Research News

Colloquium explores technology’s impact on social relationships, art

Annie Dorsen

The keynote address at the Technē Institute colloquium will be given by Annie Dorsen, award-winning performance artist and director of the Broadway hit “Passing Strange."


Published March 25, 2015

Sarah Bay-Cheng
“We’re calling this a colloquium because people can engage in a collaborative experience with some of the most interesting artists working today. This is an opportunity to share ideas. It’s fun!”
Sarah Bay-Cheng, director
Technē Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies

Annie Dorsen, the award-winning performance artist and director of the Broadway hit “Passing Strange,” will discuss her groundbreaking, algorithmic theatre performances as part of the UB Technē Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies’ colloquium, “Structures of Digital Feeling Colloquium of Artists and Scholars in the Digital Age.”

Dorsen’s talk will take place at 5:30 p.m. March 27 in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.  

Ryan Holsopple’s inventive “dataPurge,” a live, virtual digital-life cleansing follows Dorsen’s keynote address at 6:30 p.m.

The colloquium brings together renowned artists presenting provocative digital-age performances and leading scholars from UB and beyond to explore how technologies change the way people connect and relate to each other, and how this change is shaping the way art is made and understood.

The free, two-day event features lectures, performances and conversation beginning at 3:30 p.m. on March 27 at Hallwalls and at 10 a.m. on March 28 at UB’s Educational Opportunity Center, 555 Ellicott St., Buffalo.

“We’re calling this a colloquium because people can engage in a collaborative experience with some of the most interesting artists working today,” says Sarah Bay-Cheng, professor of theatre and director of the Technē Institute. “This is an opportunity to share ideas. It’s fun!”

Bay-Cheng says the arts have a unique way of making society aware of what’s happening and the colloquium is an opportunity to see how some of the most interesting and cutting-edge artists are creating work that relates to the questions raised by a digital culture.

“We’re so used to technology conversations being about dire warnings or enticements to buy something,” says Bay-Cheng. “On the one hand, we’re told to be afraid. On the other hand, we’re told be afraid, but buy this. Then we’re told be afraid we bought that. The artists we’re bringing together have a different way of thinking about this altogether.”

For instance, Dorsen’s creative work explores how computers mediate social relationships. Her algorithmic performances are created by a process similar to the mathematical steps responsible for the specific actions on a computer. It’s not multimedia theatre, where traditional performances are supplemented with recorded material, but rather an art form that achieves a full creative partnership between Dorsen and the algorithms that operate onstage with her in place of human actors.

Holsopple’s “dataPurge” is one of two innovative digital performances scheduled immediately before and after Dorsen’s address.

The first, at 3:30 p.m., is “JING@JU: Interactive Digital Karaoke,” which uses interactive technologies to get a digitally embodied taste of the Beijing Opera performance style.

At 6:30 p.m., Holsopple presents “dataPurge,” a work commissioned by Performance Space 122 with an exploration grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for the Building Demand for the Performing Arts Program.

“We all create data trails through our avatars, Twitter feeds and Facebook updates — all the places we visit online,” says Bay-Cheng. “Holsopple’s performance will interactively, one-to-one, help purify that digital existence. It is a performance, so it isn’t an actual treatment of your online data, but a chance to think about our online records in a different way.”

Events on March 28 include a 10 a.m. lecture by affect theorist Gregory Seigworth examining data tracking and extracting a new model of affective unconsciousness; a keynote address at 4 p.m. by Jonathan Kalb, one of the nation’s leading scholars of theater and performance, speaking about the effect of emoji; and presentations from faculty and graduate students at UB, Brock University, University of Toronto, York University and City University of New York.

Jacob Gallagher-Ross, UB assistant professor of theatre; Tero Karppi, UB assistant professor of media study; and Miriam Felton-Dansky, assistant professor of theatre and performance at Bard College, organized the colloquium.

The Technē Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies was established in 2012.

As part of the university-wide initiative, it fosters new work at the intersection of artistic expression and emerging technologies within the research and pedagogical mission of UB. The institute is designed to support new and existing collaborations among the arts and technology through faculty grants, develop external sources of support and promote the arts at UB nationally and internationally through the presentation of new work, visiting artists and community engagement.