Guest post by Katie Rees
|Whilst studying for an MA in Dance Studies, I was drawn to the complexity of adornment and dress in dance and how together with object and movement they contribute to the formation of identity. Influenced by dance ethnography and methods associated with this field, (researcher as a participant, movement analysis, interviews and fieldnotes etc.) I became fascinated with the boundary of the body/ the point of contact with external objects. I started to consider how this relationship influences movement choice and reflects our individual experience and how we make meaning. This eventually led to a focus on digital touch produced by wearable technology, and to investigate what influence contiguous stimulus would have on the choreographic process. My current PhD practice-led research tries to address this area and subsequently has led to a reflective process of prototyping wearable technology which produces digital touch, creating and facilitating choreographic workshops and analysing data. Through project-based research, I hope to further understand how digital touch influences kinaesthetic awareness and its impact on movement choice and structure.
Figure 1. Participant improvising with somatosensory wearable technology. Digital Intervention Project, December 2017, Studio Wayne McGregor, London.
The purpose of exploring what impact the physical presence of technology might have on the skin is largely because the boundary to our body has more influence on proprioception than previously thought. Grouping somatosense with proprioception allows for connections between how we use information from contact with the skin receptors and the internal muscle spindles associated with proprioception. To this end, I will refer to proprioception with the addition of the somatosensory system, which, “monitor[s] the contact of objects and surfaces with the skin…[and] to report the position of body segments in space and in relation to each other” (Tyldesley and Grieve, 2002, p.180). Furthermore, to understand what effect digital touch has on the moving body and the perception of this experience, there needs to be a consideration of kinaesthetic awareness. Kinaesthetic awareness is a term which is used frequently in dance but tends to be used interchangeably with proprioception, but in reality, it combines far more than an awareness of the body in space. Research suggests that the brain uses a combination of information together, “an interaction between mechanisms underlying the perception of our body in relation to space, sensibility to internal signals, and awareness of our inner state” (Valenzuela-Moguillansky et al, 2017, p.11). Therefore, when looking at how the body is influenced by tactile stimulation, it must also be in tandem with the participant’s conscious state of their body and the surrounding environment. In explanation, let me turn to recent developments in dance education.
Figure 2. Participant improvising with somatosensory wearable technology. Digital Intervention Project, December 2017, Studio Wayne McGregor, London.
Some practices seek to improve our focus or attune to the body and its sensory processes and functions, namely somatic practices. The influence of dance science scholarship, contact improvisation and somatic practices, has led to the development of dancers using internal feedback (somatic attention asks participants to develop their inner sensing), in tandem with external feedback. Through these multiple influences, dance education and training have evolved and enabled dancers to be consciously present in the moment and move between exteroception, proprioception and interoception. For example, when a dancer is considering how they use breath to prevent tension in the body: they might focus on maximising the expansion of the lungs fully and the movement of the ribcage, use their breath to improve the quality of the movement and the body shapes in space, and attend to the feeling caused by the rush of air against the skin as it moves through space.
Figure 3. Kinaesthetic awareness formed through active attention to external and internal processes.
How then would a digital tool which makes touch contact with the body present an altered kinaesthetic awareness and how would this inform the creative process of choreography? In the use of technologies in performance (including light, sound and interactive landscapes) there have been findings which suggest that technology can “augment participant’s proprioception” (Wilde, 2011, p. 79). These types of interactive tools enable an extension of the performing body in motion and due to the nature of working with sound, visuals etc. allow for a performer to develop their multisensorial communication through such an experience (Bisig and Palacio, 2016). We could assume that the sensation of digital touch might provide greater intimacy and perhaps more of an internalised response. However, the type of touch, by what means it is created (materials and mechanisms), where it is placed on the body and the length of time spent using the technology (tool assimilation) also influence the participant’s response. Considering all these factors and the complexity of the creative process, one might ask why research such a messy terrain as digital touch and creative movement?
Professor Johannes Birringer promotes the necessity of researching sensory process in relation to the digitally merged body; “if art and performance will be technological, then synaesthetic processes and corporeality need to be analyzed through new behaviors that reintegrate body-mind conscious and sensory functions through electrical, electronic, and digital means” (Birringer, 2008, p. xix). If we are to understand our relationship with technology and technologically enhanced creativity, we also must try to understand how the body works in tandem with such devices and software. In order to do this, we need to utilize methods which enable participants to explain and reveal their thinking through movement.
This work forms part of the PhD research, ‘Somatosensory wearable technology in the choreographic process: understanding how digital touch influences kinaesthetic awareness and its impact on movement choice and structure.’
The research is supported by London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London and Studio Wayne McGregor PhD Funding Award.
Birringer, J. (2008) Performance, Technology and Science, New York: PAJ Publications
Cutaneous Receptors Contribute to Kinesthesia at the Index Finger, Elbow, and Knee.’ Journal of Neurophysiology, 94, pp 1699–1706, doi: 10.1152/jn.00191.2005
Bisig, D. and Palacio, P. (2016) ‘Neural Narratives – Dance with Virtual Body Extensions’, Conference Proceedings, MOCO’16, July 05–06, 2016, Thessaloniki, GA, Greece. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2948910.2948925
Tyldesley, B. and Grieve, J. (2002) Muscles, Nerves and Movement in Human Occupation, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
Valenzuela-Moguillansky. C, Reyes-Reyes, A. and Gaete, M. (2017) ‘Exteroceptive and Interoceptive Body-Self Awareness in Fibromyalgia Patients’, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 11:117. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00117
Wilde, D. (2011) Swing That Thing : moving to move, the poetics of embodied engagement, Unpublished PhD thesis, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.