Tamiko Thiel:

The Totem Project

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o "Fire and Dance"
- C.Wawra

o "Feuer und Tanz"
- C.Wawra

Notes on the Totem Project


My intent in all the works of the Totem Project is best expressed by a quotation describing Butoh, the modern dance form that evolved in Japan in the 1960s. The digital manipulations of the human form in the Totem Project mean to

"... let the body speak for itself, to disclose truth, to reveal itself in all its authenticity and depth, rejecting the superficiality of everyday life ... to reveal [the] relationship to ... the unconscious, ... present the erotic as well as the ascetic dimension of the body by revealing ... the element of darkness and perversity which we all carry within."

(Quoted from Jean Viala in Butoh: Shades of Darkness.)

the still image:

How can abstract images provoke powerful emotional or even physical reactions, the "sign stimuli" that Joseph Cambell discusses in his books? It is clear how photographs of real people and places can do this - memory, whether personal or cultural, attaches them to events or experiences. But how can abstract images do the same, images that do not designate anything that we already know or have seen before? Somehow they stimulate a resonance in our memories, wake associations, and we link them to feelings thus creating a sense of meaning.

the body:

The human body seems infinitely plastic; the same body can produce new shapes and forms and motions every time I see it. Part of this is of course the fascination for your own species - if we were all gerbils, we would find the shape of a gerbil the most fascinating thing in the world. But I believe that the human body is the source of much of our mythic imagery of gods and demons, and I use the video camera and digital manipulation to search for these mythic images, the projections of our desires and our fears.

the moving image:

The moving image is a constantly changing composition: ideally, you should be able to stop the image at any point and have a compelling composition on the screen. What makes an image compelling? Everything that the painters talk about: balance, dynamic, rhythm, flow, etc. But video is more than a series of still images - the transitions between images create motion, and the motion should be compelling too: it should have balance, dynamic, rhythm, flow, etc. as well. Motion produces a compelling moment which cannot be reduced to a single image - you stop the tape, and see something completely different than what you perceived while the tape was in motion.

non-narrative temporal structure:

It is easy to make something interesting for a minute, not too difficult to hold the viewer's attention for 5 minutes, but even 10 and 20 minutes can become difficult. How do we make sense of input over longer periods of time? Narrative structure is one way, but how does music creates strong emotional meaning without using narration? Starting from Leonard Meyer's theories of music in "Emotion and Meaning in Music" I am trying understand how to compose video pieces that can hold the viewer's interest over a long period of time. (See also the paper on dramatic structure.)

multi-channel video installations:

Video processing software makes it possible to choreograph images on multiple screens - a 2D or 3D dance of images, dealing conciously with the visual interactions of the images with each other. I am studying Doris Humphrey's "The Art of Making Dances" to develop a method for choreographing environments composed of video images, a dance of video images, video Butoh. Installations surround you, are a fom of immersive virtual reality, transport you to another place and provide an experience to live through.