‘META | morph’: Virtual NAF st

‘META | m o r p h’
Images by Oscar O’Ryan

‘META | morph’: Virtual NAF stage set for digital dance and arts project

Louise Coetzee and Inka Kendzia conceptualised and directed the dance and digital arts project: ‘META | m o r p h’ for this year’s festival.

‘META | morph’: Virtual NAF st

‘META | m o r p h’
Images by Oscar O’Ryan

The COVID-19 pandemic has urged many artists across South Africa to rethink, re-plan, refigure and reimagine their performance art works for the 2020 Virtual National Arts Festival.

Louise Coetzee and Inka Kendzia are among them, having conceptualised and directed the dance and digital arts project META | m o r p h for this year’s festival

In a Zoom interview, Darkroom Contemporary Founder Louise Coetzee outlined how she contacted visual artist Inka Kendzia in 2019 about a possible collaboration.

The Free State Arts Festival commissioned Coetzee to create a new work, conceptualised around “man and machine”, highlighting how technology has become an intricate part of the human life.

“I spoke to Inka about this performance piece, because that was always what it was meant to be, with projections in a site-specific space.  Then of course we hit the COVID-19 pandemic and all of that got cancelled,” said Coetzee.

Luckily for Coetzee, proactive Kendzia came across the Virtual National Arts Festival which had an additional digital platform: “Creativate” which had an open call out for similar projects.

Kendzia commented on the development of META | m o r p h in the Zoom interview by stating: “It was just amazing that all the things we started out with that were limitations, made it actually flow into a direction that really worked strongly”.

Why ‘meta’ and ‘morph’?

The stylisation of META | m o r p h is not only visually attractive, but also holds a profound poetic meaning for the duo.

Kendzia elaborated: ” ‘META’ being something that is self-referential in terms of its definition, but also on a Buddhist perspective the word means you can do meta-meditation which is love and kindness.  ‘m o r p h’ is very much the concept of how we are being affected by the digital world and how we are changing.”

Coetzee provided the following documented outline of the work:

“META | m o r p h is an interactive film, inviting you, the viewer, into a ‘choose your own adventure’ style experience,” Coetzee said.

“At the start of the journey, you are presented with four representations of ‘META | m o r p h’: Evolution, rebirth, transfiguration and alteration.

“By selecting one option, you enter a room where you meet the main character for that channel.

You choose the journey

“After each chapter, you will be given the choice between two options to continue watching the character’s journey.

“Each choice results in a unique interaction between the main character and their virtual self, human self, invisible self or fictional self, while also determining which conclusion of that character’s story you experience.

“Once you reach an ending, the interactive film gives you the option to go back to the start of the same story and make different choices, to experience another outcome. Or, you could select a new word to start a second journey with a different character.”

Although the average viewing per story is seven minutes, there are 46 minutes of footage divided into 28 segments. This means if you attempt all possible options you have 52 minutes of remarkable play through.

Crazy creative deadline

Despite the creative work being just under an hour, Coetzee confessed that the creative team had only received festival confirmation on 27 May 2020. This meant they had to work swiftly and efficiently within the production time of two and a half weeks.

This included the rehearsal, planning, coding by Lasse Manson, filming and editing by Oscar O’Ryan, post-production, and more.

“It was crazy!” said Kendzia. “Oscar dived in with all the footage and all the editing … it is actually like a feature length delivery. I would jump on and add the visual effects to it. We did as much as we could with little sleep and lots of fun. It was always so invigorating.”

A rewarding collaboration

Moreover, both parties agreed that the collaboration on META | m o r p h had been rewarding.

Aside from “pulling off” the end product, it allowed the artists to bounce ideas off one another, to learn, to work across another medium, to inspire and to transpose.

The movement vocabulary portrays the idea of the human and digital self, putting emphasis on how this “other self” can suppress or suddenly break out.

Coetzee comments on the process of rehearsing without being in the same physical space.

“What very much affected us was the way we had to work, our rehearsals had to happen through Zoom which posed posted its own challenges. We created the work during this pandemic,” Coetzee said.

As the choreographer Coetzee sought innovative ways to “connect” the dancers without the use of touch or entering each other’s space.

The dancers in the project are Christopher Sherwood-Adcock, Gabriel Mehlomakhulu, Mukovhe Monyai, Carla Scholtz and Farnel Smart.

On the visuals, Kendzia mentions time and time again how the other production elements helped inspire her approach. In this way, the visual artists speak to the symbolism behind the use of projection.

“Whether we interact with someone – virtual or real – we often project ourselves, our opinions or our thoughts onto other people,” Kendzia said.

“So it’s really about seeing them as they are and not projecting your ideas onto them. It is a very physical way of making that kind of thing real.”

In addition, the notion of deconstructing, integrating and re-contextualizing people and who they are allowed the artist to project images of body parts. She also used other innovative effects such as refractions and distortions.

Kendzia acknowledged Jason Staplenton for his “phenomenal work” done in relation to the use of 3D and Lidar Scan.

Musicians Brydon Bolton, Shane Cooper, Mr Sakitumi and Matthijs Van Dijk created the score for META | m o r p h.

Coetzee said the musicians came with “very different approaches, because ultimately they understood that the project was called META | m o r p h“.

Overall the music accompaniment does not reflect a specific style that Coetzee and Kendzia called for, but consist of the musicians’ own unique personal interpretation.

The final work is in black and white as seen in the Virtual National Arts Festival’s teaser of META | m o r p h – which brings a feeling of nostalgia and highlights the contrast between what is human and what is digital.

Artistic leadership

These two artists have truly promoted female leadership within an artistic space and have put great emphasis on how important experimentation is.

Kenzia has inspiring words for those interested in following a similar career path.

“Jump in and do as much as possible, learn as much as possible from everyone around you,” Kendzia said. “Stay humble, do as much as you can, work as hard as you can and be passionate.”

Louise added: “It’s that old thing of learn all the rules so well that you can break them, because you have to educate yourself in the basics first so you can go beyond that.”

  • META | m o r p h is part of the Creativate Digital Arts Festival at the National Arts Festival and is available on Thursday 25 June.