Edify‘s conversation with performing artist, erψn temp3st:
How did you start this work?
This work originally was developed in a residency. I think it was in 2021, in the summertime, and it was initially presented as a performance with a bunch of these tech elements, or multimedia elements. And then last summer, I presented it as a multimedia installation at the Lowlands gallery. This time round, I’m bringing it back into the world of performance.
What made you want to mix dance with technology to make it kind of sci-fi?
I’m from Edmonton originally, but I have a degree in choreography from Concordia University in Montreal, and, previous to the pandemic, I was living in Montreal, developing and doing work there. And then, like a lot of artists, I moved home during the pandemic. And I think with the pandemic, coupled with some other stuff, my work really began to shift toward exploring different disciplines. And everything was online and video became really present in everyone’s lives. I sort of tried to get a jump on that as well and move into that territory.
In terms of science fiction, that’s kind of a catch-all word that I can use to sort of like, easily depict some of the visual language in Parallax. But I love science fiction. I love how that genre leaves so much space for representation of different ways of being alive and different formations that bodies can take — in terms of the cyborg, but also creatures from other planets, or just sort of speculative fiction about different ways that human beings could be embodied or a future human being that’s embodied differently from ourselves now. And I think that bringing in elements of science fiction sort of helped me to access that thinking.
It doesn’t sound like you’re a futuristic doomsayer, and that you may even welcome our future cyborg overlords.
I mean, I’m cautious about that because it’s not looking good (laughs). But what I’m trying to do is recognize the fact that the tools that we use in our lives ultimately do shape our bodies and shape what we do with our bodies and how we reflect upon our bodies, and our experience walking around this planet as embodied beings. I don’t think that I’m necessarily trying to present an opinion about it. The work is not critical in that respect. And it’s not super futuristic — I use CRT televisions, it’s actually older technology that intervenes the image of the body, in a television or on a projection surface. It’s using this technological multimedia intervention to kind of frame the performance.
The fundamental and foundational aspect of my research was along the lines of glitch, which is really interesting in general, but I’m really interested in glitch as this thing that happens that gives us access to the materiality of the thing. And because I come from dance, my thing is like, the bodies of things, the materiality of things and the movement of things. So as a dancer and choreographer, I’m trying to approach, you know, the CRT televisions, the hanging plastic insulation that I use as a projection surface, in terms of their materiality and their physicality and their “bodies.”
When you’re using the word glitch, do you mean when the technology literally glitches or is that a more like philosophical concept that I’m not familiar with?
It’s both of those things, and its own art genre. The glitch is a way to disrupt the image so that we remember the body of the thing. When I look at Instagram, when I look at all these really high-definition images and videos we have access to, it’s this really seamless, slick version of reality that’s sort of being presented to us. And I’m not really interested in that. I’m interested in the place where that is disrupted, the place where that kind of breaks apart in some kind of a way. So that we are reminded that I’m not looking at a video, I’m looking at an MP4. I’m not looking at this image of someone dancing, I’m looking at a screen. And to kind of disrupt the process through which we frequently fall into the content that we’re watching. And just finding ways to bring the viewer back to their own bodies. And I find that the place where things break down visually, as well as materially, is a rich place to kind of create from.
But it’s also this idea, philosophically, of glitching what is expected out of maybe a dance performance or a gender performance, and sort of breaking those cultural or those social societal binaries. For me, it’s really just about making that breaking point, or seeking that that breaking point, in the interest opening up new possibilities for thinking about the body.
And then this creates these artifacts in the actual body of the file. It’s like corrupting the data so that you’re not able to fall entirely into the the image, because something about the body of the file has been sort of altered or distorted in some way that brings you back into touch with the fact that you’re looking at this MP4, or this JPEG, and it sort of breaks the spell.
You use a lot of cool words to describe the show. I’d like to hear your definition of a few of them, starting with “futurology.”
When I think about futurology, I’m thinking about, again, this idea of the cyborg, but in terms of the cybernetic organism, which is conceivably us now, even when we use contact lenses, or pacemakers, or our phones. And I think it’s this idea that the machines that we engage with in our lives, those things shape how we’re able to move through the world. And I’m really suspending the idea that there’s a bad sort of thing coming for us with technology — I don’t entirely disagree with that premise, but for this work I’m just choosing to view it more in terms of how it could help us to reimagine ourselves.
So with all this futuristic-cyborg-techie stuff, how do you get to this other cool term, mycology, which if I’m not mistaken is the very natural study of fungi?
So mushrooms are another one of my little loves, and I think mycelium is so beautiful and interesting — the mushrooms are the fruiting body of the mycelium, and the mycelium is the thing that’s really alive, that grows under the earth and facilitates a lot of communication between plants and trees and the exchange of nutrients.
So it’s a really cool thing. And I think what was so compelling to me about fungi and mycelium is I read this book that called fungi “an organism of an indeterminate form.” So it’s an organism can take any shape, any size, and it’s effectively immortal unless it’s killed by environmental toxins or drought or things like that. And it’s ubiquitous on the planet. It’s everywhere. It’s inside of us, it’s in the soil, it’s in our houses, it’s in the air. And I think my first sort of link with fungi and mycology is to use this idea of like, well, what if I thought of my body less in terms of the boundaries of my body, and more in terms of the mycelium inside me or the bacteria and all of the other things that are making quite a large percentage of my body? Just use it as like a metaphor to think about my body as something that could be sort of transforming, and to not be limited to the shape of a person. I think everyone would probably agree that actually the experience of being a human being is very messy, it can be very chaotic, like it doesn’t feel like the shape of a form, it feels like a whole world. And I think in this way, like mycelium, and the idea of an indeterminate form, I’m getting closer to that experience.
Wow, that’s making me want to research mycelium.
You should — it’s a trip! Look up Terence McKenna, who’s a wacky dude from the ‘60s. He has this amazing quote, where he talks about, if there was life on other planets with really advanced technology who could take any form, that it would be wise for them to take the form of a mushroom spore, because it can travel through outer space, it has resistance to radiation, it can grow and have all these little fruiting bodies. He says it much better, but it’s a really beautiful idea of mushrooms being almost alien.
So then there’s the title of your work, Parallax, which at first I thought was just a cool word you made up but actually means “the apparent movement of objects when viewed from different positions.” The example given was: When you’re driving down a highway, the light posts fly by but the trees in the field go slow.
I think “parallax” is a pretty special word, because it has this astronomical kind of context, and for me, there’s something about this work that feels celestial. It feels like as a performer inside this installation, I’m very cut off from the audience. I don’t actually have any moments where I’m revealed in my flesh form to the audience, it’s all through the televisions and cameras and projections and things like this. One initial idea was kind of being isolated inside of this capsule that I’ve created, with the audience’s only access to me being through the visual representation on the outside of the capsule. And that for me feels kind of like space travel vibes.
And in the work, I’m really trying to skewer perspective in a way that gives a different sort of vantage point on the body. And I hope it forces the audience to kind of reconsider at least my body, but hopefully their own bodies too, through watching the work.
Make Parallax part of your future April 13 – 15, at Mile Zero Dance.