This article examines the content and dramaturgical features of dance works in the age of the internet. As the world wide web underpins our society, its influence on contemporary art and dance has been diverse and significant.
In the 1990s, internet use grew at a tremendous rate, and by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, internet use had become so commonplace that internet culture could justifiably be said to have become just that: a culture. The distinction between offline and online still exists, but the contrast between the two realities has been blurred for example by the use of augmented reality applications, games and mobile devices. The internet is now increasingly present in real time in everyday life. Six in ten of the world’s people use the internet, with the biggest growth in usage in developing countries.
Through the internet, different minorities have found a global sense of belonging and political movements have expanded from local to global. At the same time, local values and cultures have come into conflict with different values and customs. Thus, the internet has become polarised: it can be a platform for the dissemination of legitimate information but also for fake news, a channel for messages of friendship but also for the most cynical hatred, the most cunning manipulation and even crime.
The big cultural success stories on the internet have been video and music streaming services such as Netflix (1997–), YouTube (2005–) and Spotify (2006–). Many social media platforms are young: for example, Facebook was founded in 2004, Instagram in 2010 and TikTok in 2012. These platforms are widespread –Meta Platforms had 3 billion users in 2020. This distribution makes them influential. The forms of communication used on these platforms and the culture and censorship of communication they have driven have shaped the way we perceive and communicate with the world. From the anonymous text-based chat channels of the 1990s, the 2010s have seen a shift to an advertisement-like selfie culture. Social media platforms are also fast tools for the spread and dissemination of different cultural phenomena and memes.
Our digital world is dominated by five American companies – Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Meta. It is difficult to operate outside their influence, which is why their relationship with freedom of expression, censorship, privacy and the control of consumer and voting behaviour has attracted so much attention. The European Commission is one voice that has called for these giants to be controlled. In China, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencen and Xiaomi hold similar power. At the same time, the accessibility of these companies’ services is making them increasingly popular. In 2013, 50% of all online traffic bits were Netflix and YouTube content. The importance and impact of digital culture is huge.
The term post-internet refers to society and its patterns of interaction in the era after the internet. Post-internet art refers to the art and practice of critique that is critical of our own post-internet era. The New Aesthetic is a term coined by James Bridle that refers to the increasing presence of digital visual culture in our world and the blending of the physical and virtual worlds.
In Postproduction – Culture as screenplay: how art reprograms the world (2004), French curator Nicolas Bourriaud describes how, since the 1990s, more and more artworks have been created from existing visual material or works. He argues that the spread of information technology and digital image and video tools have transformed the way art is made: the aura of the unique work of art has been broken. The forms of production made possible by information technology include the use of existing material, copying, borrowing, commenting, various digital transformations and multiple juxtapositions and collages of materials.
The infiltration of internet content into everyday life has also affected the relationship of dance makers with the reality of the stage; internet culture is no longer an island separate from art production, but the reality it reflects is dealt with on stages. There are many artists of the 2010s–2020s who do not separate media realities from real-life content, but mix them and create their own hybrid worlds. The majority of post-internet choreographers do not use media in their performances, but the influence of the internet is more visible in the references to the multiplicity of embodiments (or body images) and identities. At the same time, sometimes subconsciously, the media also shape the boundaries: for example, the screens of electronic devices such as phones have become new openings on the stage, and their repetition has repositioned frontality on the stage, with upper bodies, faces and hands dominating the expression.
On a structural level, post-internet works create new dramaturgy and new forms of reception, and thus the new aesthetics described by Bridle can also be found in dance art. To capture the meaningfulness of the post-internet world, the artists use cuts, parallel scenes and multiple parallel or overlapping stage elements to guide the viewer’s attention. The works may borrow directly from media material or be tributes to particular phenomena. Rather than building on the aesthetic coherence of a single level of material, such as movement language, the choreographers combine materials from different sources into multilayered works. There is no linear dramaturgy, no protagonists and no plot to follow; the works offer opportunities for the viewer to grasp a new event. Some of the content references are alien to different generations and appeal only to a specific audience segment. In collage-like works, where materiality is abundant, visual and auditory elements may be as relevant as performative ones: different elements of the stage may be equally important. The works become fields of embodiments, ideas, atmospheres and events, as choreographic multisensory installations.
Ana Vujanović has written on landscape dramaturgy. She draws parallels between landscape dramaturgy and the means of post-internet art. Browsing the internet and simultaneously following social media channels create an endless back-and-forth, where the internet’s hyperlinked navigation eventually loses its linearity and sense of purpose and drifts into a timeless field where information, experience fragments and chains of opinion create a still, ever-changing, multi-directional, turbo charged landscape of stimulation. According to Vujanović, this kind of dramaturgy that describes field-like experience can be found in contemporary choreography.
In these works, the role of the spectator is also changing. Some contemporary dance performances have moved to galleries and museums, where the encounter with art is self-directed, like browsing. You can spend time with the work. Works are constructed so that they can be gazed at, scanned or browsed without the requirement of a synchronous, shared journey.
Choreographic attention is therefore focused on designing potential paths of experience for the viewer. The works offer eventfulness, interactive situations, blurred boundaries and roles between performers and spectators. The works create immersive, participatory fields of experience in which the viewer can immerse themselves with different intensities and strategies. Participation can also momentarily transform the spectator into a co-performer. Following such a choreographic work or installation is challenging, as the works do not always offer unambiguous reading instructions or require active following, and therefore can be allowed to glide by. Nevertheless, the multimateriality and inclusivity of the works create very diverse pathways for experiencing the work, and its meaning cannot be unlocked from any one reading – the pieces seem to mean very different things according to the different ways in which they are encountered and to the different ages of the viewer-experiencer. The works require an emancipated spectator who must be interested in using their attention to follow the situation and to recognise their own role. To make post-internet choreography meaningful, one must sense, think, play with one’s spectator position and actively use one’s ability to affect.
The internet is also subject to severe criticism for its normative and commercial nature. Artists, too, are concerned about the monitoring of citizens and targeted opinion-forming. The ability of large technology companies to control our consumption has given rise to the notion and critique of the phenomenon of surveillance capitalism. This critique has influenced art. The artist Zach Blas, in his counter-internet aesthetic, has created goals for art that is critical of the internet. The aim is to critically examine the internet’s complicity with discrimination and exclusion, to resist the normative interpretive horizon of life created by computationalism, and to create utopian alternatives to the internet.
As our relationship with the post-internet culture around us evolves and dance artists find a critical relationship with the possibilities it offers, post-internet choreography has the potential to be an artistically influential part of contemporary art discourse.
1 Michael Connor. 2014. Post-Internet: What It Is and What it Was. In You are here; Art after the Internet. 2014. Omar Kholeif (ed.). London: SPACE, 56–65.
2 Half of internet users are in Asia (50.9%). North America (94.6%) and Europe (87.2%) have the highest coverage rates, but Africa has seen the highest growth in the number of users between 2000 and 2020 (+11567%). https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm.
3 First quarter 2020. Meta Platforms owns Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger. https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/
4 The average video view on Facebook lasts 18 seconds and the average Facebook video is 55 seconds long. See https://locowise.com/blog/17-facebook-video-facts-and-insights-you-need-to-know.
5 See for example Storr, Will. 2018. Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us. London: Picador.
7 Kholeif, Omar (ed.). Electronic Superhighway: From Experiments in Art and Technology to Art After Internet. Timeline. 2016. London: Whitechapel Gallery.
8 Connor 2014, 56–65.
9 For a more extensive presentation of the phenomenon: https://ucca.org.cn/en/exhibition/art-post-internet/.
12 Technological advances are enabling new worlds of experience, which choreographers have taken advantage of. The kinaesthesia of the viewer’s body can be transferred to avatars moving in virtual spaces and choreographed situations. In VR_I by Cie Gilles Jobin and Artamin, the avatars of the spectators and the virtual characters in the work are intermingled. The shared virtual event of VR characters and spectators opens up a new spatial experience.
Gaming industry tools are used as part of the live performance. In Julian Hetzel’s The Automated Sniper (2017), the audience can manipulate the live performance with a game controller. In the piece, two spectators and a remote player fire paint bullets at two performers in the performance space. What starts as colouring the space becomes its destruction. The work reveals the impersonal power of remote connections and suggests the potential of remote technology in warfare.
13 Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2004. Postproduction – Culture as screenplay: How art reprograms the world, New York: Lukas & Stenberg.
14 See for example Jacolby Satterwhite. http://jacolby.com/artwork/3346565_ART_21_NY_CLOSE_UP_EPISODE.html
15 An example could be Florentina Holzinger and Vincent Riebeek’s Schönheitsabend (2015), in which ballet, pole dancing, improvisational movement and porn alternated in a fairytale setting. The work deals with power and violence, gender roles and sex.
16 Vujanović 2020, 6.
17 Many performances break up the frontal viewing relationship, transforming the auditorium into a space to be, inviting you to a space where you can enjoy your own drinks or those provided by the performance. Start and end times can also slip. This kind of spectatorship has been common in the history of the performing arts. The role of the spectator was not more widely restricted until the 19th century, when the audience space was darkened and the spectators’ focus was directed strictly towards the stage.
18 Live role-playing strategies have been used in many immersive works, including On trial together by Ana Vujanović & Saša Asentić, where the audience was given the objectives and resources of different actors in the cultural field. The role-playing of the spectators and the dialogue between these roles produced an understanding of the different positions of power that are linked to cultural productions.
19 See for example Ivo Dimchev’s SELFIE CONCERT, an interactive musical performance in a white gallery space.
20 See Zuboff 2019.
21 Blas 2015, 86–97.
Blas, Zach. 2015. “Contra-Internet Aesthetics.” In You Are Here – Art After the Internet. Omar Kholeif (toim.). London: SPACE, 86–97.
Bridle, James. 2015. “The New Aesthetics and its Politics.” In You Are Here – Art After the Internet. Omar Kholeif (ed.). London: SPACE, 20–27.
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2004. Postproduction – Culture as screenplay: How art reprograms the world. Dijon: Les presses du reel.
Connor, Michael. 2014. “Post-Internet: What It Is and What It Was.” In You Are Here – Art After the Internet. Omar Kholeif (ed.). London: SPACE, 56–65.
Kholeif, Omar (ed). 2015. You Are Here – Art After the Internet. London: SPACE.
Kholeif, Omar (ed.). 2016. “TIMELINE.” In Electronic Superhighway: From Experiments in Art and Technology to Art After Internet. Omar Kholeif (ed.). London: Whitechapel Gallery.
Vujanović, Ana. 2020. “Meandering together: New tendencies in landscape dramaturgy” In Postdramaturgien, Sandra Umathum, Jan Deck (eds.). Berlin: Neofelis Verlag. https://www.academia.edu/34879796/Meandering_together_New_problems_in_landscape_dramaturgy. Downloaded 6.7.2020.
Zuboff, Shoshana. 2019. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. New York: Public Affairs,
Ahmed, Tina: 17 Facebook video facts and insights you need to know, blog post 18.4.2018. https://locowise.com/blog/17-facebook-video-facts-and-insights-you-need-to-know.
Archey, Karen & Peckham, Robin (eds.) Art Post-Internet, exhibition and publication. Accessed 6.7.2020. https://ucca.org.cn/en/exhibition/art-post-internet/
Bridle, James, blog. Accessed 6.7.2020. https://new-aesthetic.tumblr.com/about
Internet World Stats – Usage and Population Statistics, website. Accessed 6.7.2020. https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm.
Statista: Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 1st quarter 2020. Accessed 6.7.2020. https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/
Ari Tenhula graduated from the Theatre Academy Helsinki in 1989 with a master’s degree in dance. Tenhula was a director of the Helsinki City Theatre Dance Company (2000–2002), a professor of dance at the Theatre Academy (2008–2018) and Vice Dean of Pedagogue at the Theatre Academy (2014–2018). From 2006–2008 he was Artistic Director of the Moving in November Festival. Since 2018 he has been the Managing Director of Zodiak – Centre for New Dance.