This conversation continues from the Girard + Amkraut conversation, but moves towards a very early exploration of the ideas in Into the forest. Even so, some of these dreams have been reached yet.
KAISER: In contrast to looking at a great dancer, when you look at a child moving, you get a very different but powerful sense of grace. It’s a grace not of mastery, but quite the opposite, of still learning to move. Moving uncertainly and irregularly, but also with a lack of inhibition that gives an unmatched sense of joy to that movement.
I remember once when I was talking about the possibilities of motion-capturing children’s movements. Some friends of mine doubted that a child’s motions would remain beautiful when you took away his or her body. They thought that the charm of children came from their outer appearance rather than from the quality of their motions. I argued that it was the exact opposite, that you’d see the true beauty of their movement only when you were no longer so captivated and distracted by their rosy cheeks and dazzling smiles. You’d see beyond any doubt that the soul of their movement is beautiful unto itself.
MICHAEL GIRARD: Yes. Part of the fascination of motion capture is to see what isn’t mastered. Even in looking at motion-captured dancers, I like it when the dancer doesn’t quite hold or fix his foot on the ground, and there’s a slip, and you see a bit of dynamic bump move through, but in a very coherent and organized way. At that point you sense the physical dynamics of the body trying to respond. A child who’s learning motion is bumping up against the physical dynamics of their own body. And so maybe they aren’t doing exactly what they want, and that’s visually apparent. But this makes a child’s motion much more tactile and immediately physical than an adult’s motion, whose nervous system has learned over time to control itself in a smoother way.
PK: One of the ideas that we’ve been discussing for a long time is organizing the irregular motions of children or ordinary people into a kind of dance.
One example we’ve used is a playground. Imagine you’re focusing on a single child moving in a playground. If you were to film that child in slow motion, you’d have something of extraordinary beauty. To take this one step further, imagine that you’re not seeing the bodies of children, but only the lines of their abstracted motions — animated diagrams of motion.
Now picture spheres of influence of the sort you were describing earlier in Brouhaha. In this case, let’s imagine them as social forces. Let’s say that two children start to chase each other around a jungle gym. Other children notice them, and perhaps they join in. The individual motions of the children are now organized into this group activity, and as this playing evolves into a game of tag, for example, the tagger and the tagged move and behave differently. After a while, one child might lose interest in the game and wander over to a four-square game, or perhaps to a sandbox, where he or she plays alone, perhaps lost in a daydream.
Other spheres of influence might be meteorological. Clouds disperse, the sun comes out, it gets very hot, and the children get tired of playing this game and do something quieter. Or the wind blows up, the clouds block the sun, and the cooler air begins to exert its influence. Even the environment of the playground influences things. The availability of the swings, for example, the comings and goings of other children — all this will help determine what a child does. A child will behave differently in a crowded playground than in an empty one.
So we start to uncover a self-organizing system of great beauty, but a beauty that’s usually hidden to us. It’s almost as if you have to strip all outward appearances away — see the motions and the interrelationships with diagrammatic clarity ‘before the beautiful system in front of you is revealed.
Taking this as a hypothetical, could you comment on the scenario I’ve just presented? Do you regard a playground as a kind of choreography?
MG: It’s very interesting. When we look at a playground, we tend to see it in symbolic terms first and not really the formal organization that underlies it. It might be interesting to start with this naturalistic choreography in order to draw the viewer in to a familiar reality, after which complex algorithms to resequence the motions, as well as developing new spatial relationships between them. Building new patterns from such mundane motions could result in something quite compelling.
PK: Years ago I made a film called Colorblind etc. It was the last film I made, actually, for it declared the end of a certain road I was traveling down artistically. This was back in 1978 or so.
Fred Camper and I shot an intersection of streets in New York City with Super-8 cameras. The shots were framed in such a way that you never followed one particular pedestrian — there was no center to the composition. Instead you’d see this intricate but decentralized pattern of people crossing the streets, negotiating the intersection. And it was so beautiful because all the behavior was subconscious. The variety of motion was staggering: businessmen flagging taxis, babies in strollers pushed by young mothers, an old man with a cane crossing the street at the very edge of the frame, kids skipping around together. And all these people navigating around each other and around the onrushing cars and buses mdash; everything so perfectly but subconsciously coordinated.
Talk about counterpoint! This was instinctive choreography and emergent structure. So now as I hear you talking about imposing algorithmic structures onto these networks of movement, I suggest that we should instead find out what underlying algorithms organize all this. Can we extract those rules?
SUSAN AMKRAUT: Perhaps. But to return to your earlier playground scenario: I was thinking that you could model each child with an ability to be open to a new activity, or not open, and that this receptivity would change over time. Each child would be different in this way, they would all be individuals. Now when a child becomes open to an activity, he or she is attracted to whichever one is near him or that he’s looking at. And it’s not simply the play structures he’s attracted to ‘ the sandbox or the jungle gym. Instead, perhaps he sees another kid walking toward one of those structures with a certain gait. It’s the gait of that kid that attracts the child to the sandbox.
MG: We could also start off with a playground environment that looks blackonwhite, but then disrupt that sense of familiarity by changing or mutating its play structures. Imagine constructing new play equipment that demands different kinds of movements and interactions.
PK: Yes. And perhaps the playground itself shouldn’t even be visible. You only see the abstracted lines of the children’s motion, but the swings and the jungle gyms are unseen. Imagine a child moving on an invisible gangplank between two structures. These are common enough in playgrounds, but they impart a strangeness to a child’s movement that would be all the more beautiful if the gangplank itself were not seen, but only the child’s sudden care and tentativeness as he or she walks over it.
I imagine we could invent other kinds of surfaces as well, or just play with the sand in sandboxes, and the bouncy sticky surface of the rubber matting at the bottom of slides. To take this line of thought even further, when you have children playing on jungle-gyms, their movements are physically determined by the structure of the jungle-gym, but that’s not necessarily what they’re picturing mentally. Instead, they may be enacting a story that’s developing either in their social play or in their daydream.
And this other mental space is also very interesting to me. In Hand-drawn Spaces, we’ve been concentrating on evoking a single mental space. For the playground project, on the other hand, we would be thinking about both the consensual spaces created by the children’s collective make-believe, as well as the individual spaces created by their private daydreams.