Why Figurative Motion?
Video and art by Robert Wright, Dancer and choreography Teagan Reed Special thanks to Cleveland's Groundworks Dance Theatre and to the Ohio Arts Council for an ADAP grant that made this project possible. This video will be exhibited In the Artists Archives of Western Reserve's "NewNow2023" at Tri-C Gallery East 4250 Richmond Rd, Highland Hills, OH 44122 September 14-Ocet 26, 2023.
When I first stepped into an Ohio State University Department of Dance rehearsal room in the spring of 1973, I had no premonitions that I would still be drawing moving figures fifty years later. In 1973, what started as a self-challenge to develop the gestural line in studio figure drawing, ended up becoming an end in itself. Simply stated, for me there is no other way to draw the human figure other than drawing the figure in motion. The figure never stays still (we breathe, we twitch, we scratch our noses and we get bored). While sleeping, the figure respires, the breathing changes through the night, and the body unconsciously seeks new positions. Even in death, the figure decomposes, wasting away to dust.
For all one's time on earth, a lifetime is spent moving. Constantly. Differently. Everyone moves differently, but then again there's similarities, usually less obvious. Certainly, most of us walk, but some walk slower, some with a loping gait, some with an unsteady shuffle. And some of us run, some even run very fast. And a few of us crawl.
Why is motion so fascinating? It is so much like music: best experienced, sometimes skillfully played and arranged, but usually everyday, common and deceptive. Music can be recorded; it can be reproduced amazingly well. But the music coming from the stereo speaker is not coming from Mozart's harpsichord. It is coming from electricity, from science. And so it is with motion capture; with motion pictures, films, photographic analysis a la Muybridge, with light moving at the speed of "reality." But it is no more real than the compact disk the music was recorded upon.
Again, why is motion so fascinating to me? By capturing the line of the figure moving through space, I can express not only my reception to another human being's existence, but I can I can determine subtle human meaning. I have learned to pick up "body language" to help me understand what other people are communicating to me, and among themselves. As body language is quite an inexact science, my interpretations aren't always "on the mark." Any professional dancer understands that any short sequence of movements or "pathways" can mean different things: nuance is art to the enraptured eye. How the movement is shaded, how the pace lightens or what part of the sequence is stressed, can often mean a world of difference.
From my experiences painting figurative motion, in 2003 I explored motion capture as another way of visually sampling the passage of the dancer in front of me. From point A to point B, in just so many seconds. But with my brushwork captured digitally, there are a range of tools at my disposal. Not only the different software "filters" that can "color and style" the moving line, but also software that can interpret of the digital form of the dancer as a perceptible three-dimensional form in motion through wire frame restructuring.
Visual sampling was an extraordinary potential to go beyond the mere recreation of a human form in motion, but to sample with it, to build new meanings with it, to alternate the digital reality with a visionary experience. Sometimes the digital visual activity may suggest "human" movement, and other times it may only result in a visual moment. In hip hop music, a primary element is the acoustical buildup of "sampling" that synthesizes into a rhythmic pattern, resulting in a musical sound of depth and complexity, but still simple enough to "dance" to.
Motion capture does not necessarily have to be about camera tricks or ironies. It doesn't have to stop with "ghostcatching" the incredible rhythm and movements of Bill T. Jones with photographic "flavoring." What interests me is to develop a reality of the process -- the art unfolding -- the art experience of creation. The act of search and identification upon a canvas of air. Is that not what our eyes, in concert with our brains, perceive to be "reality?" Against the canvas of air. In dance, in painting, there is always a counterforce. There is gravity, resistance. Scrumbling. Dragging a loaded gummy brush against a rough, blistered surface. Synthesizing with color.