Théâtre la Balsamine (9-10-2017 → 13-10-2017)

This webpage is an interpretation and continuation of the printparty Up Pen Down, performed at Balsamine Theater as a part of Saison des Cultures Numériques 2017. The performance was the first public moment of a research focused on that which is between digital type design and bodies. Letters and movements, dance notation and programming, digital codes and coded physical gestures, plotters and body parts interacted with each other and blured the distinction between choreographic and digital practices.

Cette page web est une interprètation et un prolongement de la printparty Up Pen Down performée au théâtre de la Balsamine dans le cadre de la Saison des Cultures Numériques 2017. Cette performance était le premier moment public d'une recherche située à la rencontre entre typographie digitale et corps. Lettres et mouvements, notation de danse et programmation, codes digitaux et gestes physiques codés, plotters et corps ont dialogués jusqu’à rendre confuse la distinction entre pratiques chorégraphiques et digitales.

Deze website is een interpretatie en vervolg van de printparty Up Pen Down, opgevoerd in het Balsamine Theater als onderdeel van Saison des Cultures Numériques 2017. Deze performance was het eerste publieke moment van een onderzoek in dat wat zich bevindt tussen digitaal letterontwerp en lichamen. Letters en beweging, dansnotatie en programmeren, digitale codes en fysieke bewegingen, plotters en lichaamsdelen gingen het gesprek aan en vervaagden de grens tussen choreografie en digitale praktijken.


Pierre Maybe imagine a human having a perception of a vector for the first time: a pregnant woman walks on the flat surface of a beach, to the background of the sunset. She hunts birds with a bow and an arrow. As she bends the bow, she feels how its straight rope interacts with the sturdiness of the bones of her arm and how the curved wood of the bow is in sync with the fibers of her muscles. All those straight and curved lines, along with the soft arc of her thick belly, are also drawn by the sun as her shadow stretches on the sand. She launches the arrow. The arrow itself could be seen as a vector-wave-movement. She also feels how rays of sun project her transformed shape of her shadow on the sand, following another straight line. She looks more closely at the border of the shadow, and sees the very moment where some grains of sand get lightened by the sun, like many corpuscules-pixels-bitmap, envisioning in simultaneously the two main components of digital images, and t two ways of describing tangible matter.

Pierre There are two matters within the digital, the molecular, which we recognise as bitmap and know very well, and the ondulatory – the vectors. I want to not only utilise vectors, but also to go anthropological about them. From that perspective I can tackle what is important in the aesthetics vectors create, beyond what things look like and into the way they operate and influence our own operations.

Ludi I have the need to include the body in the investigation of digital typography, because through intimate relations with vectors, we can trace back histories of writing that depended on the body and its movement.

Ludi The body has its own intelligence. When I put, for example, the tension of the curve into this awkward body, some aspects of the digital practice become apparent in a way that I can't put the finger on, but I feel that only the body can detect.

Ludi OSPies like dancing. But we do end up sitting on a chair when ever we deal with type design. Its maybe a fantasy to think that such different modes of being could come together in an interesting way, but here we are, using one practice to reflect on and activate the other.

Gijs With Metapost, the human becomes the choreographer and the machine is the dancer, interpreting and improvising with the score.

Gijs Actually, a vector is a meta picture. Only when rendered it becomes a shape.

Adva So, could we say that vectors are like movements?

Gijs Yes, in this case the movement is a rendering device.

Adva Maybe both movement and vectors are potential, actualised through rendering processes, by the body, by the machine, by anything they activate?

Pierre I find both dance and graphic design poetic practices, but sometimes I felt we killed their poetry by forcing them to interact with each other.

Ludi We slowed the rendering process down so much in order to look into the process it facilitates. Maybe that's what killed the poetry?

Adva I find poetry in the fact that we sometimes look at those technical processes through the perspective of movement.

Gijs If you think of programming from the perspective of movement, for exemple loops, the time it takes to execute the code, the electrons jumping, freezing, flowing, interacting through the processor - all become interesting in a different way.

Adva I understood at a certain point that Up Pen Down is not a linear research, but rather an environment we created for ourselves where methods, actions and questions we come up with can interact with pieces of art, of knowledge, of completed or unfinished explorations of others within the field. Up Pen Down is for me more of a place to be, than a well studied research question.

Adva By allowing different body practices to infiltrate one another, contemporary dance went through various exciting waves of new discoveries about movement. At a certain point the body withdrew and the conceptualisation of movement entered the field. I ask myself if there is something new to find about movement through looking for it within digital processes and if yes, can it maybe generate a new way of thinking body and of making dance?

Adva I read once a Kabalah text about the letter . Sometimes this letter is used to indicate the name of god. In that case, it should be written, but not pronounced. Its not because it represents god, but because they believe that the letter itself, when written, contains divine power that is lost in the transformation through the body from the written to the spoken. I like the idea of a letter carrying its own agency. This story is taken from a mystical culture, but also on the more up-pen-downish level, we create texts, choreographies and technologies that at a certain point become existing in themselves and start a relationship with us.

Five days preparation workshop : October 9 → 14 Commented performance : Saturday October 14, 8pm. Balsamine theater, Félix Marchallaan 1, 1030 Schaarbeek


Page 1 is the title page. This is where the plotter plot a simple dot. At the same time one person enters the grid, marking a dot in the grid while announcing the coordinates and starting the introduction. This moment marks the direct echo between the bodies and the machine. Space and language are transposed to the scale of the body.


Page 2 draws a same line following the 3 languages in action : hpgl, Logo and Metapost. Alternately the body is the pen, the instructor and the interpreter.

IN; SP1; PA1,1; PD3,5; PU; RT26.57;FD4.47; beginfig(1); z1=(1,1); z2=(3,5); draw z1--z2; endfig; end


Page 3. The team gathers to fill boxes of the grid with chalk. Now the full body is a pen carried by a body that plays the arm of the plotter. The hpgl plot of an angle appears in negative in the white space of the chalk.

Logo a été écrit pour les enfants. Né en 1966, c'es2t une méthode pédagogique et un langage de programmation qui la met en pratique. Inspirée des recherches de Jean Piaget, Logo a été développé par Seymour Papert comme une initiation à la la programmation et aux logiques numériques. Il passe par le dessin pour expliquer les concept d’unité, d'échelle et de récursivité. Ce qui nous intéresse en particulier avec Logo c’est sa “Tortue”; sorte de robot traçant piloté par de simples commandes: Pen Up, Pen Down, Forward & Rotate. Avec cette spécificité que la tortue se déplace dans un environnement relatif.


Page 4 deals with curves and the simplest application of them : circles. Three circles are performed simultaneously starting as a canon and continuing in a loop. Each body performs the circle in a different posture and rhythm. The 3 languages come into confrontation, bodies have here to take into account collisions. Riding on the wall the Metapost circle meets the three-dimensional space of the stage. The path bumps into the folds of the page.

HPGL or Hewlett-Packard Graphics Language, is a drawing and programming language to command pen plotters. It developed into the industry standard and is still supported by contemporary devices. There are commands to send the pen to a coordinate, or position on the paper and commands to put the pen down on the paper: Pen Down, or to lift it again: Pen Up. If the pen is moving while it is down or on the paper the machine draws. There are commands to modify the pen and commands to modify the machine, as in return to default settings, to change the size of the paper or to pick a new one.


Page 5 is the link with a more theoretical passage on the origin of our Latin ductus. The plotter superimposes the evolution of the lines of the ampersand sign - from the capitales ET to the & - by following Jean Mallon's documentary Ductus.

We then retrace the historical relationships between E and ה.


Page 6 tells the specificities of the letter and bring us back to curves. Starting from a minimal straight plotted version of the ה and the 3 points defining its upper right part, we play with curve tensions variations, making legible the self initiative behaviour of Metapost dealing with curves. A dialogue between the indications of Adva - only practitioner drawing this sign - the instructions and the projected drawing of Metapost is played out.

Linguists say that the E, fifth letter of the latin alphabet, is derived from the Greek Epsilon E, represented in egyptian hieroglyph by the rotated , and rotated again from the Phoenician that is rooted in two cuneiform letters from the semitic script aged from more than three millenaries, the fifth letter haw meaning the window and the eight letter heth meaning fence . In syriac and arabic, it gave a near rounded shape, and in hebrew the mix between the latinesque cornered letter and a rounded one, even more rounded in cursive .

page6-curve from OSP on Vimeo.


Page 7 introduces the Metafont "most pleasing curve" concept. That's when the programmer becomes a choreographer and program itself is the 'dancer'. The plotter plot the ה with the rounded angle without direction, and on top of it, with direction (intention).

Metapost is a drawing language based on Metafont, the language developed by Donald Knuth to design fonts. In Metapost the drawing is deduced from a collection of mathematical equations. It is not obligatory but often the drawing is split in two parts in the first half the points of the drawing are defined. In the second part the connections between those lines are described, straight lines or curves and in which direction do they leave or enter the point.

«Let's consider the following mathematical problem: Given n points z1, z2,..., zn in the plane, what is the most pleasing closed curve that goes through them in the specified order [...] To avoid degenerate situations we may assume that n is at least 4. This problem is essentially like the dot-to-dot puzzles that we give to young children. Of course it is not a well-posed mathematical problem, since I didn't say what it means for a curve to be "most pleasing". Let's first postulate soractice of the drawing of this sign,me axioms that the most pleasing curve should satisfy. [... skipping mathematical properties 1 to 4 ...] Property 5 (smoothness) : There are nothe hpgl plot of an angle appears in negative in the white space of the chalk. sharp corners in the most pleasing curve. [...] In other words, there is a unique tangent at every point of the curve. Property 6 : if z1, z2, z3, z4 are consecutive points of a circle, the most pleasing curve through them is that circle.» Donald Knuth, "Mathematical typography", p. 355, in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, Volume 1, Number 2, March 1979


Drawing of the grid is the first element of the presentation. Developed as a group the scene start as the audience is still coming in. Equiped with different coloured technical tapes, each one coordinates in solo or binomial to place the different markers. The installation of the tape uses walking techniques inspired by the performance of Esther Ferrer [1] or measured movements, rolled developed for the occasion. In the background we listen to Laurie Anderson - O Superman.

  1. Esther Ferrer, Le chemin se fait en marchant

The grid has a proportion of 8 x 4 and allows us to overflow on the wall.

After placement of the grid by the bodies, light focus on the plotter who starts 'marking the territory'. One's filming next to it so that the audience can see the pen trajectory, plotter's dance projected on the side wall. On page 8, the grid is drawn.