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Fall 2005 | v.01 n. 01 | Invitational Issue |

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Human and Machine: Examining the Place of Physical Technology in
Contemporary Performance
Gwyan Rhabyt

California State University, East Bay

This panel of artists, critics, and historians examined the place of physical technology in contemporary performance. Beyond the mainstays of sound and projection, recent years have seen an explosion of mechanical and robotic components in performance art. Driven by theoretical debates, increasing technological sophistication, and by the rapidly falling cost of processors and sensors, artists are going past simple explorations of our relationship with technology and engaging issues of determinism, the nature of violence, and the aesthetics of memory, among many others. Many questions emerge from these developments. What does it mean for a machine to perform? How does performance art’s intense examination of the body change when mechanized bodies are juxtaposed with human ones? Can the addition of machines humanize a performance?

While a fascination with mechanization has been with performance since its inception, the sophisticated autonomous interactive behaviors that allow robotics to become a standard tool available to any artist are recent. More significantly in these years of slashed art budgets, these tools, parts, and methods now cost no more than paint or fabric, and often less. The one difference is that the machine is neither prop nor human. If it can act and interact, who authors its work? What does it signify? The two papers below examine the work of several significant artists to consider the uses of physical technology in repositioning meaning and authorship in contemporary performance.

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