jolie.la/ide

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animated GIF of piece

Imperfect

Imperfect is a physically integrated dance duet choreographed by Ginger Lane, performed by herself and Susan Ojala Myers. The dance is inspired by the Wallace Stevens quote, “The Imperfect is Our Paradise.”

The Choreography

Leveraging a dramatic score from sound designer Dan Wool, Imperfect features two dancers that oscillate between representing one figure and two independent entities. Though they enter and leave the stage in sync with one another, slippage, drift, and divergencies gracefully pull them in and out of alignment throughout the piece.

two dancers, arms outstreached two dancers, arms outstreached

Digitally Reinventing Imperfection

For the Dancemakers Forum Digital Dance Grant, Ginger Lane, Ladonna Freidheim (ReinventAbility), and Jon Satrom (studiothread) collaborated to recreate Imperfect–informed by the pandemic moment and the digital stage that was thrust upon us during quarantine.

two dancers on Zoom, arms outstreached two dancers on Zoom, arms outstreached

We came together, virtually, in video meetings to work, practice, and conceptualize this new proscenium. Considering our webcams as the audience, the network and browser frame as the stage, and our bodies as metadata, we experimented with pose estimation and tracking technologies.

screenshot of code and hand tracking points screenshot of code and hand tracking points

Ginger reworked the choreography for Isabelle Taylor and Ladonna Freidheim–each contained within their own device. The process was far from perfect. Network interruptions, lag, and technical hiccups were common. As we found our working rhythm, a “new normal” emerged from a “safe” yet unstable platform.

Jolie Laide

The French term “Jolie Laide” translates to English as “beautifully-ugly”. Ginger brought it to the group after a playful experimentation session with Snapchat filters and digital retouching filters in Zoom. The oxymoronic term seemed to capture the uncanny nature of digitally reinventing Imperfection. On one hand, the digital tools at our disposal are elegant and smart. On the other, they can get in the way, distract, and make us dumb.

The digital platform that users on average spent 2 hours a day on started as a face rating website. Facebook, the gigantic global social network that owns Instagram and WhatsApp, has grown into a sophisticated tracking tool that stores unique vector points that can identify a user’s face with an accuracy of 97%. Recently, other companies have followed in the ugly practice of estimating and codifying beauty. TikTok has a beauty rating for each user and its algorithm is tuned for promoting content from more “beautiful” users.

Ladonna experimenting with facial tracking and pose estimation Ladonna experimenting with facial tracking and pose estimation

While these data points are a small fraction of social media users’ digital shadows, the metadata that surrounds us is being leveraged for “better” tracking and bigger tools. Machine learning and artificial intelligence models are trained on huge sets of data, often including publicly available social media posts. The paradox of working in this space is that, while we have access to excellent tools and algorithms, they’re often imbued with false promises and are far from perfect themselves. Facial recognition and gate analysis algorithms are being used in predictive policing in the United States and social scoring in China. The promise of technology is alluring, however these algorithms have been proven to misidentify POC and not work on folx with disabilities.

With the webcam as audience, the browser as stage, and considering the metadata that our bodies create, studiothread began experimenting with building a tool from scratch that would track, distort, and process the dance.
Ginger coaching Ladonna and Isabelle outisde on a roof top at our first in person meeting as vaccines began to roll out Ginger coaching Ladonna and Isabelle outisde on a roof top at our first in person meeting as vaccines began to roll out

The Toy/Tool

The goal of the artware (software for artistic purposes) is to process, compliment, and amplify Ginger's choreography and touch on the ideas brought to the collaboration from Imperfect and our discussions about desire, expectation, time, technological failure, and glitches.

a video meeting of the software team a video meeting of the "software team"

A creative team of new media artists and practitioners was pulled together by studiothread and consists of Ilia Gilbert (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Tallon Hodge (University of Chicago), and Jon Satrom (studiothread, University of Chicago)–with consultation and support from Nick Briz (SAIC, UChicago). Code sketches and experiments were initally developed in tandem with the choreography until a core structure emerged.

capture of Isabelle kneeling and reaching upward capture of Isabelle kneeling and reaching upward

The stack of browser technologies being used in the piece are informed by tracking vectors provided by a pose estimation library developed by Google called Media Pipe. Current state-of-the-art pose estimation approaches rely primarily on powerful desktop environments for inference, whereas Google's method achieves real-time performance on most modern mobile phones, laptops, and browsers.

The pose vectors are able to be manipulated and scaled to amplify or remix motion data. That data is then shared with a shader layer that can manipulate the frames of the video.

capture of a Ladonna spinning in her chair capture of a Ladonna spinning in her chair

The tool is being developed with modularity in mind–to aid in experimentation and leave open ends for unexpected combinations of effects. Tracking errors and mis-read vectors have been aesthetically embraced to explore the entropy, noise, and failure present in our shared process.

The technical layers present in the toy/tool:

  1. Webcam | Video (live video or pre-recorded documentation)
  2. Media Pipe (pose estimation and hand estimation)
  3. Vector Layer (manipulation of the points)
  4. Shader Layer (manipulation of the image)

The flexibility of the toy/tool allows us to consider hybrid approaches like mixing the video with tracking data and filtered media–or, remove the video to render complete abstraction of motion (as seen in the take below).

Take the current version of the toy/tool for a spin! The source video loads on the top, followed by the tool's output. You can add filters below the second video. Please keep in mind that we're still working on aspects like user interface, vector manipulation, etc. Load the toy/tool

The Future

Vaccines began to roll out over the course of our collaboration. Having bonded remotely, we had the desire to gather in person for a session.

Ladonna and Isabelle outisde on a roof top at our first in person meeting as vaccines began to roll out Ladonna and Isabelle outisde on a roof top at our first in person meeting as vaccines began to roll out
What resulted was a hybrid space conceived in isolation–a process and vision brought together via the network.

It is a unique piece that uses two cameras–processing each dancer individually, choreography featuring moments of reaching toward and breaking through the frame, . Early on, in our Zoom sessions, we would have never imagined Ladonna and Isabelle moving from one webcam to the next.

dancers moving from one side of the screen to another, followed by tracking lines dancers moving from one side of the screen to another, followed by tracking lines

We have filmed a performance for video at Momenta and will be using that footage to tune the toy/tool. The final piece will live on this website along side this documentation, the code, and a webcam version of the piece for folx to play with.

The unstable underpinnings and modularity of jolie.la/ide means it can be displayed and experienced in a myriad of ways.

a mockup of a two channel installation a mockup of a two channel installation

The tool/toy is still in development and will debute in October at Counter Balance, Chicago's permier integrated dance festival, and will be complimented with workshops and more!