In Itzel Yard’s Bend, the appearance of the artist’s dancing body is an illusion generated by the bending of scrolling horizontal white lines towards or away from the viewer. That is, the volume of her body is neither “behind” nor “in front” of the lines, but in them, in the same way, that the contours of a geological structure are represented by the lines on a topographical map. This unusual method of depicting a human figure makes it seem as if her body is less a solid presence than a kind of unstable artifact of geometry; one can imagine the lines all snapping taut and her body instantly disappearing.
Yard made this work by recording herself dancing and then processing the footage using Touch Designer, a node-based program that allows users to visually manipulate data in real-time. The resulting images were then recorded off a screen, as evidenced by how the image slightly angles up and away from the viewer. In other words, Bend is a digital self-portrait in which Yard—who has spoken openly about the importance of her online friendships—depicts herself as quite literally existing in lines of code on a screen. Like a stop-motion animation, the illusion of movement relies on the sequencing of still frames, which are compiled into a looping video. Unlike most animations, however, Bend’s lower frame rate ensures that her movements are not seamless. This causes a glitch effect, as if Yard’s already ghostly body is struggling to remain coherent within—or alternatively, is being brought to life by—technological circuits.
One of the first digital images of a real body similarly depicted a female figure. Although she was not shown dancing, the woman in Leon Harmon and Ken Knowlton’s Computer Nude (Studies in Perception I), 1967, was in fact the noted Minimalist dancer and choreographer Deborah Hay. Harmon and Knowlton were both engineers at Bell Labs, which was then pioneering techniques for digitizing photographs. They scanned a black-and-white print of Hay’s nude photo and algorithmically transformed it into a bitmapped image made of symbols approximating shades of grey. In addition to furthering Bell’s research into human pattern perception, their stated goals included developing “new computer languages which can easily manipulate graphic data” and exploring “new forms of computer-produced art.” Yard’s Bend—which replaces Hay’s reclined, passive pose with her own vertical, active dancing—continues this experimental embrace of new languages and forms, suggesting new paths forward for the burgeoning movement of generative art, as well as for figuration in a digital age.