The New Normal? Participatory and interactive digital play

Today’s guest blog post is written by Adam H. Weinert.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a fantastic case study of the intersection of new technology, augmented reality, and modern dance. I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below. —Gene Carr

Adam H. Weinert is a dancer and media artist based in New York. He teaches site-specific choreography and experimental methods at Barnard College and has presented his work at the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Britain, and Tate Modern, among others.

Much has been written in recent years about the new mobile audience and the myriad ways artists and arts non-profits are forced to adapt. This past year, I decided to put the theory to the test.

As a choreographer, I’ve had to acknowledge that most people who see my work will view it not during a live performance, but through video documentation — most likely streaming on the web. Increasingly, as Gene​ Carr pointed out in a blog post at the end of last year, this means via a mobile device. On average, American adults now spend more than three hours per day on their mobile devices, with 86% of that time spent using mobile apps rather than browsing mobile websites (source: Flurry Analytics). The challenge, or opportunity, then becomes how to meaningfully engage with this new dynamic rather than fall victim to it.

My most recent project, The Reaccession of Ted Shawn, sprang from my experience in 2013 when I was invited to reconstruct and re-perform the early solos of pioneering modernist choreographer Ted Shawn at the Museum of Modern Art as part of the exhibit 20 Dancers for the XXth Century, curated by Boris Charmatz. Unlike many of the other artists represented in the exhibit, Ted Shawn has no company in existence today, so the process of revival was very different. I spent my research fellowship at Jacob’s Pillow dancing in the studios his company built, reconstructing their movement from books, photographs, videos, and rumor. It felt at times as if I was dancing with ghosts. I wanted to recreate that experience for the viewer.

While researching the dances, I discovered that Shawn made a gift of his works to MoMA in the 1940s. The museum later gave these materials away, some to the newly formed New York Performing Arts Library and others to the Jacob’s Pillow archive. This move contradicted MoMA’s policy of not selling or giving away works by living artists (Shawn was living at the time of his deaccession), suggesting that because he was a dance artist the museum considered his work outside its purview. With The Reaccession of Ted Shawn, I subversively return the choreography of Ted Shawn to the institution he entrusted with its preservation.

Reaccession is accessed by a mobile app that uses augmented reality, a technology that enables audiences to find location-specific triggers throughout the museum to load my reconstructions of Shawn’s works on their mobile devices in the exact location of their performances. Shawn’s modernist solos, built from the physical images of the laboring man, re-performed with crystalline precision and filmed by Philippe Tremblay-Berberi, are resituated in the open-access, participatory key of contemporary technology. This is an entirely new kind of reconstruction: a strange intersection of live modernist works with contemporary, technology-enabled approaches to audience experience. My museum pieces take shape both as embodiments of dance-historical material and as ghosts — dances superimposed on a space no longer inhabited by the dancer — bringing a welcome challenge to dance’s interaction with the museum as well as new horizons for the preservation and dissemination of this ephemeral form outside its rarely accessed archives.

To participate, turn your smartphone into a time machine by following the directions on this website, which will lead you through the museum’s five floors. The mobile app will recognize architectural details and museum signage to trigger the digital installation. The MoMA map is also rigged within the app, allowing you to take aspects of the installation home with you or view them online. In the third and final phase of the installation, “Without Consent” (active Aug. 5 through Sept. 2), you are invited to co-create content by adding your own impressions, performances, and critiques.

​There was no press release, no physical presence at the museum, and no official sponsorship of any kind. The results were staggering. The digital installation achieved more than 5,000 visitors ​​in its first weekend and was written up in the Financial Times, Time Out New York magazine, Gizmodo, and even Wikipedia. (For more press coverage, click here.)

The success of my digital intervention at MoMA demonstrates that this kind of participatory and interactive digital play generates interest across disciplines. The media tended to focus on the subversive, unauthorized aspect of the installation, an angle that I invited and perhaps encouraged, but that represents only a part of the conversation I wanted to instigate. I’m more interested in creating new places and ways for arts institutions, and those inside them, to construct meaning.

We’re told that the best way to stay visible and thriving on the web is to turn your site into a space that is not only accessed, but is somehow built by your users. Performing arts organizations, however, have been overwhelmingly focused on off-site mobile engagement such as ticket sales, artist information, and organizational history. Audiences expect contextually relevant information and services to be immediately accessible wherever they go. Performing arts organizations need to meet this expectation head-on. If not, someone like me might do it for you.

Learn More about PatronManager, the powerful CRM platform that helps you sell more tickets, raise more money, and cultivate stronger bonds with your audience, all in one database.