In October 2013 I was part of Nybble installation at the V&A Museum, London. The Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum is one of my favourite places in London, so I jumped at the chance to be part of an installation there.
Nybble was commissioned for the V&A Museum’s Digital Design Weekend 2013, part of London Design Festival. It was funded by Design With Heritage, an AHRC Creative Economies Project between the V&A Museum and University College London.
As dancers, we were on podiums, with massive wing like costumes and had to respond to instructions which were given to us live through an ear piece to deliver dance programmed to us. It was difficult to always remember what instructions had been given, and to ensure not to get too carried away with how we delivered this. The wind and the sheer size of the costumes proved difficult, as well as the podium!
a bit about the reasoning behind this installation: In 1984, philosopher John Searle asserted that there can be no such thing as “hard” artificial intelligence through the now-famous Chinese Room argument. Searle asked whether a non-Chinese speaker, locked in a room with nothing but a book with instructions for translating one Chinese symbol into another – and given the task of translating Chinese symbols passed to him on slips of paper – could ever truly learn Chinese. The answer, according to Searle, is “no”. There is no difference between the process that the person in the Chinese room is following (i.e. manipulating symbols according to a pre-fixed routine) and the information transfer in computer systems. Thus, Searle argues, if the man in the Chinese room could never learn the meaning of the symbols he is changing, no computer could truly learn the meaning of the symbols it is manipulating, and thus, there can be no “hard” artificial intelligence.
This installation is a diagram of Searle’s argument; a human-computer, comprised of four dancers and an unseen controller, parse a coded message. Only the public, who are given code-sheets, can read the message over the course of a 45-minute dance. In computing terms a “Nybble” is half a byte of information – that is, four bits (or dancers).
This video sums it up pretty well, and also gives you a bit of an idea of what we were hearing through the ear piece!
This video shows you the code base
And this one is a good old timelapse video of one of the days. I really love seeing the beauty of the building behind here, as well as the reflections in the water; they really look gorgeous. This was something I tried to play with at the time.
I loved having such definite instructions to play with; it was great to interpret these how was appropriate for you, and seeing how different people did this differently. The differentiations were all brought together during the moments of stillness and even though we were given freedom with movement, the rigour of the direction allowed us to still be seen as united. It also gave the feeling that we, as performers, were communicating together, even though we were on our separate podiums, embodying the instructions how best suited us. I loved being part of this installation, as well as the truly beautiful surroundings and the costume, which was very fun to play with (although difficult at times).
I felt the project related a lot to Laban’s effort theory, where Rudolf Laban analysed human efforts to enable us to be most efficient. This is used a lot in dance, and is useful in describing movements. Laban analysis is one of the most used analysis of human movement. It allows notation of dance and it’s commodities remind me very much so of the structure of Nybble project.
I work with Laban theory a lot during choreography and my dance practice, and have planned to teach it my Cambodian colleagues and students out here!
If you are interested, or more information on Laban analysis (as it would be far too much for me to go into in depth here!) please see http://movementhasmeaning.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/LMA-Workshop-Sheet.pdf
Hope you enjoyed the photos and videos, and if you ever get chance to go to the V&A, whether you have never been or have been a million times, go, always go. I always find a spot I’d never seen before or fall in love with the beauty of the interior all over again. They also always have new exhibitions on as well as an extremely awesome shop (great for Christmas pressies!), xxx
The staff at the V&A Museum
Kathryn, this is so cool. I knew you had danced at the V&A, I have a mutual love for the place haha, but this project is so interesting. We definitely do need to collaborate 🙂 xxx