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[ENG]Reflections on Semiotics and Site Specificity: /bɪˈtwiːn/ (2020 live online version) by Chan W

/bɪˈtwiːn/ premiere in Belgium, 2019; Concept and Performance: Chan Wai-lok, Mariana Miranda;Photo: Heiwa Wong

The world has been suffering from the Coronavirus pandemic since January 2020, but it seems that nothing can stop artistic ideas from sprouting, developing and transforming as a response to the ever-changing world.

What is in between

Premiered in Belgium in 2019 by Hong Kong dancer Chan Wai-lok and Brazilian dancer Mariana Miranda, /bɪˈtwiːn/ was a live dialogue addressing semiotic issues of how visual signs, particularly body signs, are delivered and interpreted. Reacting to the pandemic which prevents performances being held on stage, they brought their live dialogue to audiences by creating their own stage with virtual yet solid tools.

While it has become routine for everyone to watch plenty of recorded performances on the internet since the onset of the pandemic, Chan and Miranda decided to perform directly by setting up a digital theatre with Facebook Live. Conceptually similar to the premiere in Belgium, the pair again sit at opposite sides of the theatre - but this time the distance between them can no longer be crossed physically: it was a wall of air, thousands of kilometres wide.

Instead of seeking to communicate with each other through pantomime, they each performed in front of the camera in this online version of /bɪˈtwiːn/. As audiences had to choose to view either one performer on one device, or both using two devices, they were not able to watch both performers by merely moving their heads as they could in the theatre. With the inevitable differences of the internet speed and functionality of devices of both performers and audiences, the receptivity and perception of the performance became a function of these factors.

Semiotics in the Arts

Communication is undoubtedly a crucial part of our life, and its importance in the arts has been growing due to the ever increasing emphasis upon “ideas” in contemporary artwork. Such emphasis upon the ideas behind artworks predisposes us to pay even more attention to the communication tools used in artworks. The use of communicative tools to convey ideas, or ‘discursivity’, becomes a critical part of art creation.

To effectively convey ideas through the arts, understanding of semiotics is an indispensable prerequisite. Linguistic and non-linguistic signs employed in communication, and basically in art forms with visual elements, play a decisive role in art-making. /bɪˈtwiːn/ was a performance that depicted the communicative effectiveness between non-linguistic visual signs expressed by one performer’s body to the eventual linguistic translations in another performer’s (and also audiences’) mind. Some meanings being lost in translation was unavoidable due to the vital role “context” plays in the interpretation of signs. /bɪˈtwiːn/ provided us a visual illustration of how cultural differences (like contextual differences) might affect the effectiveness of communication, such as different choices of visual signs to express the same concept. While so many dance productions nowadays are being performed around the globe, /bɪˈtwiːn/ is a reflection of how much the essence of a production can be actually delivered to audiences with entirely distinct and diverse cultural backgrounds.

Site-Specificity - New Context at New Site

The importance of “context” in a contemporary dance performance has been amplified in this live online version of /bɪˈtwiːn/ that took place against the backdrop of the global pandemic. The relationship between “context” and “site” become the centre of the discussion when we try to interpret contemporary artworks, because most artworks carry a certain level of specificity to the place where they are performed. While the term “site-specific dance” is usually used to describe performances that are specifically choreographed and performed outside regular stages, as well as relating to a particular site, ‘site-specificity’ has a more profound meaning that was illustrated by this live online version of /bɪˈtwiːn/.

It is noteworthy that this live online version of /bɪˈtwiːn/ should be considered as a new version of the work performed in Belgium in 2019. While the content of the performance is more or less the same, the change of site from a theatre to Facebook Live engendered different meanings and thus provided new perspectives to us. Such differences of context are especially relevant to /bɪˈtwiːn/ as the change of site elaborated the motif of the work as a process of translation from one language into another. More communicative obstacles were encountered by both performers and audiences in the online version, such as the physical separation of performers, delays due to internet connections, options of watching just one performer’s performance, entirely different physical background behind the performers, as well as no physical presence of audience. These new aspects contributed to the work due to the change of site.

We can therefore realize that the complete meaning of the notion of ‘site-specificity’ is not only about creating a relationship with a specific site, but also about how the context of the same work changes when it takes place at a different venue, such as changing a theatre performance to an online performance like /bɪˈtwiːn/, or even staging a theatre performance in the street. Given that both the meaning artists give to their work and the perception from the audience change according to the context, staging a production at a new site may stimulate creative novelty, and thus new interpretation of an artwork.

/bɪˈtwiːn/ premiere in Belgium, 2019; Concept and Performance: Chan Wai-lok, Mariana Miranda;Photo: Heiwa Wong


Text: Dicky Lam

An art lover who write about performing arts and visual arts


Concept and Performance:Chan Wai-lok, Mariana Miranda

Performance:29 March 2020 13:00 (Brussels Time) 19:00 (HK Time) Online live streaming


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