About Figure Studies

FigureStudies, second work in the ACTION/FIGURES series, applies high-speed video to the recording of specialized and non-specialized human movement. FigureStudies builds on a previous work from 2007, SlowDancing, which focused exclusively on dancers. SlowDancing has been shown in 26 major cities in North America, Europe and Asia, both as a gallery installation and outdoor work of public art.

The core premise of both projects is to record small slices of time at extremely high frame rates, so that when played back in real time, the seconds are stretched to roughly ten minutes. FigureStudies applies that method to examine bodies shaped by athletics, dancing, labor, physical trauma and the passing of time.

In rehearsal each subject enacted a particular sequence of movement involving both aesthetic and scientific considerations. The latter was undertaken with Harvard biologist, Dr. Daniel Lieberman, who helped to define a variety of biomechanical categories (carrying, throwing, jumping and son on), as well as ways of demonstrating those categories.

Dancer, choreographer and Director of the Harvard Dance Program, Jill Johnson, was part of early discussions and development meetings with Dr. Lieberman. She continued to work with Michalek through to the completion of filming.

In addition to Lieberman's biomechanical suggestions and considerations, the project turned to the photographic motion studies of 19th Century Anglo-American photographer Eadweard Muybridge and French physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey as reference sources. Another key source was the vocabulary of post-modern dance. Movement concepts also evolved from interviews and improvisations with the eventual subjects of the videos.

FigureStudies was commissioned by Summerhall Arts Venue at the Edinburgh Festival, and by Pomona College and the Pomona College Museum of Art. Major support was provided by Le Laboratoire.