Effectively Rendering Imperfect Impossibility

Thursday, December 15th, 2016


Poetic Introduction

My body alone does not have the social or political power to stop catastrophic global events from happening. My body is a small nothing being perpetually pressed into a molten rock that’s hurtling through space around a massive ball of fire. And yet, my body can render imperfect imperceptable impossibility, and through attempting and failing at that actualization I expand the bounds of possiblity in my body. I nudge the infinite universe and, though the change is small and immediately decays, I exact some change. My power may be small, but it is infiinitely greater than no power at all.

Greg Holt

I used to dance with a philadelphia artist named Gregory Holt. His process was initially very alien to me, and I approached his ideas in rehearsal with healthy amounts of generosity and skepticism. Greg had a skillful way of helping me find my own metaphor to get at the physicalities he would propose. I used to think of this process as breaking in through a window on the side of your own house (more metaphors). In his 2011 work making claims we engaged with an improvisation score that he referred to as “Topology” but what I continue to refer to as “Impossible Topology”.

Impossible Topology

The way I understand Greg’s “Topology” is that the surface of your body can change shape and size with incredible articulation through infinite space. Your arm pit can bulge out and expand to fill the room. The underneath of your eyeballs can spill down and into the hollow of your ribcage. The space between your fingers can lurch forward across the planet, tugging your body with it. For me this improvisation mode usually activates interior surfaces of my body, surfaces that face other ones. Towards the end of this semester, “Topology” just started to come up a lot in my body. Maybe, subconsciously, I wanted to sensualize impossibility. Maybe by imagining actualized impossbility on and through my body I could exorcise feelings of powerlessness in relation to our the current global political climate.

Back to Greg

In an interview with Nicholas Gilewicz of Fringe Arts, Greg descriped Topology saying that “we are trying to occupy our own bodies, but it continually fails because the way attention is spread, you can only inhabit so much.” Greg’s work was politically driven, which wasn’t always explicit because of [GREG WORDS]. Meg Stuart’s work reminds me of Greg’s, and I imagine Stuart’s audiences might share feelings with those of Greg’s. I imagine if you walked into a room expecting to watch dance and saw bodies spread across the floor lying still for ten minutes, you might feel frustrated or cheated. If you hear the score for “Looking at your own body as if you were dead” the signification of bodies strewn across the floor multiplies. There’s more to what’s happening than what is immediately observed, always.


So, “Topology” relates in many ways to the three scores I’ve chosen. Here, I will include Meg Stuart’s description of the scores and my anticipation of how they relate to “Topology”.

How queer everything is today

Standing or sitting observe the room. being to slowly imagine that the space is shifting around you. the walls become wavy, the floor tilts, the distances between things are changing. You are like Alice in Wonderland. The place and its conditions are not what they are. In relation to this your body has unusual proportions, as if you are hallucinating. Fascinated you suspend every impulse to move or show your imagination. Don’t give the experience away, realise it without moving. (Stuart 60)

Similar to “How queer everything is today”Topology demands that you imagine with almost overwhelming intensity the space and surfaces of your body.


Moving very slowly, start a gesture or a movement that is already dissolving into something else, never fully completing an image. You are never arriving but instead simultaneously coming and going. You are constantly becoming and unbecoming. (Stuart 60)

Like “Morphing,” movements in “Topology” tend to dissolve into others, but you could hang out in one particular topology state. Though, there is always a dissonance between the imagined surface of the body and the actual surface, so in that way the topology is in constant flux as it slides, vibrates, and dissolves within the dichotomous pull between actual and imagined.

I’m not there

Move your body with your look pointedly away from your action. Reach with your arms while dissociating rom the action by looking in the opposite direction. Try moving your legs, hips or shoulders, but without your face and gaze participating. It is as if you don’t know or refuse to know what your body is doing. Your body is present but you are empty, absent, detached. (Stuart 56)

This “I’m not there” mode also tries, like Topology, to spread attention beyond its comfortable bounds. Performing this mode could bring some new information to “topology” for me regarding attention. My gaze tends to melt into an alternate engagement that is unrelated to the emerging choreography, so directing my focus intentionally “away” from my actions or “towards disegagement” may change it.

Practice Makes Imperfect

During my practice sessions, “How queer…” moved into and merged easily with “Morphing”. The scores felt like an external version of “Impossible Topology”. So, the window panes of the space I was in became teeth that mashed my body into a chunky soup that spilled into the churning liquid floor, which was stirred by the pounding ceiling beams and my body stuck like molten cheese and stretched beyond breaking gathered by the soft grey noise cancelling panels that pressed my amorphous body into the wall. I went on like that for a while. My imagination of the space morphed constantly, falling into and out of my body constantly. This lead gradually into Stuart’s “I’m not there” score. The actions I performed during “not there” emerged from my “impossible topology”, so that as the left side of my underbelly protuded forward, my gaze would pull actively away. I tried noticing and then immediately disengaging my attention to the direction of my actions, but that inevitably manifested as a contradiction of the direction (i.e. move left, notice moving left, try not to attend to that, inevitably look right). As that cycle of attention and disengagemtn settled, my body came to a stillness, as if caught in the eye of a tornado. The three modes came together then in an almost frightening visualization. In my mind, the earth unfolded and wrapped around me, like an inverted sphere. The impossible opposite of my current position on the earth was then just directly above me, not close enough to grab but impossibly visible. My body felt shortened and spread sickeningly wider. Then the world, constantly shifting, morphed back around to it’s normal shape but shrank to the size of small car that I was standing on like a giant. As I tilted my support around, I could reach around the gravitational field of this imposible planet and spill my limbs around its pull.


Direction: I have more questions and I want to keep trying these scores.

Intersectionality: I want to look at the ways that the scores relate to each other and to other things.

Interpersonal: I want to get back in touch with Greg and ask him about Topology.

Communal: I want to research this material with my Improvisation class next semester.

Personal: I want to attend to the pull between what is real and imagined, because I want to actualize a truth that exists beyond what I know to be true. I want there to be more than what there seems to be, and the practice of that starts in my body.

Works Cited

Gilewicz, Nicholas. “Gregory Holt Talks LAB (and His Fringe Show Opens Tonight!)” fringearts. fringearts.com/2011/09/09/gregory-holt-talks-lab-and-his-fringe-show-opens-tonight/. Accessed 14 December 2016.

Stuart, Meg, and Jeroen Peeters. Are We Here Yet? Dijon: Presses du réel, 2010. Print.

Release and Redemption in DV8’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

Bell Chimes duet – 31:35 – 35:50
For better quality go to the eVideo at:

In the “Bell Chimes” duet from DV8’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, Lloyd Newson (choreographer and performer) and Russell Maliphant (performer) dance unusual partnering that somehow contains both tender intimacy and violent aggression. The duet is situated within the narrative context of the story of serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who would lure men back to his apartment to strangle, kill, and then hang out with them.

The duet begins with Maliphant, standing in nothing but underwear and boots, facing a mirror in a dark room as sounds of bell chimes play the semblance of a hopeful dirge. Newson-as-Nilsen approaches from behind Maliphant, wearing a similar expression (and hair cut) but covered in far more clothing than the latter. Their gazes align with unmeeting eyes as Newson manipulates Maliphant’s ready but yielding, almost-lifeless body. Newson burrows his head underneath Maliphant’s arm and walks forward, causing Maliphant’s hand to trace along his shoulder. This theme of forced yet tender physical intimacy continues throughout the dance, always with Newson initiating and Maliphant yielding.  In one moment, Newson drapes Maliphant’s hand on his shoulder and leans away, causing Maliphant’s hand to fall gently down the slope of Newson’s torso, the perverse simulation of a lover’s caress. The chiming bells of the musical score follow the slow rise and fall of a beautifully discordant melody as the interactions between the two men pulse from sudden forceful acts that fade into tender, sustained resolutions.

The partnering in this duet exemplifies how released, draping weight can be used to lift a partner. Maliphant never demonstrates muscular exertion, though he does subtly redirect Newson’s force to cause himself to fall in certain ways or directions. Most of the help that Newson gets to shift and position Maliphant around the space is the weight of Maliphant’s mostly limp body. He allows Maliphant to drape across his back or fall into his arms, shifting the limbs as they trace heavily along the floor. This release of tension towards the surfaces of contact affords the partners unusual resolutions to contact initiations that they use to retell and reimagine between their bodies the sad disturbing story of Dennis Nilsen and his victims.

In his Dance Research Journal article on Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, Gavin Wittje proposes that this duet and most of the physical relationships in Dead Dreams represent not only the story of Dennis Nilsen, but also of the “toxic shame” homosexual men historically feel about their sexual identities (63). Wittje also argues that Newson, by identifying with Nilsen’s and admitting to his own brokenness, elicited a kind of pitiful empathy, seeking to transform shame into redemption through connection (via the performance), and that the audience “… in our visceral reception of and compassionate response to [the performer’s] gestural expressions of pain and yearning come to know both their faces and Nilsen’s” (65).

The grief and dissatisfaction in Newson’s performance extends beyond his expressions and into the choreography. We watch Newson fail over and over as he tries to connect with an unaffected Maliphant. Each beautiful bit of partnering sullied by the unreciprocal nature of their union. The unimaginable dance of a serial killer and his recent victim stands in as a metaphor for any unrequited affection that might pervert, by totalizing, our imagined understanding of another person. But Wittje sees this as more than glorification or pure self-loathing.

Somehow just admitting to our brokenness within the context of sexuality can be nourishing, for the cycle of apology initiated by a dropping of our guard and an affirmation of vulnerability immerses us and our partners in a larger circuit of desire. We dissolve in an asubjective flow, as Deleuze or Guattari would say. Instead of seeking to stand outside the flow and draw from it, we feed into it and feed our partners, and come to feel no longer excluded, but included ­—by the very fact of our suffering and dissolution—in something much larger, something that heals. (Wittje 76-77)


Works Cited:

Hinton, David, Lloyd Newson, and Sally Herbert. Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men. London: ArtHaus Musik, 1990. Internet resource.

Wittje, Gavin. “Ethics in a Time of Aids: Dv8 Physical Theatre’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men.” Dance Research Journal. 47.2 (2015): 63-78. Print.


virtual improvisation score

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Virtual Improvisation Score Prototype from John Luna on Vimeo.

In Bebe Miller’s composition class.  To make a solo dance that explores the dynamic, expansive use of weight through and around the body of the performer. To observe the structure of the solo and of its process.  To translate or exchange that experience from a body to a digital artifact and back into another body.  To allow these objects and these processes to influence/inform each other along the way.  That’s what I’m starting to try to do with this project (while also tackling some virtual/augmented reality design challenges).

a webpage with no words

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

stillness02This semester I’ve been taking a class at ACCAD with Jeremy Patterson called Interactive Arts Media.  It is essentially a web design class, but I’ve been fixated on emphasizing the “Arts” part of the class description (which is kind of how I approach all of my work).

Inspired by sites like superbad.com and feedthehead.net, I have been working on a web site that treats the medium as something other than a container for words.

What I’ve made so far could be categorized as a toy, which I think I’m ok with.  Toys are designed to encourage play, curiosity, and imagination.  Hm.  I’m having Candace Feck “at the point of utterance” moment.  Maybe toys are actually exactly what I am most interested in making.

Here’s a link to the site in progress:


Antiwords at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Antiwords by Spitfire Company, performed at Summerhall Old Lab as a part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 26, 2015

Two women saunter on to the all black stage, which was initially populated by a lone table, two chairs, and a couple of buckets on the floor. Each performer carries their own large, bronze colored sphere underneath their arms and hold a net containing a glass mug and a beer in their opposite hand. They stand at the front of the stage, looking into the audience, making eye contact and occasionally smiling. The contour of their bodies hide beneath loose fitting white under shirts, suspenders, and wide black slacks. In unison and still holding the oversized brass spheres under their arms, they set their nets down, and each pull from it a beer bottle and secure the bottle between their legs up near their groin, the bottle’s neck pointing out and slightly up. They pull out a long rope necklace from under their shirt with a bottle opener dangling from its end. With one hand, they pop the bottle open and, the bottle still clenched between their thighs, lift the glass mug from off of the floor, situate it below the beer nozzle, and tilt their pelvises forward allowing golden liquid to flow and froth into the empty mug. Glasses full, they lift, salute, and empty the drink into their mouths in one long draw (one performer finishes before the other).

In Antiwords, the performers consume one frothy drink after another, switching character roles as they switch seats, going back and forth between macho instigator and sheepish prude. They don identical, oversized bronze colored bald heads that sink down to their shoulders, obscuring their own heads and necks. With identical costuming, similar builds, and covered faces, the performers rely on their physicality to present character and difference. With each switch of seats, the performers wholly embody the new character. If it wasn’t for the fact that they would lift their mask to drink the next beer, I would have forgotten which performer was which.

For the most part, the audience plays a traditional, passive role in the play but there was one moment during the show when the prude character silently begs someone in the audience to finish their beer for them while the instigator character is off stage. Someone in the front row took the beer and gulped it down, and the audience applauded them. In that moment, the social system represented on stage was translated to the audience, but I think the kind of pressure and reward was different. For the audience member to drink for the performer, it was an act of mercy, not one of bravado. Both instances involve the pressure to participate in a social event or to satisfy an expectation, but the character in the play drinks to avoid confrontation where an audience member stepping in to drink is the willful participation in a confrontation.

By involving the audience, the play, which was already performing the reality of inebriation by using real alcoholic beverages, extends and reflects its own reality on to those subjects filling the theater’s house. The person in the front row who drank the beer tastes it, feels its effects on their body which suddenly shares not only a physical space with the action of the show but also a chemical one. By echoing the actions on stage into the audience, the audience is afforded a real version of the artificial actions being performed by the actors. They can compare their own cultural subjectivity to that of the show’s and their subjectivity within the performance event.

At the end of the show, both performers, ostensibly at least a little drunk, slump in their chairs, bronze heads removed, and rest waiting for the lights to fade. One performer pops open another beer and gestures to the other performer with it. Upon a chuckled decline of her offer, she proceeds to sip the bottle, perhaps in relief, as the show gradually and gently concludes.


Reflections on Miguel Sicart’s The Ethics of Computer Games – 01

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

So, I’m reading Miguel Sicart’s The Ethics of Computer Games and loving every bit of it. Well, almost every bit of it. Most of the bits. Anyway, while reading the chapter “Players as Moral Beings” I was struck by this passage:

“Becoming a player is the act of creating balance between fidelity to the game situation and the fact that the player as subject is only a subset of a cultural and moral being who voluntarily plays, bringing to the game a presence of culture and values that also affect the experience.” (63)

I had to read that a couple of times. Even after I continued to navigate the rest of that chapter, the “subset of a cultural and moral being” kept echoing in my head and becoming a point of departure for other understandings and considerations.

Sicart uses Michel Foucault’s ideas about power to frame the experience of playing a computer game. The player doesn’t exist until they engage with the game on its terms, and the game’s potentiality becomes actualized only when the player engages with it. The agent and the object exist separately, but the object creates the “player” and the player actualizes the object into experience.

I’ve started to to form some ideas about how this system of understanding could relate to teaching (which I think of in gaming terms anyway). The students are my players, each of my classes is a game or maybe a level inside of a larger game. I communicate with my students in real time, but the system that I have designed communicates simultaneously. I have been incorporating ideas that I have learned from game design into my teaching (shifting modes of engagement to maintain a steady flow state, introducing and integrating implicit and explicit goals, etc) and now I am starting to see parallels in the ethics of gaming and pedagogy (willing submission to particular power dynamic, those relationships having potential to create and inform). The information feels obvious but understanding how to articulate the exchange gives my participation in it a greater sense of agency (real, imagined, or otherwise, I don’t know). I want my students to see how they are participating and for them to consider why and to what end they submit willingly. I wonder how games and contact can present and challenge the mechanics of power.

That’s all for now.

Dynamic Projection Mapping in Unity

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

I created an application for the dynamic control of a very particular piece of realtime generated projection mapping for an in-process theater performance that is being created in part at OSU’s ACCAD.  The purpose of this application was to demonstrate the potential look of a visualization and also to be able to manipulate the imagery on the fly.  Once the show is out of process and into performance, there will be far fewer controls, or many of the controls will be hidden once the look of each scene is set.  My familiarity with using programs like Isadora and Qlab to create projection design for live performance gave me insight into what kinds of options would be useful to an operator.  These are some stills from the application:



Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Made a little interactive visualization for a theater production.

It kinda makes me sad to use it for too long, but it is 2am on a Tuesday.  Two’s day.  Oh, wait.  It’s Wednesday now.  Ok, that makes me feel better.

Works best in Safari or Firefox.  Chrome doesn’t support the Unity webplayer.



Oculus Gaze Maze

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

**best viewed in full screen on a stereoscopic display. (i.e. Oculus Rift VR head-mounted display)**

Short demo of a prototype I’m working on. The player uses the direction of their gaze to guide a sphere through a maze. A gallery of back-lit creatures watches as the player navigates the maze. They cheer when the player finds themselves in dangerous situations.

I’m interested in developing a game that responds to and provides consequences for different sets of player actions. Will the player seek out danger to appease their bloodthirsty audience? Will they navigate towards treasures to accumulate wealth? What might happen if they look away from the action entirely, allowing their curiosity to get the better of them? The player gets to decide how to “win” the game, which differs from the game imposing an arbitrary value system (time is valuable, race against time; possessions are valuable, collect things; curiosity is valuable, discover things; persistence is valuable, replay the game; etc).

Protected: Solos (2014)

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

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