Transmission in Motion


26 April 2023
15:00 - 17:00
Muntstraat 2A, 3512EV Utrecht (Grote Zaal)

“Cultural Dreams of Datafied Bodies in Contemporary Performance” – Laura Karreman (UU)


In her book Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines and Ancient Dreams of Technology (2018), science historian Adrienne Mayor narrates how ancient Greek mythology already imagined robot-like automata and other forms of artificial life. She writes that such myths can be considered as ‘cultural dreams, ancient thought experiments, “what-if” scenarios set in an alternate world of possibilities, an imaginary space where technology was advanced to prodigous degrees (2018: 2). These early stories remind us of the power of imagination. Much more than ‘only fiction’, they show that imagination can give rise to new ways of knowing, doing and creating, and thus, to new paradigms of thought.

Mayor’s notion of ‘cultural dreams’ is closely related to the conceptual term ‘the imaginary’. Recent studies in the area of cultural analysis frequently make use of this term to denote typical representations, vocabularies, metaphors, images and fantasies that are associated with specific cultural discourses or (sub)cultures. In a more general sense, the imaginary here points to ways in which modes of representation that are typical for these discourses have an impact on the way we see and understand our being in the world.

In this talk, I will discuss several recent art works that arise from the cultural imagination of bodies in movement. More specifically, I focus on visualizations of datafied bodies in contemporary dance. How can these complex works be better understood through our ‘cultural dreams’ of capturing the fugaciousness of embodied movement, which much precede the digital revolution? And how does the use of digital technologies such as optical motion capture invite us to know dancing bodies differently?

I will be drawing on the book I am currently developing: Embodied Computation (preliminary title), on previous research (such as my PhD thesis The Motion Capture Imaginary: Digital Renderings of Dance Knowledge (2017)), and on recent encounters and experiences during the Erasmus+ staff mobility exchange that I participated in this spring at the Centre for Transformative Media Technologies at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.

I propose the notion of ‘embodied computation’ to describe the role that embodied knowledge often plays in such works to design ways to make motion data speak. Furthermore, using a dramaturgical perspective, I argue that motion capture of human movement needs to be understood as a site for performance that uses multiple strategies of staging. It is an invitation to reimagine motion capture as an apparatus of motion creation.


Laura Karreman is an Assistant professor in Media and Performance studies in the Department of Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University. She teaches in the MA program Contemporary Theatre, Dance and Dramaturgy and the Research MA Media, Art and Performance Studies (MAPS). She is also the programme coordinator of the MAPS programme.

She researches the role of embodied knowledge in dance transmission practices, the role of digitization in performance archives, and epistemological questions that relate to new notions of dance and performance knowledge. Her PhD dissertation, “The Motion Capture Imaginary: Digital Renderings of Dance Knowledge” (Ghent University, 2017), examines how dancing bodies are reimagined through emerging practices and applications involving motion capture and other digital capturing technologies. Within the research group Transmission in Motion of the Department of Media and Culture Studies (UU), she relates to topics such as dramaturgy, somatechnics and mobilizing the archive. In her current research she continues to investigate the rapid growth of motion capture as a tool for movement research and animation in order to critically evaluate the cultural and ethical implications of such practices, which now often remain invisible. Recent publications include the co-edited volume Performance and Posthumanism: Staging Prototypes of Composite Bodies (Palgrave Macmillan 2021), and the book chapters “Breathing Matters: Breath as Dance Knowledge” in Futures of Dance Studies (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2020) and “How does motion capture mediate dance?” in Contemporary Choreography: A critical reader (Routledge, 2017). She is coordinator of the Special Interest Group AI in Cultural Inquiry and Art.

In 2024, she is the conference director of the 9th International Conference on Movement and Computing (MOCO) at Utrecht University.



** You can register by sending an email to, or via Eventbrite.

** This seminar is part of the Transmission in Motion seminar (2022-2023): “Imaginary-Imagination”.

Photo credits: Acts of Holding Dance (2023), video art by Wendy Yu. Presented as part of the Unlock Art programme at the Le Méridien Hotel, Melbourne. Photo by Laura Karreman.