I made an iPhone app called Escape for the IMAGINE Festival: Film, Technology, and the Body in Action. Co-presented by Dance Films Association and Earthdance, IMAGINE took place in late September 2017. Users downloaded the app, and then explored the grounds of Earthdance, receiving custom, location-based text messages.
So often our cell phones are instruments of compulsion and anxiety and distraction. I wanted to see if I could transform the object into something slow, tranquil, and embodied. I’m interested in mindfulness in the digital realm, and in challenging the binary between the natural world and the digital one. I want our technology to bring us into more presence with our bodies and with each other, and Escape was an experiment in that direction.
The app used small bluetooth-enabled devices called beacons (mine were from Estimote), to send location-specific text messages to participants at 20 spots on the grounds of Earthdance in Western Massachusetts. I labeled each beacon with a sticker so I could tell them apart and name them.
Founded by a group of artists in 1986, Earthdance is a very special community, often associated with contact improvisation. I spent my week in residence there poring through old scrapbooks and photo albums, exploring the grounds, and most importantly, talking to residents and other people affiliated with the place over the years about their memories and favorite spots on the 175 acres that encompass Earthdance. I used this research to inform the selection of the sites that would send text messages, and the content of the messages. I wanted the app to call attention to histories of the place that might not be evident to a visitor, and to celebrate the beauty of the place and the beauty of our bodies. I hoped the app would be an invitation to notice.
Earthdance resident Trish helped make a beautiful map that would help users navigate to the various spots where text messages were embedded. We had a few loaner phones for people who wanted to participate but didn’t have iPhones.
The library became my studio for the week and I stayed in a tent cabin, a magical temporary home.
Earthdance resident Natasha sent me a few photos from her experience with the app, giving weight with a few friends to what I called “the Bruce tree”, and admiring the “knobby tree” from below.
(Click here to read the text messages that were sent from specific locations during the festival weekend.)