How does it feel to have multiple selves disseminated on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram while still occupying one body? In other words, how does it feel to have the words, images and constant input of others flowing through us at all times? Toni Dove, explores these questions in Lucid Possession," an experimental theater piece taking the shape of a technology savvy ghost story.
Dove dims the lights as we enter her studio, covered in computer mechanisms far beyond my comprehension and a gauzy screen installation that she likens to both a cocoon and a jellyfish. "Lucid Possession" tells the story of Bean, a designer of virtual avatars, whose own Avatar goes viral online. Bean starts to stress out about the exposure, and the voices she hears begin to traverse time and space. Dove explains: "All the anxiety of Bean's work starts to have a paranormal effect. Her head becomes like a Twitter feed with no technology. She's become a radio receiver and starts picking up a ghost."
The performance, which Dove calls a "Geek opera," is made in real-time using motion sense technology. The narrative unfurls on four screens simultaneously, all being controlled robotically by Dove on the side of the stage. When the artist waves her hand, Bean blinks, her avatar wiggles, and her spy robot barks. On the other end of the stage Hai-Ting Chinn, who plays Bean onscreen, sings and speaks on the sidelines. Her voice syncs up with her onscreen persona, enacting a mesmerizing virtual ventriloquism, which is assisted by digital violinist Todd Reynolds.
"It is a poetic meditation on the challenges of noise management in this augmented reality... This cultural imaginary realm-- this is how we live now," Dove explains as her oversized cat Edward curls up inside the jellyfish-esque contraption. "Well, for some it's the world's coolest cat toy."
Although the plot remains constant throughout each performance, the twitches, gazes and gestures depend on Dove's digital conducting. "The screen and the projection fuse together to create this other thing," she says. "The performer is haunting the movie." The fragmented structure of the narrative points again to the performance's underlying questions regarding robots, cyborgs and doppelgangers. "I am interested in models of subjectivity, Dove says. "How many people are in there? Are we one voice? Are we a chorus? Is there a ghost inside you?"
An additional stunning component to "Lucid Possession" are the costumes which glow and undulate with the latest technological capabilities, adding yet another layer of life to the multiple movies narratives occupying the stage. "I wanted the setting to be kind of present day but with costumes that are almost characters themselves-- they glow" she says. "So the actors become these graphic novel characters existing in the not-exactly now."
While trolling Twitter may not always be recognizable as a haunting experience, Dove recalled hearing her past viewers employ paranormal language when discussing her disembodied works:
"The I have been using motion sensing interface for fifteen years, and I'm always fascinated when viewers say it feels like an out of body experience. This doubling happens all the time, this remote agency where our body no longer stops at its edges. It's a pedestrian form of spoon bending. Paranormal discourse has really permeated popular culture; our body no longer stops at its edges. We have the ability of remote agency, of making things happen somewhere else."
Dove performs a preview of her motion-controlled robotics, her rhythmic hand movements controlling Bean's panicked facial expressions like a supernatural maestro. With a flit of the wrist she moves from one screen image to the next on the main screen while smaller projections of ghostly visions dance on satellite screens. "This hand controls her legs, this hand her eyes, here." It's impossible to keep track of, my dumbfounded expression recalling my parents' dumbfounded faces as I scroll through my morning internet tabs with automatic ease.
How does Dove feel about the limitless reign of technology and the way it has shaped our lives and our selves? "Technology is us... It's a reflection of our values and our goals," she says. "And it's moving really fast, like even newspapers feel dated now... We talk about the planet as if it was a little pill in our hand. We've never had that kind of distance from the place we live before."
"Lucid Possession" runs April 25, 26 and 27 at 8 pm at Roulette in Brooklyn.
See image and video clips from the spellbinding performance in the slideshow below: