Data Management Part III: An Artistic Framework for Understanding Technology without Technology

Kate Sicchio, PhD

Adjunct Faculty, Parsons New School for Design & Adjunct Faculty, Temple University

Susanne Palzer’s OPEN PLATFORM/RAP(s)-TwT. event series is designed to “engage with unfamiliar fields of knowledge…devising a framework for responding to information overload in a creative way.” [1] Specifically, the series asks performers to focus on the field of computing and to think about how systems that revolve around the body, such as performance, might be used to unpack complex computer networks.

The “TwT.” in OPEN PLATFORM/RAP(s)-TwT. stands for technology without technology, and it has become a methodology for the performance works associated with Palzer’s project. Each performer that participates in the OPEN PLATFORM/RAP(s)-TwT. series must, in less than ten minutes, explore digital technology without utilizing any digital technology and present on a wooden pallet, which becomes the platform—a physical interpretation of the metaphor of running a technical system on a specific computing platform. Performances have ranged from sing-a-long songs created from spam email to choreography based upon object-oriented programming languages to recursive spoken word pieces about GPS systems.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, one of Palzer’s own pieces, clearly demonstrates how the OPEN PLATFORM/RAP(s)-TwT. series can become a means to explore, experience and convey technological systems in an embodied and ephemeral way. In the performance, Palzer reads a text written by Ben Keen in 2011 on syncing online data to data management platforms. [2] In the process of reading Palzer reinterprets the language of networked systems and security features such that it makes the text a physical choreography. Those without technical knowledge still can appreciate the performative elements of the work, and those with a previous understanding may see the technology in a new way.

The piece begins with Palzer introducing the work. After failing to “sync her mobile device to her main platform,” Palzer announces she will work cross platform; she then stands across a smaller platform with the main OPEN PLATFORM/RAP(s)-TwT. pallet. She also states she is working across the platforms of performance and technology. She then reads Keen’s text as if it were a script. The technical terms are interpreted, usually in quite literal ways, through movement and props.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

Whenever Palzer says DMP (for Digital Monitoring Products) she steps on or slaps the main platform. Whenever she says the words “sync” or “integration,” she moves her arms in a front and back motion. Choreographed gestures provide a way of moving that represent pathways of data, including stepping across platforms as well as her arms motioning front and back whenever saying the words sync or integration. If she reads the term “user id” she gestures to herself, touching her own chest.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

She visualizes the phrase “HTML” with four slaps on the back wall of the performance space. In this way her choreographed gestures represent pathways of data; her gestures create networks of movement. Moreover, the movement vocabulary is simple enough that the audience begins to learn them and visually see the patterns of terms in the language of the writing.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

The props Palzer uses further contribute to the work’s humor and poetry. Buttons removed from computer key boards represent “keydata,” and are thrown onto the platforms.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

Later when discussing “audience profiling” the key data is thrown into the audience. The “query string” is a piece of string attached to Palzer’s belt.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

Large paper tags that would go on packages become “Container tags.” An encrypted message is a crumbled piece of paper and stored when thrown underneath the platform.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo ©Susanne Palzer.

“Cookies,” which in the technical text refer to data stored by a web browser, become edible cookies—first placed onto the platform and later passed out to the audience. When the text states “drops a cookie on the user” she drops a physical cookie onto an audience member. This enactment of a computational command not only brings to attention the language of network systems, but also the interactions that they provide between people.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

Data Management Part III, 2012, Susanne Palzer, Photo © Susanne Palzer.

Key to this piece is Palzer’s use of performance conventions—from choreographed movement to props to audience interactions—as a means to examine a technical text. In one sense the enactment of the text is humorous and absurd, providing an entertaining way of exploring technical jargon. Further reading of the piece may start to identify the patterns of language, highlighted through the gestures and movement. But the piece also adds a crucial element that the text alone does not highlight: at the center of this work is a body. A person is the end user of the secure network and it is a person who created the network. By physically interpreting computing, the notion that communication technologies are about people becomes clear.

 

References

  1. Susanne Palzer (2012) About RAM/RAR/RAA+RAP(s)at Access Space [online] Available at: http://arandomprocessexperiment.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-ramrarraaraps-at-access-space.html. Last accessed June 6, 2014.
  2. Ben Keen (2011) Data Management Part III: Syncing Online Data to a Data Management Platform. [online] Available at: http://www.adopsinsider.com/online-ad-measurement-tracking/data-management-platforms/syncing-online-data-to-a-data-management-platform/. Last accessed June 6, 2014.

 

Bio

Kate Sicchio works at the interface of choreography and technology. Her work includes performances, installations, web and video projects and has been shown across the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and the UK at venues such as Banff New Media Institute (Canada), WAX Brooklyn (New York) and Arnolfini Arts Centre (UK). She has presented work at conferences and symposia including International Society of Electronic Arts, ACM Creativity and Cognition, Digital Research in Humanities and Arts, Congress On Research in Dance, and Society of Dance History Scholars. She has given artist talks at Times Up (Linz), Node Code (Frankfurt) and EU Commission (Brussels). Her research has been published in Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Computer Music Journal and Learning Performance Quarterly.
www.sicchio.com