In the summer of 2018, the streets of Hanoi were smoky with high humidity and dust. I was sketching a building at the entrance of the road where the daily market is located. I put watercolors on the paper, which was already soggy from the humidity and sweat dripping from my hands. In the bustle of the chaotic capital, I realized that the defused light in the dust and exhaust gas, stealing shadows from everything, dominates this area even more than this architecture. The architecture stands somewhat languidly in this environment.
Light and architecture are not lonely players in the whole sight in front of me. The style of the architecture - the Chinese-style roof proudly on top of the building, the green window frames in the yellow walls reminding me of Mediterrane architecture - speaks of former colonial rule in this country. The advertising signs and LED-neon lights reflect the destructive swell of the consumer economy in Vietnam, a communist nation. The exhaust fumes from the countless motorcycles passing by on the street. The bustle, the poverty. The smell of sweat. These parameters, facts, and life don't count in an architectural observation - they are not visible in my sketchbook. Nevertheless, they dominate the space surrounding us overwhelmingly. And these are, I believe, the essence of my job. I am a scenographer.
The stage is a social space, precisely like our surrounding habitat. It is a place where we discuss issues shared by our society. Scenography designs the space necessary for this purpose. In this way, abstract thought emerges as a structure that can be spatially accessed. There, the audience encounters a variety of others, their thoughts and feelings, and their bodies. We are never alone in our existence, in our society. In scenography, architecture becomes part of the structure of the entire space. Air, light, sound, time, and our body become one structure to construct the space.
"Deep. Dance" was created in 2021 by Hamburg-based choreographer Jascha Viehstädt.
It is a 60-minute choreography for three dancers created by artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence has replaced the choreographer. In this work, the physical body, which we have believed to be the home of our creativity, has surrendered its dominant position in the creative process to software.
This work gives the audience insight into the neural network. Within the piece, three dancers share this insight with the audience using their bodies, leading them to ask ethical questions about the development of artificial intelligence in today's world. For example, is it possible for artificial intelligence to develop further and acquire a "creativity" that could rival humans? If so, how should we accept or reject the emergence of such artificial intelligence?
If we look into a computer-simulated space, a code displays virtual objects at a certain height, despite putting them on the floor. Yes, there is no gravity in a virtual space. It became even more apparent when we screened an animation of AI-made choreography. The three human models in the video moved on a simulated floor surface, sometimes gliding very fast, sometimes floating slightly. The absence of gravities in space creates this vision.
To express or reproduce this absence of gravity, we came up with the idea of creating a floor made of a soft form. When a dancer steps onto the material, the surface sinks underneath. At the same time, the material rifts up their feet back. As a result, I captured the impression of a moving body, standing and floating only slightly on the elusive surface, which is different from a regular floor surface.
The artificial intelligence developed for this work captured the improvised movements of several dancers through a camera to create the choreography. However, at this time, the AI doesn't understand that the beings in front of the camera are human beings, and it knows nothing about what a "dancer" is, let alone a "human being. So instead, AI is merely reading how the points on the body move.
After taking sufficient material in this way, the AI breaks up the continuous movement into shorter sequences and analyzes which movements could follow after particular ones. This mechanism of autonomous learning by artificial intelligence is called deep learning, but we cannot share the learning process with AI. We only know that it handles and analyzes the necessary data to achieve a given goal. The AI has no idea what the observed object is.
To perceive anything without understanding the meaning, the position of the phenomenon in the world, or without even knowing the existence of meaning would be, I think, an unimaginably lonely task. Understanding is nothing but a never-ending seeking for a realm of sense that connects oneself to others. To exist is to appear in a world where someone already exists. Life is being in a rich world full of fields of meaning in which all other things are. Artificial intelligence perceives all objects without understanding them. It would mean being in eternal darkness.
I devised this stage set for the performances at Wiese e.V. in Hamburg.
by Jascha Viehstädt
This dance piece by Jascha Viehstädt is based on the musical principle of the canon and its potential as a working principle in the field of contemporary dance. This design creates a minimal, functional setting that allows the audience to observe the choreography from every angle. "Strange transparency" is how the choreographer described the character of his piece.
The constant repetition of movements performed in staggered time does indeed achieve strange transparency. Moreover, the strict instructions on the movements limit individual freedom. Yet, at the same time, the dancer's bodies seek comfort within the physically demanding repetition, and they try to adapt to the rhythm of the canon. Paradoxically, these instructions created fields of tension between all the individual bodies in the space. To make such effects maximally visible for the audience, we developed the idea of constructing a glass platform with a minimal dance floor: as a dense core of the space, which the audience as a "tableau" perceived.
There used to be a theater named Fermata, she says. She was a dancer and witnessed a legendary choreography performed in that theater, which she still remembers in her body. The small theater was in the basement, and the audience had to go down a long flight of stairs to reach it. Where it was, no one can recall anymore...
Fermata is the third corporation between Miu, a Japanese artist based in Düsseldorf, and Takaya Kobayashi. In his work, Miu weaves complex poetry into a simple spatial structure. He sets up the complex poetic narrative as a physically perceivable structure with the help of electronic technology. The challenge for the scenographer was to organize the system spatially and make it appear in the urban space where our reality and fantasy often intermingle.
This concept aims to create space and atmosphere, reminding us of a maneuver in woods and a national force behind it.
Behind the acting area, six curtains hang from the ceiling, dividing backstage from the acting area.
There are three decks on different levels behind the curtains, combined with steps. These decks create a corridor to the acting area. The audience can see this passage through if the light behind the curtains is on. The decks stand with irregular angles instead of straight lines, making a chaotic and improvised impression in space.
The painted texture on the textile wall looks like mold and also rust on iron. Mold and Rost are inspiring because both are natural phenomena, which remind us of the mysterious lows in the natural world, influencing our lives tremendously, even if our rational consciousness can't always understand them. The whole set should create an atmosphere of an abandoned human-made structure like an old factory or a basement club and symbolize the natural power and shamanistic inspiration that Macbeth gets from the three witches. The rusty boxes with patina and graffitis are helpful as containers for props and costumes. Actors can also use these boxes to make different scenes by moving them on stage.
I devised this stage set for the performances at the oldenburgisches Staatstheater and Rose Theater Kingston.
by Kenta Shibasaki
A space that is a dream but has substance. It must also fulfill the opposite condition. I remember that the conceptional work for this stage set began with such a question. Three people meet in a shallow dream on a sleepless night. This room in the shared dream was the space that the Japanese choreographer based in Tokyo, Kenta Shibasaki, required for his dance piece "Sleepless Canon" as a first condition. And, just as the dancer stands on the stage, I should also stand on the scene. Physically or metaphorically. That was the second condition.
I decided to make a daily drawing based on a skin affected by a skin disease. The inked circles were always about the same diameter, depending on the length of my arm holding the ink-soaked cloth. However, the ink that flowed and bled through the circles looked like sticky bodily fluids, and the drawn circles sometimes looked like the cross-section of a sliced organ.
On a sunny day during the production, Kenta and I went out to a park in the city to draw a large version of the same circle drawing. We laid a large sheet of paper on the ground, and kneeling on it, I drew a large circle from the center, moving in a spiral way.
Sleep gives our bodies a rest. But the images that emerged from this artistic process were far from pleasurable; they were more reminiscent of pain. What I find interesting in looking back on this process is that pain also appears when accompanied by movement. Where there is no movement, there is no pain.
Physical movement related to the human body and its pain reminds me of prostration in Nepal, which the choreographer once told me. The devout Buddhists there believe that their physically exhausting and painful prayers will bring peace and tranquility to the world. It might not be so far from the sight in the dream that the audience sees in this piece. The relationship between the physical pain of exercise and a kind of spiritual liberation, and the longing for harmony in a constantly dynamic world, are subjects that I have become interested in through this work.