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Writing Exercises

Nina Lykke. Writing Academic Texts Differently: Intersectional Feminist Methodologies and the Playful Art of Writing (Routledge Advances in Feminist Studies and Intersectionality) (p. 67). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

One – At the border of self and other

I felt comfortable almost instantly but it did not last and I did not notice how comfortable I was until this started to break down. The stability I felt at the beginning was altered when my partner pulled back ever so slightly. Although this was perhaps unintentional and a very small movement I felt quite suddenly very un-secure physically. I began to notice the temperature changes passing between myself and partners. I felt cold and quite stiff. I was holding my breath a little and overly imaginative about what was happening outside of the room. Were people looking in and watching, wondering what was happening? My thoughts kept coming back to my breath don’t breathe to heavily or it will be noticed but also don’t hold your breath, as that to will be noticed. Would it be better to breath through my nose or my mouth? My mouth is closed so best not open it as that may somehow be sensed and disrupt the moment. As often happens when you think about breathing it seems almost an impossible task.

When we were to open our eyes there is an immediate feeling of awkwardness likely stemming from being so physically intimate and then making eye contact. The act of eye contact is difficult. I wonder if I should look into the left or the right eye of my partner or maybe just at the bridge of the nose. But does that count as eye contact? I really don’t know, honestly something I have never thought about before but I can imagine that it will plague my thoughts more often now that the seed has been planted. I begin to think about this. How annoying! I can still feel my hands dropping temperature.

Two - List of Dead Ends

• Genetic algorithm • Stands for robots • Use of inverse kinematics Library for more intelligent movement • Flora – accelerometer with conductive thread at most recent exhibition • Reimagining of PFA term 2 assignment • Paper proposals • Books that I can’t afford or borrow

The background

I wanted to make a non-human dancer, it was important to me that the non-human dancer had a sense of agency and so to address this I decided to try and make a non-human dancer that could participate in a dance improvisation. This is a project that I started to hypothesise about at the Creative Coding Labs in Amsterdam. Working alongside a programmer who was significantly more experienced than myself we were able to make some fairly significant steps with this exploration. We decided to experiment with genetic algorithms as I found that there are many similarities with the way that dance movement is generated and the way a genetic algorithm works. The brain searches for a movement, most likely something that has some resonance with movements that have been performed before. After a movement has been performed it will analyse these choices and decide if it was a good decision or not. This analysis will then determine the likely hood of the next movement. One glaringly obvious problem with using this type of algorithm was the fitness function. Once the required target has been reached the program will continue to produce the same result as this is the optimal result. This is an obvious problem as when a dancer improvises they do not do this unless of course a score is given that requires this type of behavior. To try and counter this we decided to work with generative fitness functions. So the algorithm would be striving to reach not one but many goals simultaneously but each of these goals will always be constantly evolving making the task impossible but allowing for a continued somewhat intentional movement.

The score is an important factor here and one which allowed us to eliminate many of the possible difficulties. It is of course possible to allow a dancer to take on a dance performance without a score but we felt to dive straight in and attempt to mimic that type of behavior would be a step to far. Instead by setting a score that both the non-human and the human dancer could follow we limited the task allowing us time to experiment within some pre-set constraints.

The problem

This was a somewhat successful venture for us and I was very keen to pursue this avenue for my final MA project. The main thing I wanted to change was the output. I was no longer interested in having a digital dancer in the space. I wanted something physical.

My plan to collect incoming real time data from a human dancer which will be fed into a genetic algorithm (much like the one described above). The data that has been manipulated by the algorithm will then be used to dictate the motion of a robotic form.

At this stage I had already began to think about the type of motion that I wanted my robotic form to have and had decided strongly against mimicking human motion. I wanted something more abstract. Something that would definitely not be seen as a dancer out of the performative space. The issue arose from this decision. If I am having movement that is already abstracted from human motion and the data is also abstracted (after being fed through the algorithm) there is a danger of everything becoming completely unconnected. The movements of the robots would become seemingly random to anyone who did not know about the inner workings. This realization came to me in my living room after having a skype meeting with my tutor who for the umpteenth time had tried to persuade me away from the idea. I was squeezed into the very corner of the room (no space for my desk anywhere else) surrounded by papers with scraps of code written on them. My partner was playing computer games over the other side of the room, completely oblivious to my increasing panic. As soon as I realised that it was not going to work a wave of panic hit and only increased. I was unable to see any possible solution other than to just quit now. All of my classmates had what seemed like fully fledged ideas and here I was about to start again.

What did I do?

Perhaps foolishly I continued to pursue this idea quite intently. I was very anxious about leaving it behind thinking that it would be a waste of time (Yes I know cliché). I did also truly believe that there was something in the idea and desperately wanted to find a way to make it work. I continued down this path of dogged persistence constantly shrouded by a strong sense of uncertainty for a few weeks before finally admitting defeat.

What should I have done?

Scrapped it straight away! This does not necessarily mean that I should abandon the idea entirely but for this project at least. I should have weighted my priorities and made a swift decision. I should not have allowed myself to panic about time lost as this only caused further time to be lost.

How did it end up?

Great! I ended up working through many failed attempts with this project. None quite as momentous as this one but many none the less. However, over time I noticed that each failure felt less like a failure and prompted less anxiety. I slowly began to remind my-self that this is how art works are made and I became a little more comfortable within my own artistic process.

Don’t get too excited though. I am bound to start the whole process all over again with my next work.

Three – Project Theme Description