Who is that thing?- Animated objects in performance. by Per Linde

Who is that thing?
- Animated objects in performance. by Per Linde
On her dress she has a body.”
Blaise Cendrars

In the Disney movie The beauty and the beast, Belle, the girl imprisoned in the castle of
the beast, leaves her room in the middle of the night. Exploring the darkness of night
and prisons, she makes friend with the objects inhabiting the castle. Teaming up with
candles, clocks, tea cups and pots, she exhibits her liaison with the strange and
unfamiliar. The trick is old, and imaginations of the autonomous life of objects , such as
The Constant Tin Soldier by HC Andersen or Der Lauf der Dinge by Swiss artists Peter
Fischli and David Weiss, has many a times stretched our understanding of the
relationship between subject and object. The man-made artefact has always played a
central role in staged performance. The to-be-or-not-to-be is articulated by Hamlet
uplifting the skull. Holding it in his hands, it accentuates the rhythm of reflections on
existence. Natural reification of artefacts can no longer be taken for granted, the way
post modern culture has illuminated the majesty of the artificial. Baudrillard has given
emphasis to object participation in everyday life and french sociologist Bruno Latour’s
concept of technical mediation gives almost full-fledged citizenship to technological
artefacts. His actant theory portraits a conglomerate of humans and artefacts that is
something quite different from the traditional subject/object ontology.

The computer is probably the artefact most well suited for exploring transgression of
object boundaries. While it used to be the case that computers deprived objects of
material qualities, by replacing them with digital counterparts, we can now see the
opposite taking place. Computation is now moving into the everyday object by
augmenting it with digital properties. Paper with conductive ink, barcoded packages,
clothes with sensor technologies or footballs connected to internet services, with
antennas that starts to shake when your favorite team scores, are all examples of a new
class of objects. They are mixed objects coupling their physical bodies with digital
information. Programmed with “intelligence” or sensible for human interaction they are
maybe still far from HAL, but tin soldiers nowadays might just wake up at midnight to
perform acts that HC Andersen never dreamt of. It may be that they are not
autonomous, and in most cases we probably don’t want them to be, but they are
animated objects, life has been fused into them.

Corporeality, of course, plays a major role in performance, but while a major trend in
exploration of technology use in art and performance, has been to play with our notion
of the human body, attempts to reverse our understanding of the objects body, has
been paid less attention to.

A long term investigation of artistic materials is characteristic for Lena Mattsson’s work.
Starting out as a painter she revealed the potential of photography and digital imagery.
Film and video, molded into spatial expressions and juxtaposed with the presence of the
own body, has now been primal working material for several years. Recently , an interest
for water color has produced a series of aquarelles that are a significant part of Beyond
the surface. On top of this, the physical object has arisen as a co-actor in her
performances. Using the fairly simple RFID technology (Radio Frequency Identification)
physical objects are used as triggers for playing digital media files such as images,
sounds or videos. Since the objects are augmented with radio tags, specific events are
invoked by the software, when objects are placed above a reader that recognizes the
tag id. This gives possibility to use artefacts’ autonomous identity as elements in the
performance. Picnic baskets and coffee cups that have been conceptual parts of a work
are no longer elements in a still life, but activators of the configurations of space that
take place in performance. They play multiple roles in a language game that tries to
access a plasticity of the performance space. Blending artefact body, human body, art
work and the surrounding environment is an act of transforming Euclidian space into
temporal place that can be perceived from various spectator perspectives. A network of
material connections is put into play that emerges as nodes in the performed narrative.
The performances bounces of a deliberately weakly organized narrative, the goal is less
to tell a story, than to explore the shifting boundaries between space and body, human
or non-human, to investigate both artist body and spectator body in exploration of
what’s beyond the surface.

In “Carrying a load”, performed at Uddevalla Konstmuseum last year, a suitcase was
being packed, and each thing that went into the case triggered playing of media files
that accompanied a poetry reading. Interaction becomes part of the perceived space
and renders a dimension of corporeality to the immaterial properties of video; it is no
longer pure light form. The sketch already lying in the suitcase, also carrying a tag, has
been used in a previous part of the performance and is part of a continuous flux between
different acts. Sketches, digital displays and body acts blends in shaping of place, the
experienced space. The eye projected in the suitcase nourishes on the notion objects integrated in space. The frame disappears while visual output is displayed onto real surfaces. Going beyond the surface is an act of penetrating the surface, an animation of materials and objects. Using video as a sculptural form has long been an exploration by Lena Mattsson, of how transformations in materials can be part of playing with expectations on art history. Early experiments with using video as impressionistic paintings in golden frames started a series of investigations on exchanging the
understanding of foreground and background in experiencing art. The traditional oil
painting gets animated by moving images, scenery moves out from the painting and
gets enacted in front of the frame in the performance act, visitors sit down beside artist
and actor and become part of the art work and manipulation of things transforms the
media affordances of space. The act of animation is one of simulating the infusing of life
by interaction, not only one of rendering still images into moving ones.

The etymological relation between animation and animism is underpinned in Beyond the
surface by the use of Alesteir Crowley’s tarot cards. The infamous magician’s chanting
for “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt” is an animation tool in the performance.
By placing cards from his tarot card deck above the RFID tag reader media from the
exhibition is played in large scale projections, life is infused, by the act of artist or active
spectator, into the performance space.

A more sophisticated tool used in the performance is the Texture Painter. Originally
designed as a surface transformation tool, permitting architects to transform their
architectural models, the Painter is used to paint the dress worn by the artist while the
poem “On her dress she has a body”, by Blaise Cendrars, is being read.’ Inspired by the
simultaneous dresses worn and designed by artist Sonia Délaunay, Cendrars wrote the
poem. The dresses were a play of surfaces that resonates well with the work of Lena
Mattsson. Conceptually the idea was that entities gains identity trough contrast with
another. The dresses were designed with patterns of different geometrical colors and
tones that juxtaposed. Mixing a diversity of elements and materials without
superimposing structural values is a core value in Lena Mattsons work. Through
contrasting surfaces a quest for a holistic depth is elaborated. The surfaces can be
material; l like canvas or water color, social; like role playing or gender specific or
conceptual tools for construction of meaning like the doctor’s journal or a deck of tarot
cards. Anatomy, image, artefacts and architectural space are sub-components in a place
making game where aesthetics, undermining the surface/depth dichotomy, are fleshed

Performance have for a long time aimed at making sensory perceptions of space
extended to include several modalities like hearing, seeing, touching etc. Media art have
also experimented quite a lot with transformations of representations like visuals having
audio output or tracking technologies having a tactile expression. By including the man
made thing – the artefact – into performance as an animated object, one which is both
physical and digital, the perceptual span increases further. The candle inThe beauty and
the beast, while looking into the empty room of Belle bursts out in; “Zut allures, she’s on
the loose”. On the loose and out of the box constituted by division of virtual and
physical, human and non-human, artist stage and spectator space.

Phd Per Linde