Dancer, choreographer and product designer Laurel Lawson’s primer on tactile technology innovations and new possibilities for access to dance
I. “Disability is an art.” — Neil Marcus
The history of dance and disability is complicated.
Here I refer to disability as identity, personal and political practice. This is separate from the medical model, which uses disability as a means-tested blanket term, and the social model, which examines the whole body and ignores the individual.
Disabled artists will always exist, but until recently the trend to view disability as an important context rather than a debilitating one has been largely non-existent. have emerged, but are often loosely tied together by the need for shared access. I’m struggling with the concept.
Our community is one of our sources of strength. As difficult as it is often, the work of integrating different minds and bodies requires the practice of decentralization. That is, the conscious realization that the way we are and how we feel is not the only way, and that there is no best way. Disability is an identity that encompasses us no matter how differently we exist in the world. Justice requires a shared commitment to bridge our radically different ways of being.
Multiple and diverse experiences of disability provide a fertile ground for artistry. What can we create when we eccentric the inherently limited tastes of individuals? What should we choreograph when we value each new embodiment that comes into the room? See? The experience of em(mind)bodiment differences and diversity is largely unique to disabled people. It therefore claims an infinite variety of artistic achievements.
II.reach out and touch someone
Visually experiencing performance is built into the English language. We “go see the show”. We sit on stage and watch the performers on stage. We are happy with the clarity of our respective roles and social scripts. Yet there is a tension between the passivity of seeing and the goals of the artist’s communication and interaction. Great art should transform everyone involved.
Dance primarily communicates through movement. Both big movements like thrilling lifts and dramatic falls, and small movements like emotional nuances like head turns and finger bends. Dancers spend thousands of hours training and communicate precisely through this body language. It then further augments the performer’s body with various technologies that create immersive and spectacular effects. Examples include her wearable technology, such as her ballet dancer’s pointe shoes and her aerialist’s unitard, and her environmental technology, such as lighting, projection, music, and sound effects. Do these look low tech? Behind the scenes, everything from a single laptop to her rack of backstage servers is controlled by carefully programmed software her queues and hardware. The hour or two we enjoy is just the tip of the infrastructure iceberg.
Yet these widely used technologies address only two perceptual channels: visual and auditory. Critics of ocularism remind us that vision is our perception of reflected light. It separates the perception of things from the things themselves and creates objectification. There is safety in this perceptual, physical and psychological distance. Dance is a kinesthetic art, most directly communicated through taking movements. To reduce detachment, we need to turn to another sense: touch.
Touch is the most universal of our senses and the most biologically necessary. Our skin has many forms of perception, with complex and individual sensitivities to where and how the body is touched. Kinesthetic and proprioceptive are the most true senses of dance. It is the perception of our body in relation to our body and the space around us. Touch is devastatingly intimate and a direct form of knowing. Those who are close enough to touch us may be threats or lovers. How can art reach out and touch us?
III. Haptic Technology
Haptic feedback is well known. It’s a small vibration that your phone rewards for your interaction. It’s fast, effective, and almost unnoticeable except for a quick hit of dopamine. Touch is not exactly the same thing as touch. In particular, it has to do with object perception. These perceptions can be manipulated by altering skin and muscle responses using vibrations and electricity. You can imagine changing the shape and texture of physical objects, creating objects that don’t physically exist, and transforming ideas into something you can feel.
Towards a practical approach, haptics can be imagined as the intersection of touch and sound.After all, sound is our perception of vibrations in the air.Using technology to augment a performer’s body can increase receptive capacity. If you’re sitting on stage, you might feel the vibration of the soundtrack coming from your speakers, or secondary effects like when a dancer lands on the floor. How can you imagine a dance experience made to be felt?
IV. Hands-on experiments
This is where my own quest began. Having experienced many types of vibration-based therapy, I know first-hand how precisely tuned vibrations and tiny electrical blasts can trick the mind and body into perceiving intangible objects and imaginary movements. I wanted to explore his three ideas. Direct interpretation of sound. proprioceptive translation; conveying complex and abstract ideas;
VibraFusionLab is based in Hamilton, just 45 minutes west of Toronto. Founded by deaf artist David Bobier, the company is one of the leaders in the field in developing new devices for recording and transmitting touch-based content. I met David at a gathering of international access technology leaders.Through the screen, his snowy beard and twinkling brown eyes made him look like a mischievous, endlessly curious wizard. Vibrafusion’s project involves devices held or worn by each audience member through human-scale constructions that can play back recorded content and interpret body movements on the fly from the device worn by the artist. will be
I put together a simple implementation of Kinetic Light under the guidance of Vibrafusion. Wired (2022), Barbed Wire Aerial Meditation was created and performed by a disabled artist. The audience has a strand of wire that carries the show’s soundtrack in vibrational interpretation. The music was vibration compatible. Half of it was created by a deaf composer and half by a disabled composer with his sounds and rhythms layered. The result is an impressive and artistic communication experience.
Kinetic Light is a cross-disciplinary art company that advocates practice for many entry points to our work. Audiences can combine this haptic experience with watching the stage and listening to multi-track audio commentary delivered through the Audimance app.first tested Wired At its premieres in Chicago and New York, the technology proved so popular and powerful that it was quickly adopted by other shows. Still, this is just the beginning (lightly) of the possibilities of this new medium.
V. CENTERING THE JOY OF THE DISABLED
Making art that values and centers disability knowledge and joy means centering people with direct experience. We can find leadership in contact media in deafblind practice. Created by the DeafBlind community, Protactile is the language of the skin, perceived through touch, pressure and proprioception. This differs from tactile ASL (American Sign Language), which attempts to use touch and various forms of tactile feedback to transform her visual-centric ASL into a non-visual form. Protactile was born out of a personal and cultural need for direct experience, connection and communication.
Meaning does not develop in a vacuum. We interpret language and art based on our cultural context and tailor our understanding according to the medium of experience. Haptic and other touch-centric systems often use multiple interpreters to convey complex meaning and rich aesthetic experiences. A small swarm of people, self-organizing cells, is formed in space that blurs the line between artist, interpreter and audience. This could suggest challenges for larger audiences and smaller venues. This is exactly where disability-centric technology can serve as a way to extend and amplify our artistic intentions. can you?
When access is separated from art-making and experiential practice, it is easy to fall into a worldview where access is finite and scarce. Given that all forms of experience are equally valid, it is clear that access is part of the creative process and that both artist and audience are necessary collaborators in performance. Technique and technology are exciting and direct ways for dance and movement artists to share their work across bodies and media. Whether it’s literal like a shared proprioceptive encounter, physical, creative and augmented reality.