Moving past present: digitally reanimating the Gaiety Girls
'Moving Past Present' is an experiment in digital biography developed by artist Janina Lange and researcher Rob Gallagher, realised with performer Meghan Tredway and the technical support of animation programmer and motion capture engineer Moses Attah. The project uses 3D modelling and gesture tracking technology to explore and extend the legacy of the Gaiety Girls, whose performances were the toast of 1890s London. Staged on the Strand, plays like The Shop Girl and A Runaway Girl combined comic songs, lavish costumes and spectacular dances, trading on the allure of the Gaiety’s glamorous chorus line even as they betrayed anxiety over women’s growing independence. Under the management of impressario George Edwardes the Gaiety Girls helped to draw up the blueprint for modern celebrity, parlaying their stage careers into modelling contracts, aristocratic marriages, Hollywood stardom and, in one case, parliamentary office. Here we focus on the work of Constance Collier and Ellaline Terriss whose performances - on stage, on film and in the memoirs both wrote – see them working to give a face and form to emerging ideas of femininity, modernity and national identity at a time of rapid social, cultural and technological change.
Working from archival footage, Tredway will reproduce fragments of performances by Terriss and Collier, while her gestures are in turn mirrored by their digital doubles. Recorded per Kinect infra-red motion capture camera these movements will be uploaded live during the event to databases used by animators and videogame designers, ready to be recirculated. As digital files they will describe their own trajectories through online space and inscribe themselves into other works and other virtual bodies. Is the movement vocabulary extracted from the early films specific to its time? How do these gestures translate from cinematic via physical into the virtual space? how do the technologies inscribe themselves - through flicker and glitches - in the very movement they are looking to reproduce?
Developed with support from Ego-Media, a European Research Council project exploring online self-representation, and the Centre for Life-Writing Research’s Strandlines project, an online archive of materials relating to ‘lives on the Strand past, present and creative’, Moving Past Present will showcase a vibrant chapter in the Strand’s history while posing questions about identity, celebrity, gendered embodiment and playful performance in the age of YouTube, Instagram and the Xbox.
JANINA LANGE lives and works in London and Berlin. She studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art in London and gained a MRes in Cultural Studies at the London Consortium. She is currently working on her practice-led PhD at the Sculptural Department of the Royal College of Art, London. Her works have been on show at Bluecoat for the Liverpool Biennial (2016), Kunsthalle Exnergasse (2016), Studio RCA (2015), and in a solo show at Heit (2014). She is recipient of the TECHNE: AHRC scholarship, current artist-in-residence at CW+ and has been selected for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016. Her upcoming shows are at Richmix and the ICA.
ROB GALLAGHER is a postdoctoral researcher based at King’s College London. As part of the Ego-Media team, his work addresses videogames and other new media forms as platforms for performing and contesting understandings of identity. His recent research has also explored how digital technologies can open new perspectives on life-writing from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.