14 May 2019

Remelt: an exploration of dance and narrative

In September 2018, an announcement was sent out on a University of Melbourne mailing list regarding virtual reality (VR) events. It mentioned that SensiLab PhD researcher Sojung Bahng would be presenting on critical empathy and VR. Somehow this announcement entered the inbox of Eugenia Kim, PhD researcher at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, who was also examining the use of narratives to convey empathy in VR environments. Immediately Eugenia contacted Sojung for more information, e-mails were exchanged and it quickly became apparent that extensive interaction would be needed to answer each other’s questions. With that, SensiLab Director Jon McCormack kindly arranged for Eugenia to visit SensiLab in April 2019.

Upon meeting, Sojung and Eugenia realized that they needed to create works in order to answer a number of the questions that they had been discussing. Remelt was one of these explorations, an attempt to challenge the way movement can be used in a digital narrative. It was inspired by the 3D printed wall designed by Roland Snooks of RMIT/Studio Roland Snooks, the early works of Maya Deren, Anna Halprin and Yvonne Rainer, and Sojung’s generative interactive film, Differential of Memory (2015-2016).

RemeIt. An attempt to challenge the way movement can be used in a digital narrative.

The 3D printed wall in the SensiLab is truly unique. It is at once an organic living object and an inorganic inanimate creation generated from computer algorithms. Initially simplistic in its use of clear material, the wall changes personality throughout the day depending on the type of light coming through it. Furthermore, it feels like it is constantly melting and reshaping itself, simultaneously cold and warm.

From a dance perspective, there are so many curves and spaces that can cradle the body. It creates the sensation of engaging in contact improvisation with a very solid yet understanding partner. The wall seemed to know just what kind of support to offer, what direction to send the body in next and provide a safe haven for the body to melt into. The continuous internal and external feedback process generated feelings of affection and awe for the wall, as if it were a human partner. This naturally led to interacting with the wall in a gentle manner rather treating it as a prop for virtuosic technique.

'It is at once an organic living object and an inorganic inanimate creation generated from computer algorithms.'

From a filmmaking perspective, it was easy to feel just how much the performer resonated with the wall. Even though the wall is clearly a solid object, the performer’s intentions really gave the sensation of an organic and fluid two-way interaction. Because of this, it was easy to imagine the wall as ice that is slowly melting into a fluid ocean that reflects the night lights of a cityscape. Extremely close-up and low angles were used to capture the moment of intersubjective connection between the performer’s body, the organic shape of the wall and the embodied frame of view. It was interesting to see how digital technology could connect a solid material object, unmaterial movement and bodily embodiment.

The process of working together was also completely instinctive and organic. Eugenia completely placed her trust in Sojung’s cinematography and editing while Sojung opened up to dancing “with” Eugenia over time. This conscious division of duties was made so that each collaborator could completely immerse themselves in their part of the creative process. Although major artistic choices were made together, a good deal of independence was given to each other in an act of trust. Looking back, it was all very exciting as we had only known each other for 2 weeks at that point. These kinds of spontaneous collaboration can be far and few between so when they happen, it is truly exhilarating.