Mycelial: Street Parliament – A Year of Growth

From Cassis to Champaign, from Calgary to California, from Cairo to Chicago, Erica Mott’s newest project Mycelial: Street Parliament is taking root.

Erica and Nejla visit an 1800 year old redwood during their residency at Djerassi in October.

‘Mycelial’ is derived from the word ‘mycelium’ – the vegetative part of a fungus that consists of a mass of branching, thread-like filaments. These threads form extensive communication networks, connecting forest root systems and transmitting vital nutrients to keep entire ecosystems alive. Scientists lovingly refer to this network at the “wood wide web“.

As advances in social media and mobile technology continue to connect people across the world, Mycelial: Street Parliament works to bridge the organic and the digital in order to better understand social organization and civic participation in an era of instantaneity.

The harbor near Erica’s June residency in Cassis, France.

In June 2016, Erica dove into process during a solo residency at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France. She began with the results of a recent collaboration with Dr. Zizi Papacharissi of University of Illinois at Chicago, who ran sentiment analysis of pertinent social media feeds during key moments of social organization in the US and Egypt. Though solitary in the studio, Erica sent digital choreographic assignments to her collaborative performers in Chicago, who returned online filmed responses from their own solitary studio work.

Silvita and Chris work in rehearsal at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana, IL.

In July, Erica and the team traveled to Urbana, IL, to share their initial movement research as part of the 2016 Regional Dance Development Initiative (RDDI) – a programmatic collaboration between Chicago Dancemakers Forum and NEFA’s National Dance Project. Here, she deepened her collaboration with artistic advisor John Toenjes and audience interaction designer Tony Reimer of the recently formed Laboratory for Audience Interactive Technologies (LAIT) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Together, the group has begun to customize a mobile device application that will play a key role in the audiences’ engagement within the Mycelial performance and installation.

Erica contemplates above the Bow River in Banff National Park.

In September, Erica engaged with twenty artists from around the world exploring themes of time, stillness and duration at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity near Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This time involved dialogue, lectures, readings, studio explorations and presentations based on the tension between our perceptions of time in physical and cyberspace. This research has been directly applied to the development of Mycelial.   

Sunset on Djerassi artists’ common area in Woodside, CA.

In October, Erica spent a month as an artist-in-residence at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, CA. Collaborative performers Nejla Yatkin and Christopher Knowlton joined her in the studio, investigating partnering between two live bodies and between lives bodies and motion-tracking cameras. Originally designed for at-home gaming, sound composer Ryan Ingebritsen and creative technologist Hugh Sato have hacked these systems to develop a live reactive soundscape created in real time by the dancers’ movements.

Erica and Nejla teach Egyptian artists at Ezzat Ezzat Contemporary Dance Studio in Gizah, Egypt.

With the help of project coordinator Shawn Lent, Erica and Nejla were able to travel to Cairo, Egypt, to teach and rehearse with Egyptian dance artists at Ezzat Ezzat Contemporary Dance Studio. There, the two choreographers taught three weeks of daily workshops through the ROOTS Training Program, a US Department of State initiative to provide professional training in American dance techniques to Egyptian artists. In conjunction with these workshops, Erica and Nejla invited Egyptian artists into rehearsals to experiment with and develop movement phrases, duets and larger group choreographic structures.

Hugh and Ziad program new visualization in Cairo, while Tony and Yasser discuss audience technology engagement.

In March of this year, Erica returned to Cairo with her entire team for a unique one-to-one cultural exchange between American and Egyptian composers, programmers, dancers and new media artists. Tony collaborated with Egyptian user-interface designer Yasser Nazmy to advance and redesign the mobile application for performance. Hugh Sato worked closely with Egyptian engineering students Badr AlKhamassi and Ziad Osama to engineer multiple exciting new live video processing visualizations. Rich conversations between Ryan and Egyptian composer Ahmed Saleh around the cultural specificity of emotion and sound refined the motion-reactive soundscape of the piece. Dancers Silvita Diaz-Brown and Christopher Knowlton devised hours of choreographic material with Egyptian dancers Ezzat Ezzat and Mounir Saeed. The two week intensive resulted in an unforgettably rich cultural exchange that realized the artistic process as cultural diplomacy.

Egyptians and Americans share a laugh in rehearsal at Studio Emad Eddin in downtown Cairo.

This July, Erica Mott Productions is excited to announce that Hyde Park Art Center and High Concept Labs will host our reciprocal exchange as we bring our Egyptian artists to Chicago for a two week rehearsal intensive. During this time, we will continue to experiment with new technologies, refine choreography and embed them both within our fully realized installation.

Stay with us as we continue this journey towards our premiere of Mycelial: Street Parliament in January 2018 in Chicago. We’ll keep you informed on opportunities to join us in the studio and to talk with our artists!

Want to support Erica Mott Production’s most ambitious work to date? Consider making a tax-deductible donation through Fractured Atlas, our 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor.