Contrepoints is a generative work that plays with artificial intelligence algorithms in a manner contrary to their industrial use; inviting us to actively experience the infinite strangeness of our bodies and our languages. The work is comprised of a permanent exhibition online as well as a physical installation comprised of 7 interactive screens that can be activated by a live performance ("Avers"). It also has a theoretical counterpart which proposes a historical perspective to invite dialogue with related works of other artists ("Revers").
The most visible part of Contrepoints, which we call "Avers", is composed of 7 channels on which 144 triptychs are deployed. Each of these triptychs is composed of an image, a text, and a video. The images come from ultra-high resolution details of the Angers Apocalypse hanging, rendered abstract by the extreme zoom effect. Algorithms are then used to compose descriptive texts for these images. Finally, choreographic scores are conceived from these texts and filmed as close as possible to the skin. The image-text-movement triptychs thus created are broadcast, according to a random protocol, on the 7 channels of the online work, or on the 7 screens of the installation.
Like the reverse side of a tapestry, Counterpoints has a more hidden side, which takes the form of an exploration of other works involving algorithms and dance. In collaboration with Olivier Zeitoun, and following a research project, some thirty works have been chosen and are presented in a timeline augmented by short descriptive texts and an essay giving a historical perspective on these works, thus opening a dialogue with Contrepoints.
The contemporary algorithmic tools available to decipher data and predict the future states of various systems are very often developed to establish an influence on our behaviors. Through addictive interfaces, and by reinforcing our least creative preferences, our attention is thus sold to advertisers or lobbies. We dream here of taking the counterpoint of this logic: using artificial intelligence to create space, gaps, dance hallucinations, architect chimeras, write emancipating invitations to ward off the dystopia threatening our society.
Contrepoints dialogues with the tapestry of the Apocalypse in the Château d'Angers. Commissioned in the 14th century by Louis I of Anjou to the weaver Nicolas Bataille and made after the drawings of the painter Hennequin de Bruges, this tapestry illustrates the text of the Apocalypse of John over a length of about 140 meters and a height of 6 meters (only 100 meters remain). It is for us an immense coded matrix to be deciphered, a generative seed, where all the images and numbers function as symbols, and which permanently superimposes several levels of reference and interpretation: the biblical text, but also the Hundred Years' War and the Black Death, contemporary to its fabrication.
The extraordinary history of the tapestry, now out of fashion and used a few centuries later at times as a protective tarpaulin for orange trees, or even as a stable lining, also invites us to meditate on the relativity of our scales of value, and to bring to light the arbitrariness of its ordering. The revelation, or the unveiling of a new world, is moreover the foremost definition of the word apocalypse in Greek, and although various catastrophes threaten us, we place in this sense the lost hope of Counterpoints.
A utopia factory
The questions that constantly cross our stage and performative work - what do I see? what is signal? noise? what is spectacular? what hierarchy structures my perception of movement, of language? etc.? - resonate particularly with the chequered history of the tapestry.
We are working here in a seemingly paradoxical direction: we use artificial intelligence algorithms to automatically generate text and movement, precisely in order to escape our own automatisms. The dystopian horizon we mentioned above only exists because we assign algorithms a sinister mission to control our desires. But these tools can become powerful tools of exploration and play if the perspective is different, as here, for example, to graft new strata on an immemorial fiction like the Apocalypse, and to create generative forms as well as textual and choreographic utopias.
Computers and weaving looms
The core of our project is to use artificial intelligence algorithms to generate text and movement from seeds extracted from images of the Apocalypse. As mentioned above, by zooming in on ultra-high resolution (so-called "gigapixel") images of the Apocalypse, the familiar figurative scale of the tapestry is deconstructed and marvelous abstract landscapes appear that are difficult to perceive in situ because of the lighting conditions of the work and the distance separating it from the viewers, especially in the upper register. But at this level of extreme detail, another phenomenon takes place that we could qualify as pixelation of the image while the weft of the textile, however very fine, is fully revealed to the eye. In this movement, the history of computer programming and computers, whose pioneers Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage wrote the first chapters in the 19th century, inspired by the punched cards of Jacquard's looms, is instantly replayed.
At any given moment, the on-line server hosting Contrepoints broadcasts on 7 channels a choice of 7 triptychs from among the 144 possible, a septenary echoing the many septenaries of the Apocalypse (churches, seals, trumpets, vials). Every minute a new draw is made and new triptychs are distributed on the 7 channels. These triptychs can be deployed in a physical installation consisting of 7 tablets equipped with touch screens. Each screen can then display for its triptych either the image-detail modality, or the text modality, or the movement modality (video).
These 144 triptychs are organized in 12 groups - or tribes to use the apocalyptic term - of 12 triptychs, each tribe corresponding either to a scene on a red background or to a scene on a blue background. These blue and red tribes appear at each new minute in an alternating manner. As time passes, and depending on the random draws and interactions of the spectators, 2.5 billion possible configurations can appear on the seven screens.
The physical installation of Contrepoints can be activated by a performance involving the material of the triptychs, and in particular the text and the choreographic scores. There is indeed a parallel between the movement of revelation and zoom at work in Contrepoints and all the performative work of the company Le principe d’incertitude, which seeks to give access, by dissection and approach of the eye, to unsuspected manifestations of the body and its movement.
Putting a particular work into perspective with existing related works is not a common occurrence in the production of artists' works. It is, on the other hand, a requirement of the scientific method, which for any new contribution requires a detailed review of the literature ("related works") in order to ensure the originality and relevance of the approach. With Contrepoints we want to experiment with the idea of adding to the work we produce a critical and historical apparatus in the form of a digital verso hosted on the same platform. We believe that this effort to share in open access certain issues of a work at the very heart of its creation is capable of opening up new conversations, particularly for an ephemeral medium like dance, and this is the reason for the "Revers" part of Contrepoints.
Production : Le principe d'incertitude
Concept : Pierre Godard, Mélanie Rattier, Liz Santoro
Research and texts : Olivier Zeitoun
Mondes nouveaux accompaniment : Théo Diers and Isis Jourda
Computer support and development : Gabriel Stik
Intern : Blanche Giraudon
Additional research: Iris Cartron
Credit for the images of the tapestry : Google Art Project
Photo credits : Valentin Guerchet, Le principe d'incertitude
Support : CN D Centre national de la danse CN D Centre national de la danse, la Briqueterie - CDCN du Val-de-Marne, Collectif pour la Culture en Essonne, CNSMDP, Cndc
Project financed by the program of support for artistic creation Mondes nouveaux program implemented by the ministère de la Culture within the framework of France Relance, in collaboration with the Centre des monuments nationaux.