ScanLAB and NMC join forces

Go beyond the limits of live performance in ‘Collapse’ at the Southbank Centre, as 3D laser scans create spectacular digital sculptures that interact with the dancers. Featured as part of our partnership with WeTransfer

How do societies and civilisations evolve? Are we the survivors or fossils in the eyes of our future? Dealing with these questions in the context of our technological society, Collapse is a bold new performance work that explores the potential meeting points of dance and technology while also questioning its future. Created by the choreography group New Movement Collective (NMC), acclaimed 3D laser artists ScanLAB and composer Oliver Coates, Collapse combines dance, architecture, sculpture, technology and electronic music to explore time and the cyclical ways in which societies rise and fall.

Using ScanLAB’s impressive 3D scanning technology, the work captures movement and dance within the context of our digital world. Moments are frozen and the physical experience of movement is turned into digital data. The data is then collated and turned into three-dimensional sculptures, which the NMC dancers interact with during the piece. It all unfolds within the lesser-known areas of the Royal Festival Hall, spaces in which 3D data capture, choreographed imagery and live music collide, to create a completely unique experience that moves beyond the regular boundaries of live dance and performance.

POSTmatter: In your new collaborative work ‘Collapse’, you capture movement through Slow Life Scanning technology. What interests you about working with technology and the body? 

New Movement Collective: NMC’s recent explorations with ScanLAB Projects are driven by the desire to try and show an audience something that hopefully combines and possibly moves beyond the limits of five senses in a performance. We were attracted to 3D scanning processes as for us they seem to mirror the very beginnings of early photography and help us understand past feelings of wonder and fear at the complexity and potential of a single captured moment.

The Slow life Scanning process is very similar to a long exposure photograph; the scanner takes between a few seconds and a couple of minutes to capture a figure and their entire surrounding. We have found it to be tricky and unpredictable when trying to repurpose something designed for large scale architectural capture onto the human body, and much like many of the first photography experiments there is a huge margin of error and many final results cannot effectively be controlled. These ‘happy accidents’ are what we have chosen to build a performance around using both digital projections and sculptures created in 1:1 scale.

We were attracted to 3D scanning processes as for us they seem to mirror the very beginnings of early photography and help us understand past feelings of wonder and fear at the complexity and potential of a single captured moment.

ScanLAB: All of our work aims to see the world through the eyes of machines. We do this in the expectation that the intelligent, mechanic eyes we see through can shed new light on the world around us and make us see situations in a new light. Normally we turn the eye of our machines onto relatively passive subjects, buildings or landscapes that have remained relatively static for years. By turning the eye of our machines onto the dynamic, moving body of a dancer, we are faced with live action that is too quick and too alive for the pace of our tools to comprehend. A creative environment for mistakes and wonderful new discoveries emerges - and that is where we like to be. We don't like knowing what a scan will reveal before we complete it - it's much more exciting to scan and the urgently rush to see what may or may not have been captured. The fact that the results are traces of real people makes them so much more engaging. We believe the future selfie will be 3D scanned, these are the early, erroneous tests of this technology.

NMC: What excites us is that these scans give the brain a new perspective on what is actually going on, we decided that the best way to explore and display this kind of information was to try to create a new type of exhibition and performance space, a kind of live art experience where time could be expanded and explored. We got in contact with the Southbank Centre to see if we could transform some of their lesser-known spaces, and make a new kind of live exhibition performance experience and Collapse is the result.

We believe the future selfie will be 3D scanned, these are the early, erroneous tests of this technology.

PM: How did Jared Diamond’s novel ‘Collapse’ inspire the work? 

NMC: As we started working and producing the sculptures created from the slow life scanning process, we realised they have quite a strong resemblance to the frozen moments in time and figures recovered from the volcanic ash of Pompeii. Dramatically we were intrigued by this and other information recovered from past civilisations that have experienced massive societal, environmental and economic collapse. Jared Diamond’s book was a catalyst to expand our thinking, and create our own theatrical world; it is a fascinating study into the different factors that contribute to the survival or decline of human tribes and how in these cycles people learn, evolve or disappear.

ScanLAB: We are a future embracing, technology inspired design practice. We are part of a spiralling, expanding, global reliance on technology and interconnectivity. The work we do at ScanLAB is a part of this spiral - but knowingly so. We therefore act critically, trying to interrogate the future that we are creating . Like Diamond we see the terrifying potential dangers in this all consuming technology race. We use our medium to reveal these possible futures in a new way that hopefully grabs peoples attention. Hopefully it makes our audience think 'wow that is amazing', but also imagine if everything was like that in the future - do we really want that? Will we even survive that?

NMC: Although the novel and our work share a title, Diamond’s book has mainly served as a launch pad for us to develop our own thoughts and ideas around boom and bust cycles and what they might mean to us now. We were very keen that the performances and use of scanning technologies might not just be an opportunity to dazzle with modern technology but to also present reflections on where we are as a society and what we might be leaving behind for future generations.

PM: What is the role of architecture and particularly the city in ‘Collapse’?

NMC: The ideas that lie behind Collapse are also very much linked to the city it will be first performed in, London. We are fascinated by the massive expansion in tall buildings approved and currently under construction and how this visibly dramatic alteration sits with our aspirations for change, security and our ideas of sustainability. What is fantastic for us about the scope of ScanLAB’s work is the ability to look at incredibly detailed data over a large area. This gives us the opportunity to explore the scale of a single body within the larger architecture of a society and use the haunting point cloud scans of whole city areas as a context for a much larger narrative.

ScanLAB: The constantly expanding and rising city is the most flamboyant and physical manifestation of mankind's presence on the planet. By turning the eye of our machines on people but also on the city in which they dwell we are trying to show how digital versions of both person and city now play an increasingly important role in the way we live our lives. Digital human and city scale doppelgängers often replace us in the online world in which we exist. They become trusted and heavily depended on - but they are just digital dust, they can corrupt, they can be lost, they can COLLAPSE just like their physical counterparts. Which COLLAPSES first and whether it brings down the other is very interesting to us.

Digital human and city scale doppelgängers often replace us in the online world in which we exist. They become trusted and heavily depended on - but they are just digital dust, they can corrupt, they can be lost...

PM: With laser scanning you create digital three-dimensional copies of reality. How has ScanLAB’s work with scanning and virtual technology changed the way you see and capture space? 

ScanLAB: The 3D aspect is the real change. With traditional image capture, even moving images, the world is locked onto a 2D picture plane. For us we capture in a truly 3D way, the idea of framing on a picture plane should be gone, instead you’re stealing a three dimensional copy of a moment in reality, to be explored in any number of new spatial ways in the future. 

PM: And what was your experience of scanning the body in motion? 

ScanLAB: The fascinating thing about it was how much impact scanning has on the dance. An entirely new form of movement emerged directly related to the pace position of the laser beam. Being the people in the room who knew exactly what the scanner was doing meant we ended up becoming the choreographers of this dance, a set of movements specifically attuned to the machine we are operating.

 PM: At NMC, you often experiment with technology to collapse the boundaries of the live theatre setting. How do you think that technology has altered the relationship between performer and audience?   

NMC: It’s an interesting question, I think at the moment technology is quite literally changing the perspective of the audience, and there are some huge shifts going on in how audiences are being asked to engage with live theatre and what they are being presented with. We have tried in the past to use technology to allow the audience to get closer to the action, working with computers to choreograph light and sound so that proximity and what is seen can be completely controlled. I think VR is becoming a very interesting medium; it will need some completely new ways of thinking about theatrical experience to make it satisfying for the user. It is an interesting time for dance as there are lots of movement opportunities and questions opening up in many areas of these emerging technologies. It is something NMC are trying to actively engage with; always with an eye on bringing an audience closer and expanding the idea of what could be expected from dance.

 PM: In your work you combine dance, architecture, sculpture, film and music. What draws you to interdisciplinary collaboration at NMC? 

NMC: Our interests as a collective lie in expanding the limitations and contexts within which choreography can be viewed. We believe in the power of the group mind to create and develop work, and are always looking to find new collaborators who have an interest in dance or movement and new ways it might be used to communicate. The draw for us in collaborating is the freedom from a single choreographic vision –one person standing in front of others telling them what to do. We choose to develop our NMC work as a practice, we all hold the strong belief that a good idea can come from anywhere. We also believe in the importance of choreographic thinking in any discipline, and it is the weaving of these together that can produce something unique. This can be massively challenging, but for us and hopefully for our audiences it is also an extremely enriching experience.

The draw for us in collaborating is the freedom from a single choreographic vision – one person standing in front of others telling them what to do.

PM: And what draws ScanLAB to interdisciplinary collaboration?

ScanLAB: We almost always work in collaboration. We are uniquely skilled in an emerging technology that doesn't really have a rule book yet, it doesn't have correct or incorrect uses, it doesn't have industries that it works for and others it doesn't. Instead we believe we should try everything, see how these new tools might affect the way an archaeologist works, or a forensic investigator, a story teller, or a dancer. For us, we learn about a new profession in every project, and often from the very best, most exciting people in that field. It's a truly inspiring and enjoyable opportunity to learn from these experts. In turn for those professionals, we hopefully influence the way they might work in the future. It is always amazing when using our tools and ways of interpreting data make someone who has studied their field for a lifetime see something in a completely new way.

PM: And finally, you have said the laser scanning technology that you use is comparable to the early days of photography. Where do you see the future of laser scanning technology? 

ScanLAB: 3D scanning will be the future selfie, guide the driverless vehicle in which you travel and allow you to interact with the digitally augmented world in which you spend most of your day.

This interview is published in partnership with WeTransfer, as part of our series exploring the creatives who push the boundaries between digital and physical space in new and surprising ways. 

Collapse by New Movement Collective and ScanLAB will be showing at the Royal Festival Hall from 1st to 6th August. Tickets are available here. View their custom wallpapers on WeTransfer: Option 1, Option 2, Option 3

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