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“What do we project onto, and into, this absence? Fantasy, horror, desire, and so much more.”


Interview with Angela Goh about Uncanny Valley Girl.

Angela Goh is an Australian dancer and choreographer working with dance in theatres, galleries, and telepathetic spaces. Her work considers the body in relationship to commodity, materiality, technology, and feeling, and explores how meaning is both revealed and obscured through image making. Angela Goh preforms her performance Uncanny Valley Girl at SPRING.

What was your motivation to work in the performing arts?

I think motivation always somehow crosses over with circumstance, chance, or where you find yourself already. For example, I started dancing when I was very young, after my mother and doctors realised I had a femoral torsion, which meant my legs were rotated inwards 90 degrees. The doctor suggested the best therapy would be ballet lessons. So I started dancing at a young age and kept it up, taking up different styles, and eventually I realised I could study dance and make a career in it. Somewhere along the way I became motivated to work in choreography, informed by so many other things besides dancing. Dancing was my background and experience, so it became a material to work with, a framework for relating to things and ideas. And now I work with choreography more as a container for bringing together people, things, ideas, and modes of thinking. I work with dance not necessarily as a mode of expression, but rather as a material that can produce relationships between things, people or ideas. For me, choreography is the container, and dance is the interface.

What drives your creativity?

I’m mostly driven by following ideas, learning things, connecting things in ways that alter my relationship to or understanding of them. My desire to work is driven by curiosity, which is ongoing. But what drives my ‘creativity’, well, maybe deadlines!

What do you think about the role of theatre and dance in society?

My concerns are more with thinking about the function of dancing, rather than its role, per se. Outside of creating, watching or doing dance within an artistic context, dance has a social function, and it functions as a mode of expression. I was specifically thinking about this when I made Uncanny Valley Girl, because I was considering how dancing might function differently for a machine. Why would a machine dance? If a human being dances for social, cultural or emotional reasons, and we can assume that a machine doesn’t dance for those same reasons, then when a machine dances it becomes either kind of cute, or extremely unsettling. And I’m very interested in this relationship between cuteness and horror, and what that opens up.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

At the moment, specifically, worms, horror, Giselle, AI, fembots, cowgirls, flower arrangement, surveillance, the dark, ballet, pop stars, puppetry, energy drinks, the Californian Desert, my image of China, bath bombs, shooting ranges, slumber parties, and mostly and always, dancing. And in terms of who, specific to Uncanny Valley Girl, always and forever the most amazing collaborators Corin Ileto and Holly Childs; they are 100% pure inspiration. I’m so lucky to have been able to work with them on this piece.

What role did the theatre play in your childhood?

Not a big one, I hardly ever went to the theatre. What did play a big role was dancing, but not watching it, doing it – I took dance lessons every day after school, and on weekends, too. But I’d rarely go see a dance performance, my interest in and knowledge of dance came from dancing, not watching. This is the thing that has remained interesting to me – if dance is something one experiences through the act of doing, through participation and the physical experience of embodiment, then what does it mean to be watching dance? What does dance do when it’s presented to a spectator in an artistic context? For me this isn’t a question solved simply by implementing some participatory practice, it’s something to work with – this relationship between image and embodiment, and how that can be more than just representation, but can always become something else completely.

What was the starting point for creating this show?

Uncanny Valley Girl really started with an interest in what absence can produce. At some point, presence, or ‘being present’ became quite important in dance and performance, especially within the field of improvisation and somatic practices. It is related to being a ‘strong performer’, in terms of ‘stage presence’. Somehow, I was suspicious of this, especially when the term is used in contexts like ‘mindfulness’, self-help, self-care, self-improvement, self-motivation. Self, self, self, politics; somehow the notion of presence became co-opted by neoliberalism and individualism, and my suspicion grew. I wanted to know what absence could offer. Not absence in terms of inaction or disappearance, but rather what it would mean to show up with absence, or to be present precisely through absence. The idea of absence opens up a specific kind of darkness; when we aren’t blinded by someone’s presence or something that can reflect ourselves back at us, we are forced to look into the void. What can we see there? What can we imagine there, or become there? So Uncanny Valley Girl started with this investigation into presence and absence and modes of performativity, and then the idea of the uncanny valley came in, the idea of lifelessness and horror, and then the figure of the android as something that ‘embodies’ this absence so well. What do we project onto, and into, this absence? Fantasy, horror, desire, and so much more.

Why are you interested in technology and gender?

My interest lies in what the relationship between the two might mean. Uncanny Valley Girl investigates the aspects of fantasy and horror within this relationship. If machines are consistently coded as feminine, while the collective fear persists that machines will rise up and destroy us, then what does that imply for our collective fear of the feminine rising up? Uncanny Valley Girl is not about either technology or gender, instead, it uses the trope of the fembot as a lens to frame an investigation into the entanglement of desire and fear.

What impact do you want to have on the audience? What feelings/experience should the audience expect?

Well, after the responses from audiences both in Australia and Europe it’s really difficult to say what feelings people should expect. Responses have been so varied, some people couldn’t hold back their laughter they found it so humorous, some cried, some thought it was terrifying, some thought it was really erotic. It’s hard to say what people should expect. I think because the work somehow deals with a sense of absence, an emptiness, everyone projects into that void whatever they want. I think that is really interesting. I wouldn’t want to predict or control the impact of my work on an audience, because it’s not about giving answers. It’s about opening up a multiplicity of propositions.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve done research for a new work about the horrors of absorption, which I’m developing through a series of residencies over this year. I’m also working on new collaborations with Holly Childs, and Su Yu Hsin, as well as having the pleasure of being a performer in the works of artists Mette Edvardsen, Louise Ahl, Adriano Wilfert Jensen, and Holly Childs & J. G Biberkopf. And I just keep working on life as an artist – how does one do it?!

What is your biggest artistic dream to achieve?

I think it is important to have goals, and it might even be important for them to be achieved, or at least worked towards, but dreams, well, I think dreams should be reserved for something separated from the notion of achievement. I guess my answer might be: one goal I want to achieve is to keep open the possibility to dream, to be able to experience dreaminess, alone and with others, and to have the time and support to do so.

You can catch Uncanny Valley Girl on 24 and 25 May in Theater Kikker. 


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