Tools that Propel – how to embody the knowledge of the practice within the thesis?

Date: 13th March 2021

Many people often ask me what my PhD is about – a fair question since it’s taken up the last four years of my life on and off! (And still does…) But it’s a question that I find ridiculously difficult to answer. I know it, in my head, of course, in some kind of tangled, rich, constantly shifting mess – one that keeps me interested and has opened up my thinking in many other interrelated areas…in particular to do with our agential entanglement, as humans, not just with technology but with all of the non-human world. Anyway, as I am repeatedly reminded by supervisors, the work of a PhD is about ‘writing up’ that thinking, research and in my case and that of many other artists, in practice. I have put ‘writing up’ in inverted commas to indicate here that for me this is not just about producing a written text but some kind of performance text that embodies the knowledge within my research, something that became harder with the Covid pandemic and the sudden disappearance of the opportunity to show the work live. 

So, I’ve been experimenting with how to submit my practice as part of my thesis and made this video. It was a test to see how to get the particular knowledge embodied (and emergent) within the dancers who improvise with Tools that Propel, the choreographic system and digital installation that Adam Russell and I co-developed, into the heart of the thesis…and how to engage people with what they are seeing when they watch the videos outputted by the system during an improvisation with it.  

On the left of the screen we see the dancer’s movements in the studio and the tracking of her joints (just six joint positions); on the right, we see the projection that she sees when she is improvising, which includes her real-time movement and also her movements from the past which the system ‘thinks’ she is currently doing.

The dancer in this video is the magnificent Maria Evans. The voices are those of some of the dancers – Yi Xuan Kwek, Maria Evans, Brandon Holloway, Becca Moss, Holly Jones, Keir Clyne and Sofie Hub Nielson – who used the system over a number of days in some of the earlier stages of my research. (Some of them continued with me for over two years after this…but that is for other videos…and the photos around various pages of this website.)

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