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Body movin’ 

Motion Activated is a triple threat—sight, sound and symmetry combine into a unique experience at St. Mary’s University Art Gallery.

Véronique MacKenzie moves it during Motion Activated - SUSAN TOOKE.
  • Véronique MacKenzie moves it during Motion Activated
  • Susan Tooke.

What do you get when three experienced artists decide to work together on an experimental project? The result is a one-of-a-kind, interactive experience that pushes technological boundaries.

The sights, sounds and symmetry of movement are on full display in Motion Activated. Hosted by the St. Mary's University Art Gallery, Motion Activated is performance art created by choreographer V

Véronique MacKenzie, musician/composer Lukas Pearse and visual artist Susan Tooke. The exhibit pushes the limits of dance, sound and visual art. Each artist had to learn new techniques and rely on each other to create the interwoven exhibit.

Inspiration for Motion Activated came from MacKenzie's experience recovering from a terrible injury. Eight years ago, she fell from her roof and had to go through intensive physical therapy to learn to walk again.

"It was frustrating," says MacKenzie. "My body wanted to move a certain way but it couldn't. I had that muscle memory in my body and I was very curious about that."

The project began in 2010 when the artists studied at the Banff Centre of the Arts. They used a green screen to develop the videos used at the exhibit. In 2012, they used motion-activated sound in their exhibition Depths of Sorrow.

Tooke shot all the video in the exhibit. She learned how to use video editing software to create images of movement. "I used Photoshop to break down the video and juggled with that. When you look at the video, you see the discipline and how the body is trained in different ways."

Visitors begin their experience with "Moving Parts," where movement from the audience determines the speed of various videos showing choreography performed by MacKenzie. "The videos were shot in different frames per second. We wanted to break down time and experiences."

In "Hand eye ear co-ordination," viewers open flipbooks, which have paintings of dance moves and sound. When audience members open the books, MacKenzie performs the movement. Later on, viewers pass through a series of intricate drawings of dance poses to "Turbulent mirrors," which features one camera connected to two projectors where Véronique dances with her pre-recorded video in an interesting duet.

One of the amazing aspects of Motion Activated is the music. Pearse learned to use the Max/MSP-Jitter, Isadora, Synapse, NI-Mate and Ableton Live to turn MacKenzie's movement from video into numerical algorithms that are analyzed into electronic music. In "Turbulent mirrors," MacKenzie's movement makes the pre-recorded music play faster or louder with audible clicks.

"I'm more of a conductor than an instrumentalist," says Pearse. "I've played in bands and written music for films but the producers have a level of control. In this project, it's collaborative on a different level. In a way, I'm playing the music and Veronique is playing it too."

The audience steps into the roles of dancer/musician in "Sustained efforts" and "Rehearsal Space." In "Sustained efforts," motion sensors prompt different sounds from a piano. In "Rehearsal Space," audience members can learn to dance through an interactive video and through motion sensors in the dance floor.

"This experience has been intense," says Tooke. "We want people to experience what we experienced, all the discovery and the connection with movement and sound."

Motion Activated
To July 28, St. Mary’s University
Art Gallery, 5865 Gorsebrook Avenue
Dance performances Thursday, July 18
Friday, July 28, 8pm


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