Could a choreographer compose an uprising? Could we rehearse one?
“Subway” (2011-Present) is a global public movement campaign that uses subversive qualities of cellular networks to work with communities and organize against rigid norms and laws prohibiting dancing and free movement in public. The platform empowers public bodies and connects them through a free mobile app to share still acts of freedom.
The first iteration of the project was conceived in 2012 in collaboration with Andrew Quitmeyer, Michael Nitsche, and Digital World and Image Group. It applied various digital technologies–video, cell phone application, print, image processing—as well as physical performative action–dancing and posing–to allow for a collaborative performance to unfold. Like other digital media, Subway certainly has its own rhetoric and does not claim to be neutral technology. As a piece of activist media performance art, it supports a form of artistic conversation that invites and engages to design channels that foster a global sense of struggle and the creation of innovative grassroots global networks.
Subway digital choreographies, concept, and design were built on the affordances and ubiquitous qualities of mobile devices as facilitators for artistic social engagements. A custom photo-taking mobile app pairs participants with digital choreographies that they could perform in public areas and capture images of themselves aligning to the overlays in static poses.
Additionally, the ‘freestyle’ mode invites the participants to snap and share pictures of their dance poses reflecting their own embodied feelings about the space. The freestyle feature creates a virtual mirroring experience that breaks down the hierarchy of leader and follower, choreographer and dancer. The App makes a platform for time-lapse exchanges. The impulse for the design was the development of socio-political movements such as Iran’s Green Movement and Occupy Wall Street, which rely upon a more horizontal power structure. The challenge was to incorporate this artistic vision in the dialogue enacted through the different images, and the cell phone application served as the necessary facilitator.
As described in “Media in Performance: The Subway Project”—published by the International Journal of Arts and Technolog, January 2014 issue, technology is an integral part of the asynchronous dance piece, wherein participants enacted, re-enacted, and remotely choreographed each other with digital means designed for Subway. The goal of this collaboration was not to add technology to an artistic practice but to build on the existing performance art, Dancing by Myself in Public, and create a new responding piece that uses the technology as a transnational tool. The digital transformations were designed to forge new possibilities for physical expression beyond places where these opportunities were restricted.
Subway emerged from, Dancing by myself in Public, an improvised dance that I performed in the Times Square subway station in March of 2011. The choreography of the piece incorporated pedestrian movement and basic Persian Contemporary dance forms that could be re-performed by individuals without dance training, wearing clothing that could safely be worn in public space. The dance was both an attempt to translate the sonic environment of the Times Square station into movement and an exploration of the limitations of such effort.
My dancing body became the focus of the design through the video of the performance as we broke down the body’s movement through its visual capture into frame-by-frame segments. The technology was approached as an extension of the original dance. From video documentation to image processing, cell phone application, image collection, and reassembly, technology was applied not as purely documenting media but as an active continuation of the dance that had happened that day in the Times Square Subway station. The performance is the whole physical and technological process with the final video reassembly as a documentation of it.