SCANZ 2013: Body Imperfect

Authors: Mark Harvey, Dermott McMeel, Becca Wood, Mark Jackson, Maria O’Connor


“As we sit here at this table and try to think about what we are going to talk to you about we just can’t quite come up with something because we keep being distracted by the feeling of these uncomfortable seats, our bad air and the hot sun probing into our necks. Our bodies can’t take it. Our foolish bodies. We need some technology. Any technology. Anything that can give us a quick fix. Our bodies are so difficult for our lifestyle and our environment. What we want are perfect bodies that don’t need technological interventions. So we’ll just have to make do.” (Crunch, 2012)

Body Imperfect will explore through choreographic performance and architectural/spatial studio practices and theoretical discourse the concept of what it means to test the human body from an audience’s perspective as an imperfect albeit difficult and polluting site in relation to technology. Rather than exploring the notion of the ideal body that is so often associated with disciplines like dance modernism and prosaic spatial ergonomic posture diagrams for the ‘ideal’ use of your work environment and furniture, we will explore the audience’s embodied environment through technological interventions that might not fit within normalized Western codes of acceptability and usefulness – via ‘the foolish body’. We will explore how this can interface through technologies, both in spirit and through digital apparatuses and interventions.

Foolishness in this sense might be conceived of through the actions of Maui the trickster, and other like-minded assassins of our sensibilities as elucidated by Lewis Hyde (1999). Maui through cunning reveals the ridiculous, hidden within the so-called day-to-day and public spectacle – of for instance the ridiculousness of his brothers who mocked him before he fished up the Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui, the North Island). We posit that it is not just if Maui and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s ‘the Idiot’ (1992) go to a dance party in West Auckland, fall in love and procreate by mistake and regret it, but when we add in a mix of Frederich Nietzsche’s (1974) call to play the fool in The Gay Science (2001), Michel Foucault’s ‘techniques of the body’ (1975, 1978-1979), the ever pervasive Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s ‘bodies without organs and desiring machines’ (1972), some deodorant, some breath freshener and some bifocals so as to reconsider a sense of spatiality, the foolish body becomes a device for scrutinizing the environment, creative practice and technology.

Each panelist will offer up their current obsessions with the imperfect and body, technology and the performance environment in relation to Maui the trickster, using one or more of the above notions as a point of reflection and/or departure. We will present on the potentials that fooling around with MP3 players, and light sound and touch sensors can bring to messing with the choreographic expectations and environment of participating audience members with lighting, sound and their own somatic responses. We do not promise a pleasant journey but we aim to offer some revitalized readings and approaches on how we can interface with our corporeal identities when they are dispersed, intersected, multiplied, decentered and dematerialized by prosthetic technologies and related reflections. Questions asked by us will include what it means to play with: tensions between expectations of performance and environment and the real of the body with technology, scales of the body in relation to techno-desire, and how did we get ourselves into this mess in the first place.

Co-conveners and co-panelists: Dermott McMeel (architecture and technology researcher, School of Architecture, NICAI, The University of Auckland) and Mark Harvey (performance artist, Dance Studies NICAI, The University of Auckland)

Invited co-panelists: Becca Wood (Dance Studies, U of A), Mark Jackson (Spatial Design, AUT) and Maria O’Connor (Spatial Design, AUT). Consultant: Te Oti Rakena (School of Music, U of A/ Taranaki iwi).