Inside a cube fashioned from translucent veils, a dancer takes a visual journey into a 3D space between dreams and reality. Hakanaï is a digital solo performance from Adrien M / Claire B that made its debut at BAM's Fishman Theatre on March 17, 2015. The choreographed performance installation combines video projection mapping, CGI, and sensors to dynamically respond to the movements and proximity of its performer. Its visuals and sounds are generated and animated live, offering a uniquely different performance for each and every iteration.
Its appeal lies in the one-on-one exchange that takes place between performer and complex programming. Though Mondot and Bardainne, who in the past set a performance of 11 breakdancers against a digital backdrop, often mine theoretical and mathematical sources for inspiration for their work, they rely on the empirical study of the world around them as their guide.
We spoke to the artistic duo about the visual inspirations and computational approaches they took to Hakanaï, as well as their thoughts on bridging the gap between technology and art.
The Creators Project: I was particularly excited by the technology and its non-traditional display. Do you mind explaining the techniques behind the computation?
Adrien Mondot (AM): We have developed a software—since 2006—about the motion of objects, based on physics models. I am a juggler, was a juggler. I still juggle… Sometimes. I was inspired the way a ball moves in air, how when an object has mass you can apply certain forces to it. So, I developed a software called eMotion—which you can download on our website. The purpose of this project is to construct interaction between virtual objects and real data…
Claire Bardainne (CB): And to create interaction we use sensors, graphic tablets, and controllers to manipulate the images while observing the dancers. So, it's like a puppetry, a digital puppetry. AM: We believe that sensors cannot sense everything. Sensors lack imagination. And we think that mixing sensors and human interaction, like puppetry, is a good way to make things more lively… more, well, sensitive…
CB: Always in an un-crafted way. There is always a human touch. Seeing and moving.
CB: Everything is generated and animated in real time. No recorded video. No, everything is live.
It presents a traditional space between something physical, like juggling, and programming. No?
AM: It's about how you have an interaction with a real object… Wait, let me show you!
[Mondot runs off.]
CB: He will show you! He started coding the software we work with because he wanted to juggle digital objects in the same sensitive way that he was juggling [balls].
[Mondot returns with a translucent, acrylic Dubé juggling ball.]
AM: This is juggling!
[He tosses and turns the ball elegantly between gesticulations.]
AM: As you can see, we have interaction between me and the ball. I want to—when we manipulate virtual things—I want to have the same intuition about how things move.
CB: And we also like optical illusions. We like this sensation of reality, but its virtuality. You don't know if it's real or not. We like to manipulate reality.
AM: We like to make images go out of the frame.
CB: We like to make images into environments. They're not normal images or video—they are living partners.
Can you speak about the content and form? What does the word "Hakanai" mean to this piece?
CB: At the beginning it's a word. Hakanai. It's a Japanese old word, which denotes ephemeral, transitory, fragile, and everything you cannot catch. It's the union of the human being and her dreams. It's a show made of haikus that try to explain that word.
AM: We discovered this world by chance! There is no French word, no English word, for the same feeling as Hakanai.
From the very natural, elegant physicality of the generated visuals, I see the analogies to nature and science. Do you mind shedding some light on your visual inspirations?
AM: We take our inspiration from nature. We observe a lot how things move in the world, how a leaf of a tree can fall in the autumn…
CB: Or a snowflake in winter, or spiderwebs… or synapses.
AM: The process is at first observing. After remodeling. Trying to find a mathematical equation on a physics level at the right approach.
CB: And then write with the imagination of motion. Because the motion gives emotion. and we try to write shows with this "imaginary." With these feelings.
AM: For example, if we make, uh, if we take a world and we make it full as if it was the leaf of a tree, the audience will see the world which will have a signification—it is the role of the world to have a signification—but it will see also the emotion of a falling leaf.
Replicating that computation must not be easy. About how long does it take you for a production such as Hakanai?
CB: Two months, but two years!
AM: Three months, and two years!
CB: Many years of developing software and many years practicing.
What informed your decision to create a square, cube-like enclosure for your dancer? The stage design seems highly motivated.
At first it was an installation. An interactive installation included in an exhibition of ten pieces. And we wanted to do a performance for that cube because it's really immersive. The audience all around is really inside the show, feels like the show were inside [the cube]. And to give, also, the opportunity to interact afterwards is really important to us. We like this idea, to open the space of the show, the stage for interaction.
You bridge the gap between art and technology very gracefully. Do you consider yourself artists or engineers?
AM: For us there is no gap. Art and technology: they are the same thing. We think that rationality and sensibility can be two faces of one thing. And also virtuality and reality are two faces of one thing. This is our reality.
AM: Yes… we like to build things with science. But science is not the goal.