Source: WRO Biennale 2021, Reverso, photo: Marcin Maziej
She is fascinated with anthropomorphism of machines. In her choreography, she flirts with the ‘uncanny valley’ and explores how motion of unhuman forms can change perception of them. She compares the role of avatars in the virtual world to the role of a costume and a mask. VR has become an area of choreography research for her. She wonders how virtual reality influences proprioception. Glitched avatars stimulate her senses and imagination; provoke her to play with the body. When she performs with VR both in the virtual reality and on the scene she becomes the medium connecting two worlds as the embodiment of digital identity.
In her earliest works with camera, she concentrated on working with experiences resonating with her since her earliest dance education and on manifesting various emotional states. She works with Natalia Przybysz and created choreography for a few of her music videos (i.e., ‘Swiatło nocne’ and ‘Świat wewnętrzny’). Iza Szostak invites us to a world where she dances with technology and transcends the physical frames of the stage.
In the English version we present selected and most interesting quotes from the interview.
The idea of the ‘Excavator Ballet’ arose from the fascination with construction sites and their integral structure. When looking at them, I dreamed of learning how to operate one of the machines, and the excavator was the most affordable. I went through a long production process to find the right company that provided the equipment. I also wanted the cooperation to be based more on art branding than a commercial event. I did not want to promote the product or machine. Together with the curator Anna Krolicka, we came to nice conclusions and cooperation strategies with Caterpillar, which I have the impression ‘softened’ its image a bit thanks to this artistic project.
The process of operating the machine was very standard. I invited the performer and choreographer Pawel Sakowicz for collaboration. First, we completed … a course for machine operators, starting with digging holes. Later, I negotiated two weeks to explore other motoric capabilities of the machine. It was funny because the parking lot near Czeladz in Silesia became our residence for 2 weeks. It was a revelation, because I discovered that I could slide on mud, where the tracks leave beautiful markings. I started to ‘paint’ various circular forms. I checked how I felt inside the machine. I started to tame it, but it wasn’t tamed completely, because it has its limitations, and at the same time, the machine is extremely strong. As I lost control of it, my body tossed and knocked against the windows. I was curious about the risk level of our cooperation. I tried to swing it or lift a digging bucket very high. There were tilts. I was crazy with it, but I also noticed that new ideas and choreographic strategies emerged. Interesting process by which the excavator became anthropomorphic. Emotions, almost human, were imprinted on it. I avoided making a show out of it, which only displays the skills of the machine; I wanted to show the work on its qualities that have been achieved.
”Future Presence”, Iza Szostak, source: artist’s private gallery
During the next performance – ‘National Affairs’ – I started cooperation with guys from the Warsaw University of Technology who created prototypes of robots. I wanted to combine the conscious, causative, resisting female bodies with the mechanical ‘bodies’ of the robots. I wanted to link these worlds. I was accompanied by the naive thought that we can all coexist equally. It was related to the topic of women’s strikes, body resisting and krumping, which I was exploring at the time.
Working with an excavator somehow did not contribute to this activity. However, the theme of the costume still intrigues me. I would find a common denominator between operating the machine, which is such a huge, scaled-up garment, and the ‘Skaj Is the Limit’ project where dancers show up in oversized jackets and work intensively with the quality of having the costume and what movement it generates. On the other hand, in my VR projects, when I ‘put on’ the body of an avatar, when it was calibrated, I also felt that it was a process of wearing something that has its own unique features, which influences moving or speaking in a particular way.
(Working with VR…) Everything started from cooperation with Dream Adoption Society and director Krzysztof Garbaczewski more than a year ago. We created a performance ‘Nietota’, which required the collective activity of participants in VR. However, the adventure with this medium began just before everything closed with the beginning of the pandemic. I was so lucky that the computer and headset found their way to my home, because with Krzysiek’s next production we moved the rehearsals to the online environment. We met in VRchat spaces, designed for working on the meditative and VR versions of ‘Divine Comedy’.
Due to the lack of a studio, I needed to explore and learn how to design space and avatar/avatars. Initially, I did it myself by following YouTube tutorials. Then Nastia Vorobiova helped me with her online course. Then I applied for an Art House scholarship to the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. It was a good pretext to further development of VR skills.
VR is such an amazing field to explore the potential of not only the digital body in choreography. I was beginning to be interested in how this VR body differs from the human body; how glitches are formed and what consequences this has for the perception of movement. I recorded my dance in various virtual spaces and watched the difference between my dancing and the avatar’s dancing. Professional motion capture can give very good results, but with the kind of tracking I tried, the transfer of motion is a bit limp. I began to explore failures. I was deliberately confusing this whole system with my body movements and positioning. The results were great.
Source: ”Future Presence”, Iza Szostak, photo: Marcin Maziej
I have made only one performance where I used these principles so far. You need a budget to have enough headsets for the viewers, and the pandemic additionally requires disinfection, ozonation, and so on. This generates costs. In ‘Future Presence’, viewers observe my body in physical space and bodies of my avatars on the screen. Not only the availability, but also the intimacy of such an action is important. The performative lecture called ‘Future Presence’ introduces the action in the virtual world. I explain what avatars are and where their motor skills come from. I am talking about the process of design and where do the glitches come from. I explain how the virtual world is constructed. Of course, I ask myself how the version of the project could look like for many participants in headsets. The next step for me will probably be making a choreographic film in VR for which I would like to use motion capture.
Working with VR boosts your imagination. ‘Putting on’ the avatar results in different behaviour. For example, I created an avatar of Isadora Duncan… Duncan upgrade. She had high wedges instead of bare feet, and I wanted to display it constantly in action. I would not do that if not the avatar representation: costume and the new identity that was put on me. It is not bad that we have our own identity or body memory and we cannot do some things in real life, but the interesting phenomena is that when using VR we have enough courage to do that. In the context of improvisation, it seems to me that it expands the area of exploration. It is interesting how our behaviour system changes in a virtual environment, what new does it offers us and what movement boundaries we break when discovering the hidden potential of our body. It is amazing how avatars can interact without any cultural, political and identity baggage. You can be whoever you want; it is beyond any divisions.
In the VR space that I created, there are spots or places with the sound. It can resonate across the whole space or only in selected places. Discovering these places is related to moving about. Archiving space is great, because how else can you save similar activities in real space? The cool thing is that when you get to a place where, for example, there are animated avatars that perform choreography, you can watch them from different sides, and even lie under a dancing person, go up a hill and watch them from above, up close or from afar.
Broaden your perception. Hear about how technologies are changing art, culture, society, politics and marketing. The first series of interviews presents artists of the new media. You will find on Spotify part of the interview unpublished on the website.