Electric Thots pt. I
Sometime in November 2017
Sometime in the summer of 2016 I went to Saaya Woolfalk’s ChimaTek performance/installation as part of the River to River Festival in Brooklyn New York. ChimaTEK in that iteration wuz a station of some sort where people of this world could interact with the fictional world Woolfalk had created. In order to create this station Woolfalk collaborated with performance artists and an app creator. The app audiences were invited to download superimposed literal artificial accoutrements onto the bodies of the performers in live performance. I was like “um my destiny is here”. Aslo because a lot of the design features and dance vocabularies resembled African diasporic traditions and it was too much resonance for me amirite.
Anyway needless to say this experience stuck w me 5ever and has recently resurfaced as i was reading “Electric Dream”; a play written by Amherst College student William Denzel Wood. The play takes place in “an unspecified number of years after 2037”. In it, a couple has invented what they call “Cyberverse” a digital world parallel to our own to which you can upload a scan of your personality via the “soul-scanning” technology that the couple also pioneered. The project is decidedly aimed at erasing physical differences. So in Cyberverse, you lose your race, weight, age body mass and so forth.
As part of my job, I get to design costumes for this piece. And I’ve been forced to think about what it would mean for folks in Cyberverse… What does the personality look like? What does anyone look like without their distinct physical charactersitics? Which inspires in me two distinct sentiments:
depictted above r inner feelings of turmoil, confucian, and fatigue associated with trying to think of the literal impossible
& the other feeling:
depicted above r the feelings of excitement, cunning and burgeoning imagination associated with trying to think of the literal impossible.
My first question was what does Cyberverse do to the body visually? Well, for the creators, Paul and Rosemary Mikado, it gives humanity the opportunity to escape the limits of the body. One of those limits is difference, which they both seen as the core of all conflict. It renders the body obsolete, invisible. There’s a limit to how invisible I can make the body, because the changes between the real world and Cyberverse happen instantaneously on stage and because bodies are essential points of connection for audience members. I can hint at the disappearing body though. Obscuring the body is the task I’m charged with. We must find someway to visually render characters bodyless.
I’m thinking rn of two ways that people do this. Some designers abstract or even erase the lines of the body in their designs. In my preliminary research I’ve found a few examples like Lisbeth Antoine’s KTZ X works. In these, only the face remains, and perhaps the feet, that suggest the entity beneath is, in fact a human body.
Sometimes folks go in the opposite direction, staying completely faithful to the line of the body. The sleek, bareness of these kinds of designs, like those in the motion picture The Fifth Element, have been used time and time again when people imagine what future fashion looks like. Alexander McQueen, in his 1999 collection for Givenchy did followed the body, with close-fitting, designs, whose patterns transplanted the lines of the circuit board to the canvas of the body. These designs illustrate how the body can be rendered anonymous by close-fitting costumes, and how the body can be rendered other by transplanting technology onto it.
Woolfalk’s designs for her work at the Brooklyn ChimaTEK performance went a step further. In it, the technology used obscured the body in virtual reality. So the body transformed in the virtual space.
All this is to say that virtual reality might be the way we could as a team approach the challenge. To represent the difgital self, we need to engage the digital space. The form would reflect the content and all that jazz.
Recognizing the luxury of dreaming big my big idea is to design garments that, have augmented digital elements in the virtual space. The garments would appear fairly quotidian in the real world action of the play and then, when the characters go to Cyberverse, audience members view the characters through their smartphones which read the garments and superimpose the design elements onto the bodies on their screens in real time.
Imma take this to Denzel see what he says.
later in November 2017
Here is why my previous idea won’t work
- it assumes all audience members have smartphones (inherently classist and exclusionary
- we can’t buy every audience member a smartphone
- who finna design that app that reads garments and superimposes design elements onto bodies in real time in the virtual space?
- who finna buy that app if we can’t design it?
- who has the time 👀👀👀
So ya, we’re gonna have to find something else.
and thus begins the scaling down process
Later in November even 2017
so ur boy has been finding some images and putting them on my pinterest for the show. Which ur welcome to follow. There’s my personal one and the one i share with the director and set deisnger of the piece Lauren Thompson.
realized the other day that i havent had conversations with my set/lighting designer yet nor have I had a conversation with them together yet, so kind of slacking tbh – I hadn’t even been looking at the pinterest yet; there was a show I was doing and another one that snuck up on me that i now have to design in two weeks one of them being over our thanksgiving “break” so im a little pissed. Will keep you up to date on progress.
late late late November 2017
“HeLa HeLa HeLa, Henrietta Lacks, the longest living human, not her form, in their form, copyrighted her life, they stole her being, they owned her livelihood, bred her like stock like they bred her ancestors, over and over, the eternal lineage of HeLa, every cancer treatment is stained with her presence, every lab is smeared with her being, every petri dish bleeds of her sacrifice. Helena Sacks, Eugenics, MKULTRA, Agent Orange, AIDS crisis, Unit 731, Buchenwald, Tuskegee Syphilis experiments, Conversion therapy, Nuclear fallout, Chemo, Flint, we are HeLa, we are HeLa, we are HeLa, we are HeLa…” – Blinix, Electric Dream by Denzel Wood.