Digital Memories and New Narratives – Ka Fai Choy

Prospectus for a Future Body


Report on Digital Memories and New Narratives – Artist talk with Ka Fai Choy about his project “Prospectus for a Future Body” March 18th 2015, SomoS

Ka Fai Choy is an artist from Singapore who participated in the exhibition “Future, Now.” curated by Elisa Rusca, which took place at SomoS, March 2015. The artist took time to prepare an artist talk to familiarize the audience with his work. Aside from his speech, Choy also prepared a visual summary and practical applications for the visitors.

Can we design future memories for the body? Is it itself the apparatus for remembering cultural processes?

“Prospectus for a Future Body” is a video project that was developed between 2010 and 2012. It consists of four different experiments which pose the question of whether it is possible to create a future memory. At the core of his artistic research stands the desire to understand the human body; to explore the physical and the invisible powers that rule its expressions and interactions. Choy brings together electrical nerve stimulation and the study of physical movement in dance. He refers to Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), an Italian physician, physicist and philosopher who discovered that dead frogs muscles moved when stimulated by electrical sparks. But Galvani’s experiments had been limited to the movement of a single muscle. Choy applied this concept to the motion of different muscles at the same time, which leads to a kind of choreography.

All this sound highly theoretical, but how does it actually work? First the artist connected himself to a sensor which measures muscle activity. These are saved on the computer in terms of sound. Then another person is attached to the sensors. The saved muscle memories are transferred to this person who repeats the movement of the original artist. The next step is to increase the number of persons and to synchronize their motions and finally to involve dancers, because they are used to work with their body and to repeat dance-like elements. When dancing, the performer is repeating and interpreting a choreography, a sequence of movements aiming to tell a story, to represent a feeling or a situation. Each movement is related to the cultural meaning of the dance that is performed; each torsion and every jump are connected to a theoretical system and can be adapted and re-invented. In learning a choreography, the dancer absorbs the gestures: the movement’s memory and history become the dancer’s. In this sense, the body itself becomes the apparatus for remembering and expressing cultural processes.

The inspiration for this project was a famous Japanese Butoh dancer whose notable performances from the 1970s had been recorded on video tape. Ka Fai Choy was fascinated by the movements and which expression they evoked. The original performer had since passed away, and so he requested a contemporary dancer to repeat the moves, which were then recorded using his technique and saved on a computer. Then Choy himself was able to use this data to ‘re-dance’ this piece without having any experience or professional training in dance.
By using this same method, four female dancers learned a choreography by using electric muscle shocks. Choy wanted to find out, if they are able to dance it without the sensors. As we see in his video installation the experiment worked. The next step was to create their own choreography by using the muscle memory. This is what he calls hybrid muscle memory. With his imagination and technological mastery, the possibilities of this post-humanistic approach to dance are endless and Choy will keep exploring them in the context of art museums and galleries around the world.

Choy Ka Fai works as an artist, performance maker and speculative designer. Ka Fai graduated in Design Interaction from the Royal College Of Art London, with the Singapore National Arts Council Overseas Scholarship, and was conferred the Singapore Young Artist Award in 2010. His works have been presented in festival, such as the 25th Tanz Im August (2013), Singapore Arts Festival (2012) and Festival Tokyo (2011). More >

Report by Lydia Wendt