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Nerve Engine

Bonemap’s Nerve Engine, influenced by encounters with the inherently liminal geography of the earth, sea and sky that encased the landscape and cosmology in far northern Australia. The work creatively represented ephemeral forces that have an effect on identity and perception in both overt and subtle ways.

The foundational impulses that generated the themes for this project had their origins in the symbolism of the tropics. Exploring interpretations of dance and the landscape, Nerve Engine created virtual environments revealed in the imagination of the audience and dancer as they shared the ambient space of the installation arena - one audience member and one dancer at a time.

Terrain, wind, water and luminosity, reminiscent of meteorological and atmospheric events, were natural elements metaphorically represented in the form of an enchanted topographical world. Within the work, audiences participated to invoke their journey through a magic geography as it responded to live interactions between performer and themselves.

Nerve Engine was an experience which offered the opportunity to generate elements of the performance through movement and proximity. As an intermedial work, it transformed the interior architecture into participatory zones where large translucent cylinders immersed participants. The cylindrical screens were at the centre of an improvised simulation. The presence of the dancer contributed to an interplay within a live scenography.

The prototype for the project was the development of a system or ‘engine’ of hybrid electronic and human parts that could respond to live moments and the 'choreologic' of movement. The performance engine was able to engage the audience and performer in an array of sensory feedback zones. Real-time computer data processing brought the space around the participants alive in a unique synaesthetic immersion that began to complement the improvisatory interactions of the live performance.

It was through this physical manifestation of an organic system that Nerve Engine derived its descriptive title. The work framed the inter-sensory experience; its corpus occupied an intermedial zone between performance, sculpture, image and cinema.

Sophisticated human movement motion tracking, choreographic augmented technologies, customised hand held devices and cinematic effects created an immersive scenographic world. The performance engine’s response to interactivity and performed human movement was intended to invoke the participant to reciprocate with their own human movement and in so doing generate a particular effect through the work.

Between 2010-14 Bonemap tested the format of presenting 10–15-minute sessions for individual audience participants. The form activated venues and spaces during the day (as opposed to a season of evening performances). The format was well attended and diversified audiences within the traditional structure of performance venues. It was well placed within the festival context and with the expectation of attracting patrons during the day and complemented an evening full-length performance with a bigger audience.

The work underpinned Bonemap's ecological and spatial focus. The audience became an active participant, rather than idle spectator, as each engaged in a participatory relationship with the elements. Every individual had a different experience, a personal journey that they traversed with their presence and augmented simulation. How much they interacted determined their experience, as each incarnation served as a subtle reminder about how they engaged in the world, and the consequence of action/inaction in the embodiment of representation and art.

Nerve Engine, plan and 3d extruded view of the installation. Data Glove and Breast Plate Sensor designs developed for Nerve Engine.

Russell Milledge director, scenographic design and media
Rebecca Youdell co-director, choreographer performer
Steven Campbell sound design
Jason Holdsworth programmer

additional crew
Catherine Hassall, sessional performer
Tai Inoue, production assistant

premiere venue credits
Queensland University of Technology, Creative Industries Precincts, Digital Associates Program, The Block.
Rachael Parsons, curator
Blair Walkinshaw, technical manager

premiere support credits
Queensland Government Arts Queensland, James Cook University School of Creative Arts, The Cairns Institute, Ausdance Queensland, Centre of Contemporary Arts Cairns

Video documentation: