Body, Movement, Language: AI Sketches with Bill T. Jones


Bill: I come in today
as a dancing human. My collaborator is a machine that doesn’t really know
what a dancing human is. Mutaurwa:
So, this project came about, and I guess it’s so much more
of an experiment than a project because we don’t know
what is about to happen here or what we’re going to get
out of this. But, you know, we wanted to see
what would happen when you put someone like Bill, a National Medal
of the Arts honoree, a MacArthur fellow,
a two-time Tony winner — What happens when you put
a technology like PoseNet in the hands of an artist
of that caliber. Malika: When I think about Bill,
he is a giant among us. He changed everything that
we know around modern dance, around the braiding together
of dance and political speech — and not in a traditional way, but in a way that turned
everything upside-down. Maya: PoseNet is a machine-
learning model that estimates where key points are
on your body, like where your elbow is,
for example. What’s exciting is we took
this huge machine-learning model and made it lightweight enough
to run in your browser, which means that no images
ever leave your machine. You can use it
anywhere you want — in a dance studio,
in your living room. And also, you don’t need to wear
any special sensors or use any special hardware. It’s all totally
on your computer. -With these workshops,
we just want to explore if there is a way
that you feel like your movement could plug in. Bill: And we’re with you. My whole life has been about trying to treat the body
like a photographic image. That’s something I borrowed
from Arnie Zane, and something we borrowed
from independent cinema in the late ’60s and ’70s. It’s even in the name of
the thing — “PoseNet,” right? -Yeah.
Bill: It’s about poses, you know, as opposed to… Bill: Good morning. The test was as I expected. We’re now just doing rhythm. [ Rhythmic clapping ] I don’t know why they’re — to my mind,
they’re very different movers. But they all look the same. -Right. Bill: Okay. Huh.
[ Chuckles ] Bill:
Is there a way to tell the dots that each one has to have
another word? -We could have it go word, word,
word, word, word, word, word as this whole sentence.
-Yes. -Yeah.
Bill: And then it would have that movement
that we were talking about. -Yeah.
Bill: I like this. Maya: The tools you were using
were so simple and basic, but it was her embodiment
of them. Bill: Well, that’s what
I was trying to get at with the dot
on Christina’s nose. -Yeah.
-How do you get that to be weighted with meaning
and import. -Right.
Janet: Let the tools teach us and open our minds,
and have a dialogue that way. I think that’s
an important thing, too. -Maybe it’s ego
that I want to be the one to know how they make those dots
make somebody cry. Maya:
During the workshops, we came
with these pre-made prototypes. But Bill often wanted to try
something new or something totally different,
so we ended up live-changing a lot of different pieces of
the prototypes in the workshops. Coding in the moment was…
scary but exciting. ♪♪ ♪♪ Malika: How do we take A.I.
as an opportunity of recreating
relationships of power? I think we’re in a place
where we are at a crossroads to see how,
in fact, will A.I. be used. Bill: So, Maya.
-Yeah. Bill: I think for me right now,
I’m still trying to see that simple point of contact between a real body
and the prototype. And that’s what I’m trying
to figure out. What is there that
I brought three dancers — a woman, two men, one black man
who might feel close to my body. And they are all articulate, and they can also
make relationships in space. Just keep your arm behind you —
behind you, please. Arm behind you. But now what we just
learned here is that if we want to have
articulate sentences, they have to be quite
far away from the camera. Can I have you guys’
attention, please? The first one is all about
hands up here. The next one, maybe,
it is the — it’s here. It’s in the middle of the body. The third one, it’s only people
moving across low. And we have boom, boom, boom,
boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. End of the first idea. I truly would like to see them
actually working like dancers — working like thinking people
with their bodies. -Yes. -Therefore, I’m giving
them problems. Vinson: I am trying to fit
into his history, even though I haven’t
experienced, like, a fraction of the things
that he has, you know? Huiwang: The work he chooses
to do has his uniqueness but also has something shared
and around with his interests in gender-role, identity. -He draws content from his
history and from his background. There’s space in his process
for every kind of person. -Cut.
Bill: You know enough about my work, that I’m a famous
improvisor with speaking. -Yes.
-So, can that — could it ever work
with me improvising freely? Maya: As…I’m…talking… the words…that…I say… appear…above me,
or…not me, the dancer. -William Burroughs said,
“Language is a virus.” [ Laughter ] [ Laughter ] -What’s that, Christina? To steal it from people. Bill: Yeah, I understand. [ Laughter ] [ Music playing ] -So, if she turns away,
the sound will go out. [ Music cuts out ] Janet: If we’re imposing those
two ideas together, then we want to be
more intentional about where we are —
where to hold and pause so we can control
the switches more. Bill: We have ended up,
at the end of the day, using this as the canvas.
-Right. Yeah. -Yep.
Bill: But it took us a while to really understand
that’s what we’re doing. This is going to be taking us to the end of this century,
and important… is supposed to be happening
with this when you put it
in the hands of people. Maya: This project stands out
to me because it demonstrates how PoseNet can be used in a way that feels very
meaningful and very conceptual, and I haven’t seen that with
a lot of other projects that involve machine learning,
or PoseNet specifically. ♪♪ ♪♪ Malika:
I think it’s also important that we be able to center
our artists, right? And especially
as a tech company, the importance of understanding that our artists
are our place of humanity. Bill:
I’m known for talking solos. This is what I do, and
I’ve been doing it for 30 years. Do you want to have
Bill T. Jones doing it? And hear the way
Bill T. Jones says the words? -Yes.
Bill: Well, then we should have the microphone on, then. “21” was a solo that I made
when I was an artist in residence at Kent School
for Boys in 1983. It came out of a class
that I sat in on. Someone said offhandedly,
“Oh, when you’re dancing, you’re not thinking.
Of course.” And I was a bit incensed
by that. ♪♪ The Italian Renaissance. Contrapposto. David.
Muhammad Ali. I am the greatest.
To the groin. Eek!
A mouse! You’re so vulnerable.
You pretend you’re tough. You’re so vulnerable. Nude. I feel naked here in this room. All these eyes looking. And art-deco.
Mouth hidden. Mouth is always running. Eyes are looking. New York Yankees.
Wind up. Apollo.
Apollo Belvedere. Adam. The first man. Adam. The first woman. You go to Hell. Always personal. The black body is what I wear. So we don’t even have to
say it, right? This is a black thinking body,
right? That’s trying to
get these bodies to be an extension of my body, and it’s frustrating as hell
because I have a huge ego, and time is
taking its toll. But that’s why we’re here
together, right? Alright, so,
what do you want to do? -Every day, I play the game
and cheat the system. Every now and then, I…up
and get caught. And still, I’ll try it again. -Hey! [ Rhythmic clapping ] Huiwang: Do you hear me? Bill:
You pay us great compliment by speaking the language
we speak. And you have a very strong
Chinese identity. And I would like to be able
to actually know the other man, as well. [ Speaking in Mandarin ] Janet: “Why are you asking
if I’m afraid of blood?” [ Speaking in Mandarin ] Janet: And they told me,
“It’s a girl.” -Whoo! [ Applause ] Bill: Okay, thank you.
Why are you applauding? -That was awesome. Bill: You felt emotion.
You’re emotionally engaged. -Yep.
Bill: Okay. That’s what we’re
going for, right? Maya:
As a dancer and a technologist, there wasn’t a lot of overlap between me dancing or,
you know, me coding, and with this project,
one of the most exciting things is that it’s this example of how you can use
new technologies in combination with other art forms
or other mediums of expression. ♪♪ ♪♪ Bill: How much should one give
to the Internet? How how can you dare
give of yourself? As I change and get older, maybe I’m not as brazen
as I used to be. Maybe I’m more. Malika: Remembering what
he looked like on that stage almost 20 years ago,
and then watching him now trying to interact
with this new technology, I think the ambivalence
that he gives voice to is the ambivalence
that so many of us feel. Bill: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Austrian Oak. The first bodybuilder
that many gay men were allowed to look at without guilt,
because he was without guilt. Janet: I feel like we’re just
beginning to know what these tools that we were
playing with can do, and I think of them
as maybe more than tools. They are more like, hm,
collaborators. Vinson:
I dance because other black boys
aren’t allowed to dance. Bill:
I’ve never really collaborated
with a machine before. Where is the truth of gravity? Time? Space? Sweat? Effort? It’s a whole other
learning curve. It’s hard on the ego, but good on one’s sense
of love for humanity. Janet: I trust there are these
artists/technologists out there that will continue
developing it. And I think that everyone can
play with something that’s readily available
in their homes, and then maybe use it
in a performance, use it in a 3-D space and not just in front
of their monitors at home. Malika: I have spent my entire
human-rights career focusing on the power
of culture and narrative. It feels full circle to be able
to see Bill T. Jones in our space,
and us in his space. Bill: I just had a wonderful
with — What’s — -Malika.
Bill: And they were saying, “You realize
what we want you to do is run up against the obstacles. We want to know
what’s not working.” -So, which mic is this?
-Number two. Maya: I hope that people
are able to explore language and movement and,
on the development side, people see all the possibilities
of things that they can create
that are more unconventional, or move into uncharted terrain. Bill: Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. The next frontier for machine
learning is context. That seems paramount
to art-making. So, will I use it
more in the future? Having said those things,
I’m wondering, am I able to think
in the future? If not Bill T. Jones, there’s somebody already
who is doing that. Now, can they make me cry? ♪♪

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