Deus::Ex::Machina is live, real-time motion controlled by an audience

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Referring to the words “God from the machine”, Deus::Ex::Machina is live, real-time motion controlled by an audience. (Photo: Supplied)
Referring to the words “God from the machine”, Deus::Ex::Machina is live, real-time motion controlled by an audience. (Photo: Supplied)

  • Deus::Ex::Machina is live, real-time motion controlled by an audience. 
  • It can best be described as part telematic performance, part multiplayer game, part interactive online experience and part public performance.
  • Upcoming shows run from today and conclude on Saturday, 17 October (11am).


Dance collective Darkroom Contemporary work comfortably in spaces of improvisation and moving dance beyond traditional performance spaces. But they’ve pulled out all the stops on their latest performance Deus::Ex::Machina which is running currently and ends on Saturday.

Referring to the words “God from the machine”, Deus::Ex::Machina is live, real-time motion controlled by an audience. It can best be described as part telematic performance, part multiplayer game, part interactive online experience and part public performance. Occupying both physical and online space, the work is set up as a virtual multi-player game, with graphics that mimic an old-school arcade game and where the players can control what the dancers do. Each experience is unique unto itself and the experience is controlled via a real time voting process. The selections from those playing gets tallied into “results” which become the prompts for the dancers next move which are sent to them via headphones. The idea being that online viewers get a sense of connection to those in the game with them in that live moment.

Viewers affect the outcome of the performance whic
Viewers affect the outcome of the performance which ties in with the concept of Telematic Art. (Photo: Supplied)

The collective describes the performance as the physical expression of human geography and searching for connection within chaos. It also dissects how the trajectory of people moving within a public space creates a large scale choreography.  Utilizing spaces around Cape Town that are seafronts, parking lots and other urban spaces, the dance happens in a physical location by a group of five dancers. The work can be perceived in different ways depending on how and where each viewer interacts with it. 

The concept and choreography is led by dancer and collective member Louise Coetzee. To fully realise the project interactive digital designers were used for coding and the team included musicians to create the soundtrack which each viewer controls. Coetzee says, “This project was conceptualised during lockdown and in response to the limitations. But with an interest in how those limitations could be seen as a positive - a push to develop a new form of work - rather than a negative. I have worked extensively with technology and new media over the past few years, but I wanted to use this opportunity to really push the experimental side of merging tech with dance.”

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Viewers affect the outcome of the performance which ties in with the concept of Telematic Art – using broadcast systems in ways beyond their usual intent. For example, the headphones the dancers wear and also that the piece is live streamed using lo-fi webcams instead of high-quality streaming cameras. Coetzee also wanted to play with the idea of radio broadcast, reflected on the two-radio channels (right and left) mixed with different soundtracks that the viewer gets to choose from while listening throughout the piece.

The soundtrack uses works by Lungiswa Plaatjies and Cara Stacey among others and sounds NASA’s “sounds from space” archive. The dancers hear a completely different soundtrack to what the audience is hearing. The digital and interactive design was done by Thingking - a designer-maker agency in Cape Town that the collective previously collaborated with on SWARM in 2012.

About developing the work during COVID-19, Coetzee says, “Going into this rehearsal process, we had to figure out a new way of working, doing many initial rehearsals via Zoom and eventually rehearsing in real life, mainly in open air locations. The choreography was developed as a musical score, with a focus on counterpoint and finding connection points within something seemingly chaotic. I think it reflects the way many of us feel during this time, in search of connection within chaos.”

She continues: 

“COVID-19 placed limitations on how and where we can move in public space. Now, more than ever, we are acutely aware of our physicality in relation to others. We know the stickers on the floor when standing in line. We’ve all seen the pictures of dance studios with squares taped on the floor, prompting dancers to keep their distance.”

Viewers control the dancers through their devices or machines. The website then counts votes and displays the results. Coetzee controls the initial choreography but not the way it unfolds. “The dancers are human, so of course human error could alter the course of the performance too… Who is ultimately in control? Man, or Machine?”. Adding to this, she says, “I am interested in how technology controls us (all-consuming social media, the algorithms that decide what we see on our feeds, fake news etc.)  and how we control things through technology (cloning, Artificial Intelligence, robotics etc). Our advancement in technology offers so much positive but equally negative potential - and does it give man a God complex?”

The reason behind creating the performance as an online game is because Coetzee wanted to create a participatory experience that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. Organised through a series of dialogues and partnerships, the project was supported by the Pan African Telematic Art Project and NATI. It also forms part of Darkroom Contemporary's Ten Year Anniversary season.

All performances are free to be access anywhere from the world.

Upcoming shows are today, 13 October (3pm and 4pm), Wednesday, 14 October (12:30pm and 2pm), Thursday. 15 October (1pm and 2pm), Friday, 16 October (6pm) and conclude on Saturday, 17 October (11am).

To play the game tune in to  https://exmachina.darkroomcontemporary.com. Since each performance that is streamed will take place in a different “secret location” in Cape Town, local audiences will have the opportunity to participate in the physical performance too. Audiences wanting to attend the physical performance can email the collective at admin@darkroomcontemporary.com or contact via Instagram to receive the day’s secret location.

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