Reformatting Our Lens: Drawing With Motion

Article by Raine Blunk

As we become addicted to data through likes and followers, clouds and files, we are constantly after an idea of the digital "average" to correlate information that can be seen in both the digital and physical realms. We take photos, videos and audio clips to collect memories on our phone’s storage, hoping we get the best shots of whatever’s happening in front of us as we watch through the screen. Ultimately, we become drawn to the precise memory of technology over the spontaneity of human interaction, despite what elements of those interactions are lost in the process.

“I’m not sure if there is any way to retain the things that are lost; but, the process of loss, itself, presents new and exciting areas of exploration,” says Gabriel Cohen, programmer behind Drawing With Motion. He sees those lost interactions as a map to the answer wrapped inside layers of data. “I feel like to some degree, the investigation of information loss when translating ideas from one medium to another has been an interest since Blanchot first posed writing, and by extension all art making, as an inherently paradoxical negative action: in which any sort of externalization or extension of a thought undoes it.”

If Blanchot is right, the externalization of Cohen's studies remind us that if we don’t keep pace with the ever more sentient intelligence of today, our human powers could be rendered useless, if not for our species’ organic inconsistencies. We’ll always compare ourselves to life on the other side of the screen now that it’s been put in front of us.

“I think that at this point in time it is still part of human nature to be drawn to interpersonal connections and interactions; that said, the state of contemporary human interactions is being drastically complicated by its digital mediation,” says Cohen. 

This constant technological point of reference brings us to a place where our inner desires and needs are becoming more closely integrated into our experiences online. “The simultaneous physical closeness and psychological removal of digital communication has seemingly removed the filter of the super ego," Cohen says. "What else can explain the phenomena of the Twitter rant, the profession of love over Facebook, or the act of the sexual proposition which has all but moved into the digital realm?” 

But our social media dribble hardly compares to the data-mapping technology that tracks texture and color to define the lines of a ballet dancer on stage in a recorded performance for Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland during the video for Drawing With Motion. The footage does, however, seem equally as cold — the same sensation one gets as a camera follows them along a storefront after-hours is mirrored in the tracing anchors as the dancer graces across the black gloss floors, dots and lines following her like digi-ghosts staking importance to her movements.

Cohen admits he isn’t a “real computer scientist,” but there isn’t a computer in the world that can recreate the ballet dancer’s path true-to-life. “At the moment, this is where my interest seems to lie: the point at which the program behaves unexpectedly and a dialogue is created between my coding and the computer’s ability to execute it,” says Cohen, who specifically wrote the code to track averages on the dancer’s 3D plane with an intent to “reclaim the original focus of the choreography as an investigation primarily into the orchestration of motion.” 

While nothing from the original performance remains within Drawing with Motion, the notion or spirit of the event lies in averages saved and replayed on Cohen's computer screen and on Vimeo for the world.

Although the 2D footage exists like a shell of the live-action, 3D movement, Cohen feels that we are already jaded by all the information we lose in the process of translating data of any sort — from language to music, the real meaning exists in the transformation that occurs during that translation.

“Compare an edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy translated by a Latin expert, taken as a challenge of the translation of a large scale work, with a more “poetic” translation, which attempts to capture some feeling of the original or to supplant it with new meaning created by the translator in the process of reading the original work,” says Cohen, who cites his own control over the re-framing of the performance through video. 

As the ballet dancer flits across the screen and maps her own choreography to the end of the song, Cohen fights against those motions with his own, programmed void of human feeling, human understanding, or human desire. Yet the data is still there and we’ll take it in, wondering only for a moment if it matters what we didn’t get to see.