Excerpts from "A Survey of Body Computing: Rendering Wet Tech
I am curious about how we evolve through the ages. The goal of this paper (and of my recent research) is to present forms of body modifications based on physical conditioning, muscle memory, bodily ingestion, hardware integration and new forms of expression inspired by digital culture. I will use the terms "wet technology" or "wet tech" in reference to these practices. When I began to approach this research paper, I thought about the subject of body computing in terms of internal and external technologies. Once I began trying to distinguish which topics fit most appropriately into the two categories, I realized that there would be a great deal of crossover due to the interaction between internal and external technologies. The one thing that distinguishes the types of technology that I am primarily curious about are materials. I could easily categorize the materials made of tissue, fluids and body media as "wet". Therefore, I will address the ideas that change our way of thinking about the body, focusing on the practices that change the behavior of the body as "wet tech". Because we are in a constant state of becoming, I have used a term that is familiar to me from working with digital media - "rendering". Rendering Wet Tech is my way of suggesting that we are changing due to the advancements to which we are privy. As of now, a minor population of bodies may be in a state of reinterpretation that is often misunderstood, as we are still searching for the correct vocabulary to discuss it.
This research paper is divided into three parts. Part one will briefly address the background that informs my unique perspective and interests. Part two will introduce rendering concepts that are presently being researched by contemporary dance companies. My theory suggests that dancer's bodies are being modified through the mimicry of and interaction with digital interfaces. Part three will introduce three specific contemporary performance artists or ensembles whose work consciously addresses body modification. When necessary, I will attempt to discuss each instance in terms of its permanence or varying temporality, or the conditions under which the modification is sustained.
Part one: A personal relationship with technology that informs my perspective.
My father was a computer operator when I was a kid. He supervised the operations in the cold room where State Farm Insurance Company kept their mainframe server. He had to wear a blue lab coat when he worked with the computers in the operations room. Dad was a "3rd-shifter" and on some lucky summer nights, I would accompany him to work. This was back in the 80's (I'm a 70's baby) before computers became small enough to keep on a desk in your home. My first home computer was a PC, a Tandy that my dad bought from Radio Shack. With the introduction of this higher intelligence into our home and with the very popular Computer Science programs that were offered in every school, there was a new way of thinking amidst. In the same house, the library shelves were lined with books written by authors who were part of something called the New Thought Movement. These books were based on new perspectives, perceptions, and metaphysical paths to higher intelligence. If I take a curatorial look at my life over the past three decades, there's a common thread: a belief that we can re-program ourselves to be faster, better and stronger (like the mighty computer). In fact, I cannot remember a time when I did not interact with some kind of digital interface as a part of daily life and hope for access to higher intelligence.
My personal theory is that we are in a very important point in history based on our interaction with machines, processors and "all things digital". I admit that my theory comes from a place of curiosity due to the exposure I've had to computers, dance and athleticism. More often than not, people who are interested in technology spend most of their time sitting in front of it with little time left in the day to entertain physical activity. The nature of technology is all-encompassing. It's not unusual to work at a software assisted problem without breaks, until a solution has presented itself. I've been afforded both visceral and digital curiosities. As a result of this exposure, I believe that we are in a very exciting and challenging time. Mutation is an evolutionary tool. The fact that the names of some of the artists in my research are usually printed alongside the term mutation brings me to an interesting question, but a point not necessarily specific to any one ensemble or artist in this research. The question that I'm interested in is as follows: How are we adapting to new media through physical body expression, physical vocabulary, and the modification of "wet technology"?"
Contemporary dance is modifying the body in terms of the speed at which we are able to process information and the adjustments that the body must make in order to support extreme movement. While the dance companies mentioned in this paper may not be conscious of the modifications that support their creations, they are no doubt still subjected to it. Contemporary performance artists differ from choreographers in that they are fully aware of the modifications that support their work. In fact, the modifications drive the work as a mode of research. The interesting thing that seems to be a common thread among these artists is that they are all trying to depoliticize the body through interaction with and/or mimicry of new technologies. Somehow, this alludes to the fact that new media doesn't have room for identity politics. New media demands a blank slate.
The introduction of new media into our everyday routines has led to very interesting interpretations through the body. There is another technological factor that defines the actions of the body - the mind. Science has long suggested that the mind's only job is to make sense of the data that has no apparent connection. Have we finally come to a point in history where the body is serving the same function through its modification, in an effort to support the data to which we are constantly exposed? I believe that the answer is a resounding "Yes". It just makes perfect sense. The microcosm mirrors the macrocosm. Earth reacts to its environment through what seems like the planetary equivalent of information overload, in a cycle of catastrophe and equilibrium for the sake of growth. Our bodies are reacting in the same way. Our bodies are attempting to compete with streams of data while trying to retain balance. The outcome is a new vocabulary in terms of stimulating visual art, in some cases. Calling this process "post-human", even considering an artist such as Stelarc, is in my opinion calling a natural disaster "post-planetary". Having stated this, our terminology may need to be adjusted. Natural disaster is only referred to as a disaster based on the perspective of the humans that are affected. How would we refer to these events from outside of an emotional perspective? If no one is injured and no lives are lost, is a natural disaster just considered a planetary event? What we are being exposed to through the body practices discussed in this research are "reactionary body events" through trial, error, and experimentation. I call this process rendering. We will need to constantly adjust, recalibrate and...become.
It is to our benefit that there has been so much comparative discussion around the body and the machine. In putting the two side by side, one is brought back to seeing the incredible and mechanical nature of the body. However, there's no doubt in my mind that the body will reign supreme because it will determine the rate of successful integration. We have plenty more to learn about our own individual and collective "wet tech", which is evident based on the amount of otherwise avoidable injury that leads to body failure. We have a long way to go before we've earned the right to ignore our own technology altogether. We are not "post-human" yet. As long as external technology seduces us and sparks our curiosity, artists and body practitioners will prove that there will be the desire to adapt to it and integrate with it. The outcome will cause inevitable shifts in perception, the ultimate payoff for being human in the first place."