Holly Herndon’s video for “Movement” is a reworking of Aphex Twin’s “Flex” that timely reflects the haptic era we live in. “Movement” is concerned with the human/machine complex, embodiment, performance, and how our involvement with technology has brought us to a peculiar situation: of being there, but not quite being. Although I was initially puzzled by the mysterious hand that scrolls through the video, it is a force that guides Pei Ling Kao and Nathan Ng through their performance. When in their element, Kao and Ng remain in program mode, their movement patterns repeating like those of a robot but, when together, a certain chemistry, in which the dancers glide around (rather than grind against) each other, takes place. As close as their bodies are to each other, Kao and Ng never quite “touch.” Their faces remain devoid of emotion or pleasure; their eyes do not quite make contact, either (take the back to back sequences and how Kao wraps herself behind Ng). Their interaction is impersonal and sensual, the absence of narrative, of conflict/resolution between them allowing the hand to move the performance along. Haptic intervention becomes part of the performance, its presence directly mediating the physicality merely suggested by Kao and Ng’s moves. Thus, the hand, scrolling, embodies a kind of performance, which brings me to the crux of a strange predicament. I mean, I’ve always been critical of things like social networks and what I see as their dehumanization of society, but to completely divorce myself from such technology out of necessity would be akin to virtual suicide. As much as I’ve resisted, the need for connection has, through our screens, become the new flesh. Witnessing passengers (myself included) glued to their handsets, content with simply being at the fingertips of whoever’s at the other end of the screen, is a daily event, a habit—a life, even. And who’s to blame them/me? The whole thing feels like one big performance: the simple act of touching a screen is a performance in itself, a simulacrum on a scale ala Debord. We are touching, but then we aren’t. Just like Kao and Ng. Or the actors of a theater drama. But take away the mask, the screen—what would we be left with?
Just as Bjork and Chris Cunningham brilliantly depict the notion of cyber(netic) love, Alison Goldfrapp vocalizes it throughout Black Cherry, especially here. Director Jeffrey McHale translates the song’s human/mechanical impulses with a video that imagistically recalls Goldfrapp’s most recent work, Tales of Us. Fragments are played and replayed to suggest a continuity in the desires that would otherwise be considered madness. I like the sponge.