Optical engineering meets dance

February 8, 2002

Seminar to combine arts, technology to explore movement

"Free Space," a dance concert at Duke University using infrared cameras, laser beams, aerial acrobatics, live music and video projections streamed via an experimental camera cluster from the Duke Information Spaces Project (DISP), will merge art with the frontiers of optical engineering.

The alban elved dance company of Winston-Salem, N.C., will perform "Free Space" at 8 p.m. Feb. 21-23 at the Sheafer Theater in the Bryan Center on Duke's West Campus. A related all-day seminar on such interdisciplinary collaborations will be held Feb. 22.

The dance group's use of experimental technology from the new Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics and Communications Systems at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering "examines the relationship between bodies, movements and events," according to the Free Space Web site. "This interdisciplinary project joins artists, engineers and humanists who explore how technology might expand human creativity and how forms of human creativity might offer insights into expanding technology."

DISP will support a variety of sensor, processing and distributing technologies, including the Argus Sensor Array, an arrangement of 64 digital cameras named for the Greek god with 100 eyes. Each camera is linked to its own computer node, enabling operators to freeze video motion, zoom in and out, and seemingly spin around the computer-programmed images that the cameras capture.

This array was previously used when the lab was in Illinois to record and computer-modify a dancer's routines so that she could later dance with her own prerecorded video. For alban elved's February performances, Fitzpatrick Center engineers plan to move the array to the foyer just outside Sheafer Theater. There it will record dancers' performances off stage and instantly "stream" the images to the audience in "real time."

The audience will also be able to interact with Argus during the performance. "We've even toyed with letting the audience have laptops," said Steve Feller, information spaces manager at the Fitzpatrick Center. "This will be a real test. Some things we know will work and alban elved knows will work. And some things we're not so sure about."

The related Free Space Symposium, to be held in Room 240 of Duke's John Hope Franklin Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 22, will include four separate panel discussions on technology, collaboration, communications and art involving both local and remote participants from as far away as Finland.

"The symposium will provide an intellectual context for examining a variety of issues that pertain to the Free Space performances," said Edward Shanken, executive director for Duke's Information Science + Information Studies (ISIS) program. Headquartered at the Franklin Center, ISIS combines a research center and a prospective undergraduate certificate program to support interdisciplinary scholarship concerned with information technology.

Symposium topics will include "Motion, Space and Technology," "Collaboration," "Engineering Human Communications in Space and Time," and "Dance, Video and Documentation of the Argus Project."

Speakers will include Bill Seaman, an interactive multi-media artist and professor of design and media at UCLA; Mark Hansen, a Bell Labs statistician who collaborated with an artist on the multi-media installation "Listening Post"; Joseph Paradiso, director of the Responsive Environments Group at MIT's Media Lab; Brigitte Steinheider, a scholar from Stuttgart, Germany, who does research on remote international collaborations between artists and engineers; and David Brady, director of the Fitzpatrick Center.

The Free Space events are being sponsored by ISIS, the Fitzpatrick Center, the Franklin Center, the Institute of the Arts at Duke University, the Duke Museum of Art, Duke's Office of the Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Nancy Hanks Artist Residency Endowment.