by Aimée Tian
Imagine an alternate reality, a fully aqueous space of unquantifiable digital dimensions. This is the world envisioned by Zach Settel and Peter Trosztmer in Aqua Khoria, a multi-sensory presentation fusing digital projections with contemporary dance and surround-sound experiences.
Prior to visiting the exhibition, I was unsure of how to describe the event to friends/prospective attendees. “It’s like, this audio-visual virtual reality projections/performance art thing, you know?” I would hesitantly stutter. The event description on the SAT website calls the presentation an “alchemy between movement, image and sound”, but there is little context given as to the actual premise of its cultural production. The fact of the matter is, just as it has become increasingly challenging to situate contemporary art productions among more conventional art forms, Aqua Khoria is extremely difficult to place. This is a performance piece of participatory nature, involving digitized new media, electronic music that scores Trosztmer’s calculated choreography, and sensor-activated projections as we voyage into the depths of this uncanny world.
Even in the aftermath, I’m still a little dazed from what I’ve just witnessed.
Taking place in SAT’s thirteen-metre high dome theatre, complete with an actual basin of water for Trosztmer to dance in, audiences are invited to peer into the 360˚ interactive screen, creating a fully immersive experience. Cushions litter the parameter of the room, and guests scatter to take their seat as the lights dim.
We are now sitting in the middle of the ocean with tall buoys surrounding us, their heads lit up by bulbs resembling those of lighthouses. Without explanation, a small accessory is passed around the room: it appears to be a tiny flashlight of sorts. It is unclear as to what is happening, and guests meet each other’s gazes with nonchalant shrugs. A man emerges (Trosztmer), who takes the gadget from the crowd and waves it around, slowly at first, then in a frenzy, urgently swinging it around the room. The projections on the screen begin to mimic his body language, and waves start to form in expanse of water, wildly dancing around us, over us, and surrounding us.
We descend, deeper and deeper until we reach the ocean floor. For the next 60 minutes, we are taken on a monumental journey throughout this atemporal environment. There are visual signifiers that call upon the four elements: earth, wind, fire, and of course, water. At times, the music blares in a crescendo of frequencies that leap across the screen like the beats on a heart monitor. At other times, the audience is left in total silence and blinded by a darkness that replaces the dizzying images that precede it.
In the world of Aqua Khoria, Settel and Trosztmer play with silhouettes, the mechanics of three-dimensionality, and manipulating the body in relation to respective visuals and music. Here, water acts the muse, and as cited in the informational pamphlet, the creators describe the landscape of the ocean as being associated with “passion, lust, danger, the unknown, warmth and safety”, holding the ability to hide or distort.
If we were to read further into this work, certainly aspects of Freudian theory are present, and the viewer is challenged to peer beyond their own conscious and into the unconscious…but let’s not get too scientific here.
It sure is hard to distinguish between fantasy and reality in this atmosphere. Even as the show ends, I find myself blinking continuously, in an effort to readjust my perception to fit that of the world around me. It’s no easier now to define the fantastical affective qualities of this spectacle.
Please note: unfortunately due to copyright restrictions I was unable to obtain more images/footage.
Aqua Khoria is a collaborative effort presented by SAT, Danse-Cité and Tangente Danse.