Open and closed in-betweenness

In an earlier post, I talked about the idea of liminal spaces, which appears in new cross-media art forms, such as Digital Theater. The liminal space is characterized by the “in-betweenness”: it occupies the interstices separating two different planes. In the case of Digital Theater, these planes are the analog and the digital. In more plain words: the physical space of the stage and objects and bodies contained in it, and the screen space. Screen space is, however, an abstraction, a methapor: the screen as a representation of the digital, a window into the digital, algorithmic space, or a projection of the digital onto the supporting physical space.

Our perception sees the digital projecting onto the physical, trying to become part of it. But we know that they are not the same (even though some artists look for the magician’s trick, fooling the senses with a temporary illusion of a new fused, united space), and in a way they are impossible to reconcile. There is a perceptual gap or interstice that is inhabited by the dialogical exchange between the bodies and the images. The in-betweenness is not physical (after all, the pixels do exist physically as ligth being absorbed and reflected by the skin’s atoms), but dialectical and perceptual.

This situation it also has a directionality: first, sensors capture the motions and activities of the performers on the stage. Second, this information is digitalized and converted into specific data structures in the computer’s memory, amenable of algorithmic treatment. The results of these operations inside the computer are digital packets of information: pixels, audio samples, maybe discrete current pulses that control the motion of a mechanical device. Irrespective of the specific nature of the digital information, it is “projected” (here the word has a more general meaning than just light projection) back onto the original space: the stage, the performers, even the audience. In other words, the in-betwenness takes place in a closed circle. Information starts and ends in the same physical space, where the superposition of the digital and the analog (and its impossible reconciliation) creates the dialogical interface between the two:

closed-inbetween

How this idea of the space in between translates in the context of live cinema? The live situation, as in the Digital Theater, provides the physical layer that is part of the audiences’ perception. But the interaction with the digital is diferent. In a first instance, there might not be interaction at all: the screen space is completely dettached from the physical space. The projected content comes exclusively from the information stored inside the computer: video, audio, generative graphics, etc. There is no dialog between the (actual) analog and the digital, except inside the performer’s head, where the mental process of live operation takes place.

A second instance introduces a digitalization of physical objects, contraptions, machines (performance devices). A very straightforward digitalization: a live camera capture of these performance devices or contraptions. They move, change, react, autonomously or controlled by the performer. They constitute a micro-stage, and then the cinematographic, planar, screen shows them, perhaps mixed with other elements. However, the micro-stage is not hidden from the audience. This is not a minor point, in fact it is central to the appearance of a new gap, a new divide, a new liminal space. This time, the perception is disjointed: the physical objects on one side, their digitalized projection on the other. Now the in-betwenness occurs physically as well as perceptually. We are in front of an open arc, where the original space and the screen space are different:

open-inbetween

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