Studio residency: Marina Dessau

BEK, C. Sundts gate 55 12.06.2023 20.06.2023


Performance artist Marina Dessau is in a studio residency at BEK, working on the project “Variations of a Separation No.1: Forced Feelback”. 

In “Forced Feelback”, Dessau asks: What are the paths of interpersonal connections? What is the stuff that they are made of? What imprint does a physically absent person leave on the inside of another when forcefully separated? What replaces the physically absent person? Or the essence of a situation we long to relive, like the scent of petrichor or oranges? How do we communicate when we’re not free to speak? With repression, with the beginning of a war, speechlessness returns. When forced to speak in riddles in order to be heard, Dessau argues that “the language underneath the language” – which some would call body language – becomes ever more important as people try to communicate in a time where talking openly to each other can be a dangerous prospect. 

For this project, Dessau will be interacting online with two performers (Luciana Arcuri, Sara Spennemann) based in Berlin who are wearing haptic sound jackets designed by the artist. Seated in front of a screen, Dessau alternates between surfing the web and having conversations with others where she’s not speaking freely. While she’s exposing herself to material that creates an emotional response, facial emotion recognition allows her emotions to be converted into sound as well as a tactile sensation from the speakers built into the jackets of the performers. The data sets originate from the open-source FER library. Each “measurable” emotion is assigned a specific sound, while the intensity of the facial expression determines the volume. The performers will improvise movement using the non-psychological body improvisation technique “Viewpoints”, triggered by the character and strength of the signals they receive through the jackets. Their movement material is recorded and via AI powered motion capture will be re-translated into sounds, which will be received in turn by Dessau during the following project phase “Variations of a Separation No.2: Trans_sation” closing the feedback loop. The composer Nikola Jeremic helped create the sounds for the project. Additional thanks to: Lars Gressmann (spark and collaboration on very first sound jacket), Christopher Hotti Böhm (programming), Hannes Diedrich (OSC-protocols to Bitwig), Michael Hoppe and Henning Spier (audio support).

With this project, Dessau is simultaneously discovering and investigating the biases and limitations of data sets and facial emotion recognition technology on a practical body improvisation level. She also explores the interconnectedness of human animals as well as the “thinking body” – replacing the interface of computer programming with a sort of “interbody”.

Marina Dessau (DE) is a performance theater artist. She has been studying propaganda, post-political infotainment and strongly oscillating online behavior while exploring their physical translations for theater context. Recently she has been focusing on how to apply tactile technologies for the performing body, specifically on face tracking and haptic feedback, which is conveyed through touch. As one of the founding members she has been working with the multimedia label internil since 2007. Dessau studied Theater and Performing Arts at the University Mozarteum Salzburg.

Image credits: Photos 1), 3) Marina Dessau; 2) Portrait of Marina Dessau: Lars Gressmann.