Synchronous Objects: What else, besides the body, might physical thinking look like?

Curator's Note

There are many interesting new projects happening today at the intersection of dance research and digital media and concerned with the re-articulation and transmission of bodily knowledge. A few recent examples include Steve Paxton’s DVD and workshop “Material for the Spine”; Emio Greco’s interactive installation and DVD “Capturing Intention"; and the generous online digital archive created in the UK for Siobhan Davies’ work. This is the territory of our work, Synchronous Objects, for which I have provided the short video of selected animations. The full work is available at Synchronous Objects is a choreographic visualization project that flows from dance to data to objects. The dance is William Forsythe’s “One Flat Thing, reproduced” a contrapuntal piece exhibiting an exquisite chaos that is tightly structured by its three interlocking systems of organization. The data are numeric translations of the choreographic structures/systems in the dance. And the objects—animations, graphics, computer applications— are visual expressions of those structures. They are communicative (we wanted to share and transmit information and invite responses), investigatory (we wanted to probe Forsythe’s choreographic thinking) and exploratory (we wanted to find out what we could see in the dance, and how we could visualize those interpretations).

In Synchronous Objects and these other projects, research is a creative interdisciplinary pursuit. These are not objective studies carried out by seemingly detached scholars but instead are idiosyncratic subjectively informed endeavors. And these endeavors do not attempt to preserve the live moment. They begin from a different point. Instead they ask, what else is there? Or as Forsythe said during our collaboration “What else might this dance look like?” and “What else, besides the body, might physical thinking look like?” They are working with the difficult but also generative problem of making dance knowledge explicit and sharing it not only on stage and in the studio (as we are accustomed) but also through media objects. Together these projects and the many others that continue to emerge are the beginnings of what I hope will be a lively discursive space placing dance at the center of interdisciplinary knowledge exchange about embodiment and physical thinking and creating a rich set of resources for present and future historians and students of the form.  



 Hi Norah

thanks for the post. My thoughts on the Synchronous Objects project, as I already mentioned to you in a previous conversation, are mainly inspired by its designed frame, and by notions of 'algorithmic' and 'parametric' design. In fields such as graphic or architectural design, for example, to quote Michael Meredith's words, “developments in scripting have opened the way to algorithmic design processes that allow complex forms to be grown from simple iterative methods while preserving specified qualities.” The algorithmic process, in other words, has allowed designers to visualize and think the sequential transformations of an object in time and space. And yet, an object is never the result of a single manipulation, but is always emerging from a multiplicity of features or ‘parameters’, variables related to other variables: sets of variables and their relations are what determines the transformation of a form. If, on one hand, the generative algorithm is a method that allows the generation of ‘complex forms and structures based on simple component rules’, on the other hand by programming the relations between mathematical variables parametric software allows a manipulation of multiple scales, from part to whole, while acknowledging the co-working of many algorithmic levels. As Meredith very clearly explains, “[The advantage of the parametric project is not the “relentless malleability of form … but the complex … relationships that produce architecture." For me, the Synchronous Objects website constitutes a good example of what happens when generative algorithms start to work 'parametrically'.


Thank you for this post.  After a few minutes with Synchronous Objects, I find myself wanting to add "beautiful" to the descriptive trio of "communicative," "investigatory," and "exploratory."  Which I suppose is a way of stressing the accidental or incidental aesthetics of a project that sets out to generate epistemological resources about art.  To put it another way, an exciting answer your project gives to the question "What else is there?" is "More art."  Seen in this light, Synchronous Objects seems particularly rich among data-driven art for rethinking ideas about inspiration in a digital medium, given its explicit link between its source work and the objects it creates.  Don't suppose Synchronous Objects has any intentions of producing choreographic visualizations that are shown in real-time as part of a performance?  

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