticed that very little agreement existed amongst us as to what constituted a successful and provocative interactive virtual environment. In my case, our team had the ambition of presenting a fully developed environment, with much care given to the physical textures of the space and the "transitional objects" which were offered to the audience. I worked with composer/programmer Orm Finnendahl (Berlin) and media artist Sher Doruff (Amsterdam), whom I did not know before we entered into our dialog, and our conceptual process was conducted entirely over the internet because we live in different continents. Our interactive environment, East by West, which involves three different interactive systems, was assembled and exhibited in Dresden and subsequently invited to the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival in Rotterdam (2003), were it was further expanded and modified. The installation is evolving in response to the input it receives from the visitors, and we plan to create a new versions in the summer of 2003.

After addressing briefly the design history of the work, I now comment on its life in real-time contact with different audiences, drawing attention to its performative parameters which, unlike any of my previous works, did not involve performers as presenters, but were designed exclusively for playful, game-like engagement by the visitor (user).

First the design premise: East by West consists of two interactive environments (rooms) constructed at opposite ends of a building - or at remote sites - and connected via live video-audio streaming. Both environments explore the emergence and temporal synthesis of musical, visual and kinaesthetic perceptions in two similar yet different "geographic" architectures. The two landscapes can be experienced as two different "states":

The East ("Orange County") is warm and brightly lit, there is a yellow sand beach, and a hundred suspended oranges which invite intuitive interaction. The slightly swaying oranges also convey a meditative feeling of a world in continuous slow motion. One of the oranges is painted fluorescent and tracked by an infrared sensor. A live video stream connects both environments, and a mixed image of both spaces is projected onto the walls of the environments. Loudspeakers play the streamed sound of both rooms which is affected by the playful behavior of the visitors.

The West ("The Dead Sea") environment with black sand is darker, eerier, and more ghostlike; boccia balls are on the sand, inviting a game. One ball is fluorescent, like a brighter star in a dark galaxy. A projection of geometric shapes washes over the sand, the same image stream is also layered into the telepresence images on the walls. The shapes represent sounds which can be "played" using the fluorescent ball which is tracked by infrared cameras. The environments are cross-linked in such a way that using the ball not only plays the "instrument" in the local environment, but also changes the shape of the images in the remote environment. The telepresence images on the walls show the mix of the sounds and the players' actual behavior or performance interaction.

East by West, DEAF 2003, video stills

Both landscapes invite the visitor to explore and play with the objects in the environments, and to communicate across distance. The interface in East by West is designed as a physical navigation: the visitor can experiment with the transformation of spatial imagination (real space as virtual space), entering the landscapes and the experience of time and synchronicity. The experience is generated through the sounds and actions of the visitors in environments of hyperplasticity. I use the term "hyperplasticity" referring to the emergent relationships between visitors in both sites as they engage with the spaces, their textures, and the "transobjects" they find in the landscapes. The fluctuating conditions in both environments depend on the behavior of the visitors, but they also have a life of their own (the light will change, the videostreams with the superimposed images from both spaces oscillate and, at regular intervals, make the visitors from either side appear and disappear).

At the completion of the design-installation, we felt that the social and aesthetic dimension of the work depended on the actual examination of interactivity -- understood here as a process through which meanings of a game are constantly evolving, adaptable and redefinable. We did not know how the visitors would play, what rules they might invent, what reactions they might have. But the networked, translocal spaces allow investigation of the nature of real-time sound synthesis and how extended physical space can be shared by people when they play with fictional geographies, strange or familiar objects, and their mediated presences. Telepresence combines presences in action. The "aesthetic" figuration of the "hyperplastic" rooms did not aim at euphoric assumptions about virtual reality but at concrete, tactile, synaesthetic processes of cognition and intuition, and above all at the visitors' playful fantasy.

After observing hundreds of visitors to the installations in Dresden and Rotterdam, I wonder why children seemed to enjoy themselves playing with balls or jumping at oranges, without noticing the motion tracking, and why some adults stayed in the space for a long time, tentatively exploring the objects, or adamantly insisting on figuring out what logical cause-and effect structure they could verify, not in their game with others, but in their use of a motion-sensing interface. I wonder why some people left quickly, without touching any of the objects, while others seemed to enjoy just watching others play, or at times stepped in to help "re-order," reorganize the landscape (the wires of the suspended oranges in Rotterdam got entangled after some wild playing by younger visitors who enjoyed the pendulum effect….). In fact there were many different visitor-behaviors, none of which we had planned or calculated beforehand, and there were also times when the "system" did not seem to work as we had programmed it, or, rather, it behaved as if it had its own volition. It also crashed a few times (there were 9 interconnected computers at work to drive the three interfaces, and of course we also depended on the network and had to accept its instabilities).

I do not know what was visible to the visitors in the interface, and how they experienced their bodies' movement and interaction. I am only at the beginning of a critical exploration of "game worlds" and game behaviors, which in our case meant that we were adapting video game parameters to a physical, networked landscape in which actual performance actions or sensorrial behavior mattered, since there was no mouse or keyboard. In an exhibition such as DEAF, organized by an organization (V2) known for its presentation of interactive media works, audiences usually look for the new, satisfy their curiosity, or they want to verify how it is interactive. In my opinion, the most satisfying form of verification is not a sense that one has a predictable effect on the installation, and that the installation will respond identically to identical actions on the part of the visitors. Some visitors told me that they were satisfied by the strange subtlety and ambiguity generated by these two landscapes which could also be read as narratives. One would hope that he changing "states" of the landscapes are experienced as a result of playful collaboration with others, who are somewhere else, wanting to play with you.

East by West, Dresden, 2002

On the other hand, if you asked me whether the artistic result of the interaction with the "system" was interesting to me, and justified needing so much equipment, high computing power and high bandwidth to play a game of boccia, I would say, no. Ironically, it's much more sensible to play boccia with people on the beach or the commons, and eat some oranges rather than pretending that such cumbersome interactive systems are a new artform. Perhaps the content of our interface was a failure. But after experiencing all the other expensive failures at DEAF, I begin to wonder about our relations to our patrons (and audiences). As Coco Fusco points out, "that artists and museums working with new technologies are extremely dependent on support from the telecommunications industry might partially explain why so much work fetishizes individuals' relationships with the machines, aestheticizing the interface that multinationals seek to naturalize in order to increase their profits." [18]


[17] For a discussion of newly emerging theories on "software as culture," see William Fuller, "Behind the Blip: Software as Culture." Distributed via <nettime>: archive:

[18] Coco Fusco, posting to <eyebeam><blast>, Interaction: Artistic Practice in the Network, p. 79.



Margarita, do you consider involving your audiences interactively? Or do you think the current fashion of "interactivity" is a red herring? How do you think about casting the "user" or activating of the unsuspecting audience into a "component" or media or role player of the dance, the performance construction or event construction?

Margarita Bali
. The expression "red herring" does not exist in Spanish so I cannot avoid having an instantaneous flash of a red fish trapped in a fishbowl desperately looking out at me. It seems a phrase that comes up very often when interactivity gets discussed!

In South America we would maybe say "espejitos de colores," the colored glass mirrors or beads the Spanish conquistadors gave the Indians in exchange of gold. In any case I am willing to experiment to some extent, with the red fish or the colored mirrors, even if there is no total guarantee of any precious gold there.

I have so far not been able to personally witness interesting responses from an audience that finds out that they are the triggers in an interactive set up. It usually leads from surprise to exaggerated over-triggering, and then chaos. A conventional theatre set up does not help either because of the clear boundary between audience and stage. Besides, in the theatre the audience is trapped in seats and they have no previous information nor can they communicate with the others to plan a coherent strategy in the triggering.

I think that audience interactivity is more applicable to alternative spaces or installation-performance situations where the participating person is free to move at will and is more ready to interact, and has her own time to input her perceptions, reorganize them and think the next action.

I will nevertheless attempt the possibility of audience participation in my next stage project Zoom In, Look Out where I will try to construct parallel moments between scenes of the film The Purple Rose of Cairo and the live activity of the performers on stage and off stage. I am particularly interested in this movie because of the clever and humorous way it focuses on reality-fiction, virtual actor-audience members, screen life-small town real life. Following my own story line, I hope to be able to construct interactivity through a meshing in of what is going in the movie, on stage and in the audience.

Johannes Birringer. Heitor and Vibeke, how do you see the "role" of the audience or "user" of a digital/interactive work? What kind of new aesthetic is described here, and what would be the criteria of a successful, effective "interaction" behavior, or experience of the interface?

Vibeke Sorensen. Successful interaction arises from a fluid response to the input, almost beyond conscious analysis and understanding. I want it to be intuitive, direct, and magical. Associations that one makes in the mind, such as between symbols and senses, are most important in determining my selection of the interface.

Johannes Birringer. What is the aesthetics of the "flickering signifiers" --- the digital arbitrariness of the computing coding process (Isabel Valverde wrote this in response to our discussions in the Hypermedia Studio), for example if you think of Mariano's work where people in one city may or may not realize that their movement may or may not constitute an effect on the textual (projection) environment? Or how do people connect the scent of spice to images that are extruded from the database of your image/sound/graphic files, and what would constitute an aesthetic criteria of value for the use/interaction with the spice boxes as your audience is drawn to watch/listen?

Vibeke Sorensen. There is a long history of people working with spices, and thinking about them. People already have a great deal of knowledge and thought about them, and so when I use spices I know that there will be strong feelings that affect the experience of the user. This is what I hope for, each experience being unique. I try to select spices that have a history of association with certain kinds of uses and originate in certain regions of the world. It is the recombination of ideas and sense impressions, including the spices but also the images and sounds in the piece, that lead to narratives and stories that are freed from stasis - as are memories in the mind. Each time someone tells a story, they have a slightly different situation physically, emotionally, intellectually. People are in constant change. So their stories or narratives change. I see the use of the computer, and multisensory interfaces, as a medium for exploring this complex mental process and sharing with others, tangibly, and making it a collaborative or collective experience. I have written about it in my papers on the web (


Johannes Birringer. Do you feel that the importance is the synaesthetic experience in the interface? Or, as David Rokeby has suggested, that the content is the interface? [19]

Vibeke Sorensen. Both the content (because of the symbolic content of my choice of interfaces) and the synaesthetic experience. They are equally important.
Johannes Birringer. Is the tactile equal to the cinematic (visual)? or where is content located in interactive interface installations, telematic events, vectorial elevations?
Vibeke Sorenson. I think that the visual dominates our thinking process as adults, but that the tactile is perhaps more important to children. Neuroscience research has taught me that in order for the brain to develop connections in the 1st year of a child's life, physical interaction with the environment is necessary. The more tactile interaction, the more connections are made, and the more the brain develops.

Vibeke Sorenson at RePercute


I think it is similar for our experience with technology. It will only be truly interactive if it uses more of our senses, especially touch. We cannot escape our physicality when we work with computers, ultimately. We would die, and many of our problems with survival are in my view due to the separation of the mind and body, and the computer reinforces these attitudes. So I feel strongly that exactly the opposite is needed. We should actively use the technology to reconnect the mind and the body, and put them into harmony with the world and universe. Again, I have written a little about this in my paper on the web (the last part). It is at:


Johannes Birringer. All right, you seem to agree with Ricardo Basbaum and his call for deeper, sensual inter-actions and reciprocities. My earlier mentioning of "vectorial elevations" was in reference to Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's very ambitious project on the Zócalo in Mexico City, a participatory/interacticve experiment in "relational architecture," which included virtual architectures and the network. His highly charged public interface Alzado Vectorial (1999-2000) was intended as a transformation of the Zócalo Square with enormous light sculptures created by participants on the Internet using a virtual reality program. [20]

I want to ask Tania -- how is such impact (knowing or not knowing, experienced or merely infered) on a real site interpreted by the people for whom the square is a communal place? How was Alzado Vectorial received by the people in the plaza or in the city?

Tania Aedo. I think this is a key issue of media art, it is very complicated to distinguish between a "user" as an "unconscious part of the piece" and a participant who is getting some real feedback from your work. I think media art has to be more ethical in that respect; sometimes, when you play around, being "the user" (even in your own work), you feel like being caught in this "candid camera" or "America's funniest home movies," where they need you just to complete the casting. It is not so bad if sometimes an "interactive piece" just lets you sit down or walk around and feel it. Interactivity is not just a matter of point and click.

I know about Rafael's piece.
Another mexican artist, Gerardo Suter, wanted to do a similar (though very different) project in the zocalo, his idea was to let people really write on the walls of the plaza, can you imagine (if you have some Mexican friends) what would have been written on the walls?

Johannes Birringer. Yes, I can imagine the writing on the wall. Finally, I want to raise the issue of globalization in regard to transcultural practices in the production, promotion and "distribution" of new work. Are festivals, collaborations, exchanges, biennials, etc., part of the new "communion"? Recently, the Fèz Festival des Musique Sacrées du Monde in Morocco organized a festival dedicated to celebrate the "soul of globalization," showcasing music (used often in conjunction with religious practices) that has nourished spirits for centuries (cf. Santería in Cuba). What happens when culturally specific forms are removed from their original contexts and embedded practices?

Yes, creative forms can travel. But how can embedded practices, behaviors and rituals be mediated/distributed and translated? How do non-religious audiences decontextualize and re-translate religious music or Sufi dancing? Is not our work with digital media and databases and the network contributing to/participating in the current consumerist market forces whose values advance undeterred just about everywhere and can co-opt just about anything? Don't we utilize sampling technologies and reprocessing recombinatories that necessarily degrade or distort or elide social and cultural relationships (where stories have a certain meaning and rituals take a certain time)? Or have we long given up any notion of the organic or the auratic or the authentic as hopelessly premodern?

What did Oiticica mean when he said that Parangolés are the "open root of Brazilian culture" ? is the "digital wearable" an "open root of culture"? what culture?

Renato Cohen. I think that Oiticica means to say he was working on a transitory object which connects different sorts of experiences and different people and "agenciamentos" (Deleuze) - you remember the parangolés were worn by dancers, famous people, killers, whores, all kinds of people. It was a cross-culture between avant-garde culture --drawing on inspirations from Lissitzky, Malevich -- and popular culture and carnivalization.

Tania Aedo. For me the most clear expression of globalization is homogenization, standardization in all spheres of human experience, this festival you mention is a clear realization of it (it sounds like Hawaii ads). The problem is how to deal with it. Of course it is possible to organize events that are not following this corporate standardizing model.




[19] Sound artist David Rokeby wrote the interactive software "Very Nervous System" (VNS) in 1982. VNS uses video cameras, image processors, computers, synthesizers and a sound system to create a space in which the movements of one's body create sound and/or music. In his writing Rokeby has pointed out that VNS is not a "control system" but an interactive system, by which he means that neither partner in the system (installation and moving person) is in control. "Interactive" and "reactive" are not the same thing, according to Rokeby. "The changing states of the installation are a result of the collaboration of these two elements. The work only exists in this state of mutual influence. This relationship is broken when the interactor attempts to take control, and the results are unsatisfying." He also argues that the content of interactive art lies in the experience of the interface. Quoted from "Lecture for ‘Info Art’, Kwangju Biennale," 1996 [].

[20] For an extensive documentation and critical discussion of his interactive art project, see Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, ed., Alzado Vectorial/Vectorial Elevantion: Relational Architecture No.4 (Mexico City: Conaculta, 2000).





* * *



Tania Aedo
Margarita Bali  
David Beaudry  
Johannes Birringer
Jeff Burke
Heitor Capuzzo
Renato Cohen,
Bia Medeiros,
Eitan Mendelowitz  
Mariano Sardon  
Adam Shive  
Vibeke Sorensen,,
Jared Stein  
Isabel Valverde  
Fabian Wagmister




The editor wishes to thank all participants for their contributions and responses, for accepting the collage format of this non-physical dialog which was conducted via email correspondence, for permitting the collecting and transcribing of their voices at the meeting and for making reference to their artworks, websites, and publications.

(c) RePerCute 2003


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