Reconstruct Danse Macabre: Negotiating the Passage of Time


Session Title:

  • Catastrophy and Death

Presentation Title:

  • Reconstruct Danse Macabre: Negotiating the Passage of Time




  • This work-in-progress interdisciplinary project makes connections across the humanities, from historical literature tocontemporary art and dance. I am interested in leveraging public participatory responsive environments, treading between the virtual and the physical, to construct dimensionality to access the otherwise inaccessible. Medievalists identify the problem of using familiar historicist protocols to reconstruct the medieval aesthetic past as being “an overly limiting dichotomy in the context of medieval culture.”

    [1] Using an exemplary medieval performance tradition of danse macabre, as a case study, and incorporating modes of inquiry used in new media, this project recasts Medievalists’ theoretical exercise in new practice through the designing and crafting of a responsive environment to negotiate spatiotemporal distance to further understand the significance of public participatory social act in the medieval aesthetic past. This project also furthers the inquiries of sensor-driven multi-dimensional human participatory environments in contemporary art practice; at the same time contributes to the ongoing discussion of the Humanities and its changing meaning in the context of digital culture.

    Medievalists have long lamented the limits of historicist methods to reconstruct a far distant aesthetic past. [2] Archival vestiges on danse macabre largely present the visual representation of skeletal death dancers leading people from different walks of life to their graves. Is there more to the story?

    Real-time motion capture, light, multi-channel projection and sound will be used to create a large-scale responsive environment in which dancers as well as participants trigger, activate, configure relevant visual and audible information, at the same time have the ability to collectively create additional images and sound to deepen the dialogue. Through the engagement with the experiential volume, they negotiate spatial and temporal relationship to gain further access to danse macabre. This project experiments to intensify medial juxtapositions to generate complex and dimensional temporal vectors to produce multivalent construct experiences.

    The danse macabre Experience
    The experiential volume contextually juxtaposes the historical with the contemporary. The three-dimensional space will be divided diagonally into angular composition either via rays of light or using physical medium. Contemporary dancers wearing sensors will weave in and out of, or transcend these angular dimensions to real-time trigger and manipulate visuals.

    The public will be invited to interact within the space and to participate in a contemporary interpretation of danse macabre. They will wear mobile cameras and sensors to real-time transmit imagery to be weaved back into the overall projection visual. Participants will also verbally interact with recorded audio verses of danse macabre, and other sound elements. Here, dancers serve as temporal points of departure to ignite, connect, and thus provide opportunities to construct a sensory experience to extend imagination in order to gain access to reconstruct a far distant aesthetic past.

    Beyond danse macabre
    The heart of this project is an inquiry into the complex interrelationship between culture, image, text, viewer and participants in the context of passage of time; and, what it means to incorporate new media to allow for the swift shifting between structuring an experience and structured by that experience to examine the socio-historical and cultural framework of past cultural traditions in relationship to the present.