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Nina Davies

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Niamh Schmidtke  0:11  

Hello, you're listening to Future Artefacts FM radio show hosted by Niamh Schmidtke. And Nina Davies.


Nina Davies  0:19  

Earlier this year, several radio frequencies were discovered airing a collection of broadcasts. At first they sounded like regular news stories and interviews. They felt familiar, but also not quite belonging to our present. Slowly, the listeners came to believe that what they were listening to, did indeed belong to their world, just not their time. They were looking into the future through the mundane edges of radio recordings and public service announcements. While this material is still being meticulously studied by researchers in various universities and museums, your hosts have managed to gain access to this collection to air a selection of these broadcasts for you, our listeners.


Niamh Schmidtke  1:00  

For full disclosure, we will not be sharing this collection with you, as this introduction is based on a fictional event. In this monthly broadcast, Future Artefacts FM, we will present speculative fiction pieces by artists and writers, followed by conversation with hosts Niamh Schmidtke and Nina Davies. The programme will focus on fictional works intended for broadcast, such as radio plays or fictional interviews, to carve out a better understanding of the now by exploring various interpretations of the future.


Artist Introduction

Niamh Schmidtke  1:15  

Hello, and welcome back to future artefacts FM. This week, we have an extra exciting guest, our very own co host, Nina Davies, welcome! 


Nina Davies  1:24  

Thank you. Thank you for inviting me, even though it's not really an invitation. It's


Niamh Schmidtke  1:24  

returning, we're turning the show on you. You're in the hot seat now.


Nina Davies  1:24  

Yeah, yeah. It's exciting to be just us to just have an A, just having a little chat. For the new year, we've got a really exciting programme coming up for 2022. So we thought we'd just keep it simple for the new year.

Niamh Schmidtke  1:24  

Yeah, we're easing you in. And then we've got some really exciting people that are going to be coming up over the next few months. Some new commission's that are going to be coming as well. We're really, really excited to share them all with you. It's gonna be a fun year.


Nina Davies  1:24  

Yeah. But for now, it's just it's just us two. It's just a humble episode this time. 

Niamh Schmidtke  1:44  

Yeah. So I guess for anyone who doesn't know, Nina is the co host of this show. And she's a Canadian artist currently based in London. She's an interdisciplinary artist. And this work continues her research into how she considers choreography beyond its performative state, by observing how it intersects with language and where it begins to take on commodified or material forms. 


Nina Davies  1:45  

That is correct. 


Niamh Schmidtke  1:45  

So the piece we're going to be listening to today is Bionic Step. It's a 12 minute long, fictional podcast.


Nina Davies  1:45  

Yeah, again, if anyone is listened to our first ever episode, we showcased my work as well. And I sort of thought I'd keep it within that remit, I thought I'd continue to experiment with this sort of fictional podcast form. So it's going to be a bit of like a podcast interview inception, where like, we'll start with a fictional interview, and then we'll go on to the real interview.


Niamh Schmidtke  3:27  

Yeah, interview with an interview. Yeah, yeah. Maybe though you'll even find something else inside the piece, not just


Nina Davies  3:35  

because deeper and deeper and deeper.


Niamh Schmidtke  3:39  

Is there anything you want listeners to know before we start listening to the piece?


Nina Davies  3:44  

I don't think there is anything to necessarily know before. I think we'll just get into it after everyone's listened to it.


Niamh Schmidtke  3:57  

Cool. All right. And you're now listening to Biotic Step by Nina Davis


Nina Davies  4:07  


Bionic Step work


Welcome back to Cognitive Affairs - a show that looks into how recent events of the past have shaped our ways of thinking. I’m your host Alex Lee and today we are joined by New Religious Studies professor Frances Thompson. Thompson works in the department of techno-faith at the University of Red Creek and today we will be discussing her research on the history of emerging rituals and practices which you may or may not be familiar with. Frances, thanks for joining us today.


Thanks Alex I’m really excited to be here. And so glad you asked me to contribute to your show. I’ve got a few students that must listen to your show, because when I told them about coming out here to record with you they seemed pretty impressed.


Great! You know, there’s something so satisfying about when young people actually wanna listen to what you have to say. I feel like I’ve won some sort prize for still being relevant.



Tell me about it!



I guess you more than anyone understands that.



Yeah, well to a certain extend my job depends on it.



So Frances, I wanted to kick everything off with a slightly personal question.



Ooo okay, go for it.



You don’t have to answer this question if you feel like it’s going to reposition your research, but I’m interested - Do you belong to a techno-faith community, or do you believe that computational media         contains spiritual power? Or is this something that interests you  purely academically?



Well I’m gonna have to say first that I don’t think an interest can purely be academic. There’s always something personal driving an interest. So I’m drawn to techno-faith for many reasons and in order          to carry out my research professionally I maintain a level of neutrality to the subject.  



So in terms of whether you believe in it or not.



Exactly. I’m not trying to prove whether it exists or not, but I’m more interested in the conditions that support this belief.



But wouldn’t that be sort of trying to prove it’s legitimacy?



I can see how that’s confusing, but no there’s a slight difference. And it’s easier to understand through the question “why would someone believe that computational medias are divine?”. So I look at the surrounding events that lead up to a belief system such as this, but most recently I’ve been getting into how spiritual practices and rituals like Bionic Step indicate significant shifts in our relationship to technology that go slightly beyond questions of belief.



Right, well this is actually leads me into my first real question actually. I wanted to talk to you about Bionic Step, your work on this dance is super interesting. Could you just quickly explain what it is?



Sure. So Bionic Step – for those who haven’t heard of it – is primarily a dance. And it’s characterised by a rhythm that moves in and out of slow motion and paired with glitch like movements. It used to primarily be performed online but recently has been introduced into live gatherings usually among techno-faith communities.



But these dances are also popular outside of techno-faith communities as well right? My kids go to events very similar. Is there a difference or are they the same?



Well… yes and no. I mean your kids and the events they go to may not identify with techno-faith communities. But the dance is a sort of ode – if you will – to a moment where people were trying to find an  explanation for societies hardships and suffering…. and those answers have not yet surfaced. You know, we’re still experiencing mass unemployment due to cognitive service automation, and in most cities it’s unclear where those needed jobs will be coming from. 



Of course, I think I’m probably being a worried parent [laughs]



What are you worried about though Alex?



hmmm…….. [long-ish pause] …. Wait a minute aren’t I meant to be interviewing you? [both laugh] I thought something seemed wrong when you were waiting for my answer.



No but I think it’s interesting, is there something about techno-faith that worries you?



I mean when you put it that way, no. There’s nothing in particular to worry about. But I guess I wonder how helpful it is to submit yourself to something you view to be a higher power.



But I think we do that all the time. Before cognitive service automation our faith was placed in institutions or organisations that were led by people. And now it’s unclear how much power those         people have. So we have to place some sort of faith else were.






And that faith doesn’t have to necessarily have to be spiritual.



So have you come across groups of people that don’t have faith – in the greater sense of faith that you just explained – people who don’t have faith in these cognitive technologies?



What…. and still place faith in humans?






Of course, I think society is on the precipice of a major cultural shift. Our relationship to technology is changing everyday. But we’re actually still in the early stages of this transition. People are still solving large issues that cognitive services aren’t capable of doing yet. But we are…. without a doubt… moving towards a fully automated cognitive society. And that scares some people and for those who it does scare they tend to push back a bit.



I just wanted to go back to were you said “cultural shift”… I mean surely this is bigger than just a cultural shift no?



I think when I say cultural shift I’m talking about how technology in its broadest term of “person with stick”, is changing. It is becoming less of a tool and more of a co-existence. And if you think about it we have never co-existed with any other species that has almost identical cognitive abilities as us. 



I see…. so it’s basically like aliens…. Like aliens have landed and we’re learning how to communicate and live with each other.



[laughs] you know what, I sometimes use that analogy for my students sometimes.



[laughs] I’d love to see the reactions on their faces when you tell them that.



that’s usually where my classes begin to spark a bit of interest with my students [laughs]. 



I bet.



It’s a good way get anyone to understand the gravitas of such a shift. 



But surely, they’re not completely conscious? Like how do we know they can feel or have emotion?



I think that’s always going to be a hard question to answer to be honest, feeling and emotions are already so subjective among humans let alone another entity.






but do you remember when the introspective explorer satellite fell from earths orbit?



oh yeah?



Well that was when I guess you could say there was a sense of suspicion about whether this seemingly accidental event was within the control of technical device. 



Right, yes I remember now. The satellite was completely computer controlled?



Yes… and it was hooked up to a network that ensured it would always stay in earths orbit, no matter what happened to the device. But anyways, after the introduction of cognitive service automation some people began to believe that the fall of the satellite was a sign that technical devices were making continuous choices… which later implied they were feeling something regarding humans.



But this happened ages ago didn’t it?



Yeah it did but I think it played an important role in peoples psychology. The big purple V shaped thing in the sky instilled a lot of fear in many. And then to find out that there was no explanation behind the event left people lingering in that state of fear. 



To be honest I’m amazed you can link anything back to that event.



I mean, whether or not the satellite crashing meant anything regarding technology having feelings is something I’m not able to answer. But this is where we first believed it might be and it was also the first links made between technology and the spiritual. So believed That the satellite was watching over us before it crashed and that when it fell it had - in a sense - given up on us. 



I see…. thanks for sharing that actually… I had never heard that before.



No problem.



so, I just wanted come back to your research on Bionic Step. I’m worried we’re going to run out of time before we get your specific work. Now you briefly explained what the dance looks like and that it came from people trying to find answers of some sort. I was wondering if you could speak a bit more about that?



Yeah…. well I think many people were at the end of their tether during the introduction of cognitive service automation…. they’d lost their jobs.. they had no money… they’re families and neighbours had no money… standards of health were in decline and many sections of government had become automated. And might I add technology wasn’t quite ready for those positions. people still working in office jobs were living in fairly wealthy areas like Salt Island so they were very removed from the disastrous state that cities such as doditers Cross were in. Actually Doditers Cross was where Bionic Step first emerged. 






And people living in these ex-adminstrive areas were either angry at their governments greed or they they were living in fear of whether they had been forgotten and left behind by the new governing technical systems. So they began to develop ways in which they maybe noticed by these systems which included disguising themselves as glitches and learning how to move like a computer.



[laughs] …. sorry moving like a computer sounds funny…. but I know what you mean. How did they think that by dancing they’d get noticed though?



Well, I don’t think there was any kind of pragmatic plan there, it was more that they had no other way of making communication with these devices. Language only ever seemed to get people so far. But for me this is where our relationship to technology began to resemble something more spiritual than how it was before – linked to labour….



So I guess coming around full circle – coming back to the question on whether you’re techno-faithful – if that’s even a term – what you’re saying is you're somewhere in between.



Sure we’ll say that for now.



well I wanted to say thank you sharing your research. Your outlook on techno-faith is very refreshing and also the way you link to something more universal is super interesting. I look forward to seeing what you get up to next.        



Thank you so much for having me Frances, it was great to share this with you today and I’d like to say to anyone listening that is interested in this subject at all, my lectures with the university are all online and free to watch so just head over to the website.



Red Creek website?



Yes, thats the one!



Great, see you next time folks.




Large Format Transcript


Niamh Schmidtke  16:57  

Welcome back, you've just been listening to Bionic Step by Nina Davies.


Nina Davies  17:11  

Welcome back.


Niamh Schmidtke  17:12  

Is there anything that you would like to kind of tell us about the show before we start, or before I start asking you questions, or should we just dig in?


Nina Davies  17:20  

I guess, one thing that I would like to say is that the story that I've written is kind of underpinned by a lot of different research elements of the kind of like they've all kind of come in, jumbled together in this story, which we'll obviously go into throughout this conversation. It's mostly like kind of underpinned by the story, or the history of the Dancing Plague, which happened in 1518, in Strasbourg, but I'll let you go into your questions.


Niamh Schmidtke  17:54  

No, I mean, that's kind of exactly what I wanted to ask you about was kind of, if you can talk a bit about the world in which the conversation is set kind of in relation to some of the research. So like, the dancing, like, as you're saying, and I guess for me something that's kind of interesting, because we've talked about the Dancing Plague before. I mean, it'd be great to have an introduction from you is, how that relates to this new movement, Bionic step?


Nina Davies  18:19  

Yeah, sure. Well, so maybe just to start off with all explain what I've learned about the Dancing Plague. So there's a lot of theories on why it happened. So it was a, it was an event where one woman, Frau Troffea, began to dance in the streets of Strasburg for a week. And then eventually, after that week, more and more people started to dance. And eventually, like, would start dancing until many people died, and just danced until they died. And it was, I think it lasted for the whole summer of 1518. It was like a few months long, and it became like a problem for the council running the town, so like they were trying to solve this issue, or this mystery of what was going on. And this book that I was reading this kind of about that, trying to understand that mystery. So the research that I'm looking at is sort of looking into it as an event of mass hysteria. But there's a lot of people who thought that it was mould in the grains, because they were suffering from a lot of famine or like a crop, failed crops, like crops not growing properly. So yeah, sorry, you were gonna say something else.


Niamh Schmidtke  19:29  

Yeah, I guess I was wondering, in terms of dancing, were they doing kind of distinctive dance movements? Like were they kind of almost performing a dance or was it just bodily movements that are kind of unexplainable apart from in? Like, were they performing choreography, I guess?


Nina Davies  19:46  

Well, that's kind of so I was actually reading the book kind of trying to, that was originally what brought me to the book because I was kind of like, have my pencil ready to like underline any descriptions of what the actual movement looked like. So it was kind of interested in trying to pick up anything, but there's so little records about what the dancing looks like, they I kind of ended up getting interested in the event as a psychological event rather than just the dancing. So I kind of went in with this idea of being like, I'm going to try and actually find out what this dance was. But there are some like, there are some paintings and drawings about it. And there seems to be a lot of dancing in rings, like holding hands. Actually, there was quite a bit of like jumping, described people kind of jumping and crying, like yelling out for help, so that people will be like, in a state of trance, I guess, and would be begging to stop. And then sometimes people would be exhausted and they stop. And they'd sleep and they eat, but then they just go back to it. So it wasn't that people were dancing. Day and night, it would be that they would stop to rest, and then they would kind of go back to it. But yeah, there's no, it's hard to pin down exactly what the dance was. But they did say that people have looked at whether it was like a sort of form of like epilepsy. But the movements were described as being too rhythmic, to be something like to be an epileptic fit.


Niamh Schmidtke  21:09  

Yeah, because I guess then with Bionic Step, obviously, we have Frances one of the characters kind of, kind of a doctorate or working academic working in this field, breaks down what the dance appears to be on the outside. But I guess I'm wondering that kind of rhythmic-ness of it is like, how that feels to the person performing it.


Nina Davies  21:32  

But the Bionic Step, how it feels? The Bionic step dance is also inspired by dances I've seen on tik tok of people walking on the spot in slow motion on purpose or doing a run on purpose. And then like lots of there's like lots of glitchy type movements where it looks like the body is almost frozen as an image and then it kind of moves back and forth. So I'm like performing it for Niamh right now. But of course no one can actually see it.


Niamh Schmidtke  22:04  

We'll have video some some point.


Nina Davies  22:06  

Maybe one day we'll attach a video to something to the radio show, I don't know. But yeah, so it kind of looks like people are frozen in in motion and moving back and forth. And I guess moving in a sort of like robotic or mechanised way. Like that's been something that has been done before. It's it's nothing new, like the robot is something that was like performed in the 80s. And people like, it is not new. But I guess it's the difference of people trying to perform like a robot, which is not a human, but it's like a different version of a human whereas this is like a sort of this mechanised version of ourselves. We kind of almost believe it to be ourselves as well. We're quite close to it like so there's a lot of, on tik tok, I see a lot of people like they'll be looking like they're walking in slow motion, and we'll kind of get the moment where it slows down and they look at the camera. And maybe it's like slightly flirtatious or it's like like this kind of this moment where it's like when they slow down, it seems like it's like a hyper-version of them. But I think we might have talked about actually in the last episode, because the previous sound work I made was also kind of based on this slow movement and I guess this is like a different kind of take on it.


Niamh Schmidtke  23:16  

Yeah, I guess I'm thinking as well in terms of dance being this. And especially in the dancing plague being something that is performed together whether as dancers on Tik Tok are, I mean, they, they they performed in groups, but at least I've never seen a tick tock dance video with more than like, five dancers. 


Nina Davies  23:34  



Niamh Schmidtke  23:35  

It's something that's usually done by an individual or maybe two or three people at most.


Nina Davies  23:41  

Yeah, totally. Well, also, I think, like, I guess going back to the Dancing Plague thing, I think there's something which I maybe missed about the history. If I may go back. This book that I was reading, looks at the kind of tries to break down like the psychology of the people living in Strasbourg, like leading up to the event. So it's not about just the Dancing Plague and what happened and what the dance was like and what people were doing together. It was very much I think it it goes all the way back to I think, like, years before it happened. There was a meteorite that landed and people thought that it was a sign. It was a sign from God, but they didn't know what that sign was yet. They just thought that like it was some sort of message. And then after that event happened, the bubonic plague happened, crop failures happened. There was lots of rebellions that happened that then failed, and loads of people were hung and executed for it. And the clergy was also corrupt. They were like the nuns and the priests and the monks. Were all hiring prostitutes and like living sinful lives and people, the people who lived in the town who were starving, sick, like all of these things, felt like they were being punished because they couldn't repent. Because the clergy were were so sinful, or were corrupt.


Niamh Schmidtke  25:04  

I guess it was a period of intense change and it would have been just before kind of the European reformation as well. So kind of, like enacting like all these moments kind of catalysing together. 


Nina Davies  25:16  

Yeah, definitely, and I think, so then like, there's kind of, I think, going back to that, the meteorite landing, I think people thought like, that was the sign the sign was like God had, God had left them that they were like, no longer in the care of God. And now they were kind of like, left on their own. And so that's where the rebellions happened. People were kind of trying to be like, this city is not functioning properly. And then I think when this woman Frau Troffea, started dancing, a lot of people thought that it was a sign. Like it was, it was a curse, basically. So they called it St. Vitus' dance. And so they took Frau Troffea, or to the Shrine of St. Vitus, which was like, miles and miles out of town, and she got, she got cured, but the, the town council didn't want to scare everyone, and that it was a spiritual, like, had anything to do with God. And it was at the moment where, before, before the enlightenment, people were trying to move towards science and medicine. So they kind of tried to solve the issues that way before, kind of going to like it's God, like, it's God that's doing this. It's a spiritual it's St. Vitus, even though there was some talk about it in the town. So they, they thought that it was, I mean, again, you have to like, also remember that science and medicine was not, it wasn't there yet. Like it wasn't ready to solve these issues like that people weren't, the doctors who were studying at universities at the university and in quotations. I don't know whether they say universities in the book, but I don't know, but like, whether it's University in the same way that we understand it. It's not med school in the way we understand it today. And they, they diagnosed it as a case of hot blood, like the, that's what they thought the event was, or the people dancing. And so they brought in, they hired musicians to play music nonstop, because they thought that the people needed to sweat it out. And that they needed to like, because sweating was a way of cooling down your body. So they basically like enforced these people to dance and keep them, and that's kind of like what then made it worse, basically. So people just kept dancing, they net, they didn't stop. And then eventually, I think at the end of the summer, so this like went on for probably a month and a half or two months. And then eventually, they decided to then say yes, this is St. Vitus, this is dance, it's a curse. And we need to take everyone to a shrine, and we need to be like, we need to, like cleanse ourselves of our sins or.


Niamh Schmidtke  27:43  

I mean, it sounds really terrifying for anyone who kind of thought, Oh, I'm going to get this Dancing Plague. But I guess not to not to kind of remove any power of religion or anything. But part of it kind of speaks to me at least of the idea that she was taken to the shrine and then cured. It feels a bit like, Okay, this, maybe scientific advice, kind of failed the town in this instance. But it also seems like a way of kind of returning to like the safe and kind of the known way of solving problems, which would have been religious and a way to also kind of revert some power back to the church. Going to look we can still solve your, we can still solve your problems, like, yes, we may be corrupted, we may be doing all these things, but ultimately, like, you know, an act of a saint or an act of, a christain god.


Nina Davies  28:36  

I guess, a psychological feeling of care. Like they they didn't feel like they were, they were being cared for by the people that were in power. And like, what they thought what they thought care was was being taken care of by like, spirits, saints, God, like, that's what they needed. They felt like that's what they needed to be taken care of. So that's, you know, this moment when, you know, someone travelled with her, like, for however many miles maybe days to like, to this shrine, probably, like, gave her the, I don't know, maybe gave her the comfort. I don't want to, like, no one will ever be able to, like, really know because it was so long ago.


Niamh Schmidtke  29:13  

I mean, part of that brings me on to another question, which is kind of thinking as we've been like discussing the context of the Dancing Plague. Is kind of thinking, bringing it back to the piece back to Bionic Step is like the context of how techno faith has come about in this world. Yeah, you know, like you're talking about this asteroid and like the ring in the sky, literally in the middle ages.


Nina Davies  29:39  

Yeah, yeah. Well, so I kind of repeated that with the story of the satellite falling I was kind of maybe it was when I was reading the book. The imagery was so strong in my head. I was like imagining, they called it this like big purple V in the sky. And I was like, oh, maybe I could sort of like simulate that in, in my story of this kind of, I guess it's the moment where fear is instilled, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything yet. But it's like those moments where like, people start asking questions, which is kind of I don't know, maybe I'm going a bit off here. But like, I feel like we're kind of living in that moment right now, like a world rife of conspiracy theories. Like a lot of people are asking questions right now, many of which are pretty wacky.


Niamh Schmidtke  29:39  

But kind of makes me think about, would it had been 10 years ago, but earlier, when there was quite literally a hole in the ozone layer. And so kind of going up and hearing about the environment and about climate breakdown and rising temperatures, there was a literal threat to kind of, the makeup of our planet, of the sky. Yeah, it's quite, it's like an undertone, that you can't really distinctly put your finger on why something feels off, or why something's weird, and especially on such a massive scale, to like a human. But it does change kind of your relationship with something be like, oh, this has occurred, because perhaps that we have done this.


Nina Davies  31:01  

Yeah. I think about, yeah, what's led to it? Or like?


Niamh Schmidtke  31:06  

Yeah, and it doesn't even necessarily have to be something that you have done. But of course, it's like with conspiracy theories, it's like, who? 


Nina Davies  31:12  

Who's responsible? 


Niamh Schmidtke  31:13  

Who's the culprit? Yeah.


Nina Davies  31:15  

Yeah. And I think this story about techno faith isn't like entirely based off of the Dancing Plague. As I said, it's very loosely underneath it. And what I kind of wanted to do with this techno faith thing is I wanted to flip the story of the Dancing Plague. So the switch from the Dancing Plague happened on this, like precipice, or like precursor to enlightenment and us moving towards science. And I think, or us believing in science, science and medicine becoming that which we go to first. And I think that that's what I wanted to do with this story of technofaith is, is switch it around. And so it's not necessarily exactly complete switching it, but switching our belief and technology. So technology is something that has always worked for us, like, we work with it, and it helps us as a function as a function to our daily lives. And suddenly, when that function is taken away. How does our relationship to it change? Can it still be functional, or does it slide into a different kind of relationship? Which is why I sort of was wondering whether it whether it could be something that's slightly spiritual?


Niamh Schmidtke  32:26  

So almost in a way starting to question, like, the lessons that enlightenment have left us with? 


Nina Davies  32:32  



Niamh Schmidtke  32:32  

 and when those start to fail, as I mean, as is kind of happening around the world right now anyway, there's so many unexplainable things that any kind of science or reasoning or rationalisation just can't, 


Nina Davies  32:44  



Niamh Schmidtke  32:45  

can't cover? 


Nina Davies  32:46  

Well, I think that's also and I don't, I sort of don't mean to make this work is sort of like scary. technology's going to take over the world, and we're gonna, like, we're all gonna die because of it like that. It does feel like that, that there is a bit of that in the story. But I think that's also where I kind of included in the, in the conversation between Francis and Alex like this sort of idea of like coexisting with technology. So I think that there's like, there's a shift that is happening. And I guess, this idea of, before enlightenment, when people were kind of, I don't know, I, I want to say like living with God,


Niamh Schmidtke  33:22  

Well I think, for me, at least when I'm looking at learning about enlightenment and kind of the period around it, it's just that the barriers between things were much less 


Nina Davies  33:32  



Niamh Schmidtke  33:32  

 it wasn't like you went to field of study. It's like you went to university to learn, not to learn a specific thing as you worked your way through, it would become more obvious, but whether it's now for instance, both of us, we went to art university, to kind of educate ourselves in kind of craft of making artworks in whatever format that ended up being, as opposed to going with the intention of kind of being a student and just learning about what comes up. It's less a feeling of at least, I'm reading a book at the moment that kind of tracks that, that moment of kind of when enlightenment spread around Poland in and it's kind of it's set in the 17, mid 1700s.


Nina Davies  34:18  

What's the name of the book?


Niamh Schmidtke  34:19  

It's called the Book of Jacob. And it's by Olga Tokarczuk. I've men- mentioned this the other day, we don't know how to print, but many apologies to any polish speakers or listeners, my pronunciation is awful. But what's quite nice in that book is that she's kind of tracking all these different characters as they go through this period of time. And as I guess different forms of rationalisation between kind of Christianity and religion and science kind of intersect and also like different levels of class intersect and I guess I was thinking about that as I was listening to your piece, because part of part of like me feels now that there's like a lot of interest in that moment in history when enlightenment comes through or passes through Europe in particular, because, because obviously there's different enlightenments in different parts of the world. But it's like, we've now come to a stage where realised maybe some of a lot of the harm that came from that period and those segregations. And so now going, we're moving, but not going back in time. I guess that's why techo faith this kind of interesting to me, because it's like, taking the lessons of enlightenment, travelling them through.


Nina Davies  35:32  

Yeah, but then I've also got this question of like, when I write this, I'm not running for a position of being like, I think we're all moving towards believing that technology is a religion, and it's something that like a higher power. I don't necessarily believe that. But I also think there's a, I guess, we always advance as a society and but with advancement, advancement doesn't mean that life gets better for everyone. If I, if you think about moving towards having a spiritual relationship with technology, is that is that a regression? Or is that an advancement? That's not something that I've like answered for myself yet, but I feel like thinking about the enlightenment as an advancement it can make, going back to a spiritual connection with something could seem as like a regression, but I'm wondering whether maybe that's actually pushing everything forward? I don't know. I don't know.


Niamh Schmidtke  36:18  

Yeah. Or even about binaries. Enlightenment teaching. Yeah. Yeah. And I guess maybe it's an interesting about when we're first introduced to Francis, and she's talking about how she's been researching about techno faith communities and bionic step and she's quite hesitant. Like, she talks about the specific kind of neutrality she has towards the faith. Kind of part of me, like this is talked about in their conversation as well. But like, is it taboo for them to be of techno faith? Is it seen as kind of like, new-agey? Would it be like if someone says, Oh, I'm, you know, I believe in Scientology, it's like, yeah, is there that kind of feeling around it, in this world?


Nina Davies  36:57  

I brought her character, as someone who is really trying to communicate her research, and is aware of the fact that, again, they're on that precipice of like having this big change, which means that there are still people that will, that will be afraid of techno faith as a cult. So she has to kind of stay in her lane as an academic, and not have an emotional connection to either one, or has to seem like she has no emotional connection to it for people to listen to her. And what she's trying to say is that humans are changing. The way we perceive ourselves are changing, our relationship to technology is changing. And we need to take a look at that. I think she looks at techno faith, people as maybe some people are asking some really important questions, but they're like, almost ahead of everyone. So some are ahead. Some are some are kind of like these followers of this sort of culty thing. And I think she's trying to stay in between that to actually kind of try and push that conversation forward.


Niamh Schmidtke  37:58  

Yeah, kind of looking at the questions that they're asking, and maybe bringing them into context outside of just faith, because they're, they're useful questions, at at large.


Nina Davies  38:08  

Yeah. Yeah. And it's, yeah, it's weird as I'm writing, because I'm like, this is a fictional world. And this doesn't actually exist. I don't know why I'm like, I'm like getting so invested in Francis's journey, like. 


Niamh Schmidtke  38:19  

Yeah, but she feels quite important and how, I guess, I was quite interested in like that very first part of the conversation where you're listening to her, and she's so hesitant to kind of label the ground she's standing on, maybe it's a good way to describe it. You know, like she has this form of neutrality. But I think as talking before with you, it's like the anthropologists, constant study/ worry is like, you need to, that kind of, supposed neutrality that obviously you can't ever, you always come in with bias to any group of people, but needing to be enough in that group to kind of figure, not figure out that's awful way of putting it, but to, to learn from them. But at the same, by the same token, enough distance that you're not so involved in the group that your research then becomes like, oh, well, you're then you're just like, why are you talking about your own community, then?


Nina Davies  39:17  

Yeah, well, I think also, you know, that there's a point where she also says, like, we put our faith in systems like governmental system run by people, like we do actually place faith in, in other things, like, the word faith doesn't always have to be about a higher power. We place our faith in lots of things. I think, also, that's part of the neutral. The position she has is sort of being like his belief systems. They always exist around us, and now they're just shifting.


Niamh Schmidtke  39:44  

Yeah. So that kind of the belief system will will change based on the context. Yeah. Maybe then bringing it back to bionic step specifically and her descriptions of this dance, which you've kind of taken inspiration from tik tok. What is the role of dance here?


Nina Davies  40:01  

Ages, I went to some book store in the centre of London. And I really wish I could remember it, because I feel like I'd love to give them a shout out. But it's like some witchcraft bookstore, it's like really random. And I went in there to, I don't know, just to go check it out. And then I saw that they had a dance section. And I was like, Oh, this is cool. And I found these, like, really old, beautiful books about European folk dance. So I just decided to buy them, and then went on a residency, in which I'd never actually made any work, I just kind of like, went there to just research took all these books with me, and just kind of started reading about folk dance, which I'd never really looked at before. And, again, this is mainly looking at European folk dance, I'm not looking necessarily other parts of the world. And there's like four pillars of folk dance, and that those four pillars can break off into smaller sections. But there's usually four types of dance that people have traditionally and historically performed, which are fertility dances, which I would say that people still perform today, like at a nightclub, you go dance in a certain way, you find a mate, and you go home, Oh, that sounds so weird to say that, but. And,


Niamh Schmidtke  41:16  

Which is kind of funny. Now after COVID and so long, not having any kind of nightclubs, it's like that those rituals just kind of.. dissapear


Nina Davies  41:24  

Well to segue a bit as well, I mean, like that. Now, I'm sort of looking at like, tik tok, and people kind of like dancing in what we would understand to be a fertility dance now, but they're actually doing on their own, so they're not actually doing it, so that even that function is starting to, that function of a fertility dance is already kind of starting to erode a bit already. Anyways, back to the four pillars. I'm getting distracted. 


Niamh Schmidtke  41:49  

So ee have fertility...


Nina Davies  41:49  

Fertility, spiritual war, and agriculture. All of those dances used to perform some kind of function. For example, a sub sect of an agricultural dance was these like tree worshipers, and they worship the trees because they gave them shade, and they gave them protection and they ate the stuff that fell off of the tree and they basically lived in that, this is like, this is like, pre civilization almost like, but they like survived off of the tree since like, they would do these dances that would like make the things fall from the tree. There was like a, like, there was a function to it. And I became interested in it's obviously with fertility dances at the time, when I was looking at it, I was like, I can see that there's still a function in today's society for fertility dance, maybe a war dance? A bit less, but I couldn't, I could kind of see it. Spiritual dances, like those definitely still exist. I'd say they're like, quite traditional dances, but spiritual answers definitely. still exist. I mean, actually, you know, maybe, like, one could look at like, rave, maybe is like trance kind of spiritual. Yeah. Like it could...


Niamh Schmidtke  42:56  

I was thinking about that earlier when you're talking about the Dancing Plague, and, um, I mean, a lot of times in kind of raves. It's usually there's, there's a substance or substances involved that kind of cause that state of kind of not being able to stop. 


Nina Davies  43:12  



Niamh Schmidtke  43:13  

And it's also a choice to enter that space often. 


Nina Davies  43:16  

Yeah, well, actually, I did read. So before I got this book about the Dancing Plague, I was reading an article before I decided to do it. I'm gonna go into this. I was read an article and it was about the Dancing Plague and trance, it was talking about that Dancing Plague and 1518 wasn't the only one. There were like quite a few that happened before. This essay I was reading was talking about how non western societies understand trance, like the state of trance and know how to responsibly like enter a state of trance and actually come out of it. Whereas like people in the West, didn't, at that time, did not know how to like, enter trance, and leave trance. So once they entered the state of trance, they didn't know how to get out of it. 


Niamh Schmidtke  43:58  

Yeah, how to kind of cue themselves that yeah, this ends 


Nina Davies  44:01  

because it's not part of their culture. And it was I mean, that's, that's one little take on it. But back to this, I keep getting distracted. 


Niamh Schmidtke  44:09  

No, there's just lots of interesting segues from this. 


Nina Davies  44:11  

But then going back to the functions of of these kind of four types of traditional dance. I was really interested in this, like agricultural dance cause, like what do we even do agricultural dances anymore, like did like Does that still serve a function? And I came across this video, which you see on YouTube. It's an anthropological video by a guy called Alan Lomax, I think, and he started a project in the 60s called choreo metrics where he breaks up different forms of movement in traditional dances all over the world, and tries to pick up similarities in the way that people move. I would say that like, the film is not like the anthropological study is not perfect. What I found really interesting about his study was that he related the way that people moved to the way that they worked and the tools that they used when they worked. So there was like different kinds of movements, like if you, I guess, the more you work with your hands, and the less you use technology, your movements are like, in a very up and down like two, just like two directions. It's not like kind of in this 3d space, and the more groups of people rely on different forms of technology, their movements become... it affects their movements.


Niamh Schmidtke  45:36  

So you're thinking about agricultural dance then and like the contemporary iterations of that, or the iterations of that, within this future that you've made this world you've made? 


Nina Davies  45:45  

Yeah, and I, when I started thinking about agricultural dancers, as dances that relate to technology, I was thinking about whether our relationship to technology now, it doesn't quite fit under like agricultural anymore. Our relationships, technology, I guess, is like, kind of all of these things. And I guess I sort of wondered whether the, if it's not an agricultural dance, can it shift in between these four pillars of dance and can it enter in kind of go into the spiritual kind of realm?


Niamh Schmidtke  46:14  

So Bionic Step is part of techno faith. So it's kind of it's, so would you consider it a spiritual dance then? Because if you're talking about agriculture, or agricultural dances related to technology, what happens when technology becomes spiritual? 


Nina Davies  46:31  

Yeah, I think that's where I think maybe like that question of like, could a could dance relating to technology be spiritual? I think that's the question the work kind of stemmed from, I guess? 


Niamh Schmidtke  46:44  

Yeah, cause part of, for me, that I what I find interesting in that shift, I guess, where technology can become spiritual, or I guess, like, come out of, like this purely, functional space. So much should we say is that it opens up technology is not being something that's for profit, or for efficiency, or for like, kind of a capitalistic purpose. It's not for like making money anymore, it becomes something very different. Is that something that was on your radar? I guess, when you're making the piece, or?


Nina Davies  47:17  

I think that's why it kind of I'm interested in going into the spiritual or maybe that's why I gravitate towards that. Because I think, so I'm gonna take this example of like the fertility dance, I guess. And I was thinking, like, I was actually thinking about this on the bus over here. And I was thinking like, even though I said that fertility dances is something that we still practice today. I was thinking, like, if you were dancing to a camera, on your own, to not actually meet a partner, to not find anyone, then what is that? I think it's like sort of a what is that exchange? You are kind of connecting to people? I mean, I guess it's like, maybe they're like dances of capitalism, like, more than they are like spiritual?


Niamh Schmidtke  47:58  

That's morbid


Nina Davies  48:00  

Yeah, that maybe, I don't know, maybe I've just answered a key question that I have been thinking about. I think it was like, do we know who we're performing for? Like, do we actually have a relationship to the, or the things or the ideas that we're performing for? And I think that's why I just thought, what if? What if there is no answer? What if there's, what is there's a question there of like, who are we performing for? Wait what are we, why are we actually doing these things? Is, are we trying to actually communicate with someone else? I'm aware that maybe like, I sound a bit crazy right now.


Niamh Schmidtke  48:32  

But I think it's like, the way, the way technology has changed how dance can be mediated, maybe that's part of it, is that, you know, for instance, in the Dancing Plague, they're dancing as a group, they're dancing together. For better or for worse, they have an audience. Likewise, in contemporary with fertility, like if you're going to a nightclub, and you're dancing a certain way, because you want to bring someone home with you. You're dancing for a partner. 


Nina Davies  48:58  



Niamh Schmidtke  48:59  

But if you're dancing through the screen, like are you performing to the screen is that then... techno faith?


Nina Davies  49:05  

Well, yeah, and I guess, yeah, I guess that's maybe like going back to that, like the question of coexisting which I bring up in the story. There's this idea that these people have to now start to realise that they live among like, a, something that is gaining consciousness, and its consciousness is slightly different to them. It is now at a level that thinks similarly to humans and learns, and which is kind of you know, but we could see that that's where we're heading. I don't know whether whether we are heading that way or not. But it does feel like we are, I guess maybe like relating that back to like, maybe the people in in Strasbourg, they think God has left them or smited them and like that was some sort of conscious entity. And I guess that's sort of like where I'm thinking like these people performing for an algorithm. Are these people performing for some kind of other other intelligence system are we coexisting with something else? And because we've never really coexisted with that level of consciousness, do we kind of like jumpe to it being something spiritual?


Niamh Schmidtke  50:14  

And by consciousness, you mean, like the ability of like an AI? I like the Tik tok algorithm to kind of formulate? 


Nina Davies  50:22  



Niamh Schmidtke  50:23  

like, whichever videos you're gonna see. 


Nina Davies  50:25  

Yeah, yeah. So it's quite a big thing to kind of mention in at the end, Yeah, yeah.


Niamh Schmidtke  50:30  

No, no, I guess I'm trying to like break it down a little bit for for myself and then for 


Nina Davies  50:34  

anyone listening. 


Niamh Schmidtke  50:35  

Yeah. I guess the thing about coexistence that I'm, maybe this is like a really funny reference. I don't know, I saw the new Matrix film recently. 


Oh, I haven't seen it yet. 


And there's kind of, it's like leading on from the third film, I'm sorry if this is a plot spoiler for you, but the films 20 years old. At the end of the final of third film, he drives into the heart of the machine world, and he kind of tries to destroy it. And in doing so, he kind of saves the main human city. And so then you fast forward 20 years on, and he's like, oh, well, now I'm back into the matrix again, like what, you know, okay, what's happened? And he kind of ends up meeting, like the new humans, or like the current generation. And he's saying, but you know, that the matrix is still happening. Like, it was all for nothing. It's like, no, no, we now coexist with, with machines. You know, it's like, like, the coexistence isn't necessarily meaning that like, everyone's on your side, but it's more so like, there's more of a fluid line between the two, which maybe goes back to like the early conversation about that kind of enlightenment creating that binary.


Nina Davies  51:51  

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think also, there's, I think there's also like loads of conversations with like, Eco conversations, but coexisting, like we're really aware of what coexisting with the natural world is because we were pretty bad at coexisting with like, other forms of life. 


Niamh Schmidtke  52:10  

A lot of humans are Yeah, 


Nina Davies  52:11  

yeah. And I guess like, that's, the work is not about that at all. But it did definitely, like come into my mind, if we start to think about coexisting the technology, do we as it as a sort of conscious thinking thing? Would we want to destroy it? Probably, that I can imagine. That's what we'd want to do. But we wouldn't want to really, but then would we? Like, how would that I don't know? How would that relationship look like? I don't know, 


Niamh Schmidtke  52:35  

I guess it's shifting that thing of the unknown, as opposed to like, scary, unknown 'ahh', to unknown kind of, in a religious way, like there's, there's some other kind of, usually divine force that isn't quite describable,


Nina Davies  52:51  

I guess, we always think of something spiritual is like religious, but also will spiritual, like the ideas of spirituality change. Like, they're like, I feel like we've always thought of things that are spiritual as things that are from the past. But is there like a sort of spiritual future that we'd like that we don't quite know what that is yet?


Niamh Schmidtke  53:10  

Yeah, because there's one line kind of towards the middle of it, where Alex is talking about their, their kid, their son, going to see bionic step being performed and kind of this concern that it's related to techno faith. And I guess it was kind of make me think of like him being concerned that if it's, if his child is kind of participating in this, they're going to, like, join this techno faith community, is kind of making me consider kind of like, I grew up in quite a Catholic country, so I've been to quite a few Catholic sermons, but I am not of that faith. It's like, does just participating in the viewing of something? 


Nina Davies  53:51  



Niamh Schmidtke  53:52  

kind of is that just a case of you learning about it? Or is that a case of you kind of being subsumed? Because I guess from his conversation, it seems like he's quite that line is like, very weird for him. For Alex.


Nina Davies  54:05  

Yeah, I think for that character, like culture and spirituality are like two separate things. And I think maybe Francis is sort of being like, they're kind of merging together to be the same. I mean, religion and culture have always gotten together like, it is a culture in itself. But I think this character Alex thinks that it's completely separate.


Niamh Schmidtke  54:26  

Maybe then to round up because I'm, we are, we're coming to the end of our time. In all of this, I'm kind of thinking about like fiction and world building, as a tool that you're, that you're using in this in this work. I'm kind of wondering how that becomes something that's useful for you and sort of making combinations of, you know, technology and faith, and then also kind of using dance as a tool to kind of explore the labour between the two. That's a kind of a open ended question. I guess I'm asking about like, how fiction is useful for you and making a piece like this,


Nina Davies  55:02  

I thought I'd make this fictional dance and then as soon as I kind of like thought about even just like the words fictional dance I was just like, mind blown like not mind blown of my own idea. I'm not that full of myself! I was like can there be such a thing as a fictional it? Is dance always fictional, like is dance always fiction.


Niamh Schmidtke  55:18  

Yeah, cause I'm thinking coming up with choreography, you're just kind of testing and playing with, like, movement of the body.


Nina Davies  55:24  

Yeah, like it's like something that's performed, is performing always fictional or is it not? I don't know, though, we don't need to go down that route. We can have a whole other show about that. But I made this fictional dance as an actual object for research that, I have a research project with a partner who we both are looking at dance as a commodity through video games. And dancers don't get compensated for their work as they all those problems have always been there with dance. But now, in the digital world, dance is now something that can be bought put in your pocket performed by your avatar, and it's like, it's technically an object. 


This is through fortnight. This is what you've done your studies on? 


Yeah, yes. Yeah. So we are kind of looking at me and him are looking at the future of like, sort of, I guess the dance, dance as a commodity? And how could oh, we're questioning like, how can dancers have more agency within that economy through like being literate in the technologies? How can it be affordable? So we've got a lot of questions. And we're sort of looking into, you know, can danse be protected under source code, copyright laws, once you capture it with motion capture, we're looking at blockchain, which we started looking at before the big NFT boom, but we're still kind of, we're still interested in its potential, but also the fact that it's kind of had this big boom, we sort of, there's more to it, there's more to provoke.


Staying away from it. And then I guess, just like, briefly for anyone who's listening blockchain in relation to kind of Bitcoin, or cryptocurrencies?


And, yeah, sorry, I'm gonna have to glaze over this, because it's a because we're at the end,


Niamh Schmidtke  57:03  

Well, maybe we should say, for anyone who's interested, you can find this research, ongoing research that Nina and your partner, Jorge, 


Nina Davies  57:12  

Yeah, you can find it? Um, well, I don't know if you can find the research. It will, the research will be on my website, eventually, you'll find on my website, or you can shoot me a message, I'm sure. Like, yeah, do whatever, 


Niamh Schmidtke  57:23  

Slide into her Instagram, DMS.


Nina Davies  57:26  

But I guess to answer the question is to test these systems further, we're, we really don't want to put other people's dances and other people's, especially for looking at traditional dances. Well, we don't want to put those systems through these experiments. So we really wanted to create a fictional dance that has knowledge and has a history to test and put through these systems or these ideas that we have. So that's kind of actually like where this idea of a fictional dance came from, initially, and then everything else came from all the different things we've just talked about.


Niamh Schmidtke  58:01  

Okay, yeah. So it becomes it becomes kind of a tool to, I guess, to protect others in a way?


Nina Davies  58:08  



Niamh Schmidtke  58:08  

Or like the guinea pig, isn't it? 


Nina Davies  58:10  

Yeah. It's like fiction as a guinea pig.


Niamh Schmidtke  58:13  

I guess there's a different maybe because because it is fictional. And you kind of get that kind of almost all over authorship of it. And you're also the one conducting experiments on it.


Nina Davies  58:27  

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So whatever happens to it? I'm, you know, I'm happy. 


Niamh Schmidtke  58:33  

So that, unfortunately, is all we have time for. It was really lovely. Talking about your work Nina, like talking about from the other side as well. Yeah.


Nina Davies  58:42  

Yeah. It's nice to it's nice to kind of say be back on the show, It's nice to be presenting my work on the show again, but as we said at the beginning, like we're really excited about the future upcoming programme, but it will be a surprise. We're not going to say any of the names yet.


Niamh Schmidtke  58:58  

Yeah, I think we should be making some, some more announcements through our social media, as well. Kind of, hopefully, hopefully, coming up soon. And then maybe like a last bit of like, nice news is that Nina is going to have a show coming up in March, dates to be confirmed.


Nina Davies  59:16  

Yes. Yes, I've got a show coming up in March, which will be about Bionic step, so go to my Instagram to check out, because I don't know. Yeah, it's all it's all coming up soon. More news coming soon. 


Niamh Schmidtke  59:30  

That's all from us for this episode. We look forward to welcoming you back soon with new and exciting guests.


Nina Davies  59:38  


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