ASA Decennial Conference - Anthropology and Science

Technology and performance: Production, reproduction and reception

Contact Convenor: Felicia Hughes-Freeland

Dept of Sociology and Anthropology
School of Social Sciences and International Development
University of Wales Swansea
Singleton Park

Tel. 01792 295921

Panel abstract

This workshop explores ‘the appliance of science’ in performance. It invites panelists to consider their ethnographic data on performance from a technological dimension.

Performance is taken to include a variety of genres such as dance, drama, story-telling, puppetry, song and music, in a wide range of contexts (ritual, non-ritual, commercial, non-commercial, ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’). Technology includes production technologies (lighting, sound systems, projection) and reproduction technologies (recording, broadcasting, including on-line dissemination).

The intention is to keep the discussions firmly grounded in ethnographic cases, but to refer them to issues about the paradoxical process of culture as resting on distinctiveness and dynamism, on boundedness and openness. Thinking about this these aspects of technological application will allow us to comment on risk and participation as inherent aspects of performance, the relationship between audience and performance, and the expanded contexts of reproduction and reception in a global context.

The workshop will concentrate on two general areas.

1. The effect of technology on the production and reproduction of performance itself.

  • What kind of transformations and ‘receptions’ does it produce in ?
  • To what extent does a technological infrastructure transform a ‘traditional’ performance into a ‘modern’ one?
  • What relation does technology bear to hybridization of performance genres?
  • What kinds of social issues arise in relation to technological constraints and innovations?
  • What aesthetic transformations occur as a result of technological innovations?
  • What effects do technological innovations have on the roles of performers and audiences?
  • What changes in practical social relations result from technological innovations?

2. The effects of technology on the reproduction of performance.

  • How do changes in production and reproduction bear on the relevance of issues of such as ‘aura’ and ‘authenticity’?
  • What impact do recording technologies have on performers and performance styles?
  • How does the reproduction of performance contribute to cross-cultural or intercultural reception and production?
  • Who appropriates and who benefits from the flows -- or skew – of performance re/productions?
  • What changes in practical social relations result from technological innovations?

Panelists would be encouraged to consider the relationship of text to performance, which raises issues similar to debates about orality and literacy in the 1980s. I would hope for contributions which, by addressing the effect of technology in performance, would make statements about embodied communication in social relations in a parallel fashion to debates about technologies of human reproduction.

Technology and performance: production, reproduction and reception of two contemporary performance artists: Stelarc and Orlan. Two key cases.

Dellia Duna, Oxford University

I will examine the performances of two contemporary artists, who use technological implants into the body and digital images to produce and disseminate their works.

Orlan underwent  online cosmetic surgery to have facial implants. Later, she used new software to create “morphings” of her face, rather than “real” cosmetic surgery. Stelarc has implanted sensors on his skin. He scanned and digitalised his body image in detail on the web, and this could  be accessed by anonymous surfers who could manipulate both the image and Stelarc’s actual body. He has also used an implanted third hand to write in front of an audience what they told him to write.

I will  explore the artists’ discourse, scenario and actualised performance, and the audience reactions. I will consider the audience in two layers: interested (gallery goers, experts, etc.) and non interested (as new audiences of internet “chats” and others). I seek to evaluate the risk of such performances according to diverse technological factors during their production and dissemination. I will also acknowledge the consequences of the interaction between the artist and audience which affect how the performance evolves (the scenario could vary according to the audience’s response). As the audience, by “reacting” to the particular technological elements of the performance, how do we re-perform them back within a broader social context? How do the artists and the audiences re-create and re-frame what was previously “said”, “viewed”, “acknowledged” and how do they recreate new technological conditions?

Interactive on-line dance performance: serendipity and savoir-faire

Georgiana Gore, Université Blaise Pascal

Dance production, performance and reception are generally conceived eurocentrically as three stages of a mode of artistic production dependent on bodily presence and dialogical relations for its effectiveness, and as a process giving rise to an encoded, therefore identifiable, form. In this paper I shall explore if and how these conceptions and relations are challenged and transformed by creating dance on-line. A preliminary ethnographic foray on the world wide web, an apparently unbounded field, revealed an identifiable network of web-sites and a number of distinct modes of production and performance, defined by their degree of interactivity and dynamism, their ends, whether commercial, educational or artistic, their articulation and manipulation of body/space/time relations. Through further on-line ethnography and the ongoing mapping of this ever-shifting virtual choreographic territory, I shall examine what transformations in aesthetic modes and in relations of production and reception are engendered by interactive on-line dance performance.

Technology and performance: production, reproduction and  reception

Felicia Hughes-Freeland, University of Wales Swansea

An introduction to the workshop proposing some overviews and directions for bringing together performance and technology. The conceptual scope of these terms and issues arising  about assumptions of comparability will be raised, and reference will be made to ethnographic examples from different kinds of performance in Southeast Asia. 

Recorded practices: the use of recorded materials by amateur apprentices of the noh

Kawori Iguchi, University of Cambridge

The proposed paper examines the significance of recording technologies in learning a practice by looking at how amateur apprentices of a Japanese classical drama, the noh, use different recording/recorded materials. Taking the notion of recording in a broader sense, the paper compares 1) written records of the practice, namely musical notations and tablets which contents are under a strict control of each school, and 2) modern recordings of the practice, i.e. amateur recordings of lessons and professional performances made by personal video cameras and tape recorders. While reading of the texts is regarded ‘official’ part of the noh training, using audio and visual recordings remains a private matter despite it is the most essential means of revising at home for many. Focusing on the ideas of literacy and competent reception, the paper assesses what lies between these two technologies of recording and examines their relationships with the embodied knowledge of the practice that the apprentices strive to gain.

Steps on screen: technoscapes, visualization and globalization in dance 

Helena Wulff, Stockholm University

In 1997 a dance performance titled Ghosts and Astronauts took place in California and London at the same time via Internet´s videoconference link. This is one instance of how new technology is driving the increasing global nature of dance. Based on long-term ethnographic studies in the modern Euro-American dance world (on ballet, contemporary dance, and Irish dance) this paper will explore technoscapes of changing aesthetics and work practice that new technology has brought to the dance world, as well as visualization and globalization in dance. The technologies that go into dance technoscapes are television, but primarily video, CD-ROM and the Internet. Technology is also a feature of live stage dance, often in the form of screens on stage. Yet after having used technology for a while, choreographers often run out of technological imagination steam and refrain from technology for a while. But because of the impact technology has had, its absence is noticed. This is when dance becomes unplugged. As I intend to show: dance and technology crystallize wider processes of contemporary cultural concerns, also in relation to democracy, property rights and social virtuality.

Producing history

Susan Jane Lewis, University of St Andrews

This paper will examine a 'history play' that was put on in the Isle of Man in 2000. The play told the story of Mann in 'sketches', supported by original music, amazing lighting which made full use of the open air setting of the ancient castle, pryotechnics, and the ancient god of the Island in leathers on a motorbike. The paper will raise questions about how the technology helped to bring ancient stories to a contemporary audience, and to realise the objective of making new residents in the Island interested in the Island's history.

Virtual bodies, fragmented performance: classical Indian dance and telematics

Vena Ramphal, SOAS

This paper will examine the relationship between dance performance and telematics; as such it looks at production technologies. Dance telematics connects two remote performance spaces using video; the dancers in each space interact with the virtual dancers on the screen. The paper will discuss the possibilities for interauthership offered by dance telematics production. These challenge more conservative notions in dance production of star performers and choreographers supported by technology. Here, technology is central to the creative process.

The paper will look at the technological risks involved in telematic performance situation and will discuss ask how the notion of audience is altered. When there are two, possibly three, disparate audiences in separate spaces how does this affect the purpose of performance from an audience viewpoint?

In terms of embodied communication the textures of physicality that are produced in dance telematics skew normative notions of body, space and self for the performer. At the same time, the performer can communicate across vast spaces, via technology. We have reached a point in our cultural history where the tools of representation are being put to new uses, technologies are becoming art forms. 

The paper will question the use of terms such as ‘traditional’ versus ‘modern’ when describing classical Indian dance. It will ask whether the use of new technologies necessarily permits us to divide dance practices into such binary categories.