The human body is one of the most prevalent matters of our contemporary world, or as further observed by Steve Dixon, “[it] is the most revered, fetishized, contested, detested, and confused concept in contemporary cultural theory.” On the other hand, Emily Johnson reflects, “Our bodies are EVERYTHING. They hold EVERYTHING and they are also the EVERYTHING possible.” Our bodies hold our bones, flesh, emotions, as well as “our culture, history, present, and future, all at once.” While these cultural, philosophical and theoretical implications of the body have greatly informed perspective on the matter, the purpose of this thesis is to explore what the body can do versus, what the body means.
Our daily lives are visually inundated both as designers and consumers—whether we are producing or consuming content—ironically, we spend much of our time sitting behind flat screens. Sedentary living crossed with a heavy dose of daily scrolling, scanning, clicking, and tapping is a fundamental reality and engine of information age culture development. As designers, we use conventional tools like our computers, pencils, and paper in our design processes—if we are feeling experimental, we may explore a range of materiality or maybe virtual environments; but what about the use of our physical bodies? Our bodies hold, they remember, they activate, engage, disrupt, deliver, interact, regenerate; they are ever-changing, and most importantly, they move. Considering these insights, I see an opportunity to investigate the specific visual potential that the moving body holds, as a tool in graphic design.
I begin my research by looking at the body through the lens of performance art, and with an inquiry: What happens when performative elements (i.e. ephemerality) are applied to graphic design? Referring to Foucault’s theories concerning the body, Linda Caruso Haviland, a movement researcher in the field of dance, identifies performance as a “discourse capable of coexisting with other established or already legitimized discourses,” such as graphic design. The body is an integral element to any performance; thus, exploring the visual potential of the moving body stems from this initial curiosity into the existing and plausible overlaps between performance and graphic design. Performance is just the beginning. It is the framework; the root of the interest and the catalyst of the question. While there is an infinite amount of definitions of performance art, there are some fundamental components that make it especially intriguing for this research, viz.: (1) ephemerality, (2) chance/surprise, (3) interaction/participation, (4) use of the body as a tool, (5) content created through physical movement. Thus, performance sets the stage for a deeper investigation of the role of the body as a performative tool, both in design processes and design outputs.
To explore this visual potential, I analyze historical, theoretical, and philosophical roles of the body in art, design, and movement research. More specifically, I study the shift in body representation to body integration throughout major art movements, as well as the fascination and challenge of capturing and translating three-dimensional movement. I examine work from Marcel Duchamp and Étienne-Jules Marey, to the Futurist and Dadaist movements, to contemporary designers and researchers such as The Rodina and Zach Lieberman. I draw upon these examples as critical references for my own visual experiments and attempts to create a comprehensive library of graphic movement translations. I define categories of movement within my own experiments and discover important insights regarding the distinction between showing the body, representing the body and using the body as a tool.
The concept of the body is not a new phenomenon, but how we choose to use it, specifically in the context of graphic design, is a captivating opportunity. This research explores the following questions: What is the visual potential of movement? How can the moving body be used as a tool in graphic design? In examining the potential of movement as a process tool, I hope to re-invigorate the relationships between a creative work and its viewer, while simultaneously inspiring fellow designers to explore their moving bodies as tools in the design process.
Dixon, S., & Smith, B. (2007). Virtual Bodies. In Digital Performance: A history of new media in theater, dance, performance art, and installation (pp. 212). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Johnson, E. (2018). The Stories in Our Bodies. In L. C. Haviland & B. Bissell (Eds.), The Sentient Archive: Bodies, Performance, and Memory (pp. 111-115). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Goldberg, R. (2014). Performance Art from Futurism to the Present (T. Brayshaw & N. Witts, Eds.). In The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader (Vol. 3, pp. 213-216). NY: Routledge.
Haviland, L. C. (2018). Considering the Body as an Archive (L. C. Haviland & B. Bissell, Eds.). In The Sentient Archive: Bodies, Performance, and Memory (pp. 1-17). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.