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Through Practice: Ashley Ferro-Murray and Mark Lam

This year, BCNM initiated its undergraduate research fellowships, which offer undergraduates the chance to engage in direct research experience with BCNM graduates. Mark Lam (Art Practice and Media Studies) was selected to work with Ashley Ferro-Murray (Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies) on her research into dance and movement.

“Through Practice” by Ashley Ferro-Murray is a somatic exploration of the contemporary relationship between biomedicine and new media, or genetics (DNA code) and digitality (computer code). In her premiere solo work, Ashley uses the body to mediate these codes, expressed through sensor technologies and multimedia displays, to explore the impact that cancer treatment has on the female body.

Hoping to forge a literal relationship between the movement and the technology, Ashley was thrilled select Mark Lam to assist with the coding for her interactive art.

Mark graduated in December 2015 with a B.A. in Art Practice and Media Studies and a certificate in New Media. Through the program at BCNM, he integrated his artistic background in sculpture with his increasing passion for digital practice. The opportunity to work on deep technological interactions excited him as a result.

Ashley’s vision was to have an interactive stage with sensing technologies to synchronize video with dancers’ movement data. The integration of choreographed dance and video would form the basis of her inquiry into the relationship between physical and digital movement.

The project is also a larger reflection on the transformation of her own body into a medical posthuman during her three-year battle with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. Ashley addresses how this transformation impacted her individual patient experience of agency and identity, both politically and technologically. In standing alongside an installation saturated with medical detritus, Ashley questions the institutional politics of this posthumanism as well as its relationship to her somatic memories of physical strength and weakness.

Ashley and Mark’s collaboration was technically challenging. With Ashley based in New York and Mark in Berkeley, they worked on the project remotely, using weekly skype meetings to check in and discuss their achievements and objectives for the week. This close partnership allowed them to effectively shift their goals in response to limitations.  

With the interactive technology more time consuming to program and use than anticipated, Ashley and Mark evolved the program organically. A month out from the premiere, time constraints prevented the preparation of the sensors and interactive program stage, so they shifted course. Instead of a live-generated video, Mark choreographed the video by using procedural animation. By investigating the interaction between dancer and video in greater detail, they also created a conversation between the mediums.

From Mark: “One of our major challenges was finding the line where technology and content meet in a technology based piece. What does it mean to change the content to meet technological limitations? Can you sacrifice technology to keep the content? Is the medium the message?

I didn’t quite resolve these questions, but I know that my final deliverable was radically different from what I set out to do due to limitations.”

“Through Practice” premiered at AS220 in April 2016. You can see more of her work at http://ashleyfm.com

Mark plans on continuing to explore creative coding and developing rich interactive artwork. You can view his portfolio at http://markofthelam.com

Check out a practice video of the project on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/159164272

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