Digital duet

Local multimedia artist's Avatar melds technology and movement into a laptop dance


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"I post, therefore I am."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/10/2009 (4791 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

"I post, therefore I am."

That mantra seems to motivate millions to upload personal photos, videos, confessional blogs, banal Twitter updates and more to the Internet.

Documenting and publicizing their lives apparently helps people validate their existence, says Winnipeg artist Freya Bjorg Olafson.

PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local multimedia artist's Avatar melds technology and movement into a laptop dance.

Internet users attempt to leave a "digital trace" and a public archive of themselves, but what does it mean in terms of identity?

Olafson, 26, has created an ambitious one-woman show called Avatar to explore those questions.

Running tonight through Sunday at the Rachel Browne Theatre in the Crocus Building, it’s the season-opening presentation of Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers. But since Olafson is one of Winnipeg’s most boldly interdisciplinary artists, dance is only one element of the technology-themed performance.

"I see it as a duet between myself and the laptop," says the tall, fair-skinned performer.

Olafson, who trained in both ballet and contemporary dance, is an accomplished painter and holds a master’s degree in new media. She lives in a bohemian studio in the Exchange District and doesn’t define herself as a dance artist or a visual artist.

"I’m interweaving them," she says. "I’m not in either category. My attempt is to bridge the disciplines… and it’s not even just visual arts and dance.

"I’m interested in the two-dimensional moving image in relationship to live performance. And more and more, I’m getting into sound and how that can shape the work."

During Avatar, which is about an hour long, Olafson will open files on her Mac computer and interact with its built-in camera. The show uses both live video feeds and footage previously captured and edited by the artist.

Olafson also created the soundtrack, which includes electronic music and audio clips from strangers’ video logs that she found on the Internet.

The dance element is somewhat improvised, she says. "I view movement as painting, in a way. It’s fluid and flexible."

She’s been developing Avatar since the spring of 2008 — long before she heard about James Cameron’s upcoming movie of the same title, she says with amusement.

In her research, she has watched many hours of weird, vacuous video beamed from private bedrooms and bathrooms. She has discovered that people like to act as experts, but they often rush to publish "content that has little to no content."

She has realized that there are fetishes out there for everything. She watched one woman who belongs to the belly-fetish community smear chocolate pudding all over her stomach and then spoon it off and eat it.

Olafson experimented with posting videos of herself, doing things such as trimming her own hair. But she was disturbed by some of the comments she generated, and by another realization.

"It’s kind of frightening that your voice or your image can be stolen and put into another context. You see all these young girls who have done dance videos in their bedrooms, in their tank tops and short shorts… There’s tons of videos online where people have taken them and remixed them."

Though Avatar doesn’t tell a story, it does have a kind of narrative arc. "It’s the birth of an avatar — an online persona — for myself," she says.

Olafson plans to experiment with the new persona online, so she considers this weekend’s performances to be just one phase of the Avatar project.

Her next gig is an Avatar show in January at Winnipeg’s Platform gallery that will include video installations and possibly paintings.

There were early signs that one artistic discipline would never be enough for Olafson.

At age 16, the suburban "bunhead" who was enrolled in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School’s professional program started hanging out at the inner-city Graffiti Gallery.

That’s where she first explored painting, she recalls, and was exposed to the idea that artists could make things happen independently, rather than waiting to be chosen for opportunities, as so often happens in the ballet world.

Solo works suit her best for the time being, she says, because they’re inexpensive and portable, and because "I’m taking time to discover my language and understand what I’m on about."

Avatar will be presented at Rachel Browne Theatre tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 (students/seniors $20) at 452-0229.

Renaissance woman


Freya Björg Olafson may be Winnipeg’s only professional dancer to have multimedia work shown at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (in the group show Subconscious City) and the Plug In gallery.

Raised in Niakwa Park, one of four children of artistically inclined schoolteachers, Olafson studied in the elite professional program of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School for six years in her teens.

She switched to modern dance and in 2004 earned a BA through the joint program of the School of Contemporary Dancers and University of Winnipeg. She went on to complete a master’s of fine arts degree in new media from an Austrian university.

As a freelance dancer, the charismatic Olafson has appeared with just about every local contemporary company, including the Contemporary Dancers and Trip Dance. She was a founding member of Young Lungs Dance Exchange. Her resumé is also peppered with credits such as Adhere And Deny Theatre Company (where she recently played French philosopher Simone Weil in Song for Simone) and the Send + Receive Festival of Sound.

Olafson’s heritage is Icelandic on both sides. She’s on the curatorial committee of Nuna (now), the annual festival of Icelandic/Canadian art, which is co-presenting Avatar this weekend. She has been to Iceland five times in the past three years as an artist and curator.

Her most high-profile work to date is New Icelander, a multimedia performance piece exploring her ancestry that has been performed in Toronto, Iceland and Austria, as well as Winnipeg. It includes video, dance, a huge painting, pre-recorded and live text, a string quartet and a layered soundscape. Presented at the Gas Station Theatre in 2007, it included an exhibition of Olafson’s witty artworks in the lobby.

Last year, Olafson was nominated for the Winnipeg Arts Council’s "On the Rise" award, which honours an emerging artist.

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