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a companion chapter to Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance
Stern › In Production (A Narrative Inquiry on Interactive Art)

‘Flesh-Space’

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 ‘Nicks?’ I whisper tentatively. I just got back from a day of administrative crap I had to finish at Trinity. I barely take off my coat and hang it up, and already I’m doing my doorway hovering, eyebrows knitted. My brain has been buzzing with the last few sections I need to write before we skip continents, and I’m sure Nicole can hear the anxiety in my voice. My ever-patient wife sighs gently, looks up from reading her book on the bed, and nods at the door to the next room. I give a thin-lipped smile-nod thing and watch as she cautiously extricates her arm from a napping Nonie. I smile bigger, and with more feeling, as my daughter wraps her floppy arm around a pillow where her mom used to be.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 We move into the lounge, and I close the door. As we both sit on the couch, Nicole quietly groans, ‘It’s not been a very fun day.’ She had explained earlier, on the phone, about paying way too much money for shipping far too few things to our new place in Milwaukee – sight unseen. Nonie senses a big change is coming, as two-year-olds do, and so was being pretty difficult at the post office in terms of needing to be entertained and wanting to be outside. Yeh, me too, kid.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 ‘I’m sorry,’ I say, and mean it. The move is going to be hard – and also exciting – for all sorts of reasons. New city, new art scene, new friends and colleagues, new classes. Closer to my family (though still a plane ride), much further from Nicole’s. I’ve got my first important New York show coming up, and we just heard that Nonie got into a fabulous day care center a distant relative had recommended.22 The big question mark, however, is over Nicole. The ever-elusive academic ‘spousal hire’ was just not in the cards at this point. In fact, Nicole doesn’t have a green card yet. We’ll be OK for a little while, and Nonie will be happy to have her mom at home, helping her adjust. But I’m familiar with how hard it is to move to a city where you know no one and feel reliant on someone else. I did it when I moved to South Africa to be with Nicole and, although it was well worth it, I struggled to be who I wanted to be in the world, and could get very emotional about it. Nicole is less emo than I am (that’s not saying much), and able to adjust better (also not saying much), but that may not make it any easier for her.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Nicole responds with a simple smile that says, ‘It’ll be fine,’ and I know it will. A few seconds later she adds, with actual words after another almost imperceptible sigh, ‘I’m not looking forward to the cold, though.’ And we both laugh.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 ‘Could be worse,’ I answer.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 ‘That’s comforting,’ she replies with a sardonic tone. And we sit for a few moments to let that exchange teeter off.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 I eventually pipe up with what I really want to talk about. ‘I’m a little at a loss for the flesh-space section in the “me” chapter,’ I start, without looking up. ‘I don’t know what to write about.’

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 I wait a few seconds, then peer up. For once, Nicole looks at me like I’m mad. ‘undertoe,’ she says simply.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Huh. I hadn’t thought of that. It’s an interesting and potentially beautiful installation. But there’s a reason I didn’t consider it viable. ‘I haven’t made it yet. I might never make it.’

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 ‘What does that matter?’ she asks.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Again, I’m not sure.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Another pause, and then I know why. ‘Well, my whole point is to study actual interaction, the experience and practice of relational styles, etc, etc. The most compelling parts of the “not autoethnography” thinger are when I thought I was making one thing that turned out to sometimes be, or do, something else. undertoe is just a concept right now, and so all I can really talk about is the technology and the idea.’ I let that sink in. ‘Isn’t the whole point to get away from all that, and talk about situation and performance?’

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Nicole raises her eyebrows. ‘You’re an artist. Use your imagination.’

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 She’s right. And she’s not. It’s not the same. Nicole can see my struggling with my thoughts, and she softens.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 ‘Nathaniel, I agree to some extent,’ she bites just the inside corner of her lip before going on. ‘The narrative inquiry is about making and thinking, experience and practice, as they feed back in to making and thinking, experience and practice. But still, all the bits and pieces within the narrative have to unfold somewhat linearly, and you have to end the story somewhere. I think it’s actually kind of nice to end with a proposal.’

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 I bob thoughtfully. She goes on, ‘Your readers will be understanding, given the project’s size. Not everyone has the kind of support that Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Norah Zuniga Shaw have. The two flesh-space artworks you write about in the core text are huge funded projects by artists much more famous than you.’ She tries not to grin, and the corners of her mouth go up and down tightly in containing the laugh.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 ‘Thanks,’ I answer sarcastically.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 ‘Maybe one day,’ she replies light-heartedly, accompanied with a half-shrug.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 ‘Most people probably won’t even notice that one of the pieces you write about is on hiatus, while the others are complete. Not in the scheme of things. You’ve got images and a great description and tell good stories about why you do what you do.’

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 That was nice of her. ‘Unless I tell them it’s not complete.’

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 She laughs out loud this time, at her slightly neurotic husband. ‘As I’m sure you will.’

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 And we both laugh, just as a bleary-eyed Nonie manages to get the door open and totter in. She starts laughing with us, really loudly, despite having absolutely no idea why. We all laugh a little harder.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 *

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Late 2004 was around the time I started thinking about going for a PhD. I was enjoying my own feedback loops between making and thinking and watching and doing, and could already see these as parallel to many aspects of who I am and how I operate in the world. Following step inside, my work and research began to converge around many implicating ideas, and also to diverge across even more sensible concepts.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 In terms of another interactive piece, I wanted to next create an installation where participants feel what José Gil calls ‘the space of the body,’ dispersed and interfered across other bodies and their spaces, where interior and exterior are accented as always folding. I wanted to intervene in flesh-space. This was to some extent a response to the inside / outside, intensive / extensive that was virtually felt with step inside, but with a desire to amplify physical space rather than social constitution. The proposal for undertoe (in progress, Figure 47) was first written in collaboration with New York-based artist Greg Shakar in 2001, but has since gone through a few phases of editing and research and development on my own.

undertoe fills a large, interactive room with the experience of walking on water, and watching yourself from the beneath the surface. It traces the almost imperceptible sounds of our footfalls into a pool of water directly above our heads. Hop lightly on your feet, and create a gentle series of ripples that disperses outward. Heavier jumps result in sustained rolling across the room’s expanse. Loud stomping produces large swells of undulating liquid. Each footstep, or sound we make on the floor below us, results in a ‘hum’ of varying amplitude and duration above, and each ‘hum’ vibrates the water, making literal ‘sound waves’ that disrupt the reservoir and unsettle the environment around us. Soft lamps shine focused beams through the mildly colored fluid, illuminating bands of light and dark blue on the space’s walls and floor.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Figure 47, undertoe; artist rendering by Tana GreenFigure 47, undertoe; artist rendering by Tana Green

As more participants cross the threshold into undertoe, their movements erupt outward and in counterpoint to one another, making a cacophony of co-operative formations. Sweeping effects creep across the water’s surface, performing a multitude of possibilities in our unfolding, enfolded, and intensified relationships. undertoe asks us to attune ourselves to the world we inhabit, together, and to rehearse the potential in our reciprocal interactions within it. Our bodies’ literal ‘minor impacts’ (footsteps) are shared with exterior space, things, and other bodies, and we respond in kind, again. The piece explicitly provides a habitat where we can collaboratively practice better modes of active relation with water, the environment, and each other. It invites us to perform otherwise, personally and politically, with matter, spaces, bodies, and their matters. (Stern, 2007)

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Although I can only, as in the last paragraph, imagine how participants will play out the flesh-space of undertoe, the performance it proposes to stage is clear. It very literally asks us to experience and practice how bodies and their spaces per-form – are dispersed, enacted, entwined, interfered, differentiated, shared, and continuously embodied. It is, it makes, and it re-presents our moving-thinking-feeling bodies as, and in, an ever-shifting expanse.

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32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 ‘In Production’ main page

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33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 NOTES

  1. My mother’s cousin’s son’s life partner’s sister’s son went to the same day care. Seriously. The NY exhibition was cancelled when the economy tanked. I’m over it, I really am.

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Source: http://stern.networkedbook.org/flesh-space/