Sydney-based artist, dancer and choreographer, Angela Goh, returns to Carriageworks this month for the latest iteration of Uncanny Valley Girl. Having recently returned after performances and residencies in New York, Taipei and Melbourne, Angela’s examination of the interaction between bodies, gender and technology has been widely applauded, and in 2017 she received the FBi SMAC award for best artist. Ahead of her residency at Carriageworks in preparation for Liveworks, we spoke with Angela about process, inspiration and the figure of the fembot.
BYO: What was the process of developing Uncanny Valley Girl?
Angela: It began with an invitation from Justin Shoulder in 2015 when he was curating the Christmas party at Firstdraft. After I did it, things came up that I thought ‘Oh there's something here that I'm interested in and want to continue to work on.’ From there I had a residency at Vital Statistix in Adelaide but through your residency you have to propose a public program that goes along with your research. When I was there I made a movie marathon and that was all themed around movies that had these fembot characters, so Metropolis and Ex Machina. We also held a reading group and we were comparing two manifestos from different periods, A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway and The Xenofeminist Manifesto that was written in 2015. I had a CultureLAB residency at Arts House in Melbourne and at that point is where I invited Corin Ileto and Holly Childs to come on board which was like the best decision ever.
BYO: Were there any works or texts that Corin or Holly brought that you then integrated into the work as well?
Angela: We were talking a lot about cowgirls which, when first thinking about [it], is not so much related to these ideas but a cowgirl and a fembot are very related in this this frontier-type, imagined female body. That's this cultural starting point which then gives clues about how things are thought about more generally. Holly is based in the Netherlands so we were working a lot by distance and we had this tumblr which was like a mood board. I would post things on this tumblr during the day in Australia and then I would go to sleep and she would wake up and respond to these things and post more things and then I would wake up and there would be this new information. We were looking at ballet and the idea of the ballerina as this body with precision and then we were talking a lot about ideas around memory and how that functions in a person and how it also functions in a machine or a computer. Then we were sort of trying to understand how to forget as well. A person can forget something but a machine can't forget, but it can be corrupted or deleted.
The work is looking at a specific idea around the idea of the uncanny valley and the idea of the female body and its relationship to a history of technology through this lens of this trope of the fembot, but the work itself, for me, is something that's much more about a kind of horror of emptiness. The work is this deeper investigation of what is it for someone or something to actually be completely lifeless or completely empty, and the darkness and horror about that.
BYO: Do you see the manipulation of the body as a machine in dance as in conversation with the inanimate objects that surround the performance? How can bodies be both a technological object, but carry a weight of meaning that manufactured objects don't?
Angela: When I'm working I like to work with my body in relation to something. There's lots of objects in this work and I often work with other objects or bodies as well in order to kind of relate to something. With this work in particular, the very initial ideas were around how is it possible to make an object more alive than me? How to make something that's not alive, alive, and how to make something that is alive appear not alive?
BYO: We often use metaphors of the body to apply to machinery, like asleep or awake, and then in the same way language about machinery is applied to humans, like energy or fuel. Was the way in which we conceptualise these entities as different but also relatable a dialogue that you were working with?
Angela: Yeah, we definitely talked about the use of language that we've placed onto things for instance ‘the cloud’. For me the most interesting thing about that is that the function of using those terms is to make us comfortable with these technologies because then they become relatable to something that's familiar. It is also one of the reasons why technology could be gendered to make us feel more comfortable with it. The most common example is Siri or Alexa. That then begs the question if things are always coded as female then what is that saying? These things are meant to serve us, they're meant to be submissive, they're meant to not ask us questions. If we're most comfortable when those things are coded as female then what does that say about how we're also approaching gender in real life?
BYO: These are quite current concerns but in some of the texts for this performance you return to historic examples of the loom or weaving. What kind of insights did you draw from rehistoricising these concerns around technology and the way that interacts with gender?
Angela: Well, for example there was a Google conference in Carriageworks, and I came in to have a meeting with Performance Space upstairs and I noticed when I came down that there was a line for the men’s toilets and the women's toilets were empty. It's that to remember that female labour paved the way for these things. For example, my boyfriend's Mum used to work as a switchboard operator. She would literally have all these wires and plugs in front of her and she would have to unplug things and plug them back in so her body is actually so part of that circuit. What does it mean for the female body to be an interface or connection, coupled with this idea of what it is to be empty?
BYO: How does Uncanny Valley Girl exist in conversation with other works of yours?
Angela: Things will come up in one project [and] it's never ending; the way you can unfurl deeper into these ideas. Things come up that there might be a hint of in one work and that thread is followed to its extreme in its next work. In Desert Body Creep at the very end I stand on this fitness vibration platform and I'm naked and as the speed ramps up my body is rippling at an intense rate which I could never really replicate. The movement is dependent on the machine and the body coming together and then that sort of follows on in Uncanncy Valley Girl. I use these massage machines and my body is on them and they're moving my body.
BYO: How do you see Liveworks contributing to the way in which Uncanny Valley Girl has developed, and what influences do you see occurring, whether it's in the residency period or the performance schedule?
Angela: The main massive thing is that Holly and Corin had never met before so they will meet here. So to have the opportunity to work together, in the same room in the same time zone at the same time, where can conversation can flow naturally rather than be mediated through these online platforms and different time-zones is really exciting. Who knows what will happen once we're in the same room?
I think the work is never really done. I keep working on things even after they've already happened because for me that's also the most fun part. I'm not interested in rehearsing, I'm interesting in making things and imagining.
Uncanny Valley Girl runs from October 18 to 21. Pick up final tickets at http://tix.performancespace.com.au/Events/Uncanny-Valley-Girl
To view the full Liveworks Program click here: http://performancespace.com.au/events/liveworks-2018