“Unsettling Light” – Site Specific Performance

Gao Yujie – “Unsettling Light” – Site-specific Performance, 2019 (Ongoing)

“Unsettling Light” is an ongoing site-specific performance that using three projectors in a theatre space to explore the relationship between light, reflection, space and performer/audience. More specifically, to explore the various quality of light, such as the shape of the light, the spatiality of light or black light (if exists). In some sense, this is an extend project of Sensory Overload, but I bring my own body in the space and the system. I would consider myself as a kind of “Interface” to reacting with the light and sound. The project was done in a visual programming software, and part of the light effects were real-time sound-driven. This project is still under develop.

Practice Notes

This work was proposed as the final practical project for Professor Kathleen Irwins’ course – THEA810AA Spatiality in Art / Performance. It is an experiment that trying to explore the theme of solipsism and sensory overload. This experimentation is a practice of light, especially the spatiality of the light, explore light and reflection within the theatre environment – a fully black box. The projectors as the light source (instead of the content container), a fog machine producing haze fills the air that enable the shape of the light appearing in the space.

Light is the main practice medium throughout my works. Each project has a different focused aspect.

Work 1 – “The Unfettered Language of Machines”, 2016

This is a large-scale interactive light installation. It’s a team work that involved around 10 people. My role in the whole project is the visual animation of the light, as well as the main manager of the project throughout the whole working process – explore and experient, smaller size prototype, testing and building. This is where I started exploring the visual language of light, as well as audio-visual interaction. In the piece, over 8000 LED lights attached on the steel structure of a hypercube. Later on, the experience working on this project is benefiting my following works.

Work 2 – “Sensory Overload”, 2017

My master’s graduation work, I explored how light interacts with other natural elements – wind, and water around the topic of sensory overload. When the work was exhibited, one of the audience said he felt the work (or say this machine) got its own emotions and personalities, sometimes it shows angry, sometimes it shows peaceful. I did not think the work in that way while I was making it, but it’s kind of interesting to hear. What I was intention to do is to explore the different aspects of the “machine”. When it is almost broken; when the screen got blue; when they are overloaded. (It’s actually quite similar though. and that makes sense that we all know it is around a kind of the same thing, but from a different perspective, and using a different metaphor to understand and make sense for oneself). In this work, the relationship between the audience and the work itself is still through viewing. Standing around the work, to see how the work itself to perform.

And Now, Work 3 – “Unsettling Light”, 2019

I define this project as a site-specific performance. In this experimentation, the topic I want to explore is still about sensory perception, and I bring my own body into the work which I would never imagine before. I performed with the light comes from the projectors with reflective material is embodied. The light in this work is the main object that has become more tangible than it was in the previous works. It does not attach on any structure or material, it directly comes from the projector in the dark empty space. The projector used to function as a content container to present meaningful message (text/image/video), but in this work, I saw the projector as light source, the light itself – the shape of the light, the color of the light, is the meaning. What it could be when the theatre is not serving for a people-centered performance rather than performed by the MACHINE – the instrument/equipment lives in the site? What is the unexpected/unfamiliar possibility/purpose of those machine in that site? This work is a machine performance at the theatre, a site normally understood as a black box where a human’s imagination of the story, body movements, language interaction, acting/playing/performing can be unlimited expressed and delivered to the audience within a certain context. It is a site, where all kinds of human’s emotion, action, reaction can be automatically legitimization. However, this work explores the circumstances when the machines take in charge – acting/playing/performing. Compare with my previous works, the site(space) in this work also plays a significant role, which connects with the my research methodology: the tension between familiar and unfamiliar. All the instruments (equipments/machines) in that site are “familiar” in any sense, they are living in the site, they used to serve for human performers, but in this work, they are performers, me – as a human, collaborate with the light. We are equal factors in the performance, and even, the light itself has its own personality, it’s unconsciousness presenting as a human-like factor. All of these parts are “unfamiliar” concept of the site/space. The function of the theatre still “familiar”- you come into the black box, with the specific expectation of you are going to experience an artistic performance. But it’s just not in a way that performed by many people around narrative stories or an explicit motif, a complex system to cooperate with each other at a very accurate time as it normal to be.

Site-specific and New Media Art

I read articles that discuss the idea of site-specific in theatre and performance, which is where the main concept born and developed. Site-specific for me, and in this work, is to explore the unusual meaning of the site. One of the goals of this practice work is, I have to define what “site-specific” means to me. and what could this idea be in new media art, what’re the examples? What are the dimensions to understand site-specificity in new media art? 

New media art, in some way, has the nature of being a kind of performance, it probably is the performance of the machine or control system or the algorithm, rather than the performance performed by people. My idea of site-specific is, in some way, specific site, “space” as a significant aspect for new media / interactive art, it require a specific site or say set-up the specific site, I feel there are some differences as well as overlap with the idea of site-specify in theatre and performance. I want to find out the specific means of site-specific in new media art. Which probably best aligned what Anthony McCall called “site sensitive”. This experimenting enables me to explore the question in my mind for a long time, that is, what are the dimensions to understand site-specificity in new media art? New media art, in some way, has the nature of being a kind of performance, it probably can be the performance of the machine or control system or the algorithm, rather than the performance performed by people. 

Research site-specific in new media art

Instances of embodied personal place, physical site, and conceptual ideas/maps/naming of spaces

Pat Badani, Megan Smith, Aram Bartholl, Bill Viola, Blast Theory, Meejin Yoon, Rachel Binx (and similar artists working with data visualization), Ingrid Burrington