All you need is love

Suzanne Spunner, Company in Space, touchwhere

Thirty years ago I remember staying up until the small hours of a freezing winter night to watch the first worldwide live satellite broadcast on television. The high point was watching The Beatles perform All You Need Is Love in a London studio. The Great Cities of the World all fed in short live segments and I recall Melbourne’s featured the first tram of the day leaving the Kew depot.

Standing in Swanston Street at midnight, stamping my feet in 2 degrees of winter, watching touchwhere by Company in Space recalled that event in 1968. touchwhere was a realtime online performance by two dancers—Louise Taube in Melbourne and Hellen Sky in Orlando, Florida. They danced across the globe, “the earth beneath their feet”, the same dance together but separate, mirroring and replicating each other’s movements in the reflective pool of the video camera and the computer. The dance duet was projected on three large screens set into the portico of Melbourne Town Hall—two at street level, on the same level as the live, present performer and the third in the upper balcony level, the place (as a matter of symmetry) where The Beatles stood in 1962 to wave to the assembled populace of Melbourne.

The intriguing thing about touchwhere was the way in which it gathered and placed its audience. The performance was free of charge and available to anyone who chose or happened to be there, passing by on foot or in one of the many trams whose route takes them along Swanston Street.
So there were huddled dance-goers outside McDonalds, watching the dance from the place I was told was the intended viewing position on the other side of Swanston Street. Directly opposite us was a fortuitous audience—couples in tuxedos and ballgowns, clutching bunches of helium balloons who’d just left a ball in the Town Hall where they’d been dancing.

Many of them sat on the steps and watched mystified as a dancer in a silvery sort of space-suit made movements, tracked by a video camera. The audience was placed effectively on raked seating (the Town Hall steps) watching Louise Taube’s live performance in front of a triptych comprising two wings—the video screens projecting her dancing with Hellen Sky and in the centre, in the far distance, on the other side of the street, another audience—us watching them.

From time to time our view was obscured by a passing tram whose passengers, watching out of either side windows, could see the performance and two of the three video projections as well as two differently disported and attired audiences. For the ball-goers, the whole thing was framed by a proscenium arch—the Town Hall portico.

Meanwhile, we watched almost the whole thing—the live dancer whose presence was as significant as the trams, the ballgoers and the three video screens. These various modes of spectatorship were all animated as well as the imagined other audience in Florida. The resonances with De Chirico drawings of figures within architectural spaces or the image in a mirror in a Van Eyck painting were all there too.

At the end of the live performance there was another show—more like a cheerio segment or a chat show as the gang in Melbourne talked and saw themselves talking to Hellen Sky in Orlando about what it was like to be here— freezing cold, but on time tonight, and what it was like to be there—cold in the sense of lacking an audience or space of reception. And the people over there said they wished they were back here with us. The contrast between the exponential advances in technology which make an event like this possible and the smallness, ordinariness of the desires of the participants to make face to face connection was strangely moving. Cyber space is at once so vast and so domestic, so indifferent and yet so intimate.

touchwhere was more event and spectacle than performance. In the role of indented audience, you took on the part of artist advocate to explain to the confused, accidental audience filing past McDonalds who wanted to know what this was. You were also constantly drawn to the other elements constituting the event: the behaviour of the other audiences; juxtapositions—like watching dancers through tram windows; the melding of the images of the dancers responding to the virtual but actual other on the screen; the coolness of the lone, live performer who was centrally placed on the stage from any of these myriad vantage points but who was somehow not the focus of the event.

Company in Space, touchwhere, devised and designed by John McCormick and Hellen Sky in collaboration with sound designer/composer Garth Paine, choreographer and performer Hellen Sky in collaboration with Louise Taube; computer graphics Marshall White; performed live simultaneously and interactively between SIGGRAPH 98, Orlando, Florida, USA and MAP, Melbourne, Australia, Melbourne Town Hall portico, midnight July 20 – 24

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 7

© Suzanne Spunner; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 1998