Inspired by Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca’s work Nocturne of the Emptied Space, Chou Tung-yen began a three year journey with his team to experiment and stretch the possibilities of space, memory and performance with technology. The first edition of performance piece Emptied Memories was shown in 2011, then performed in in Taiwan and China from 2011 to 2013, and won the World Stage Design Interactive and New Media Award in 2013. The work was further developed into two video installations Between Being Asleep and Awake (2013) and An Emptied Room of One’s Own (2013).
As an artist, Chou is curious about how to convince himself the world needs his creations (Very Mainstream Studio, 2015). His practice flows in and between realms of film, theatre and digital media, his works usually involve multi-media productions and performances; while sometimes touch on social issues. He is conscious about involving technologies in his practice to create works with experiential aesthetics.
Emptied Memories is a multi-media work, performed on a stage-setting, it integrates live dance with projections of panoramic videos, realtime processed images on moving panels controlled by a wireless stage control system (OISTAT/Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, 2014). Chou quoted his set designer Ewing’s comment in one of the documentation (Very Mainstream Studio, 2015), where he said ‘the real work of Emptied Memories is in its form’, it gives a very good reason to look closer into the creative process in order to understand better the form and how the piece was put together. For most of the time during the performance, there is no fixed props on the stage, only Chou Shu-Yi, the choreographer/ performer, to interact with the transforming panels, in a space Chou called ‘a memory box’ (Chou, 2013). The work interweaves and overlap space, time and memories beyond a physical space, through exploring the possibilities of expanded cinema, Emptied Memories creates a layered venture to an enigmatic experience.
Expanded time and space in hyper-narration
“For the audience, Emptied Memories is a mysterious and unforgettable encounter with performance. It tells audience not to linger on the original memory, but to experience the expanded time and space created by technology” (Cheng, 2012)
The rise of digital data storage impacted time-based media in various ways, one of it being the development of expanded cinema. Different from the time when only celluloid was available, filmmakers experiment with non-linear editing, and non-sequential unfolding of time made possible, leading to new ways not only in filmmaking but in art making. Filmmakers create films in new narrative models in early experimental cinema, that started off ideas about expanded cinema. With the essence of expanded cinema, Chou move beyond traditional ways of storytelling in Emptied Memories, abandoned the cause-effect narrative, “the character does not have many stories to tell, he did not die, did not born in the work, there is no before and after“ as described by the performer Chou Shu-Yi (2013). The digitally enhanced set of Emptied Memories, with the video projections, real time and movable images, enriched the work with a stretched sense of spatiality and perspective; allowed the exploration of non-linear and non-chronological strategies to develop a hyper-narrative work. To further magnify the range of possible outcome, Chou involved a live performer in the work, and introduced live feeds into the mix.
Immersive memories in transforming space
The work is created with a collection of five giant moving panels controlled by a wireless stage control system, the shifting panels are three meters tall, with projections on them they become large-scale, giant moving images that flow in the space; when placed against the dancer who is much smaller in size, these projections create an immersive effect. As discussed by Hope (p. 90-91, 2014), the media screens change audience from a fixed point of view to a flexible, shifting perspective; while the digital projection alters the reality perceived by audiences, the space they visioned is mixed with representational images and reality. These panels sometimes merge together to become one widescreen, sometimes they split to move independently as standalone panels. The panels waltz with the performer and float on the stage, glide smoothly in a poetic rhythm to transform the stage, transform the audience’s perception from time to time.
There are two main types of images being projected – recorded panoramic videos of identifiable spaces like a construction site, a tunnel, a rooftop…, and live feed videos of the performer or visuals from the camera held by the performer during the show. The lyrical images represent different memories (at different stage), when projected onto the split screens individually, Chou juxtaposed images of different time and space concurrently to create a montage of overlapping and fragmented memories. And each panel becomes a separate entrance for the audience to enter the work, leading to a multi-narrative possibility intended by Chou (2013). The dancing panels allow Chou to create an ever-changing space and time with a shifting perspective whenever the projections change.
Reality of memories simulated in panoramic views
When the panels are lined up to form a horizontal widescreen, it is filled with breath-taking panoramic videos of the dancer in recognizable spaces like moving trains, parking lot, construction site etc, and the audience are immersed into the panoramic videos that represent of a fragment of time and space in the past. These digitally recorded videos to represent memories from a different space and time, are created in panoramic views that synchronize with Chou’s idea of memory – in everyone’s head there is a projector, and memories can be projected when one closes his/ her eyes, one can pan to the left or right in 360° , as he explained in the documentation of Emptied Memories (Very Mainstream Studio, 2015). The panoramic videos are made with the Ladybug spherical camera that can shot in 360° to cover 90% of the visual sphere (FLIR Integrated Imaging Solutions, 2016), the same technology used to develop images for Google Street View and Google Art Project. According to Margot Lovejoy’s theory (Hope, p. 62, 2014) on digital photography, when Chou captured reality using the Ladybug camera, photographic moving images were created to simulate his reality of memories, the process was made feasible by digital tools. Every time when the crew make the panoramic videos, the Ladybug camera was to hang on a rack above eye-level that was tied onto a wheelchair, the camera operator had to sit on the wheelchair with a computer to do the shooting and move around. Chou said, “the amazing part is, once the camera starts to shoot, everything is recorded, always everything.” (2013) The panoramic images have the iconic spherical view where some parts are more clear than the rest, just like human vision that perceives immersive imageries.
Overlapping decorporealized bodies
]Chou use space, images and body to discuss memory. Space, becomes transformable in Emptied Memories; while images, being both real and virtual, become carriers of memories. But how about the body?
Chou Sui-Yu’s body plays an important role in Emptied Memories, he is the medium that connects the fragmented memories, for audience to read the images as part of his history, that is accessed through the lens’ memories. Like when photographs are taken, the performer’s body became the subject that was decorporealized in a video, and the moving image became a representation of the subject. (Jones, 2006) When shared his creative experience, performer Chou Sui-Yu said, “Looked back at all the previous shooting done at different stages over the past years, the footages start to make sense and I began to realise the existence of time and memory. I wandered into memories without being conscious about it” (2013). The body, time and space are a part of the memories from the Ladybug lenses, transformed into digital images, and presented in front of Chou Sui-Yu and the audience.
From time to time, images of Chou Sui-Yi (with his body) is projected onto the panels during the performance. In fact, there are multiple ‘bodies’ in the performance – physical body, pre-recorded body, real time live feed body (captured by performer’s handheld camera), real time projected body (captured by stage camera), and the shadow of body. The presence of the performer’s physical body in front of the digital image of him creates an interesting effect – the audience is reminded of the ‘unreal’ time and space in the projections, where the images are in fact memories that happened in another time and space. To explain in Jones’ terms, the body of the dancer is separated from his real body in the pre-recorded video and is realized as a mediated piece of memory, the physical body and digital image exist at the same time and space during the show, ‘heightens the tension between subject and object’ (2006).
The decorporealization was further enhanced with the manipulation of real time images from live feed of performer’s body. During the performance, the dancer sometimes carries a wireless video camera, the camera capture live videos of what the dancer sees or senses, sometimes he shoot himself. The live feeds are projected onto the dispersed screens on the stage, the images are sometimes cropped and processed, transforming the immediate reality into digital images on the spot. When the performer shoot at himself (or when live feed of the performer is taken), his biological body is immediately dematerialised to become a digital image on screen. At the moment when the performer’s real time body image is projected onto the panels, another connection with the audience is established – this symbolic gesture transformed the audience’s own memory (of viewing the performance during the show) to become part of the work (projected on the screens at the stage), and create a new dimension to approach the work. The intersecting of physical and digital bodies creates a flux of overlapping time and space.
In Emptied Memories, with the use of media technologies, Chou manipulated time, space and the body to create a multi-level memories model mixed with reality, and invited audience to experience his fragmented memories in a dream-like immersive environment.
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Image 1: Very Mainstream Studio. Screen capture from Emptied Memories 2. Digital image. YouTube. December 1, 2014. Accessed December 1, 2016. https://youtu.be/7V4YeIQzWZc.
Image 2: Very Mainstream Studio. Screen capture from Emptied Memories 2. Digital image. YouTube. December 1, 2014. Accessed December 1, 2016. https://youtu.be/7V4YeIQzWZc.
Image 3: Very Mainstream Studio. Screen capture from Emptied Memories. Digital image. Very Theatre. Accessed December 1, 2016. http://www.vmstudio.tw/vmtheatre.
Image 4: Very Mainstream Studio. Screen capture from Emptied Memories 2. Digital image. YouTube. December 1, 2014. Accessed December 1, 2016. https://youtu.be/7V4YeIQzWZc.