Andrew F.: Thoughts on Memory Place (August 2011)

>Here are my somewhat rambling impressions of where we are at, from my viewpoint...hope this is useful to getting the next round going.


Information and Other-Than-Information: Examining space before it gets to be information (Relevance to new-media, dance, architecture)

We live in a world of data, of encoded information. This is especially true of our visual world. Phenomenology, as we have been at it in these experiments, has something to say about experience of space, of being and space, prior to it being monetized as information that can be parsed in the realm of computation. This seems like a key area where the ‘experiments’ and experiences of Memory Place are a useful corrective to assumptions coming from science and technology (assumptions which, to be fair, also permeate art practice). Key question: is there a way of thinking about this information threshold (when experience/space becomes info) in a way that is useful to a better understanding of technologised culture and what we can do with it?

In relation to many new-media practices, the space of movement/performance is of prime interest as a hybrid between two encoded cultural spaces; firstly, of action grounded in the human body, with its proper perceptual world, and, secondly, of the ‘without-ground’ or ‘without body’ of new media and the virtual. Somewhat naively, electronic arts often use the theatre as a model for virtual/immersive space without examining the implications of that importation. One could argue that dance- and movement-based performance as well as architecture have become more relevant in contemporary visual culture precisely in critical relation to electronic screen-based media, virtual-reality and immersive interfaces. That is, we are trying to understand two different kinds (registers?, grasps?...) of space which are nested or interleaved one with the other. Virtual or immersive ‘reality’ relies on this confusion; that we believe (or are asked to believe) one is the other.

Returning to bodily movement as a form of encounter may be an important corrective to assumptions engendered by new technologies. For the human animal, watching another in movement is immersivity without technology. This makes movement- and space-based art practices (such as dance and architecture) the most relevant areas of artistic research today and a key point of overlap between traditional artistic disciplines and new technology in their ability to confront a culture of information with a culture anchored in the experience of space. How are movement and space ‘fixed’ by technology and new media? The nature of this ‘fixing’ should be a significant preoccupation for creative and critical practitioners in the face of new technologies.


As outlined in the grant summary the methods of data organization, experimental set-up, interview and so on are all part of the same conundrum of distinguishing scientific/technological method from what it seeks to understand. Our recent experiments have interestingly shown that our observation of the participants ‘working’ in space is fascinating and useful (see the underlined sentence above). We have often said, “it was interesting watching so-and-so doing this or that”, or that the particular ‘style’ of exploration someone has is exceptional. So incorporating rigorous observation into our method (and descriptions and write-ups) seems a good direction. There is a parallel here which might be worth following up in dance observation / dance movement therapy (DMT).  All to say, if we are intrigued by observing movement we should do some work on bringing observation notes into the method alongside alternate debrief methods such as multiple interviewees/ 3 way conversation, etc.  In line with this is an idea in the grant summary that participants can be trained to some extent to help them leave behind some presumptions and tune their own observation skills towards the simpler experiences we are interested in (what breathing and moving before the last round did—could this be more comprehensive). All in all, this means abandoning the naive subject and the invisible experimenter. This is complicated. Scientific experimental method is useful because it is effective, and vice versa. It 'moves forward', as everyone says these days. Our method is defficient in that regard. Its fuzzy both in activity and analysis phase. The question beomes not how 'accurate' a method can be but is it rigorous enough to be generative/creative of...something.

analogue /digital

David’s suggestion in the last follow up of a chair based mechanical device was interesting on two counts. One, it gets our feet off the ground, therefore interfering with some intuitive ways of getting around and sounding-out a space. Two, it is mechanical, therefore analogous to bodily mechanisms.  Somehow I think we might adapt to it in a different way that a device which uses information processing (something mechanical operates in the world of body physics we understand and believe; something computational can be programmed to lie, we have to chose to believe it—perhaps a subtle difference).  There are a variety of simple ‘analogue’ experiments which could complement the more ‘digital’ ones to give us a sense of this.

Perspective and architectonic space

Is linear perspective learned from living in and amongst buildings? What prejudice does this layer onto our experience of space? (linear perspective being the structuring basis of most virtual-visual environments)? But perspective, as a mathematical construction of points is a representation of something that itself it is not. What other kinds/shapes of rooms are there?

Interdisciplinary Relevance

By definition a cross-disciplinary practice straddles multiple discourses and audiences, which brings about either a flattening or sharpening of the work’s critical positioning. Memory Place sits across philosophy, art/design, computational environments in a superbly interesting way—a way in which putting stress on assumptions coming from these disciplines rather than using these disciplines purely as a generator of a hybrid method for production/invention/innovation.  That can be a redefinition of ‘innovation’ right there. This makes ‘M-P’ relevant to the elaboration of what ‘inter-disciplinary’ can be, in that in part it questions the disciplinary partitions themselves and asks how can something creative, experimental and philosophically rigorous work.  Specifically, thinking about movement, memory and space, puts M-P in a key position in relation to ‘traditional’ disciplines (dance, performance, architecture, computation, philosophy) which make a claim to various parts of the shoreline of such an inquiry. Is the end product a work of art or a cognitive-science paper ? Probably not, likely it is a method of  working, observing, generating understanding of this movement, memory, space differently relevant to multiple disciplines, but which helps those disciplines shed some prejudices.