Interview with Marlon Barrios Solano: On Dance-Tech and dance embodiment, part llby deborah on 06/15/2009
This is a second part of interview with M.B. Solano. Read the first part: Interview with Marlon Barrios Solano: Dancers moved by Technology
Photo: Amelia by LaLaLa Human Steps (c)
Where does your interest in technology come from in your life? You teach contact dance, yoga, zazen, but you are hooked up to computing, too… People usually have wrong perception that those two can not get along…
MBS: I have a background in psychology and dance. I came from Venezuela to study psychology. And psychology was really drown to cognitive science. People told me: OK technology, but you should be a dance therapist! bla bla bla… and I said: NO. I kind of liked this interesting study of perceptions, minds, you know. I’m very drown by materialist paradox of understanding humans. And then I was at the same interested in understanding the complexity of cultures. As being a dancer for a long time, I was reflecting myself officially as a dancer, but what I wanted to do was psychology and at the same time dance.
So, I met David Zambrano, who’s Venezuelan and he lives now in Amsterdam. He is improviser and he also developed his own techniques, etc. I’ve met him in Venezuela at the Festival de Danza Postmoderna – he founded that festival. He brought there dancers like Nancy Stark Smith, Lisa Nelson, you name it… Incredible people! Suddenly, I was then in my apartment, and these people were dancing in my country. And I had a facility to see some kind of kernel about this very interesting motions of embodiment. It was not just about how to dance; it was really a philosophical shift that was implying the new way of improvising, trying to compose the real meaning of improvising. They had to reformulate the common parallels of understanding their bodies. So, I kind of saw that and I was interested in this kind of informal research, trying to see what is a cognitive model.
Cyber Girl by Fausto de Martini (c)
Then you moved to USA to study?
MBS: So, for that reason I moved to New York in 1994. Then I started to really study improvisation, and I started to explore it from the same basis as people from virtual reality. I was interested in how people from virtual reality see the embodiment parallels. Then I start perceiving the same common theoretical lineage was practically between Lisa Nelson and people who developed the theoretical practice of contact improvisation; and people who were working with virtual reality.
I started writing about this, and I was invited on psychology conference on consciousness in Tulsa. And there I met people from CaiA+STAR – Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts and Roy Ascott. He was this amazing person to me and he said to me: you know, there is actually a way of putting these things together as a research for people who want to work with dance and technology. It was in 1999, and then from this world of improvisation I started to study notions of real time, composition. And then computers and computation became very important part of the investigation. After that I applied and entered to The Advanced Computing Center for Arts and Design at the Ohio University.
Photo: from Moebius Strip by Gilles Jobin (c)
And this is how a dancer and psychologist became tainted with virus called technology…
MBS: Technology has always been the umbrella to understanding practically our minds in practices. Then I learned programming – BASIC, Actionscript, etc. After that it was a progression for me when I moved back to New York and started Dance-Tech. I’m normally teaching a lot abroad and I’m doing a lot seminars.
You know, when I realized that websites are not static, that was for me the coolest thing in the world (laughs). They were beautiful and animated. I mean, you put something and then it started suddenly to move. That was for me: Wow! What we have been waiting?! It’s almost connected and self organized intelligence that is about an interaction itself, that creates a kind of social improvisation. And then, I practically switched and created this interest in social software. That is a little bit of a technological story, but I’m not an original native of the Internet (laughs)…
Oh, I see… (laughs)
Keyboard Bag by Joao Sabino (c)
I like the idea that we are all becoming rather multi-functional these days, we all have to be skilled in many disciplines…
MBS: …or at least to have a literacy, because the notions of literacy are different now. For instance, if you have an internet native, that’s somebody younger then eighteen. I taught a workshop with teenagers in New York; and I was literally taught by some of the students. This literacy became a part of their set of social life. That is amazing, that move from text to real interaction. They can speak and they can take from these sets of knowledge. When we talk about gaming, that is a totally different involvement, then there are big changes in cognitive apparatus. Different understanding of different realities; faces that have previous faces, you know. It’s very interesting how artist use this Tech world.
Then my interest evolved into this topical fields of dance and new media art. Now, I find very powerful researching how these technologies are allowing these generations of knowledge distribution in the world, in a way that is totally different from publishing generation.
Photo: Ken Stelarc (c)
Several months ago Ray Baughman presented ‘a new type of muscle that dramatically outperforms biological ones in nearly every way’ as he says. What is your opinion on nanotechnology and its soon use in every day practice?
MBS: I would say there would be degrees of experimentation, degrees of assimilation of the technology. You will see a stage of development. Now, you see it more practically: wires, connections, light. You need different people to connect all this. There are technologies that are progressive now in the medical establishment. It’s not a big deal if people are using Prosac, but to understand why Prosac works is literally the same principle to understand why caffeine works. When people are coming to Starbucks, there are these huge mechanism of drug distribution – caffeine. The principle is the same. Caffeine can be monitored as a certain trigger for certain mood changes, you know. Why I’m saying this?! We are evolving a really, really important ‘Know-How’ of who we are; and how we generate technologies and we have agencies in unthinkable areas of our existence, you know. From Botox and plastic surgeries to genetic engineering and laproscopic surgery. Everybody can use it. Even if dancers would injecting grow hormone in their muscles in order to pump them up, we are ready to increase hipper design, because we have increased agencies.
I mean, when you see bodies from dancers in 1973 and dancers now. I mean the difference is incredible. Just because they use different knowledge to train their bodies. At the other hand, many different techniques for dancers are now practically regular in every gym.
People are using even different chemical substances, and that’s a fact. I’m not moralistic about it. That’s a fact and it actually happens. Today we have even different metabolism, that’s also a medical fact. That’s dance and technology. In the level of research, I hope (laughs).
Photo: Chunky Move (c)
This research aspect is a crucial part of your approaches to work…
MBS: That is something very important to me, that dance and technology is not going to be just researching about what artist dressed or something. This field is actually about unstable embody humaness. Not only about actions and how we have these really intense performative scope that I hope we can actually research this field sometimes in a very, very ethnographic, anthropological way. That we can actually see important things, for instance in urban dances. Sometimes different from digital, we can see relation to popular culture, too. There are many performances now inspired by Manga comics. It doesn’t have to be obviously a dance with the video, you know. These differences, that’s what I would like to see.
Sciam Special Robotics (c)
How the mind is changing in relation to digital? You connected in your work digital spheres with essential human body… All movements and motions are coming from our brain… We can ignore now the fact that digital world is making a sort of a aggression, but also it is the most ‘imaginative thing’ that happened till now in human history…
MBS: Yeah! Digitality has allowed to render realities that have a real of plasticity. Our minds are the most plastic, and when we say our minds, we say our body minds. It’s interesting to see how our plasticity increased because we can imagine things. Literally, we need to investigate how humans imagine, how humans create reality. It doesn’t belong only to the realm of the digital. The digital is only one deployment of technological feedback. You know, some people say: Yeah, computers are damaging this and that… .
But reading has a very specific embodiment and writing has very specific embodiment, too. You have to develop certain cognitive skills. I think we should observe human embodiment even in the church. Because people are in a very intensive environment that create very immerse experience with sound. At the same time we can go in the cage with all these virtual feedbacks. Those things are possible also because of the design of technology and because we have bodies that we have. Sometimes is good to see this side of digitality and experiences. Because we live in this world of creations facilitated by different kinds of textuality, renderings. It’s a hyper designed world. It’s not about purity of experience.
William Forsythe: Synchronous Objects (c)
Now, let’s get back to Dance-Tech! What was the initial trigger for starting Dance-tech?
MBS: I was a part of dance and technology community for eight years, and at the same time I was doing these development of interactive platforms for other organizations. I kind of said: Well, this is what we need! The interesting thing is that people, so many network based artists are distributing their art in the world. I thought that it would be great to have an internet based platform that will allow you to do a synchronize collaboration. You know, to post and publish. So, I proposed this to the network of dance and technology related community; and we started a discussion. We talked about that are we ready, and so. And then I thought: OK, let’s just do it!
In 2007 we launched a community and social network. It has a quite specific interest, you know, dance and technology. But it is far from this ‘dance&tech’ only community. It’s an independent project, self funded and I have to say that this development was wonderful to look at, increasing members and activities. That was really needed. But then I started to include also visual artists and VJ’s. I have an idea of interviewing people, because I live in the most useful place, in New York. Now it’s a great platform and our members are increasing every day. It’s great to see so many people gathered around dance and technology.
Marlon, thanks a lot!