The idea about the collaboration started in the later half of 2017. We wanted the second ICAS conference to be kick started with a collaborative project. This would be something like a pre-conference where few of us, mostly those from the first ICAS conference who were still involved and working on furthering the broad goals of ICAS , would engage in an artistic collaboration. Astrid, Emilie, Gabriel, Afroditi and myself were the ones from ICAS 2017 who came together to work on the collaborative project for ICAS 2018. All of us come from diverse backgrounds and thus the collaboration could be pivoted around several artistic planes. By our second virtual meeting we seemed to gravitate towards Afroditi’s expertise to anchor the project. After several rounds of discussion and a feasibility check we decided to build a wearable circuit that will tap in to electromagnetic sound waves around the city. We would walk around the city wearing these wearables that we would have worked on collaboratively and listen into these sound waves. I am an Indian traditional dancer and I was trying to figure out how I would bring my artistic field to engage with this evolving collaborative project. I figured that I would embody the sound that we received through dance and movement. Emilie was wondering if she could work with chalk and paper. Would it be possible for me to move on paper and create impressions using chalk? Do I smear myself with chalk powder and then roll on paper in order to accomplish that? But rolling did not fit into the movement vocabulary of my artistic practice, did that matter? It was important to reach out and synergize our artistic subjectivities and therefrom our practices in a collaborative manner. It meant that we take turns leading and following. I have not worked with artists from varied backgrounds. Most of my collaborative work was with dancers and musicians from various fields. This collaboration included artists from performing arts, architecture, sculpture, digital media, electronic design, visual arts, to name a few. This was a broad frame and we were waiting to meet each other as collaborators and work out how our artistic subjectivities were going to take shape.
We met on January 17, 2018 and started to work on our circuits under Afroditi’s lead. I had never soldered anything in my life. Circuits, electricity, wires seemed outside my realms of artistic engagement. Afroditi had her circuit template put up for us and we had to replicate it for ourselves. Astrid had ordered bright pink sweatshirts and we were going to iron and sew in the circuit as needed on this sweatshirt. The actual design had a. the circuit itself that we had to iron and sew into our sweatshirt, b. the antenna that directed sound to us and c. a jack to plug in our headphones.
I am a dancer. My hands and my feet naturally respond in movement to music or sound. I decided to have the antenna on my hand. This would mean that if I moved my hand and thus projected myself in to the space around me I would have an impact on the sound waves that were around me. While the circuit design was laid out by Afrodit, all of us used our individual artistic subjectivity and therefrom our agency to orient that design on our sweatshirt. Thus few of us had it across our shirt in front, Gabriel had his circuit ironed in vertically- top down. We also found that agency in fixing our antennas. Few had it ironed into their center back, few on their upper back, either to their right or left and I had it in my hand. This whole exercise took us a day and half. On the third day – Friday, we wore our sweatshirts, plugged in our headphones and started walking around the city. Astrid who knew the city the best, had a rough idea on the route we would be taking. Emilie, predominantly, and the rest of us, were trying to catch interesting moments on our cameras and phones.
My practice stems from a strong pedagogical structure. There are rhythmic cycles that ground our dance, the musical component to my dance practice also has a strong pedagogical make up. My artistic orientation seemed to seek a pattern, a known player, so I was thrilled every time I caught the radio or any organized bit of talking unlike random noise caused by multiple sound waves intercepting each other. I was intrigued when Afroditi shared with me that she moved away from the spot every time she caught the radio as she did not want organized sound, she did not want to tap into already established channels of communication and was seeking the fissures, the slippages in the sound waves. I found myself moving as a response to sound waves on one hand and I was making abrupt moves that I imagined would affect the sound waves on the other. We wore the sweat shirts on day 2 too before we ventured on our walk on day 3 and I remember catching something interesting while I was standing up on a chair in the dining room to our hostel. It was precious. It was some intelligible sound, which I wanted to hold on for longer, it kept evading me and I kept seeking it. I kept moving my arms in waves and would abruptly stop in an effort to make an effect on the sound I was receiving on my headphone. I was dancing, it looked interesting, even to me as a participant observer. Like I had mentioned before, was I affecting the waves with my movement or was I responding to the waves that I was receiving on my head phones? The dinner on day 2 was exciting as we had our circuits in place on our sweatshirts , we got to try it out briefly and was going to go on this walk the next day.
On day 3 we walked the city. We were quite a sight in our bright pink sweatshirts and headphones. We stopped near every metallic post, railing, electric booth on the road to see how our antennas interfaced with these conductors. We placed our hands on each other to listen to how our bodies conducted these waves. I picked some interesting sounds when I was bending over an underground drain covered with a heavy metal door. I was in a wide legged stance, bending from my waist and waving my hands over the metal to see if my movement changed the sounds that I was receiving through my headphones. I noticed that I didn’t casually bend over and move my hands over the metal door but quite intuitively took a stance, it was definitely a dance to me and I held my body thus. After a while I wasn’t quite sure if my movement was affecting the sound or if my moves were in response to what I was hearing. I was not able to discern the changes in the sound waves caused by my movement. One recurring thought that I had through out this process was the struggle that I had with the unpredictability of sound, the absolute randomness of the waves. It was noise to my sensibilities and I was trying to find order or a pattern to it. I noticed that all of us engaged with the sound differently. Astrid was constantly documenting her thoughts on a recorder. The walk around the city aligns with her practice of walking and it seemed like she was trying to find her niche in this collaboration through the walk itself. Afroditi was particular about the quality of sound waves she and most of us were receiving. While she seemed to be in the moment and receiving her information like we did, her expertise in the technical aspects of this collaboration might have oriented her take away from this collaboration. Emilie was documenting constantly as she took it upon herself to be official archivist of this project. Gabriel was leaning against structures and seemed lost in the world of waves. Astrid suggested that we take the last hour of the collaboration to document our immediate thoughts. We used what we wrote during this time to make our presentation on the collaboration to the conference participants who arrived on Day 3- Friday.
For the final presentation I chose to dance. While all the dances I do is built on a constant rhythmic cycle using a metronome, what I received through these sound waves stood in stark contrast to anything predictable. I chose to present this contrast. I requested Emilie to keep a constant beat. I was wearing the sweatshirt and instead of receiving the sound on my headphones this time it was playing out of a speaker. So on one hand we were hearing the predictable rhythm and on the other, we were also hearing the sound waves that I was receiving through my wearable – sweatshirt. I juxtaposed the predictability and randomness in sound, both of them affected my choice of movement and thus my dance . The former lends itself to choreography that can be rehearsed and presented; whereas, the latter- randomness, created a space for improvisation. This discourse of improvisation versus pre-choreographed dances has been an important vector in my research and this collaboration allowed me to discern this from our work together too.