Remote Control Human explores a precarious presentation mode engaging with the sci-fi, network technology, and gaming inspired notion of inhabiting and controlling another person. The work is a speculative expansion of the corporeal, affective power relations and fantasies embedded in the theatrical apparatus that continues my exploration of power practices and mediation within performance settings. Variations of techno-embodied performance tending toward plastic and permeable bodies/subjectivities produce different kinds of vulnerability, constriction, desire, resistance, and possibilities of pleasure than practices privileging full, embodied presence: another kind of queer performance. The presentation took the form of an embodied paper performance – a paper presented by a remote controlled human avatar.
Walk down the stairs in the corridor, open the back door and enter the black box theatre hall. Walk through the darkness to the projector screen. Stop at the corner, peek around the screen at the audience. Walk slowly across the stage in front of the screen, eyeing the audience. At the corner of the fake lawn carpet walk diagonally away from the screen, following the carpet, circling the audience. Turn and walk back. Stop, facing the audience. Turn toward the person sitting in the front seat to your left. Give them a non-threatening smile. Approach and lean forward to address them. Hold out the action camera in your hand. In a friendly, intimate tone
Hi. Would you mind holding this camera for me? If you could just keep it pointed at me. That would be great. Thank you so much.
Smile. Turn away. Walk a few steps, then turn to look at the person holding the action camera. Smile. Give them thumbs up. Take the microphone. Take in the whole audience like a good actor. Upright posture, shoulders back, smile, confident yet not arrogant. Breathing in, an opening gesture with your arm, breathing out, lower arm.
Nod. Place hand on heart.
My name is Outi Condit. I am speaking to you through my remote control human avatar, formerly known as actor Aleksi Holkko. He has consented to give over his corporeal agency and voice to me for the duration of this presentation. I apologize in advance for any glitching we may experience. The self-fashioned techno-embodiment that we are exploring is still very much in development – in beta, should I say.
Thumbs up with both hands. Flash a nervous grin, breathe in through teeth.
I will try to talk short, because as you can hear, my speech is painfully slow.
Laugh as they laugh.
I will briefly contextualize this experiment in relation to my research interests and then hopefully leave plenty of time for discussion, because avatar-mediated encounters are much more fun and more perilous than my monologue.
I am a doctoral student doing my artistic research here, in the Theatre Academy, Performing Arts Research Centre. And I am an actor – actress –by profession, or at least I used to be, before I became the
Flirtingly coquette, wink at the audience.
hybrid that I am today.
My research is on the embodied politics/poetics of the stage. I’m looking for ways to inhabit the problem of how performing bodies are assembled, how they come to matter, and how they make sense within different configurations and stagings. I am particularly interested in and attentive to power, especially from the perspectives of corporeality, affect, and queer.
Walk back and forth in front of the audience, like a person formulating a thought. Gesture with your hand as you talk, as if you were spinning the words from air.
Inhabiting the problem is a beautiful expression, a beautiful concept. A useful concept for Artistic Research. I took it on board from Victoria Perez Royo. Inhabiting a problem, opening up a territory, making a home. Dwelling. If you inhabit a problem, you don’t necessarily want to solve it. (Royo 2017; Monni & Royo 2015)
Look at your hand. Rub your fingers together. Let the sensation affect your speech.
Inhabiting is corporeal and sensual. It opens up a sense of how artistic research may align itself with art, and from what kind of angle it may approach questions of knowing, or
Make a fist, as if you’re grasping something from the air.
Look at the audience.
The contexts of research transform artistic practice. In my case, for instance,
Gesture towards the technical apparatuses on your body
technologies of mediation and documentation enter the embodied practice of the actress, calling for transpositions of the practice, and the art, into different modalities, for instance
twirl your finger in the air
The question becomes how to inhabit those in ways that complicate the dichotomy that easily appears between the practice/research/art and the presentation. How to avoid taking presentation modes as transparent or innocent?
Approach the audience. Walk up to the person sitting in the centre of the second row. Kneel in front of them, and look them in the eye.
I am crouched in front of my two screens. They pixelate occasionally. I’m afraid the connection will break. My back hurts. It’s quite stressful, but I’m trying to keep calm, so I don’t stress out my avatar. He is doing well, isn’t he?
Nod with them and smile, as they agree.
I can see you looking at him, looking at me through him.
Can I touch your hand?
Take their hand, feel it, explore it. Let the act of touching affect the way you speak.
I am touching you. It’s corporeal and sensual.
Move from the palm to the wrist, squeeze it gently, feeling the resistance of their bones and their flesh.
It doesn’t feel like a hand but it feels like something.
Stop. Look into their eyes.
This is my “Being John Malkovich” moment (Being John Malkovich 1999).
Give them back their hand. Smile.
Dwelling. It’s funny how in English the connotations are negative. It’s not good to dwell too much on the past. I am an actress who dwells on power.
But to quote Donna Haraway (1991): I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess.
Walk to the computer and press play. A video elevator pitch plays from the company Omnipresenz: virtual sightseeing with a human avatar, tagline: Be anyone, feel anything (‘AVATAR’ by Omnipresenz, 20 Nov 2014).
Walk in front of the screen to watch: one avatar to another.
They beat me to it.
And have you heard of the human cruise control app, developed in the University of Hannover? It uses muscular electro-stimulation of the Sartorius-muscle
Point to own leg, from knee to groin
to steer subjects through complex routes. You never need to make a single choice. And
Look at your own hand. Move your fingers like you’re plucking an invisible string instrument.
Before long, tele-presence and muscular electro-stimulation will find each other, and then I will present to you
Spread your hands
the über-marionette (Craig 1908).
Nod. Let the nod develop into a tiny jerky dance of the head and upper body
The possibilities for the performing arts, and especially the so-called experience industry, are mouth-watering.
So anyway. Power. Theatre.
Make a fist. Death metal voice
Feminism. Feminist theatre. (Power Ballad 12 Aug 2017)
I am an actor. An actress, gendered. My becoming a researcher was partly triggered by crisis within the power relations embedded in the apparatus of theatre. Crisis within the hierarchies and complex tensions I found myself corporeally inhabiting as an actress in a theatre institution, to do with the divisions of labour, connecting to agency and artistry, as well as positions regarding gender, sexuality, and income. Not race, as my whiteness was and still almost always is invisible to me, as this crisis was situated in a time and place (Finland, this millennium) where theatre stages were and still continue to be almost exclusively white.
Another aspect propelling me to research was my interest in power practices within (equally white) participatory performance and live art, and my fascination and unease with the politics deep-seated also within my own practice in those fields.
So yes, there was crisis.
Power. Theatre. #metoo. There’s no way around it.
Place your hand on your heart. Speak the following as seriously and sincerely you can.
As a queer femme-presenting person – as an actress – in theatre I have been subjected to sexual and/or gendered harassment and assault, creepiness, humiliation, and belittling by directors, fellow actors, teachers, and theatre technicians for over two decades. It has been the lay of the land as long as I know.
Let me make this totally clear: people who harass need to face the consequences, especially when they do so from the position of power. At the same time, let’s not use these people as scapegoats to individualize and externalize a culture that makes this behaviour possible. We need to address misogyny, toxic masculinity, racism, sexism, transphobia, queerphobia, and general abuse of power positions in our own behaviour, in our own circles, in the structures they are built in and that are built into us.
We need to learn to deal with the complexity of power. We need to learn to negotiate within and across uneven terrains of power, with sensitivity and awareness. There’s no easy fix solution. Discourse of oppression and emancipation is obviously vital. At the same time, it’s not quite enough. Not enough to understand the complex power patterns, affect, and corporeal erotics embedded into for instance acting as a practice, or the intimate material-discursive entanglements of the stage, or actor-director relationships, or this kind of
Twirl your finger in the air
speculative and fanciful expansions of fantasies woven into the fabric of theatre.
Performed through couplings of hardware, software, and fleshware, illegitimate offspring of global politics of extraction, militarism, slavery, and trade.
I suggest we consider a queered perspective on power, in which the critique of oppressive structures and the discourse of empowerment are interlaced with and even performed through engagement with power from corporeal, material, libidinal perspectives of transformation and desire, or back to cyborg manifesto again: pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and responsibility in their construction (Haraway 1991).
Look up to the right, narrowing your eyes, as if the thought just occurred to you.
I am not whole. And I don’t want to be. I don’t desire full, embodied presence. I have an innate distrust of all arguments referring to nature. I’m partial and double, at least. I am homunculus, in my little box, peering through my screens, trying desperately to hear, to sense, to make sense. And I am golem. I am double, says the actor, tracing my lips.
Say the following silently, only moving your lips:
I am double.
Then aloud, cheerfully
But here I am, rabbiting about me. Let’s talk about the actor! Is he present, do you think? Is he disappearing, or is he pushing through the cracks?What is he thinking? How does he feel? How can we know?
Power Ballad. Created and performed by Julia Croft, directed by Nisha Madhan. Performance 12 Aug 2017, Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe. Premiered 7 March 2017 Auckland Fringe.
Being John Malkovich. 1999. Film. Director Spike Jonze. Written by Charlie Kaufman. Released by USA films.
Royo, Victoria Perez. 2017. Comment at SAR conference “Please Specify?” Personal notes. Theatre Academy, Helsinki, 28–29. April 2017.
“AVATAR” by Omnipresenz. Vimeo video, uploaded by user Omnipresenz on 20 November 2014. Accessed 1 December 2017. vimeo.com/112455252
Hand-hacking helps budding musicians. YouTube video, uploaded by user New Scientist on 25 July 2011. Accessed 1 December 2017. youtu.be/Rlx0u4yXssk
Omnipresenz. Homepage. Accessed 1 December 2017. www.omnipresenz.com
Craig, Edward Gordon. 1908. “The Actor and the Über=Marionette.” The Mask – A Monthly Journal of the Art of the Theatre 1(2). Accessed 1 December 2017. bluemountain.princeton.edu/bluemtn/cgi-bin/bluemtn?a=d&d=bmtnaau190804-01.2.5&e=——-en-20–1–txt-IN—–
Haraway, Donna. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.
Hodson, Hal. 2015. “Human Cruise Control App Steers People on Their Way.” New Scientist 3016 (published 11 April 2015). Accessed 1 December 2017. www.newscientist.com/article/dn27295-human-cruise-control-app-steers-people-on-their-way/
Monni, Kirsi & Royo, Victoria Perez. 2015. “Composition: Relatedness and collective learning environments”. In Practicing Composition, Making Practice: Texts, Dialogues and Documents 2011–2013, editors Allsop Ric & Kirsi Monni, 90–113. Kinesis 6. Helsinki: University of the Arts Helsinki, Theatre Academy.
Outi Condit is a Helsinki-based actor/performance maker/researcher. Much of her work explores embodied power relations and intimacy, often in and through audience participation. She is currently doing her artistic doctorate on the embodied politics of the (participatory) stage at the Performing Arts Research Centre, Theatre Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki. Her research project investigates how performing bodies are assembled and how they come to make sense through scenic configurations and artistic practices.