“Please take out your phones. Please turn your ringers on, your volume on high. Please take phone calls. Please text. Please take photographs. If you tweet, set your profile from private to public. Tweet images and text with the hashtag #mxselfie. If you use Instagram, do the same. If you use Facebook, please like the Facebook Modernextension Dance Company page and post to our wall. In fact, please don’t stop doing these things from now until the performance ends. Please change your vantage point often. At the conclusion of a piece, offer your chair to a different person, go upstairs, downstairs. If a dancer interacts with you or takes a photograph with you, say yes.”
Those were the unusual instructions to the audience from Matt Karkutt, Wilson Library employee and Modernextension Dance Company member, before the UNC student ensemble performed “Self(i.e)” on Saturday, November 8. The creative improvisational program, inspired by the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013, selfie, provocatively examined how we communicate–and don’t–in our world of new technologies.
Conceived by Karkutt, the performance connected those in attendance virtually on vertiginous multiple levels–with real-time screening of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts behind the dancers–as well as physically–by bodily presence and movement in the Gerrard Hall space.
An event with great positive energy, “Self(i.e.)” was the second collaboration between the Rare Book Collection and Modernextension. As Karkutt noted, the RBC, with its holdings ranging from cuneiform tablets to codices, “celebrates millennia of media.” “Self(i.e.)” publicity featured dancer Meredith Woodson at Wilson Library with smartphone in hand and Samuel Johnson’s legendary 1755 Dictionary of the English Language at her feet. Modernextension’s performance underscored the dual nature of the dictionary today as an online and physical book representing words “that are spoken and created in person and now online through virtual Media.”
Modernextension’s innovative performance came just a week before the OED announced its Word of the Year for 2014, “vape,” a verb that means to inhale or exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette.
The RBC sees another subversive program in Modernextension’s future. Imagine the company (and the audience?) smoking their way across the floor of Gerrard Hall. Can we consider cigarettes a medium of communication?