Joana's Draft Thesis

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Introduction

“The term ‘choreography has gone viral. In the last five years it has suddenly mobilized as a general referent for any structuring movement, not necessarily the movement of human beings. Choreography can stipulate both the kinds of actions performed and their sequence or progression. (…) Sometimes designating minute aspects of movement, or alternatively, sketching out the broad contours of action within which variation might occur, choreography constitutes a plan or score according to which movement unfolds. Building choreograph space and people’s movement throughout them. (…) Web services choreograph interfaces; and even existence is choreographed. Choreography, then would seem to apply to the structuring of movement in highly diverse diverse occasion, yet always where some kind of order or desired to regulate that movement,“ (Rosenthal et al, 2010) - epigraph My research project explores compositional methods in graphic design and choreography. By investigating diverse graphic design methods, and a selection of post-modern choreographic approaches, I aim to research what performative qualities could be implemented and explored in design. And what powers of invention or transformation it sets free.

My interest in choreography comes from my dance background, beginning with classical ballet, at the age of five, and later involving in contemporary dance. The primacy of movement and concepts such as spatial representation and perception, rhythm and flow have been emerging and influencing my thoughts on design.

After pursuing studies on graphic design, followed by an intrinsic interest in different communication systems, I initiated a research on choreographic scores, a particular system which stands for writing movement. And this way, moving my research towards choreographic methodologies, on how dance is composed and communicated within its history. Posteriorly, I immersed myself in a growing curiosity on how such choreographic methods could intercept with my other great interest: graphic design. Reformulating my question of designing to: Could I choreograph design?

Graphic design, also known as communication design, is concerned with form and function, expression and perception (Hara, Hohle, and Naito, 2007), and I will include display and accessibility. As a designer I operate in a multimedia environment, in which design is digitally produced, with various potential outcomes, serving from new digital formats to the former print. In the sphere of digital media I will principally refer to computer code recognizing its major role within software or as a direct tool for designing. While understanding the media environment as constantly changing, and communication methods shifting, should the meaning and role of design be rethought? It is from my hypothesis that I will describe and analyse its transient, haphazard, improvised qualities. In short its performative stance. Following this premise, I believe design methods can learn from methods in choreography, challenging the conventional design thinking. ‘Choreographing design’ is then a creative arrangement, a pursuit for a new composition methodology/ system. There are two components in it: the design, which uses graphic elements to communicate; and the choreography driven by principles of movement and body awareness. The essential lies in between, in the process of understanding design beyond itself towards a choreographic approach.

Many disciplines have been cross-referenced and informed each other throughout history, incorporating new external methods for conceptualizing and enriching its practice and potential. I am proposing to observe graphic design and choreography in a cross-referencing system, aiming to open the possibility to unveil new aesthetic, energetic and social dimensions of design production processes.

In the graphic design realm I have focussed in the first decades of modern design, encompassing the Bauhaus interdisciplinary approach, and the acknowledgement of a new unit of art and technology; the International Typographic style, driven by functionalism, also acknowledging new technologies and its impact on design processes; and from this last movement towards the 60’s, in which the impetus of the International Typographic Style joined the development computer programs, that would combine complex and diverse parts into a unified whole. From this last period, I will mention a particular work from Karl Gerstner, a swiss designer who wrote “Designing Programmes”, a book which presents a collection of essays on a new method and approach to design. Gerstner introduces a method based on a set of conditions, similar to computational systems, even though computers weren’t yet widely used. Nevertheless he presents a new logic very similar to the functionality of code, which operates within certain conditions of possibility. Recognizing unpredictability in design processes, expanding the range of possibilities for a series of solutions, aiming at approximation rather than a definite outcome. Gerstner’s methods lead to reconsidering design as a series of decisions on determining elements and combining them, following a set of conditions, which may vary depending on the many circumstances. I find this mode of thinking about graphic design particularly relevant in contemporary practices and within the current technological context, in which code is a major tool for designing. And since graphic design methods rely mostly on software and hardware, the balance between defining rules and leaving room for extemporaneous results becomes key.

Gerstner’s ideas and method will be both bridged towards the choreographic methods which have been developed during the same period of time, and also towards contemporary design practices which are set under programmatic rules.

Following contemporary methods for designing, which are increasingly determined by various scripts and computational processes, I will bring into focus the use of code within graphic design practice. For this, I will reference the book Speaking Code, from Geoff Cox and McLean, which raises theoretical as well as practical questions on creative processes applied to live coding, which might as well be expanded to coding and the the nature of programming in a broader sense. As is mentioned by Berardi in the preface of the book: “Code is modeling the future, as future is inscribed in code.” (Cox and McLean, 2012: foreword). Cox and McLean discuss the multifaceted properties and uses of code towards a reflection on its aesthetic and political effects. Since code is a major tool used in graphic design, to reflect upon this thematic became very relevant to my thesis and project development.

The philosophy and practice of the japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara highly influenced my own practice as a designer. Hara shares a holistic (body and mind) view on designing towards an understanding of design connected to the human senses and haptic perception. A design thinking and method that exceeds the conventional, and which I deeply relate to in my own search for a form of embodiment in design, through dance.

In the realm of choreography, my inspirational source derives from choreographers who belonged to the post-modern movement in dance, originators of radical and highly experimental performance practices, bringing new formal and aesthetic innovation to the dance field. I will mainly refer to those particularly related to the Judson Dance Theater in New York, in the early 60´s. This was a great period for collaboration between dancers, composers, and visual artists who were involved in avant-garde experiences and who established the presets for the post-modern movement (Siegmund et al., 2013, p.190).

Following the emancipatory principles central to the legacy of Judson Dance Theatre, I will specifically mention Yvonne Rainer as the one that has the most influence in my project. Yvonne Rainer created her own conceptual and formal choreographic structures, as a way to both distance and liberate herself from previous modes of choreography. [1] The choreographic language Yvonne Rainer developed encompasses a simple yet highly interesting landscape of movements and her pursuit for minimal aesthetics and the primacy of movement corresponds to my own view on graphic design. Her framework provided a strong tool for thinking the politically of choreography, and while analysing her methods of writing scores and her thoughts as critical alternatives to the dance scene, I could draw a parallel towards finding my understanding of choreographing design. Choreographing design is a starting point in how to relate to my interests as an individual to my design practice and to the current technological media culture. As I mentioned before, digital media apparatus represent a network of people, politics, aesthetics, economies. The computer is the device most explored in my practical work as a designer, and the computer screen as it is conventionally presented carries a very particular mode of spectatorship. I am interested in the relationship between the user and the visual system he/she encounters, and to challenge the tensions between stasis and the ability to move, materiality and immateriality, and the different perceptual experiences that may arise from the act of viewing and interacting with it.

My thesis will be divided in two parts: in the first part I will be concentrating in relating the references from both the design and choreography spectrum, structuring it and unveiling common threads. In the second part I will reflect on how such body of knowledge can inform my practice in the translation of choreographic principles to design, and how these can be reflected upon the current time and current circumstances.

[1] In 1965, Yvonne Rainer wrote the 'No Manifesto’ which starts with the statement “No to spectacle” (Burt and Burt, 2006), rejecting any confines to pre-existing material, techniques, glamour, or assumed space. This was the start of a claim for a distinct choreographic identity and independence by formulating her own choreographic language.

KeyWords: design; choreography; movement; composition methods; scores & scripts; performance; code; transdisciplinarity.

PART One

The Common Ground: Composition methods (for defining time, space and movement)

“Choreography deals with instability and transforms it into potential order.” at Tanzquartier Wien - Score nº0 - The Skin of Movement, Gerald Siegmund Five Theses on The Function of Choreography.

I believe that in the sentence above ‘choreography’ could be replaced by ‘design’. Both graphic design and choreography make use of creative yet formal structures to compose and give a sense of ordering [1]. If choreography uses a combination of written languages to describe and create methods for movement to be performed; graphic design also makes use of a diversity of languages to create systems which reflect on how information is communicated through a variety of media.

Design and choreography both rely on compositional decisions on how to organize and distribute elements in space, how these elements relate to each other and to the whole. How this spatial decision inherently set a specific rhythm and flow to the outcome, which is then perceived in the moment in which is accessed/performed. Composition is then an ensemble of spatio-temporal choices.There are numerous approaches or "compositional techniques" to communicate ideas and concepts, in the following section I will look at common languages used to build systems for composing in graphic design and choreography. Starting with a common concern for systematizing and structuring applied to composition methods with the creation of shared languages; and ending with a selection choreographic scores and design scripts to illustrate the composition methods and strategies being investigated.

The last paragraphs of the chapter will be dedicated to movement, and what I believe are the differences and commonalities in the subject matter in relation to both graphic design and choreography.

[1] The term composition, ‘componere’, means 'putting together' (Louppe, 2010) and can apply to any work of art, from music to writing to photography, resulting from the arrangement or placement of visual elements in space. I understand composition as a tool for both making and thinking, not as a neutral process, but instead an important moment to define one’s intent while creating a new piece.

Languages and structures

Composition in painting, sculpture, design, architecture, performing arts, and many different fields have been heavily influenced by mathematical and linguistic forms of order. Various movements took composition methods towards a set of instructions from mathematic to linguistic nature, from the conceptual and minimalist artists of the late 50’s (Rosenthal et al., 2010), to the arrival of the computer in the art scene, with algorithmic art and so on.

In the same way, in choreography and graphic design, the process of composing, is often tight to a set of definitions represented by means of abstract structures. When describing a concept or a phenomenon, both mathematics (geometry) and linguistics are commonly used at communicating the position of elements, properties of space, and time attributes. The application of these languages will be discussed in the scores and scripts presented in the next section. In the history of choreography many attempts for universal languages have been developed, an example of this is Labanotation or Kinetography Laban, a notation system developed by Rudolf Laban, which could be used to describe movement in terms of spatial models and concepts. Around the same time, in 1940, appeared another system Benesh Movement Notation (also known as Benesh notation or choreology) invented by Joan and Rudolf Benesh. (Rosenthal et al., 2010) Dance scores traditionally have two functions, a descriptive and prescriptive one. For instance, in Laban there were two subcategories applied to the notation system: dance-script (Tanzschrift) and script-dance (Schrifttanz}. While dance-script is seen as a means for documentation and preservation of dance, script-dance should facilitate the act of dance composition itself. (Sebeok, Posner and Rey, 1987) I will be focussing on the second approach to dance scores, and focus in its composition caracter.

IMAGE_1 - These are two examples of graphical representation of human bodily movements from Laban. - or maybe just a link to the official website.

Despite of the availability of this notation systems, most post-modern choreographers developed there own way of communicating and writing movement, constructing their own language, and new vocabulary. Choreography was then seen as a vehicle for the construction of individual thoughts and methods in choreography, counter posing the imperative of universal methods, leading to question and to reach perceptual limits beyond those already currently defined. For example, the choreographer Wiiliam Foresythe´s notion that choreography is a ‘class of ideas’, with the idea being ‘a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action’, somehow deconstructs the previous standardized vocabulary of movements from for example the Feuillet notation. For my own project it was also relevant to follow distinct choreographic scores and modes of writing choreography, instead of following the major universal notation systems. I am interested in using choreography as personal statement [1], and therefore felt the need for developing my own formal and conceptual array of choreographic vocabulary to be applied in the methodology which will be later presented.

Graphic elements are also defined by an extensive use of languages belonging to numeric and alphabetic systems, some examples will be shown in the composition systems section below. The definition of the position of elements on a surface can be done by using a system of coordinates, or simply by defining spacing values. In both cases it can be done by using units for measuring, which in the case of design are mostly ‘em’, ‘points’ or ’pixels’. The first two relate to typographic measurements: an em is a unit equal to the currently specified point size. For example, one ‘em’ in a 16 point typeface is 16 points. Therefore, this unit is the same for all typefaces at a given point size. And the point being the smallest whole unit of measure in typography (Müller-Brockmann et al., 1999). The pixel, is a physical point in a raster image, or the smallest controllable element of a picture represented on the screen. Although pixel is exclusively digital, all three can be used for defining space measurements in digital interfaces. Most of these unit system have been converted and applied to digital tools, often combined with markup languages mainly for web designing, such as html and css used for designing the space layout. In regards to the dynamics of space, programming languages, such as javascript, are widely used to set a specific action to the webpage, either by defining operations, functions or events. This last point will be explored further in the ‘Scores & Scripts’ part.

In dance the units used may vary from ‘steps’ to more ambiguous measures or spatial intentions, in which directions or points in space are predefined which the dancer can identify or follow. In this second case, the focus is usually in the dynamic qualities of the movement, meaning that the duration and rhythm (constant, accelerated.. ) can be the actual units for exploring space, merging time and space units. The definition of space influences the one of time. An illustration that can be made is when in graphic design it is defined a grid layout, in which the baseline (the line upon which most letters "sit”, which determines the space between sentences) sets the rhythm and gives more or less space for the page to “breath”. Yvonne Rainner also defines moments of suspension or pause in her dance pieces, as “breathing” instances, which duration is dependent on the dancer's performance.

While defining the language of space and time various units of measurement have been applied to composition processes and systems of order, and its application traversed various disciplines from ancient to contemporary times. The process of composition has raised questions of body proportions, and our relation to time and space. In visual arts, design, architecture, and performing arts, the conceptions of human body have been reformulated uncountable times constantly redefining composition systems.

In the works I will refer to in the second section, I have been experimenting with different units and ways of addressing time and space specificities. Reflecting on questions of embodiment, questioning the accuracy and subjectivitiies behind such standards engaging in an interplay between more or less normative ones.

[1] As in Foresythe’s remark choreography can then be viewed as an imposition, but it might as well serve as an empowering tool for building our own structures, and being in charge of your own methods. For more information (or a similar approach) please see also Yvonne Rainers’ work.

Scores & Scripts

“…choreographing our gestures, habits, language, thoughts, tastes and desires.” (…) “By moving (or by opting to remain still) dance demonstrates how its decodings are not mere conceptual propositions but actual possibilities for action.” (Rosenthal et al., 2010). In both graphic design and choreography, formal constructed languages, as seen above, are created to communicate ideas in the form of instructions. Both design scripts and dance scores are the result of a composition process, that contains the decisions on the definition of space and time constrains, in which a series of actions may unfold. In design, scripts are written with programming languages and executable by the computer, and can be used to create information displays on screens or actions in a web browser. Similarly choreographic scores define the rules and conditions for certain actions, the main difference being that this will be executed by humans (bodies). It is then a set of prescribed motions for either a single or a group of performers to follow.

Grid systems have been exhaustively used in the construction of scores and scripts as a way to set space and time parameters when creating compositions. A grid is a two-dimensional structure, an intersection of vertical, horizontal lines, or even angular lines, which are used as reference to apply the real content in it (Müller-Brockmann et al., 1999). Grids determine constant dimensions in space, dividing two-dimensional plane or three-dimensional spaces into smaller fields. A grid may also be seen as a set of guidelines, able to be seen in the design process and invisible to the audience.

In choreography, the first successful and widely spread form of dance notation was invented by Pierre Beauchamps, in the late 17th century. “ Feuillets system was based on a notion of space in which bodies and their movements could be organized according to abstract and geometric principles” (Rosenthal et al., 2010). The horizontal grid was the major choreographic tool for Feulliets, that would position the body as a vertical and singular entity traveling across a grid.

In graphic design history, the modern typographic grid became associated with the International Typographic Style. This movement in graphic design originally emerged in Russia, The Netherlands and Germany in the 1920’s, and was made well-know by Müller-Brockmann amongst other contemporary swiss graphic designers, in the 1950’s. The visual characteristics of this style included a unity of design achieved by asymmetrical display of the design elements on a mathematically constructed grid (Müller-Brockmann et al., 1999). [1] Since then, the grid has been commonly used as an ordering system, it would rationalize the composition process, providing both a creative and technical tool. The grid not only establishes order, but also the relations within the elements to be displayed, attributing specific inner network in the page layout. Karl Gestner would define the grid as a program: “if the grid is considered as a proportional regulator, a system, it is a program par excellence” (2007: 16), emphasising transient tendencies and the need for versatile design processes.

Grids are perceived as fixed structures, but in fact these structures can be scaled based in defined proportions, by making use of relative units, like percentages, instead of absolute units such as pixels or points. This technique is particularly used in responsive web design, turning the layout into a flexible structure. Modular grids are used for the same purpose, in which a multiple subdivision of page is made to best adapt the form to the content. While grid systems have seen significant use in the history of print media, only recently it has seemed to respond to the resilient character of digital interfaces, namely in web design frameworks, for html and css structures. A more detailed analyses of the characteristics of the digital tools for graphic design will be further analysed in the Second Part.

Here some examples of choreographers using grid-based structures and systems:

IMAGE_2 - Muller Brockman or Lupton, E. Thinking with type. Available at: http://www.thinkingwithtype.com/contents/grid/ (Accessed: 22 April 2016).

IMAGE_3 + designing programs Grid diagram, 1963 (redrawn). Designer: Karl Gerstner. Publisher: Arthur Niggli, Zurich. This square grid consists of six vertical columns and six horizontal modules, overlayed by grids of one, two, three, and four units. Vertically, the grid is governed by a 10-pt measure, which would determine the spacing of type from baseline to baseline.

The choreographer Lucinda Childs, is also well known for her use of ‘grid structures’. For example, for the piece Melody Excerpt, she developed a ‘grid’ structure to represent all possible pathways that each dancer would traverse during the performance. The units used for stage measurement were in feet; in this version, the dimensions are 32 by 28 feet. Each dancer is represented by a distinct color.

IMAGE_4 - From ‘an art of refusal: Lucinda Childs’ dances in silence, 1973–78’ Suzanne Carbonneau - questions of practice - the pew center for arts & heritage (2015) Available at: http://www.pcah.us/posts/238_from_an_art_of_refusal_lucinda_childs_dances_in_silence_1973_78 (Accessed: 22 April 2016). for this reference from website OR link?

Similarly, the choreographer Trisha Brown (available at: http://www.trishabrowncompany.org/content/images/ image_web8_224.jpg (Accessed: 22 April 2016), draws complex diagrams to specify the directions or points in space and create dance patterns. This is similar to vector drawings used in design which are points determined by a set of coordinates and a direction, leading to a creation of a path. In this way, vector also seems to be a good example for understanding the positioning of graphic elements assigned to the “potentiality of movement”. As an event that unfolds from the moment of being read by the computer until its been read by our eyes, this point will be explored in greater detail when looking at virtual dimension of movement.

IMAGE_5 - Trisha Brown defines dancing as something "in between geometry and the gesture” ...as in geometry everything begins, with points and everything else is a construction. to be used after an image.

IMAGE_6 - Another example of a choreographer using grids is Anne Teresa Keersmakaer applies geometric patterns to grids for defining where on the stage, when and in what order the movement will take place: “In the early works several forms are recurrent: circle, square, lateral and diagonal lines, perpendicular lines forming a grid. Singing them out as shapes suggests a static disposition, whereas, conversely, these shapes evolve in time and are dynamically connected to the development of movement in its syntax and counterpoint.”

Verticality and horizontality have been key terms for thinking and defining spatialization. Being used as precise systems of measurement and layout, either for dancers to move, or graphic content to be distributed in a defined grid. The interlaced use of grids, paths and the importance of directionality and positioning in both design and choreography have been incorporated in my experiments, as I will demonstrate in the second part.

Other approaches to choreography would include the incorporation of rules driven by chance, meaning the inclusion of aleatory processes to find unpredictable outcomes and spontaneity in the form of improvisation. One of the major representatives of this technique was Merce Cunningham, who developed compositional processes which challenged the modern conception of choreography adding “an inner subjectivity by using chance procedures for devising movement and sequencing events.” (Rosenthal et al., 2010) Yvonne Rainer developed patterns of ‘interaction and cooperation’ between people engaged in ‘task like’ activities, which very often would include monotone dynamics and excruciating repetitions. ”Repetition, the immediate reprise of a motif similar to the preceding one, in fact constitutes an obstacle to the temptation to control a logical and linear structure” (Louppe, 2010). In my practical experiments I have revisited and incorporated some of the choreographic ideas shared amongst this choreographers, as a way to challenge my design processes and tools, Another example is choreographing as short instructions, which is very similar to scripts given to computers to read and perform the task. Gestner’s method and approach to design was also based on a set of conditions, or hypothesis for designing (Gerstner: 2007). Cunningham, Rainner and Gestner embraced ‘operational’ thought similarly to what we could find afterwards applied to computational systems. The use of repetition is also very present in programming environments, as can be read in Coxand McLean: “the loop is an important component of the imperative programming, indicating when instructions are to be repeated or set to repeat until terminating condition is met, unless an infinite loop is invoked.” (2012) IMAGE_7 - add image of script on loops/ …

Algorythmic programs also call for performance (by machines), which nonetheless follow a similar logic to the way choreographers, make use of a set of variables to produce movement ‘operations’. William Forsythe actually used computer scripts to generate a choreography out of a list of 135 movements, a vocabulary built in connection with the kinesphere (— the total volume of a body’s potential movement). “It’s like rapidly scrolling through a list of names in a computer program.” (William Forsythe choreographic objects: Essay) Forsythe’s methods of choreography are strikingly algorithmic and give rise to a style of movement and interaction that is distinctively his own. Both scores and scripts involve processes of encoding and decoding, it involves shared understanding between those who write it and the readers who interpret it. This way, uncovering the meaning behind the sets of characters, number, drawings that makes up a design script or a choreographic score. Choreographies were notated scores of dances, and choreographers were the people who could read and write the notation. In this first meaning, choreography established an innovative and enduring relationship between the body, space and printed symbol. (Rosenthal et al., 2010) The question of communicating, sharing and understanding of choreographic scores and scripts for bigger audiences and even amongst practitioners will be further explored in the second part of the text, together with the demonstration of some practical experiments.

[1] In the early 1980s, a reaction against the entrenchment of the grid, particularly its dogmatic use, and association with corporate culture, resulted in some designers rejecting its use in favor of more organic structure. (Müller-Brockmann et al., 1999)

On movement:

Even if it is not possible to consider the movement and involvement of the body in graphic design, to the same extent that choreography does, both are nonetheless present in how people relate to the information displayed in various technologies. In my project it has been relevant to reflect on the concepts of movement and sensory perception in both dance and design, in order to bring to light and reflect upon diverse levels of phenomenological experience. Post-modern choreography saw a turning moment in which essentially non-technical movement was primarily explored, as opposed to the former dance standards. Yvonne Rainer added minimalistic movements to her choreographies, and emphasised an anti-spectacale approach to dance. She understands movement as a choreographic and social manifestation, using scripts to re-imagine how people might act, cooperate, be alone or together. Producing situations of performance rather than spectacle, as she mentions dance is about “the body and its actual weight, mass, and unenhanced physicality” 3, reducing movement to the simple phenomenological experience of mundane physical activity. She reduced movement to the simple phenomenological experience of mundane physical activity. This reduction of movement reflects her 60s rhetoric on economy of energy, in which she was concerned with the body's "energy resources"; with "conserving (actual) energy." (Wood and Rainer, 2007) Such choreographic thought can be seen in a parallel to the design pursuit of shape driven by its functional role, and operating within an economic stance. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, followed similar principles, only focussing further on repetition: in the dance piece Rosas Danst Rosas “the movements seem to be very personal, private, idiosyncratic, (..) seemingly endless repetition. This is a play of surfaces rather than an expression of depth. The minimalist monotony of the repetition of mundane gestures suggest compulsion to conform prescribed behavior.“ (Lepecki, 2004) Similarly following the frugal, anti-spectacle approach, the japanese designer Kenya Hara describes design as “not the act of amazing an audience with the novelty of forms or materials, it is the originality that repeatedly extract astounding ideas the crevices of the very commonness of everyday life.” (Hara, Hohle, and Naito, 2007) In choreography, along with similar kinesthetic experiences, the human body reaches an intense sensorial perceptual experience, composed of information from many places in the body (Noë, 2012). Design can deeper appropriate and integrate such variables, develop them further onto how knowledge is achieved by the interrelation between brain - body - world. The designer Kenya Hara, introduces a way of thinking design appealing to physical senses as a whole, beyond vision: “While dealing with shape, color, material, and texture as one of the more important aspects of design, there is one more: its not the question of how to create, but how to make someone sense something. We might call this creative awakening of the human sensors: the design of senses. (2007: 68) When a user of a design object, being book or a digital device, is presented to a space, physical or digital, he/she will have to ‘move’ through the information it contains. The philosopher Alva Noë investigates the structures of experience and consciousness presenting movement as the "basis of accessibility" (Noë, 2012), allowing humans into "achieving access to the environment". This can be thought in relation to actual movement, produced by the interaction with a certain device, mostly made of a series of conventionalized micro body movements. Or in relation to a virtual setting, for instance a webpage, in which one moves through various networked spaces, for examples via hyperlinks. In digital interfaces also movement is embedded in systems designed with an ensemble of conventions and limitations. Perception and the sense of movement is intrinsically part of our experience with digital media and web interfaces: “Perception is a media which affords certain stiffnesses, elisions, fluencies, boiling points, knots and condensations of association, and importantly, the ‘problem’ that it is always involved, never disassociated. Whilst life goes on, perception cannot be turned off, it is always mixing.” (Fuller, 2006) Not only am I interested in exploring how different elements used for composing web experiences intrinsically produce perceptual effects, but also how those composition tools may transform and re-shape our perception of web experiences. I believe that by acknowledging a critical and exploratory approach to how the human movement, perception and embodiment work may give design new pointers.

There are, nonetheless other variables used in choreographic techniques in post-modern dance, which could be explored while designing. For example, a deeper consciousness of the presence of the body (embodiment) in design, which would highlight the condition of users as being temporally present, spatially aware, and considering ephemerality and improvisation strategies as an integral aspect of designing. The second part of my thesis will investigate further how these aspects could be applied to design, and will serve as point of departure to present my project on choreographing design.

PART Two


===Establishing new Grounds: Choreographing Design===

In the previous chapter, I focussed on the processes of design and choreography, and exposed how connections between both can be established. The question now is how to go beyond this analogies, and implement them into a framework which incorporates a formal set of principles that aim to translate choreographic methods into design. For the most part of my design work I use digital media tools, formats and abstract formal languages. Being digital code, html and css structures along with various scripts my main composition tools. The screen my stage, and the viewers, my audience. My creative environment is therefore embedded in the conventions and formal constrains of such tools and technologies, often leading to recursive acts of critical reflection upon how to relate to tools and the environment I am in?

To understand the qualities of technology, specifically understanding its immediacy and instantaneity has been crucial to my methodology. In electronic publishing, particularly for online display (websites, e-pubs,..), there is a great number of circumstances that may influence the outcome, depending on the performance of the device, from the hardware to the software it uses. “Most computation is no longer standalone: it operates as part of an architecture of servers, software, networks, and social, cultural and commercial systems.” (Fuller, 2006) Media interfaces and web tools are embedded in a complex system of interdependent infrastructures, subjects and subjectivities, codes, data, applications, laws, corporations, protocols,.. Specifically in the case of this project that are many interlaced being shaped by the politics of web standards: starting from the language itself (html/css/javascript) to the browser (firefox, because of being free and open source).

Moreover digital media are in a permanent state of transience or left to ‘contingency’ (Yuill: 2008). Information displayed in digital media, in a electronic-machine-readable format, only exists in circulation (via integrated circuits), meaning that is in constant movement (Mackenzie, 2005: 73). When these are accessed online it adds another layer of instability, this is very clear in the creation of websites which will behave differently according to the browser and the presets of the user’s device. Besides its performance is also dependent on the connection to a web-server and internet provider. Very often the code has to be adapted or made new versions, so that it remains readable and accessible, which nonetheless can’t avoid link breaking, which relates to servers or other sources that become unavailable.

This brings a sense of instability to the design work, assuming unexpected circumstances, and speaks to the inherent nature of choreography, which deals with the idea of something constantly being done. The transitory nature of technology, also requires a strong sense of improvisation potentiality, which can be found in very intense forms applied to choreographic practice. Choreographic thinking and methodologies address questions of unpredictability, indeterminacy, immateriality, spatial and temporal paradoxes that can inform design on how to respond to the digital logic. [1]

I believe a more fluid, dynamic compositional structures acknowledging indeterminate interactions between scripts, machines and users may fuse in the formation of more potent subjectivities. Technology deals with the flow of content as much as with the infrastructures and resources that shape it. When I make use of programming languages, also known as code, to design compositions, I am as well transferring my thoughts into a communication system which will define how other people will relate to their media surroundings.

As code interferes more notoriously in every fied of practice [2], it also has become intrinsically connected to graphic design methods. Not only to create for screen display, but even for print purposes, most of the design methods encompass the use of digital software. Therefore it is relevant to reflect on the specifies of the media, in Hara’s words, ‘design is not subordinate to media, design explores the essence of media’. In my practice while pursuing an urge to build new alternatives for design methods, I became particular interested in exploring web design languages for being a versatile tool and a way to reflect on questions such as: What can we learn from choreography on the fulfillment of our intentions in dynamically changing the conformations and contours of the current design standards? How can we as designers become resources of action, in the creation of methods for new relationships of subversion and emergence? In the next part of this chapter, I will aim to answer these questions and explain how in my design practice these will be reflected in the construction of a new compositional methodology in design, that integrates a choreographic structural and conceptual elements.

[1] This link is presented in the book Dance in Knowledge Society, in a very interesting reflection on knowledge structure and its relation to communication technologies. For more information see Dance Knowledge Society by Gehm, Husemann and Wilcke, 2007. [2] In the forward of the book ‘Speaking Code’, Franco Bifo Berardi states that “code is modeling the future, as future is inscribe in code”, highlighting the ‘effects’ and features carried by technology and its influence upon society (Cox and McLean: 2012).

From thematic concerns to composition methodology

My interest in choreography and the potentiality of movement, has been applied to both physical spaces [1] as well as into digital spaces [2]. In my recent work I started experimenting with web tools for composing, and developed a collection of webpages, called ‘Graphic Events’, in which a reflection on choreographic concepts is raised. By event I mean a certain action, often compared to the idea of an ‘act’, thus the webpage turns into a stage for something to happen. Moreover an ‘event’ brings together the concept of space and time, as it has been presented in the First Part it sets the conditions for an action to unfold. In this works an effort in raising certain choreographic thought is mostly perceived in the moment of accessing the webpage, and the code behind it remains hidden. In my latest work, for the piece ‘WebPage ActI,II,III’ a more explicit connection with the code and its representation in the webpage is explored further. A new layer of meaning is added to the code, as every function is named after a choreographic concept, and the same functions can be recombined in a varied number of ways. A focus on connecting the functional act of coding and its representation in the webpage is emphasized, and a new composition method originated.

[1] (photobook: installation/sculpture: https://pzwiki.wdka.nl/mediadesign/PHOTOBOOK//_finale) [2] (web experiences (durational spaces) : http://pzwart1.wdka.hro.nl/~jo/notebook/series/untitled.html)

Graphic Events

The web interface mediates between man and computer, between computers or between humans it will always reflect a balance of submission and control. In the contemporary context of highly mediated culture, the web interface is a major gateway to how we see and perceive the world. I am interested in reflecting via choreographic principles on how digital technology often transforms the function and perception of space and time. The construction of space in this case, is equivalent to the production of a surface, in the generic sense it means a flat space to display, which nonetheless deals with similar issues related to the third dimensional space in choreography. Primarily my experiments focus on the construction of temporality, the time (duration) within a particular constructed web page. While building the “Graphic Events” webpages both time and space became the ‘containers’, which would hold potential events. This mode of composing could be compared to how Yvonne Rainer understood choreography: “… the mode of resistance in Rainer’s work can be defined in terms of both the temporal and the spatial structures - the one hour and forty five minutes and the theatre architecture - being considered as ‘containers’ within which she manipulates or elaborates upon conventional expectations” (Wood and Rainer, 2007, p.38). The metaphor of the container has also been introduced by design thinkers, relating to the formal structures which are built to contain the graphic content. “Design … it holds emptiness or nothingness within” (Hara, Hohle, and Naito, 2007). In the context of the “Graphic Events” project, design may be compared to a fusion of Rainer’s and Hara’s concepts, of a container: a set o structures for graphic events to unfold. The piece ‘Mouse Event’ [1], follows this reflection of a surface as a container for possible events to unfold. Here I present a webpage with a black background, which displays the mouse position when the cursor is still, and switches to a timer, when the mouse moves. The minimal setting, at the sound of the music Nocturne op.9 No.2 Andante, from Chopin, allows for an augmented attention to the movement of the mouse. Although this movement is some sort of a ’neutral doing’, this webpage allows the user to move in the screen, but following no purpose (Battcock, 1968). A situation in which the user is highly aware of its presence, while challenging the line between inertia and movement. Another significant topic for the “Graphic Events” is the use of spatial field to reflect on rhythmic or non-rhythmic articulation of basic movements. In the design field, this can be translated to conventionalized movements, such as scrolling a webpage. The scrolling is here seen as one of the main movements connected to interfaces, a conventional ‘digital-user’ type of motion. For the “Graphic Events” it was a way to connect to the choreographic concept of depicting basic customary movements, which depart from ‘real bodies’ and performed in ‘real time’. In this particular case, a strong influence on my work came from Yvonne Rainers’ continuous attention to found movement and its incorporation as material for composing new choreographic arrangements (Wood and Rainer, 2007: 19). The Movement-Visibility [2], represents the topic in a sequence of webpages that experiment with the conventional movement and the sense of place within a webpage. While the design constrains the display options of the text, it ask for an active use of a landscape of movements within the webpages by scrolling in it in varied, yet simple ways.

Following my interest on systems of measurement and representational conventions of body proportions, I started reflecting on the meaning of its use and developing a more subjective understanding of it in my design practice. There is a multitude of built codes on the proportions and dimensions of spaces to be applied to design methods. In these could be included the units for measuring space, such as pixels, and ‘em’, or the ‘Golden Ratio’, to set the page proportion to value of 1:1.618. As a counterpoint to such standards, the ‘hand size text block’ [3] represents a thought experiment that relates proportions and measurements to the use of organic units while composing a webpage, enhancing the relations between the screen and the presence of the body. The use of centimeters in the html / css structure, is a way to speak closer to the body measurement conventions and proportions of the human scale. The choreographic processes may employ as well improvisation and chance strategies for the purpose of developing innovative solutions, exploring an interplay between pattern, variation, and repetition. This strategy, when applied to design, allows for non-linear narration, and new ways of navigation, turning the screen into a stage for new relations and operations between elements. My thoughts on this last parameter were extended in the latest work, in which scripts define the conditions under which visualization is possible and may also be performed live.

[1] http://pzwart1.wdka.hro.nl/~jo/notebook/web_exp/one/loationmouse.html [2] scrolling as (micro-) movement feature: http://pzwart1.wdka.hro.nl/~jo/rehearsal_Feb./two/scroll-multiple2.html [3] http://pzwart1.wdka.hro.nl/~jo/notebook/hand_centimeters.html)

Live Coding: WebPage Act I, II and III

“WebPage Act I,II,III” is an assemblage of graphic experiments into a new hybrid form of composition combining principles of choreography within the formal structures of coding. Whilst in the other works the ‘choreographic code’ is being solely executed by the computer, requiring a more or less active role by the user; in this piece the ‘choreographic code’ may as well be executed by the designer, in the form of a live performance. The idea of a performance became relevant as a way to expose the compositional process that is being researched, making the relations between the abstractness of code and its manifestation in the web interface more clearly visible. The live setting became a way to both reflect on the methods and share them with a broader and more heterogeneous readership / audience. The liveness of the work, guides the audience through its creation, and helps them follow the steps both at a technical and conceptual level, meaning that the way the piece unfolds reflects the conditions of its creation: not by looking at an object but by being part of an event. This way, allowing the audience to enter an engagement with the making of the compositions while exposing and articulating the multiple dimensions of the code.

A two dimensional syntax. “In every sphere of human action, grammar is the establishment of limits defining a space of communication.” (Cox and McLean. 2012)

For this piece I created a specific grammar or vocabulary that links choreographic concepts with coding functions. The new vocabulary brings a new meaning and produces a new imaginary around the act of coding. And since in the performance I am also coding live, it allows for a more clear articulation between choreographic concept in the written code and its expression the web interface.

Bringing back the discussion of coding and decoding of scores and scripts in the First Part, it can indeed become problematic to share and make abstract structures into an understandable matter for a broader audience. Although the languages and tools for developing software are widely available, its use and comprehension nonetheless remains tight to the circle of computation and programming. [1] I started using esoteric programming languages as an attempt to overcome the abstractness of algorithmic code and simultaneously as a way to develop my own design language which derives from choreographic concepts. Esoteric programming languages, also called esolang, are used when writing software, integrating a new grammar to the existing one. Although an esolang doesn’t have a proper functionality, it is used in combination with other programming languages to explore alternative ways of composing and writing code. Another advantage of esolang, is the fact that it allows for a minimalistic set of instructions based on key terms, in these case relating to the predefined choreographic parameters from the design composition. In the ”WebPage Act I,II,III” the esolang is then the combination of choreographic concepts with programming languages, mostly web-based, such as javascript. In my code every javascript function is aims to translate a choreographic concept, which can only be visible in the browser in moment of the performance.

(an example of a script which is both computer-readable and a representation of the process of translating choreography into programming, screenshots of scripts or access to a online library)

As seen in the scripts above, choreographic thought is assigned to design qualities. A set of categories that comprehend and represent the choreographic thought then applied to the design creative process. For instance, ‘Elements of chance’ — displays in the screen a random selection of text pieces out of a given list; ‘Sequencing’ — displays an orderly a sequence of a text from a given list; ‘Set Rhythm’ — activate an auto-scrolling feature which makes the text ran up and down on the screen at a certain speed; ‘Set New stage’ — opens a new tab; ‘BlackOut’ — sets the background to black, and no element is visible; All the functions together form a new vocabulary of ‘choreographic code’, a glossary which holds the elements that will be used in the live setting.

(link to ‘glossary’ of the source code) The use of both programming and choreographic languages turns the composition structure into an exercise of code and decoding, between composers (designers) and the audience. Having the audience deciphering the choreographic code and its manifestations. The position of an active user of the interface shifts towards the one of a spectator of the interface. Her/his role becomes then to follow and interpret the unfolding of events being choreographed in the screen.

The construction of a new vocabulary in design taken from a choreographic perspective was a liberating process from a priori assumptions. Following Keersmaeker “The lack of one single asset, one logocentric system of dance-writing equivalent to western musical notation, is more an advantage than a misfortune, paving the way for singularity”, choreographing design is looking at the reinvention of two systems into one hybrid form. Counteracting the singularity of formal languages and conventions in both fields and towards “a babelization of idiosyncratic instructions” (Van Imschoot, 2005:.4). In the context of this piece, the constructed vocabulary is not a delimitable property, but instead an expanding one that follows and grows together with the dynamics of composition. Therefore it is presented the development of a new vocabulary, in which there is an expansion on the notion and definition of choreography as much as of design.


[1] As also explained by Cox and Mc lean (2012:26) abstraction takes part in the process of creating a framework to be used by specific communities, a shared understanding, a common knowledge of languages and tools, but within particular contexts. In the case of the ‘choreographic code’ for ‘The Piece’ there are two layers of vocabulary in the formation of the composition.

The live performance setting.

The performance starts with a blank webpage, followed by the opening of the web console. The screen is now divided in two stages: the ‘frontstage’, the interface a user normally acesses and the ‘backstage’ or the web console in which programming languages can be ran. In the web console the I am calling, juxtaposing and manipulating different functions from a glossary of code, while simultaneously displaying the varied outcomes of graphic elements in the screen. These functions are named after choreographic concepts, which are assigned to specific web design actions. While the computer interprets the code, the readers/ audience will be interpreting and start wondering about the relationship between the “choreographic vocabulary” of the code and its immediate outcome. (image of the screen projection - ‘web console’ on the bottom of the screen) The screen becomes an open stage, providing the audience the access to the methodology and the tools used during the performance. The performative aspect of the act of coding is a way to make more transparent the process of composition and to enhance the nuances and transient caracter of coding. In their book, Cox and McLean make this point very clear: “the practice of live coding exemplifies how the practice of coding, its writing, working and creative use, establishes an unstable relation to its output.” When the scripts are generated in real time, the choreographic decisions are taken in real time, instead of being completely predefined, as Cox and McLean mention: ‘opening up a more indeterminate and expressive space and transcending the production of simple effects or predetermined action.’ (2012: 2). This can be linked to choreography not as subordinate to pre-established systems, but as “the invention of new or unanticipated arrangements executed in the moment.” (Louppe: 2010, p.160). Because of the liveness aspect of the performance the relation between elements and its appearance can be improvised further. Indeterminism, the balance between what has been ‘written’ / determined or not ‘written’/ yet to be determined can be explored in a deeper level, revealing unexpected possibilities. This setting turns the designer into a choreographer who supplies the rhythms, the context, and the set of steps that will be performed. Even if calling functions from the same glossary, it can never be reconstructed exactly the same way, every time “The Piece” is being performed there is a construction of a new path through the code, a fluid narrative, even if in this case, a rather abstract narrative. Following the previous reflections on the Second Part related to the state of contemporary media technology. Design methods are embedded in technological apparatus and continuously mediated by various software and hardware until it reaches its final form. Therefore the relation between the composition and the outcome is inherently unstable, as it asks for a stronger sense of adaptability from my composition method and performative attitude. I also believe the “Piece” embodies such concerns by revealing the generative nature of the composition when applied to web interfaces. The fact that tools and processes are exposed makes both my method and its manifestation in the interface visible, together with the potential failures of the system.

(link to video documentation)


Post-Performance or The multiples lives of ‘WebPage I,II,III’

An important point in developing my project towards a live setting was the question of presence: being here and now. Breaking the distancing between mind/body, self/other, subject/object, designer/design piece; discovery/invention. This way, enhancing the idea of process over product: processes of becoming, becoming structures, becoming in the form of words, text, visuals, graphics. Simultaneously the actions throughout the composition process are being stored in the history of the computer, making it possible to re-create it. The flexibility of code allows for a combination of possibilities, not only for the live performance setting, but also for the use of the code itself, by other designers. Just like in any choreography that can be re-interpreted, re-created and adapted. The code serves as a generative tool for new possible outcomes in the creation of graphics for interfaces and a way of playing with the choreographic logic. Thereby this method may also promote disciplinary openness *, by sharing ideologies and methodologies, and questioning structures of collaboration and of intellectual property. The documentation is delivered in an open ended format. Following Free/Libre Open Source (Floss) models/ philosophies [1], the source code for the project ‘WebPage I,II,III’ will be available on git hub and in the form of a glossary which further explains the more conceptual dimension. [3] (link to git-hub/ online documentation) This condition leads to a more participatory approach to design thinking and use of tools. The circulation and exchange of code involves an already existing infrastructure of communication and networking that might as well serve as a channel to transmit meanings: “A piece of code is a chance for people to talk to each other” (Fuller, 2006). In the future I would be interested in exploring further questions of participation and shared construction of design compositions, which follows the traditions of coding collaborative practices. Together with the possibility of distribution and hence re-interpretation and of re-appropriation of choreographic compositions, and its multifaceted results. The notion of ‘choreographing design’ as a technical as much as sociable and cultural material could be expanded both at the level of graphic design as well at the one of choreography. [1] website for the open source definition: https://opensource.org/osd [2] website for the free software foundation: https://www.fsf.org [3] As also explained by Simon Yuill “Of all the artforms supported and enabled through FLOSS, 'livecoding' has emerged as the one which most directly embodies the key principles of FLOSS production in the creation and experience of the work itself. In livecoding the artwork is expressed in software code that is written and re-written live during its performance. Many livecoding artists write their own software tools to support this way of working.” (Yuill, 2008) - footnote 
Choreographing Design - conclusion

Choreographing design started as a cross-referencing of composition methods, with the aim to transcend the boundaries between the fields of choreography and graphic design. Transdisciplinarity becomes a key concept for this methods, as to explain the dynamic movement of crossing such boundaries and opening new fields of possibilities.

It is a proposal for a re-articulation of the two disciplines at a fundamental level: choreography and design, a co-formation of compositional and thematic concerns. A hybrid methodology that makes invisible forces (elements of choreography) appear as physical manifestations in graphic design. An assemblage of compositional and methodological matters.

Choreography as a tool for a wider conceptual, perceptual, experimental view of code for graphic design. Choreography as way to rethink space, time, and composition structures in web environments. Choreography as a rule-finding/rule-escaping practice. Choreography as an instrument for questioning the conditions, protocols and procedures of composition processes in design. Choreography as a counter-move, a counter-apparatus, force reverted.

In my research, choreography became a way reflect on the tools and processes in graphic design and to question the role of intentionality, and counter-movement in the construction of digital media spaces. How to move away from pre-choreographed environments and compose our own choreographies. I understand choreographic design not as a notation to regularize or assimilate into a single system or composition method, but as a liberating and omniscient point of view. An instrument for individual or co-creation, a possibility for self and collective expression, in constant pursue for unlimited results. Choreographing design is then a composition methodology which encompasses ideologic, technological and social dimensions.

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