In Rashaad Newsome’s work FIVE, 2010–, motion-tracking technology records the movements of performers as they enact the gestures and moves of vogue dance. FIVE premiered at the Whitney Biennial in 2010, and Newsome has elaborated on the work in iterations at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2011), the Miami Art Museum (2011), and Feast Projects in Hong Kong (2012). The latest edition of FIVE will open Newsome’s exhibition at the Drawing Center in New York on March 6. The exhibition, which is on view until March 11, 2014, will feature video documentation and line drawings produced from motion-tracking of the dancers in the Hong Kong performance.
FIVE initially began with my interests in vogue, which is part of the black and Latino gay diaspora that I feel was co-opted very early in its existence. Essentially, it’s a series of poses that communicate something to the viewer, to an opponent, and to the judges. An aspect I am very interested in with my work is the way the dance functions as a complex language that allows for a lot of room for abstraction within it—in its evolution and its preservation.
I began working with dancers in 2010 and created sequences based on the five elements of Vogue Femme. Vogue Femme is a very fluid dance style with exaggerated “feminine” movements influenced by ballet and modern dance. Styles of Vogue Femme range from dramatics style, which emphasizes stunts, tricks, and speed, to soft style, which emphasizes a slower and more graceful flow. There are five elements of Vogue Femme: hands, catwalk, floor performance, duck walk, and spin dips. Accordingly, I worked with five musicians who play instruments whose sounds mirror the dancers’ movements. I also enlisted Stefanos Koroneos to sing opera and Kevin Jz Prodigy to commentate.
Around the same time, I was developing a motion tracking patch, using Max/MSP&Jitter programming software. Max/MSP&Jitter is a visual programming language for music and multimedia. When the 2010 Whitney Biennial curators asked me to exhibit and perform for the show, I thought that would be a perfect way to incorporate this software into a performance. The patch allowed me to track the motion of color in real time using an external video camera connected to my laptop. The software maps the tracked color coordinates on a computer screen or projection, with a continuous line on the screen corresponding to the position of the color over time. After the performance, the data that’s captured is then printed and framed as a multicolored line drawing, with each color corresponding to one of the five elements of Vogue Femme.
I’m committed to tracking these performance histories, so to speak. Drawing has always been a part of this work, so to show FIVE in an institution dedicated to the history and preservation of drawing is great. I see the drawings as the starting point for the project, but ultimately, I want to turn what they are doing into sculptural material. I have been rewriting the code, and I recently finished a new patch for my upcoming Drawing Center performance. With this patch, I am incorporating Xbox kinect cameras, which track movement in three dimensions. This allows me not only to track specific parts of the dancers’ bodies, but to do it to scale, and have the data that is captured be 3-D data rather than 2-D as before. Because I am working with vogue dancers and trying to accurately translate their movements into line drawings and sculptures, it is very important that I track specific areas of the dancers’ bodies—for instance, the hands, hips and feet—as there are many subtleties within the dance.
I feel like FIVE has really reached a new peak now. The software and cameras allow me to do what I ultimately wanted: turn movement into physical objects. The movement that you see tracked during the performance will later exist as a physical sculpture. FIVE has a score in terms of the way it is performed, but the resultant drawings and sculptures function like a score as well. Years from now, a dancer will be able to study one of my line drawings or the eventual sculptures and reperform the dance, because it literally is a replica of vogue movements.
I’ve been playing with this programming language in various ways, and it has become a tool that I use often in my performance work. It gives me more control in the pieces and allows me to do things in real time. In so much performance, artists perform for the viewer. My work changes that experience: It’s not about me standing and performing for you. It’s more about me creating a work and you being able to experience the process of its creation.