ECODATA and A/I (artistic intelligence): Opening Performance by the Digital Dramaturgy Labsquared(Toronto)

Rattling the Curve – Paradoxical ECODATA performances of A/I and facial recognitions of humans and trees

Project description
A group of more than 15 artists, scholars, and scientists with cultural roots in several continents (North America and Turtle Island, Central America, Asia, Africa, Europe) and across many time zones embarked on this adventure of alternative praxis between May and October 2020. The desire? Rattling the curve.
What emerged as the pattern of artistic intelligence, emotional survival and digital performance dramaturgy was that of a k/caleidoscopic imagination, where multiple fragments reflect and bounce off of each other, while still creating a space of multiplicity and coherent connection.
The project evolves around questions of imaging and imagining technologies, investigated by a group of multi-disciplinary, multi-lingual and multi-cultural creators from the arts and sciences. The first – imaging – is closely related to disruptions of artificial intelligence, the latter – imagining -is grounded in techniques of artistic intelligence. What is intelligence? What is ethics of intelligence? What is the politics of bias in A/I and AI? We propose an experimental and performative project to find out more.

As a result of live prototyping and creation online across multiple time zones, outdoors and at home, a k/caleidoscopic performance emerged. Mathematicians, engaged in computational complexity theory, have applied k/caleidoscopic dramaturgy just recently. “The goal (and peculiarity) of the Caleidoscope school is to reunite in a single event as many different takes on computational complexity as can reasonably be fit in one week.”
We, however, will attempt to share a live-stream performance on the complexity of A/I or artistic intelligence with you in under ONE HOUR. And this statement has to be taken with the pinch of a RED NOSE, of course.

Originally we planned to build a live and participatory performance around a 1870s plate camera as a central actor along with audience-actors, creating and collecting live eco/bio data and facial recognition while processing performance and images. How do images and imagination relate? How does radical slowness impact perception, sensorial processing and creative (re)cognition? What is the dynamic between A/I (artistic intelligence) and AI (artificial intelligence)? What is the materiality of this reality?
Then the global pandemic hit the planet, continuously producing visualizations of the curve.
We embraced the challenge, experimenting and prototyping possibilities of live performance in social distancing mode both in creation and presentation. We worked a lot outdoors, in our homes or online. While busy with “flattening the curve” and a new appreciated for data visualization in the form of daily changing graphs, we were also RATTLING THE CURVE.

Paradox 1: Why do we make square images with circular lenses? What are frames (of reference, of thought, of deceit, of history, of politics, of economics)?
Paradox 2: Insisting on human togetherness in physical spaces, how to abandon this key desire and build a trans-media performance that has to be flattened and robbed of its thought to be critical dimensions?
Paradox 3: Can we trust our perception of the world, our ECODATA input and output, when our sensory apparatus makes us perceive things that do not exist (like color or inverted image direction) but still potentially secures our species’ survival through such performances of fabrication?

Our project is situated in discourses and technological disruptions related to questions of intelligence. How is A/I or artistic intelligence offering a creative and playful question mark to the claimed certainties and doubtful promises of AI or artificial intelligence? How are ARTifice, ARTistic and ARTificial related? What’s intelligent about it? What is the relationship between art and craft and scientific art? How can we find out more in the self-reflecting process of making a multi-modal, multi-sensory live performance?
What if augmented trees and sand (cardboard box of a camera obscura or wooden constructions of historical plate cameras and reconstructions of the laterna magica, sand melt to glass/lenses) make imaginations/ facial recognitions of humans and trees? How are we activating techniques of collective artistic intelligence when making/facing problems? How do we perform live/ life when all physical spaces of gathering are closed down and bodies are in physical distancing mode?
Just as the human eye perceives of the world as upside down and its ECODATA must be augmented by an evolutionary trick of human brains – that takes the raw, inverted visual/photonic data and turns it into a coherent, right-side-up image – we are struggling to create a live performance – meant for a shared four-dimensional space-time of human and non-human bodies – into its paradoxical other on flattened surfaces (monitors, projection surfaces) existing on the internet. How? We will make these discoveries on our journey while rattling the curve.

The project website
The project video trailer

Creative Team
Candy Blair, (Turtle Island, Canada) – dancer, choreograph
Antje Budde, (Canada, Germany) – artistic research director, digital dramaturg, media creator, performer, producer
Jill Carter, (Turtle Island, Canada) – land-based dramaturg, artistic director, performer
Felipe Cervera, (Singapore, Mexico) – media generating cyclist and performer
Lars Crosby, (Germany) – music and sound composer, performer
Nina Czegledy (Canada, Hungary) – media creator and human connector
Astad Deboo (India) – dancer, choreograph
Martin Kulinna (Germany) – plate camera photographer
Amit Kumar (India) – videographer (for Astad Deboo)
Montgomery C. Martin (Canada) – magic lantern printer, performer
Karyn McCallum (Canada) – virtual space and interaction designer, drawing artist
DDL2 Oracle (WorldWideWeb)
Marta Orellana (Turtle Island, Canada) – costume designer (for Candy Blair)
George Bwanika Seremba (Canada, Uganda) – actor
Don Sinclair (Canada) – computational artist, interactive virtual space designer, performer
Heike Sommer (Germany) – videographer for Martin Kulinna
Grace Whiskin (Singapore, UK) – sign language performer
Vicki Zhang (Canada, China) – AI ethics consultant

Assistants (May-June 2020)
Sanja Vodovnik, (Slovenia) doctoral candidate
Yizhou Zhang, (China) MA student

Antje Budde is a conceptual, queer-feminist, interdisciplinary experimental scholar-artist and Associate Professor of Theatre Sciences, Cultural Communication and Modern Chinese Studies at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Toronto. Antje has created multi-disciplinary process-based research creations in Germany, China and Canada and works tri-lingually in German, English and Mandarin. She is the founder of a number of queerly feminist performing art projects including most recently the DDL2 or Digital Dramaturgy Labsquared – a platform for experimental explorations of A/I or artistic intelligence, digital culture, creative labour, integration of arts and science, and technology in performance. She is interested in the intersections of natural sciences, the arts, engineering and computer science. Major principles of her work are radical slowness, togetherness, playful doubt and critical laughter.

Candy Blair/Otsίkh:èta (they/them)(Tkaron:to/Toronto) is a mixed First Nations/European, 2 – spirit interdisciplinary visual and performing artist from Tio’tía:ke – where the group split (“Montreal”) – in Québec. While continuing their work as an artist they also finished their Creative Arts, Literature, and Languages program at Marianopolis College (cégep), their 1st year in the Theatre program at York University, and their 3rd year Acting Conservatory Program at the Centre For Indigenous Theatre in Tsí Tkaròn:to – Where the trees stand in water (“Toronto”).

Some of Candy’s noteable performances are Jill Carter’s Encounters at the Edge of the Woods, exploring a range of issues with colonization; Ange Loft’s project Talking Treaties, discussing the treaties of the “Toronto” purchase; Cheri Maracle’s The Story of Six Nations, exploring Six Nation’s origin story through dance/combat choreography, and several other performances, exploring various topics around Indigenous language, land, and cultural restoration through various mediums such as dance, modelling, painting, theatre, directing, song, etc.

As an activist and soon to be entrepreneur, Candy also enjoys teaching workshops around promoting Indigenous resurgence such as Indigenous hand drumming, food sovereignty, beading, medicine knowledge, etc.. Working with their collectives like Weave and Mend, they were responsible for the design, land purification, and installation process of the four medicine plots and a community space with their 3 other members. Candy aspires to continue exploring ways of decolonization through healthy traditional practices from their mixed background and the arts in the hopes of eventually supporting Indigenous relations worldwide.

Jill Carter (Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi) theatre practitioner and researcher is cross – appointed to the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies; the Transitional Year Programme; and Indigenous Studies, University of Toronto. She works with Tkaron:to’s Indigenous theatre community supporting the development of new works and disseminating artistic objectives, process, and outcomes through community-driven projects. Her scholarly research, creative projects, and activism are built upon on-going relationships with Indigenous Elders, Artists and Activists, positioning her as witness to Indigenous aesthetic principles and traditional knowledge systems to contemporary performance, revolving around the mechanics of story creation, the processes of delivery and the manufacture of affect. Jill directed Encounters at the Edge of the Woods (2019) featuring Indigenous and Settler voices, at Hart House Theatre.

Felipe Cervera is a theatre-maker, writer, lecturer in Theatre at LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, and affiliated graduate faculty at the Centre for Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies, University of Toronto. At LASALLE, he chairs the Committee for Online and Digital Learning. His research interests are the interplays between performance, science, and technology and collaborative academia. Felipe is interested in definitions and practices of authoring, authorship, and authority, and has published widely on these topics. From 2015- 2018, he was a founding member of PSi's Future Advisory Board. He currently participates in the 2021 Conference Steering Committee in Rijeka, Croatia. A regular contributor to public forums about theatre and performance, Felipe serves as co-editor of Global Performance Studies and as associate editor of Performance Research.

Lars Crosby a multidisciplinary experimental artist who plays various media and micro instruments and has created soundtracks for a wide variety of productions. His work is influenced by experimental by the performance-based and activist network of Open Space Performunion (Berlin) to which he feels connected.

In the 1990s his sound research focused primarily on the harmonium and home organ as well as the the Cytra. All of these in addition to electronic instruments and processes and various rythmic microinstruments characterize his current compositions and sound arrangements. He is experienced with field recording and microphony.

An experimental musician and dancer – one of his basic methods is Butoh and Experimental Theatre (inspired by NYC’s The Living Theatre). His preferred techniques of artistic processing are a synthesis of cut-up, looping and transcription.

Nina Czegledy is and independent media artist, curator, and academic researcher based in Toronto, Canada. Czegledy collaborates internationally on art& science& technology projects. Recent projects: Agents for Change/ Facing the Anthropocene (2020) The Museum, Canada; Who’s you? (2019) Reid Gallery, New Zealand; Leonardo 50th, CyberArts ARS Electronica (2018), Upcoming: Senses, Contemporary Art Centre Laznia (2021) Poland, A light footprint in the Cosmos Centre, Centre A & OR Gallery, Vancouver (2022). She has published widely, participated and led international forums, workshops. Adjunct Professor, OCAD University; Senior Fellow, KMDI, University of Toronto; Research Collaborator, Hexagram, Montreal; Board Member Leonardo/ISAST; Researcher, Noea, Italy, Chair, Intercreate org New Zealand.

Astad Deboo is a contemporary dancer and choreographer who employs his training in Indian classical dance forms of Kathak as well as Kathakali to create a dance form that is unique to him. He has become a pioneer of modern dance in India. Astad describes his style as “contemporary in vocabulary and traditional in restraints.”

Throughout his long and illustrious career, he has worked with various prominent performers such as Pina Bausch, Alison Becker Chase and Pink Floyd and performed in many parts of the world. He has been awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1996) and Padma Shri (2007), awarded by the Government of India. In January 2005 along with 12 young women with hearing impairment supported by the Astad Deboo Dance Foundation, he performed at the 20th Annual Deaf Olympics at Melbourne, Australia. Astad has a long record of working with disadvantaged youth.

Martin Kulinna works with analogue black and white photography. Since 1990 he travelled the world, camera in hand. On his trips to Romania he documented ancient traditions of mask festivals. Between 1995-2008 Martin worked with Antje Budde in their artist-run collective “SCHLEIFSPUR” producing exhibitions and multi-media installations focusing on cross-cultural exchange and understanding. In 2007 he founded his not-for profit foundation Photography Black&White. He has produced a number of photo books, exhibitions, edited collections centred on intersections between cultures in flux and analogue b & w photography as a cultural technology of documentation, observation and memory. Most recently, 2020, he discovered the potential of media archaeology and is experimenting with a 1870s plate camera.

Montgomery C. Martin is a digital media artist specializing in projection design, interactive performance, and live-streaming. Monty is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto; a technician and writer for Troika Tronix (creators of the Isadora software); and co-hosts Dungeon Dudes, a YouTube-based web series about table-top roleplaying games. Recent projection design projects: Moro and Jasp in Stupefaction (Kabin and U.N.I.T Productions 2017), Riverboat Coffee House: The Yorkville Scene (Soulpepper 2017); A Moveable Feast: Paris in the 1920s(Soulpepper2018); Out the Window (Luminato 2018) Rose (Soulpepper2019),The Virgin Trials (Soulpepper 2019), Hook Up(Tapestry Opera&Theatre Passe Muraille 2019).

Karyn McCallum, theatre artist, is involved with set, costume and projection design. Her practice varies depending on her collaborations. Her stage sets have ranged from devised, design driven works to historical environments to costumes. Projected and moving images image have always been a part of Karyn’s practice from overhead projectors to shadows and slide carousels. Her work continues between analogue and highly digital environments; sometimes working with the way performers interact with light or other times telling story through the movement and colour through costume. Karyn has worked in professional theatre as a designer and scenic artist throughout Canada as well as in England. She is an Assistant Professor at the Fountain School of Performing Arts at Dalhousie University, Halifax.

George Bwanika Seremba, actor, playwright and scholar. He was born in Uganda. George holds an M. Phil, and a Ph.D. in Theatre Studies, from Trinity College Dublin. In 1980, having barely survived a botched execution by the Military Intelligence, he fled into exile, resettling in Canada (1983). He has performed in numerous plays including in his own, “Come Good Rain”, which was awarded a Dora award (1993). In addition, he published a number of edited play collections including “Beyond the pale: dramatic writing from First Nations writers & writers of colour” co-edited by Yvette Nolan, Betty Quan, George Bwanika Seremba. (1996)

George was nominated for the Irish Times’ Best Actor award in Dublin’s Calypso Theatre’s for his role in Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold and the boys”. In addition to theatre he performed in several movies and on television. His doctoral thesis (2008) entitled “Robert Serumaga and the Golden Age of Uganda’s Theatre (1968-1978): (Solipsism, Activism, Innovation)” will be published as a monograph by CSP (U.K) in 2021.

Don Sinclair is Associate Professor in the Department of Computational Arts at York University in Toronto, Canada. His creative research areas include interactive performance, mediated performance, projections for dance, sound art, web and data art, cycling art, sustainability, and choral singing most often using code and programming.  Don is particularly interested in processes of artistic creation that integrate digital creative coding-based practices with performance in dance and theatre. To help understand these relationships, Don has participated in a number of dance workshops to complement his background in computational arts. As well, he is an enthusiastic cyclist who will most likely exceed riding 500,000 km in his lifetime.

Heike Sommer (Neubrandenburg, Germany) is a well-experienced local journalist and photographer. She has been working for many years with Antje Budde in their artist-run collective “SCHLEIFSPUR. – Büro für ungehobelte Ansichten” (often with Martin Kulinna and others) and produced exhibitions and multi-media installations between 1995-2008 with a particular focus on cross-cultural exchange and understanding.
In 2007 she joined the not-for profit foundation for black and white photography in pursuit of preserving analogue techniques of image making and has travelled widely in search for beauty in life, fellow humans and black and white photography. Apart from her work as professional journalist, she has also been running the Yoga school SOFI (Hatha Yoga) since 2004.

Grace Whiskin (Singapore) works in the world of data, AI, and machine learning. She has backgrounds in both education and performance and uses this to constantly question how these many worlds overlap. Grace has been performing since she was 4 years old and started teaching drama at 14. Her interest in education is particularly surrounding how individuals with special educational needs can be best be supported and encouraged to flourish. She conducted an in-depth research project on how play in drama can assist in teaching children on the Autism Spectrum vital social skills.

Vicki Zhang is a faculty member at University of Toronto’s statistics department. She is the author of Uncalculated Risks (Canadian Scholar’s Press, 2014). She is also a playwright, whose plays have been produced or stage read in various festivals and venues in Canada including Toronto’s New Ideas Festival, Winnipeg’s FemFest, Hamilton Fringe Festival, Ergo Pink Fest, InspiraTO festival, Toronto’s Festival of Original Theatre (FOOT), Asper Center for Theatre and Film, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO), and the Canadian Play Thing. She has also written essays and short fiction for Rookie Magazine and Theread.