On a muggy Saturday afternoon, a crowd of modern dancers in tie-dye shirts, clown-glam costume wearers, bemused children, art-aware observers, and curious members of the general public gathered on the parade ground of Governors Island. As the assembled mob grew, a tweet was read aloud, a command: “Prancercise meets Pina Bausch then fast forward yoga alternating with slo-mo dog panting.”
In response, Lauren Alzamora, a professional dancer, launched into an energetic performance — enacting a mish-mashed set of dance-aerobics and emotion-induced stumbles characteristic of Bausch, followed by slow dog-like waggles of her tongue. Alzamora, who is regularly a company member for Ballet Hispanico, appeared as part of #TweetDance, one of the many performances that took place on Governors Island over the weekend for Figment NYC, an annual interactive arts festival.
Presented by Maxx Passion and Under One: A Collection of Dances, #TweetDance was one of several happenings that relied on participation from social media users who were not physically present at the festival. Kyla Ernst-Alper, a dancer and the creator of #TweetDance, has found Twitter to be especially useful as a source of creative direction.
“Older generations don’t always understand 140 characters,” Ernst-Alper stated, “I like rules because they can help ideas emerge, but they can also constrain you. So, the dances are one-minute long and we now accept tweets, emails, or whatever people write down on paper.”
On Twitter, public interest in the project produced unusual directives for the dancers, including one tweet that linked to a YouTube video of magnetic ferrofluid moving to music. Viewed quickly on an iPhone to prepare the dancers for their mimicry, the ferrofluid, a mixture of oil and iron particles, shifted and whirled into cone-like spirals.
Hashtags were also the creative informants for “#happy is…,” an installation that sourced publicly-shared Instagram photos tagged as #happy. The project was the creation of multimedia artist Brian Cavanaugh, who programmed software to download images in 15-minute intervals. “Each horizontal bar is the average color of one photo tagged #happy,” Cavanaugh explained. “The image displays a new collection set in each frame.”
The frames he speaks of contain highly abstracted versions of the photos—abandoning Instagram’s square format and stretching each image into a thin horizontal band. Cavanaugh’s focus was on hue — finding visual representations of happiness based on the average pixel color. Overall, he found that the popular use of vintage filters has affected the vibrancy of photos which are tagged with the word #happy.
“Instagram users are altering the original photo to have a muted feel and the effects are representational here,” the artist remarked. Cavanaugh’s projected stream was on view inside Pershing Hall, one of Governors Island’s historic buildings where other multimedia and video pieces were displayed in darkened rooms.
Outdoors, in unannounced locales, social media influenced theater and more dancing. Hook & Eye Theater Company used Figment as an opportunity to workshop their piece, “Fidgital Spring.” Starting nonchalantly, the performers stood next to each other fidgeting with their phones (a scene inspired by a Starbucks bathroom line) and took turns dramatically reading Facebook status updates that appeared on their individual newsfeeds.
The troupe’s interaction then began to coalesce—triggering detailed dance choreography set to classical music. “It’s Stravinsky’s 100th year anniversary of the Rite of Spring and we’re mimicking some of the dances that were performed 100 years ago and putting our own twist on them,” said Carrie Heitman, who is Artistic Director for Hook & Eye.
“We were toying around with the idea of Rite of Spring — thinking, what are the only rites or rituals that everyone now enjoys and we figured, it’s pretty much looking down at your phone,” said performer Chad Lindsey, who then imitated a phone-gazing stance. Along with his fellow performers, Lindsey, who is also Artistic Director for the Company, added to the wide array of art and social engagement that sprung up at Figment.
Another group of collaborators allowed participants to take the reigns as VJ and DJ, in their colorful project “Play + Draw.” “The idea is that you could be us for a little while and play with video and sound, with different fields of texture,” explained Melissa Ulto, a digital video specialist who also performs as VJ Miixxy. “There are more applications of this work than just a nightclub setting—anywhere from ambient installation in your own home to something interactive a kid could play with.”
Ulto and her collaborators, Mark Alan Johnson (VJ DoctorMojo) and founder of VJs Magazine Guillaume Lauzier, took a back seat to allow for a complete participant-hijack. Users toyed with trance-like electronic music and created animations that were streamed live on the internet. Speaking more loudly as she turned up the electronic beats, Ulto assured, “We have this up on Livestream and Facebook, It’s tweeted, Vined, and Instagrammed. We’re making sure it’s everywhere.”
Figment NYC took place on Governors Island June 8-9.