I love holding a book in my hands: print on paper, smelling the pages, turning them, discovering images in half-tone. In ATOM-r's new publication, The Operature, I find images of male bodies applying tattoos in places not meant for public exposure, words set in hand-set type telling stories of Sam and Chris and Justin, and so on. It feels like magic—something precious and real. For ATOM-r, which stands for “Anatomical Theatres of Mixed Reality,” it is an oddly old-fashioned catalog of an otherwise high-tech performance that at points includes scanning body tattoos with a smartphone to reveal additional, virtual layers of meaning.
As complex as all of this sounds, Mark Jeffery and Judd Morrissey, the co-founders of ATOM-r, have crafted a multi-layered masterpiece that has as many interest points as it does iterations. Beyond the new augmented reality book, available at Pinups Magazine, performances of The Operature premier March 21, 22, 28, 29 at the Museum of Health and Medicine, Chicago.
In November 2013, ATOM-r performed a work-in-progress of The Operature at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for Breakout!, Chicago Dancemakers Forum's 10th Anniversary Celebration. I asked Mark Jeffery to comment on that performance and its relationship to The Operature as a whole.
The Operature is a large scale movement art and technology project we as ATOM-r have been making since April, 2012. It has been two years in the making. In Goat Island, the former performance group that Judd Morrissey and I were members of, we discovered the performance by making it. As ATOM-r, each presentation we make in a venue allows for the work to adapt and change, relocate, be specific to the site, to the concerns of duration, to the technology, and to the invitation to which we are responding.
Prior to the MCA performance for the Chicago Dancemakers Forum, we had traveled to the United Kingdom to present the work in a former chapel at Performing House in York and to a former anatomical theater-now-museum at Kings College in London. We returned with a much tighter work than when we had left. For the MCA we had to adapt the work because of circumstance. Judd Morrissey won a Fulbright for the year to Norway. Sam Hertz, one of the performers, was studying for his MFA at Mills College in California.
We knew we were presenting our work in a gallery. We wanted to dissect the language and present a durational version of The Operature. We wanted to unpack and demonstrate what we had learned over the past months of the project. The unraveling of the work created seams and ruptures from which we could isolate and examine the vocabulary of the work. We wanted to show images of forensics, of proximity in placing tattoos on the bodies, and to consider the history of our performance. This includes the research we conducted with the Chicago tattoo artist, writer and pornographer Sam Steward, as well as the crime scene micro-dioramas of Chicagoan Frances Lee Glessner.
The work we present is always highly scored and carefully crafted. Each action, each movement is carefully sculpted with heightened attention to detail and to how the performers are seen in the space. We are focused on how the performance reveals itself from the austere to the lush, visual landscape of tended gardens; of tattoos placed onto the bodies; enacted and demonstrated choreographies of sex, of surgery, of forensics, of examination; and audience participation via a revealed and augmented reality through their smartphones.
We have blurred of the lines of authorship between the performers and the tattoos they wear, and an audience that becomes both voyeur and “surgeon.” The audience and the performers investigate the performance together and complete the work via their interactions and observations. The performance is an array of multiple, fragmented, arranged sets of text and images. We entangle ourselves in the rose tattoo by Steward on the back of performer Chris Knowlton (an homage to Gertrude Stein); or the lush chest tattoo that, when scanned by smartphone, reveals the 1947 Kenneth Anger film, “Fireworks”; or the handshake tattoo on performer Blake Russell that reveals Steward’s coded stud file.
In the act of making and performing the adapted work at the MCA we discovered we could activate gallery spaces as if they were crime scenes or sites of surgery or sites of cruising—of men interacting with men. We activate the space for pleasure and punishment, examination and ritual, closeness and distance.
Anatomical Theatres of Mixed Reality (ATOM-r) is a provisional collective exploring forensics, anatomy, and 21st-century embodiment through performance, language and emerging technologies. ATOM-r Co-founders Mark Jeffery and Judd Morrissey are a long-standing collaboration merging visual performance and computational poetics. Their projects are constructed as lush systems flowing generatively between bodies, objects and screens. Each work evolves slowly through context-specific research and practice and allows for a degree of adaptation in response to a given venue or occasion. Site-responsive considerations often include the physical performance space, the local community, and online activity happening within the locale. A given work is a fluid, cumulative body of material that may have no singular fixed form but is alternately or simultaneously presented as internet art, participatory event, durational live installation or a a performance of fixed length.
Both artists were previously members of the international performance company, Goat Island. Recent projects include The Labours: An astronomical Dance and The Precession: An 80 Foot Long Internet Art Performance Poem.
On this track:
Mark Jeffery, choreography
Judd Morrissey, technology & dramaturgical systems
Justin Deschamps, performer
Sam Hertz, performer
Chirstopher Knowlton, performer
Blake Russell, performer
Kevin Stanton, performer
Moe Beitiks, technical director
Alfredo Salazar-Caro, new media artist
Alexandria Eregbu, studio assistant
Kate Hampel, costume designer
Hunter-Gatherer Jewelry, prosthetic design
Andrew Pace, textile designer
Bryan Saner, carpenter
Dav Yendler, illustrations
Footage shot by HMS Media.
Book photography and design by Christopher Shulz with photography assistance by Jonathan Chacon.
The Operature is partially supported by a grant from Chicago Dancemakers Forum with commissioning support from ELMCIP (Electronic Literature as a Model for Creativity and Innovation in Practice) in collaboration with Edinburgh College of Art and New Media in Scotland. Additional funding has come from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, King's College Creative Futures Initiative, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and UK Fulbright Commission. Support in exchange for workshops has come from Dance4, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, York St John University, and the departments of English at King's College and University of Sussex.
Performances and exhibitions have taken place at Edinburgh College of Art Schulpture Court, Inspace Gallery (Edinburgh), Performing House (York), Sullivan Galleries (Chicago), Defibrillator Gallery (Chicago), Hyde Park Salon Series (Chicago), Chicago Cultural Center, Bergen Bibliotek (Norway), Le Cube (Paris), Anatomical Theatre and Museum (London), and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
This work is made in residence at the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago.
"Singletrack" is CAR's Artist Story for Chicago performers in which songwriters, bands, playwrights, actors and writers discuss the creation of a recorded work alongside audio or video clips of the performance. To submit your song for consideration, please email our researchers.