PhD Oral Exam - Margaret Westby, Humanities
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Empowering the Female Machine: Remapping Gender Dynamics in Technologically Augmented Dance Performance makes a “mess” of dance through the framework of feminist Science and Technology Studies (STS). Briefly defined, the practice and performance of technologically augmented dance combines human and machine-based actions, where a feedback loop occurs between technical apparatuses and a body in motion in real-time. My research question asks: in collaborative projects involving dance and technology, how do issues of agency, materiality, and gendered subjectivity arise, operate, and govern both research and development and the production processes? I argue for a historical account of gender, technology, and dance and question the very terms of relationality by articulating these dynamics that occur through particular modern and postmodern epistemic regimes. As a female dancer and technologist, my experience produces a unique form of situated knowledge and kinesthetic sense that serves as my foundation of analysis.
Through the lens of artistic practice, I weave together four distinct narratives to illustrate the complexities arising from distinct social contexts of technologies and bodily techniques in operation from the early twentieth-century to the present times. First, the historical work of modernist artist Loïe Fuller, in particular her 1895 Fire Dance, complicates notions of femininity by transforming the performance space into an entanglement of agents. Second, Yvonne Rainer’s 1966 Carriage Discreteness from 9 Evenings outlines the shift into early computational machinery and the Space Age where her work was a successful intervention into queering technology, dance, and gender in the performance event. Third, Troika Ranch’s 2009 loopdiver, with dancer and choreographer Dawn Stoppiello and musician and computer programmer Mark Coniglio, reveals the persistence of control in the digital era in the process and development of their work and highlights an emotive and female-centric experience of a cyborgian body. Finally, my own research-creation practice Orbital Resonance (2014) will address current issues in collaborative artistic practice that combines a multiplicity of gender identities and expressions through an interdisciplinary approach. Through these artistic works, my goal is to reveal a feminist STS method of making and doing the act of technologically augmented dance performance.