The essays in this video suite ask us to consider what lies at the bottom of uncanny experiences. Why do some things feel both foreign and familiar to us?
“Space tempts me,” admits the dancer in “Territory” as she moves across a landscape made precisely for her image. Next, the word “space” begins to roll down her face and neck. “Territory” is a project by choreographer Kathleen Kelley and poet Sarah Rose Nordgren. The pair, known as “Smart Snow,” began collaborating when they were teenagers. Their first poetry video began as a diorama built with materials intended for miniature war reenactments and later expanded into an installation featuring live dancers and interactive digital texts. Through several feats of engineering, Nordgren and Kelley projected shrunken text and footage of a dancer into their diorama and filmed the two elements moving together. Across this poetry video we notice that the dancer is at once confined by, but also growing out of, this landscape, the way a child might feel inside a fenced yard, or a refrigerator box with holes cut for windows. “Territory” asks us to think about the everyday places where digital and analog rub up against one another, and can produce a type of confinement. It shows us how compressed spaces, like miniatures, ask us to consider their life-sized counterparts more carefully.
Click through for bios of Kelley and Nordgren.
Where does the poem end and the dance begin? I don’t usually include the filmmaker’s name in the title, but the collaboration between dance and video artist Kathleen Kelley and poet Sarah Rose Nordgren is so tight here, it’s hard to see how to credit the poem exclusively to Nordgren. In an email, she told me that “the poetry and choreography for this piece were done collaboratively, i.e. they were created simultaneously in response to each other.” The result is pure videopoetry.
Portlet is one of three films from their collaborative project Digitized Figures, which has a dedicated page on Kelley’s website where you can view all three as well as a live rehearsal video. Here’s the description:
Digitized Figures: A Practice of Choreographing Text is a collaborative project in development by poet Sarah Rose Nordgren and choreographer Kathleen Kelley. Set to premiere in 2015, Digitized Figures will create an interactive performance environment that weaves words and images through both digital and analog space to investigate the other face of digital technology: its mirrored relationship to organic and evolutionary impulses.
The final version of this installation will include 3 video projections that surround and react to the viewer, animating poems as living and responsive text. Visitors to the installation will be able to move through each of the projections, changing and redirecting them with their own gestures. In addition to the projections, there will be dancers performing live in the space, providing a geometric embodiment that works contrapuntally to the abstraction of the moving words. The viewers will be able to interact with the dancers using touchscreens that give the dancers qualitative and emotional directions.
I’ve featured poetry-dance videos on this website since its inception; it’s a fascinating genre. With the inclusion of “dancing” text animation and the incorporation of the videos into a live, interactive installation/performance, this project really pushes the genre forward.