Just as the year 2020 has been marked by constant change and the need to stay creatively flexible, so has our research for Relay RE:search (former working title: IKIGAI) , supported by the #RELOAD grant from the German Federal Cultural Foundation
We began our research with the desire to address the isolation elderly people are confronted by in contemporary society. Then Covid came, which guided us to search for other apparatus and approaches to fill the role of touch and intimacy as close proximity became increasingly dangerous.
Through weekly sessions and additional intensive workshop periods from July to September 2020, SENSE-Box was designed in collaboration with choreographer Emi Miyoshi, dramaturg Monica Gillette and audio engineer Ephraim Wegner. The focus was a human heart beat, which was used as a source for tuning and co-creating with invited guests. Through much trial and error, an e-stethoscope was connected to one person and then heard through wireless headphones by another. Additional sensors were utilized to give the listener capacity to play, alter and transform the heartbeat of the other person through their own movements.
Throughout the development of the technology a series of movement scores was created to shape the encounters done in pairs. Early in the process it became clear that the focus of connection was a sensorial one, rather than verbal. The original intention to engage the invited guests through interviews dealing with the Japanese concept of Ikigai (iki = life & gai = value), which deals with one’s life force and values for moving through the day, revealed itself to be extraneous to the encounters. For that reason, as the research unfolded, more focus was placed on the nonverbal experience as a way to heighten one’s sense of the other.
Several sessions from October till December were dedicated to designing the devices, which were activated through the user’s movements, in a way that they could be as intuitive as possible, so that anybody could join in the research. While the technology was utilized to enhance the user's awareness and deep listening skills with the aim to deepen connection, a sensitive movement score was created to gently bring the guests inside the experience.
Each encounter with the invited guests began with a physical warm-up by choreographer Emi Miyoshi, which activated spatial awareness and dynamic movements and then shifted to a deeper connection with oneself through moving with one’s own heartbeat. Gradually a shift was made to moving in relationship to the heartbeat of another person and additional sensors were added so that the user could begin to alter the sounds generated from the heartbeat while in a physical, albeit, distanced dialog with the other person.
The guests ranged in age from 7 to 89 and following each aspect of the score, short interviews were made by dramaturg Monica Gillette to open a conversation on connectivity and intimacy as well as to continue the development of the technology and encounters. A transformative experience was felt by each guest in a variety of ways; for some, strong emotions were triggered. For others, bursts of energy were activated due to the possibility of influencing the sound and volume of another person’s heartbeat.
Many layers of the research process have directly influenced the future production of Relay-tionship, premiered in the form of a film by videographer Marc Doradzillo on 16th of January 2021. Within the film, aspects of the research material are intercut with material from the performers.