Animating the Kinetic Trace: Kate Bush, Hatsune Miku and Digital Dance

My project is an exploration of biometric data at the intersection of posthuman dance aesthetics, the dematerialization of female bodies in digital culture, and potential feminist resistances to this vanishing act. It emerges from a recent research-creation project involving Miku Miku Dance (MMD), a freeware animation program where 3D models can be maneuvered, posed and choreographed into various dance sequences through the use of motion data and digital manipulation. The program was originally produced for the Vocaloid character and Japanese popstar, Hatsune Miku, a sixteen-year old girl with turquoise pigtails who tours the world as a hologram.

Using my own body, a PC and a Microsoft Kinect to feed the choreography for Kate Bush’s cult classic song “Wuthering Heights” into MMD, I then manipulated the avatar body into a violent, glitchy dance. MMD, which presents bodies that are technologically material (and measurable) yet without agency, takes the quantified body to its speculative conclusion: the creation of a marionette whose female form is thoroughly engineerable to the point of the grotesque. In studying the machinic aesthetics of the body that emerge from cheap mo-cap applications such as the Kinect, the value of mimetic realism can be called into question. Where does the organic human body exist (or persist), especially in relation to “bodies” such as avatars, digital renderings and filmic or animated traces?

Although Bush and Miku may seem like disparate entities, I see them as complimentary test-cases in a study of posthuman dance. The lyrics and music video for Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” tie her to discourses of nature, Romantic literature, and bodies haunted by madness; Hatsune Miku is a feminized Japanese hologram whose body is always in a state of dematerialization and whose fans write her songs (Dōjinshi fan culture). By uniting these two influential pop stars with my own dancing body, I trace a series of uncanny affects across various screens. Here, motion tracing and biometrics eschew mimetic realism for an attempt to learn the machine’s “truth,” and dance performs an act of translation (or contagion) between bodies in various states of materiality.

PUBLIC Vol. 60: Biometrics (2020)