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Thematic week: Digital technology and dance

Katja Vaghi gives an overview of digital technology in the arts and presents the Erasmus+ Project “Art Meets Digital Technology“.

Mann mit VR Brille

Bildnachweis: pexels / areous-ahmad

Even though we should know better, the arts and science are for the most still seen as working in different realm. The first connected to creativity and possibly still under the spell of the Romantic figure of the lone artistic genius at the mercy of their emotions (and here I imagine the artist on a rock in the middle of a stormy ocean) and the second, the scientist, seldom interested in whims of sorts and under another spell, that of positivism and the faith in pure reason offered by science. It is so that we hardly ever call computer games developers artists (title that instead some deserve) and we find difficult to define as art anything that is too close to technology. Apparently, technologically enhanced skills can produce aesthetic objects, but not art.

Arts and innovations

It might be worth remembering that artists have always had an eye for innovations, using the latest scientific technologies in their works. For example in dance, the choreographer Loïe Fuller had her state of the art theatre fully electrified so that on a pitch black stage the projections on her costumes were enhanced, Martha Graham used a costume made out of lycra in her revolutionary Lamentation (1930) and, coming closer to our contemporary sensibility, Merce Cunningham used softwares to develop movement sequences that would avoid falling into creative habits and at the same time represent the natural indeterminacy of the real world. So this skepticism and resistance is actually puzzling.

Arts and science  

In the preface to Visual Thinking (1969, 1977) Rudolf Arnheim dismantles the division between arts and science when he writes “productive thinking ignores the property lines between the aesthetic and the scientific” (vi). What he meant with this affirmation was that for a purely innovative idea to arise both hemispheres of our brains — the one relative to logic and the one in charge of creativity — need to cooperate to generate something new. It must be pointed out that his understanding of aesthetics was linked to the perception of the senses and that he saw artists as the masters of creating sensorial experiences. His sentence thus rephrased points to the overcoming of the Cartesian divide between body and mind, between practice and theory, between practical knowledge and academic knowledge. Coming from the other end, that of science, the philosopher Steven French in the essay “Putting Practice into Theory” (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/theforum/putting-practice-into-theory/) for the Forum of Philosophy goes so far as suggesting that “there are no theories, just theory-shaped bits of practice”. In short, we are making a lot of fuss for nothing, trying to divide practices that are on a continuum with the boundary moving back and forth as the tides on the seashore. One would never question where does the sea start and the shore end.

Thematic week on culture, creativity and lifelong learning.

 

What is the function of digital technology in the arts?

The question is thus what is the function of digital technology in the arts. Looking for an answer, one might consider the ways in which artists have used technologies in their works. Some have incorporated them, some rejected them, and others had them highlight the difference between nature and man-made. If they are incorporated, they can be used as an extension of the forms or to generate content. We are probably bored to hear it but the pandemic has rocked the boat accelerating the tendency towards the use of digital media in the arts. As suddenly no other way to produce was viable these questions — on the role of innovation in arts and on the relation between arts and science — came urgently to the fore. These are also the questions we have come to explore more closely with our Erasmus project Art Meets Digital Technology.

Erasmus+ Project “Art Meets Digital Technology“

With the project Art Meets Digital Technology DIE ETAGE, school of the performing and visual arts (Berlin, Germany) started a dialogue on arts and technology with its three international partners — Smashing Times Theatre and Film Company (Dublin, Ireland), K Milios and SIA OE Greece (Athens, Greece), Soros International House (Vilnius, Lithuania). The project focused on one specific technology, Virtual Reality (VR), and its potential for the arts. This type of technology is expensive and time needs to be made in order to explore its potentiality and better understand how it can fit into one’s area of expertise. What wanted to be a first dip into the water turned with a sudden twist in March 2020 into a deep reflection on how digital media can sustain the arts. Instead of live meetings everything migrated online. This steering to the virtual happened also for the activities of the school with new formats being developed and old ones adapted. All of a sudden, what is generally an embodied transmission of knowledge had to shift to a disembodied realm. After having dealt with the most urgent matters, the question was, how to incorporate embodied experiences in this new dimension that foregrounds focused vision at the expenses of all other senses. With the exchange of good VR practices in the arts, the project has now come to an end.

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