Custom Lane, Leith, Edinburgh
Wander into Custom Lane in Leith and between artisanal coffee and a tool sharing library you will find a Human Connection (until April 21). An immersive exhibition from creative technology companies Bright Side Studios and Studiotech, it revisits prior creative experiments between Bright Side Studios and the late Janis Claxton.
“We began working with Janis in 2016 after winning a curiosity award and funding from Creative Scotland to explore dance and creative technologies,” Bright Side Studios co-founders Susanna Murphy and Cristina Spiteri explain. They began by experimenting and playing with ideas with Janis and her dancers in motion capture suits. “From this came a library of gorgeous movements created by Janis and her dancers and captured by us. We then took that data and began to animate forms from the dancers’ movements, playing with different visual expressions.”
They explained, “Janis used the dancers like paint brushes in the space, working with the effects we created to fill the space with live visual art. We formed a professional and personal bond. She was a huge inspiration to us.”
After Janis passed away in 2018, Cristina and Susanna reflected on those formative experiments. “We began to think back to all of the beautiful motion and ideas we had created and captured with Janis. We wanted to share that, and do something to honour Janis, and so the idea for the exhibition came about.”
That exhibition sits snugly within a square, white space in Custom Lane. It’s ringed with LED lights that shoot colours across the walls when visitors press certain buttons. A soundtrack from Pippa Murphy envelops everything with soft, unobtrusive melodies that blend into the bubble of chatter that flows from the coffee shop.
Projected onto the walls are digital abstractions of moving dancers. Sometimes these figures are whole bodies, composed of leaves and branches. At other points, they are more moving masses similar in shape to human bodies, their gravitational pull distorting and warping the constellations they make up. Susanna and Cristina explain it was the dancers’ movements themselves that inspired these ‘different treatments’, moving between different elements of fire and water.
The bodies then spiral into scratchy, neuron-firing orange lines or are whittled down to their bare minimum: straight lines that cross and stretch, a geometry of arms, legs, torsos and skulls.
It is amazing how the eyes search out the human body, how the brain so intuitively maps out a human shape from the information it is given. I find my body twitching and leaning, much as I would during a live dance performance. It’s also enjoyable to try to catch the individual dancers and their styles: some bodies move deeper into the legs, others rotate around the torso or extend classically honed feet.
The starting themes for the exhibition revolved around life itself, and “the simple things that connect us, like movement.” One part invites the audience to place their hands on a cube that subsequently lights up to the pulse of their heart beat: a simple expression of being alive and in the moment.
a Human Connection currently doesn’t have future touring dates, but Susanna and Cristina hope to reach audiences who wouldn’t normally see contemporary dance. “We hope the passion from the dancers, Janis and ourselves shines through and the visitors feel the joy in movement.”
a Human Connection is at Custom Lane, Leith in Edinburgh until Sunday April 21, 2019.
Visit customlane.co for more details.