Emily here. Recently I was invited to give a talk at the Living Room Light Exchange, a monthly salon here in the Bay Area which curates talks from artists working in new media forms. (If you go looking and can’t find me that’s because my artist name is BlinkPopShift, or BlinkPop if we are being informal). The Light Exchange asks artists to talk about 1 or 2 recent projects but of course I am ornery and resistant to formula so instead of giving a traditional talk with a slide show and orderly speakers notes I decided to try a mixed reality live performance. Before the event began I recorded half of the performance in the space allotted for the talk. Once edited and uploaded it was accessible by any device so at the beginning my of turn I had everyone go to the video on their phone using the Youtube app. Here is video documentation of the performance so you can get a better idea of what happened.
Here are a few of the factors I considered when developing the piece.
Performances which include both live artists and video often take similar form: The video half of the performance is shown larger than life size on a wall or screen. The artist performs in front of or beside the recorded image. When the two components are equally powerful the audience divides their attention between the two by looking back and forth, but if the live or recorded portions are unequal in grip the audience’s attention is drawn and often locked to one component over the other. To avoid these conventions in my piece the video component’s display surface was distributed while maintaining communal audio.
In order to achieve the of goal of multiple scattered BlinkPops I had to utilize the audience’s own phones which means confronting the culture and stigmas around our little pocket devices. Immersive media and phones are often picked with similar criticism: flagrant escapism. When a friend is looking at their phone during dinner we perceive their mind to have leaned through that glowing window to the land of elsewhere. Similarly phones curry no favor in live performance settings because in their unaddressed state they are a means of distancing the mind while the body remains present. When the audience is otherwise a sea of black that escape is especially highlighted. But phones are intimate objects. Even if asleep so as not to distract others from a live event, they have not left our sides. Assuming they don’t exist and have no effect on an assembled crowd is disregarding what an audience actually is today: a group of both humans and computers, usually paired one to one.
So if instead of all that escapist stigma, I create performance that includes your intimate device. Your phone then reinforces and elaborates on the physical world interaction instead of being a severing or interruptive means of distance.
The roughest spot in this instance of the piece was my level of ease with the emergent audio. While I did count down so each audience member could start their instance of the video roughly in sync, that was more goal than reality. I did have the chance to practice the performance once before the Light Exchange with a small group of fellow researchers at the lab but I was not prepared for just how disorienting it would be to have so many distributed copies of myself talking at staggered intervals all around me. In the practice talk we came up with the very helpful plan to have one phone connected to a speaker so that I at least had one voice to talk to and with practice that will likely go more smoothly.
I am looking forward to reperforming this piece more in the future and seeing what new insights bubble up!