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Jonathan Thonon, IMPACT’s Matchmaker of Performing Arts and Technology

  • [등록일]2019-12-31
  • [조회] 459

Search results for the word “convergence” show countless posts across various fields, indicating that art is not the only area where convergence is sought. As technology and industries develop, and society and people change, it is only natural to add new elements from a wide range of areas to ensure a sustainable survival. The performing arts is no exception, as the convergence of different forms of art creates new genres. Multimedia such as video images and robots are being used in performances. One cannot say what comes first between art and technology, but the two have been using each other to create new meanings and forms. Many festivals deal with art and technology. Jonathan Thonon, director of the International Meeting in Performing Arts & Creative Technologies (IMPACT), which actively practices convergence in different fields and genres, spoke about the European performing arts scene at the NEXT Academy lecture held by KOFICE.



Jonathan Thonon, director of IMPACT (Source: KOFICE)

After teaching visual arts and film at a university in Leige, Belgium, Thonon went to the Theatre de Liege in 2014. He has since been working as the European project manager at the theatre which is famous for dance and plays. As the project director of IMPACT, which started from the Theatre de Liege, he collaborates with partners in Europe.

According to Thonon, IMPACT is a project that proactively promotes collaboration of culture, industry and science beyond the boundaries of genres. Ultimately, IMPACT embodies an eco-system that continues the process of integrating art, science and technology, he said. IMPACT is jointly run by institutions of performing arts and technology in the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, which is comprised of the German cities of Aachen and Duren; Eupen and Hasselt in Belgium; and Maastricht in the Netherlands. After a long period of planning and preparing, IMPACT was launched in 2016. The role of IMPACT is not limited to showcasing artwork over a given period. It provides an environment for artists, scientists and researchers to work together. It’s not about simply adding things. It’s a work of chemical action to create something new. I wondered how the performing arts and technology were combined, transcending borders, industries and academia.

The activities of IMPACT form a value chain of largely three processes: IMPACT LAB, FORUM and LEARN. IMPACT LAB is a research project to develop artwork in which artists, scientists, researchers and companies with the technology or funding pull together creative work. Exhibits, discussions, and masterclasses are hosted, and the results from these events are presented to a larger audience through IMPACT FORUM.

IMPACT FORUM rolls out not just items being developed by IMPACT, but also various works of start-ups and the performing arts such as music, dance, plays and visual arts. IMPACT LEARN holds workshops where people who are unfamiliar with each other’s fields meet and communicate.


According to Thonon, such long-term and interdisciplinary processes produce special outcomes that can go straight to market, or make you to go back to the drawing board for more development and incubation.


What role does Thonon play in the complex process of IMPACT?

Thonon explained that he applies for funding, designs development processes for the creation of works and finds partners to run the projects. Many performances and projects are run at the same time at IMPACT. As the European project manager of the Theatre de Liege, Thonon said he applies for funding from various organizations in the European Union and Belgium. Since IMPACT is a project run by 10 partners in different cities, he sets up channels for them to communicate and coordinates collaboration. 

As Belgium is a member of the European Union, he can apply for and receive funding from the EU Commission, the Belgian state government, the French-speaking Community and the regional government where Liege is located.

“As the project director, I link the works of artists and scientists that will be carried out at the LAB, and this requires constant research and the making of choices. I figure out what the artists want or what kind research they need, analyze what kind of science or technology would make their work effective, and find the partners accordingly. They can be from the same domain, or from different domains such as think tanks, businesses or academia,” said Thonon.

Once IMPACT begins a project with an artist, it is Thonon’s job to find an organization that can help realize the artist’s conception, or meet people in institutions with specific themes to suggest and persuade them to try collaborating with the artist.

“I also travel to other countries to see works of visual art and performing arts for research, and based on that research, organize programs for the FORUM, select and invite the works to showcase, and coordinate,” he said.

Most important of all is exploring artistic topics and technologies to find out what kind of themes will be relevant in the future, or at least for the next two years, and dominate the art scene. His job sounded like a combination of coordinator and matchmaker.

What exactly is the convergence, or union of performing arts and technology, that IMPACT seeks? I asked about the concept, process and examples of convergence, and things to note.


Thonon’s explanation about the concept and strategy of convergence sought by IMPACT.

“It can be explained by the three strategies of IMPACT. The first relates to people with different backgrounds and different ways of thinking overcoming the geographic and linguistic barriers to move together towards a single objective. The second is seeking hybridization by making flexible movements possible between various fields to allow two or more genres to aim for a single goal, or to have different people share a common way of thinking. The relationship between art and technology is important here. It is not just a union of genres or fields. A union only has meaning when new forms are created in plays, dance and visual art to offer new experiences to the audience. The third strategy is transcendental convergence. The fields of academia, culture and industry have their own processes and traditions. We bring them together to enable them to work together. We can find common features among them as we constantly experiment on stage or in the lab. We experiment with everything.”


What is important in bringing together performing arts and technology?

“There was a project involving a choreographer and a physicist who shared an interest in ‘movement,’ but they had different concepts of it. For a collaboration between different fields, artists and other people need to get to know each other and mutually understand the concepts they deal with. This takes time but is a necessary first step.”

As Belgium is home to French-speaking, Dutch-speaking, and German-speaking communities in different regions, and IMPACT works with diverse people in art, industry and academia, they need to create an environment with an agreed upon foundation within art and technology.


Can you introduce arts performances that used technology?

“We start a project centered around the artist, and a suitable technology is grafted onto it. This is what we call ‘the digitalization of drama.’ For example, Berlin’s [theater company] Rimini Protokoll had the audience go out to the streets holding mobile phones, and some performances make use of augmented reality (AR). We can also come across technologies or research topics of businesses or think tanks, and suggest that they collaborate with certain artists. As sound systems and mobile phone voice recognition technology improves, we create performances that use technological devices and constantly experiment to develop effective subtitle systems for use in the performing arts.”

Technology enters the performing arts in various ways and is played in variations. This allows the audience to experience a wider range of sensory input during a performance, and to anticipate performing arts that reach beyond borders or obstacles.

“There have been performances that grafted technology more aggressively. In her creation What If They Went to Moscow?, based on Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Brazilian theater director Christiane Jatahy divided the audience into two groups, making ‘Group A’ watch the performance on stage being filmed, while ‘Group B’ watched the film. The film was edited during intermission for ‘Group A’ to view during the second part of the show, while ‘Group B’ watched how it was filmed. Other examples include Hiroaki Umeda’s work that replaced the stage set with only video images, and Compagnie Kafig’s Pixel, in which dancers and images react and interact.”


What should one never forget when attempting to combine art and technology?

“The balance of art and technology. I think digital art does not exist. I always stress that technology is a means for art, not the center of the project, and that balance and interactions between technology and art are most important as our projects are centered around art. Even if something really cool is created, if it doesn’t have an artistic vision, it is not art. This is what I hope people listening to today’s lecture or seeking to use technology in art will always remember.”

While IMPACT continues to develop works of chemical interaction through the convergence of the performing arts and technology, the IMPACT FORUM will be held biennially from 2020. Thonon will continue to seek artistic value within IMPACT as it creates new forms and experiences by grafting technology on to various performing arts.


Written by Kim Ok-kyung, producer with the Artistic Program Management Team at the National Theater Company of Korea
Photo courtesy of the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange

Source: Hallyu Story, Issue December+January 2019