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A Glitched-Out Dance Performance Takes Over The Armory

Jason Akira Somma's four-part dance and glitch art exhibition at The Park Avenue Armory offered a giltch-perfect exploration of technology and the human body.
Somma with his custom analog glitching setup. Images by Kasia Grabek unless otherwise noted.

Jason Akira Somma splits his creative life between dance and visual art, earning awards such as the Rolex Arts Initiative for Dance, while showcasing his work at venues including The New Museum and working under the mentorship of Jiri Kylian. Somma previously turned the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Robert Wilson into holographic, interactive dancers at the Location 1 gallery, and now he has taken over The Park Avenue Armory in New York City, with a posse of flex dancers to bring his audiovisual pieces to the next level.


As part of The Armory's Under Construction series in mid-October, Somma created four ongoing studies of glitch art and physical movement by distorting footage and images of Bones the Machine, Regg Roc, and more Brooklyn flexers. The main event of the evening was Live Performance Happening, a real-time collaboration between a group of six flex dancers, electro-acoustic cellist Chris Lancaster, and Somma, with his massive repertoire of video channeling tools. The equipment, juxtaposed against the baroque-style rugs and gold-framed portraits, included a couple of old Sony camcorders, an Edirol A/V mixer, and an aging Panasonic projector. Somma announced, "Everything you are about to see is happening for the very first time—for me too." The lights went dark as Lancaster looped, layered, and distorted cello music to accompany the performance.

Alongside the live show, Somma opened up his other three projects to guests of The Armory: Video Impressionism, a screen showing Bones rapidly contorting his body as more analog glitches the screen; LCD Hacks, a surreal photo series achieved by running jolts of electricity through physical monitors; and Infrared Room, a pitch black chamber filled with performers only visible through infrared scopes.

Much like the crackling contortions of the flex dancers, Somma's time at The Armory was an experiment in how far he can bend his pieces before they break. We spoke to the genre-bending artist about his Under Construction showcase, the upsides of analog, and the difference between working with the flexcommunity and Mikhail Baryshnikov.


Video Impressionism, 2014

LCD Hacks, 2014, Photos by Jason Akira Somma

Bones the Machine flexing during 'Live Performance Happening,' 2014

You and Bones have great chemistry, and he's one of the main parts in each section of your Under Construction exhibition. How did you two meet?

Quite a few people have commented on our collaborations as though we have a "psychic connection." If you watch us work together in the studio, we rarely exchange words.

We're definitely on the same creative page, and he has many talents (he did all his own tattoos). I met Bones the Machine a little over 2 years ago at my solo gallery show at the Location 1 Gallery. I dedicated one of my weekly performances to the flex community and he was one of the dancers. I was immediately blown away by his stage presence. He silenced the entire audience as soon as he began. He had them cheering, then gasping out of shock, and then cheering again.

Regg Roc performs in front of the projector during 'Live Performance Happening,' 2014

You've also worked with performing art legends like Mikhail Baryshnikov and Robert Wilson. How was the process of applying your glitch art to the flex crew different from working with establishment dancers?

I often speak of how the professional is actually the amateur and the amateur is actually the professional. An amateur's world is completely objective while the "professional’s" world can be greatly subjective. The flex dancers are the perfect example of this notion. I have worked with prestigious institutions and with remarkable dancers. However, the flex guys are by far the easiest people I have ever worked with. They just dive right in and immediately look at their environment and my tools as an extension of themselves without overanalyzing it.


Many times I'm not even done setting up before I catch them already interacting with my gear. They are extremely collaborative, and I've encountered the least amount of ego drama working with them. To me flex is the physicalization of the present. Their movements are inspired by technology, technology's failures, special FX, cinema, internet, etc. So naturally, it’s a perfect fit for what I do. I really don't see what they are doing as "street" or "urban" art. They're the most contemporary form of performance in my eyes. They're true artists doing what they do out of necessity, and their enthusiasm is amazingly contagious. Working with them feels like home.

Brixx and Slicc perform together during 'Live Performance Happening,' 2014

Your Under Construction showing was comprised of of four separate, individual artworks. What was the resoning behind showcasing them together?

The Under Construction series at the Armory is an opportunity for artists to showcase the things they have been developing during their artist residency. Primarily in hopes of getting people to come who would then showcase the work properly. In my case, I am looking for galleries and alternative venues to give this work a home. As a result I wanted to take advantage of the fact that it is a "showing" in which I can present different works together that might not normally be shown together at the same time, and see what feedback from it is. And what a better place to invade than The Armory!

Of course, there is a through line within my work, of the body and technology, which I believe was quite apparent. Every piece I showcased was an exploration of how we perceive work physically both on a scientific and conceptual level. They were all careful studies of various "constructed hacks." There's nothing greater than watching an audience becoming intrigued by what they are seeing, and to want to know more about the process.

With the Infrared Room, I loved the idea of literally presenting the viewer with two forms of reality right before their eyes—one that could be perceived with the naked eye and one that needed technology to reveal the light spectrums surrounding us that we don't have the physical capacity to perceive. What was so wonderful about that study was seeing how it brought the viewer to a deeper awareness of their own corporeal being, and how much takes place around us that we might not even be aware of, simply because we don't have the cognition or receptors for seeing those realities. So I guess in some ways my separate studies were also studies on what would resonate with the audience.

LCD Hacks, 2014, Jason Akira SommaBrixx and Slicc perform together during 'Live Performance Happening,' 2014Regg Roc and Cal perform during 'Live Performance Happening,' 2014Brixx and Slicc perform together during 'Live Performance Happening,' 2014After 'Live Performance Happening,' from left to right: Brixx, Cal, Regg Roc, Bones, Jason, Epic, Droopz, and Slicc