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Scene 2 (1+2) pp.

179–196 Intellect Limited 2014

Volume 2 Numbers 1 & 2
© 2014 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/scene.2.1-2.179_1

Sofia Pantouvaki
Aalto University

Embodied interactions:
Towards an exploration of
the expressive and narrative
potential of performance
costume through wearable

Abstract Keywords
The use of smart materials and wearable electronics has rapidly expanded in the field costume
of fashion, introducing new interactive qualities of surfaces, materials and garments. embodied interactions
In fashion garments, the performative environment functions as an abstract site for wearable technologies
experimentation, expression and communication of the wearer through the intelligent meaning-making
garment. However, there is still limited use of embodied technologies in the field of potential
performance costume for text-based and music-based performance, with the exception performance
of integrated lighting technologies, currently broadly used in musical performance. narrative
This article provides a critical review of specific examples of technology-led garments
in live performance, and uses a specific fragment from the Athens 2004 Olympic
Games Opening Ceremony as a case study to highlight how technologies embedded
in costume can create interactive interfaces between the body of the performer and

Sofia Pantouvaki

the environment – the space, the other performers, the audience – becoming a trans-
mitter and receiver of emotions, experiences and meanings in innovative ways. By
analysing this case, as well as by posing questions, this article aims at generating a
discourse on the expressive and narrative potential of the use of intelligent materials
and embodied technologies within the creative practice of costume design.

Costume is a distinctive form of art that exists both as a material product as

well as an artistic conceptual outcome. It is multi-faceted and is linked with
bodily actions and representations, while also lying within sociocultural prac-
tice as an essential and integral part of the performing arts. Costume design is
at the heart of performance practice as a process for understanding, interpret-
ing, defining, signifying, or questioning human presence or absence and its
representation in a performance context. The process of designing costumes
contributes significantly to the performance meaning-making process, not
only in the shaping of persons, but also in the creation of meanings, spaces,
situations and key moments. Because of this, costume design is perceived
today as a performative act(ion) in which costume becomes a generator of
performance, and a tool for storytelling and for creating experiences with
multi-layered interpretations.
The increasing contribution of new technology-led materials and
technology-based systems to live performance in the last few decades has led
to augmented and multi-sensory experiences between space, story/idea, body
and audience far beyond the visual. This article investigates this development
from the perspective of costume by posing questions for discussion and further
reflection: In the age where fashion becomes increasingly technological and
performative, what are the relevant developments in the field of costume? In
what ways can new technology-led tools, media and materials be integrated in
the performance design process through costuming? How do the properties of
these materials and systems provide new options in designing a costumed body?
How is the process of interpretation and meaning-making through the crea-
tive practice of costume design affected, and potentially enriched, beyond the
visual, by these new technologies? As a result, what are the characteristics of
the outcome – the intended costumed bodies – when compared to performing
bodies costumed through conventional materials and techniques? The ques-
tions are multiple, and cannot certainly be addressed in a sole piece of writing.
Historically, artistically and conceptually, the exploration of body-related
technologies in live performance focuses on the visual, narrative, communi-
cative, expressive and experiential qualities that intermedial or augmented
technologies enhance in, for and through the performing body. These devel-
opments define new modes of engagement, for both performer and audience,
enhancing communication and interaction within new responsive systems
(see, e.g., Kozel 2007; Salter 2010). Recent artistic research and practice have
developed primarily in movement-oriented performance and investigate
notions of the physical as well as the virtual dimension of performing bodies.
These investigations engage a combination of traditional and new media prac-
tices; for example, mixed reality live performance using a variety of tools and
approaches such as 3D real-time virtual environments, telematic virtual expe-
riences, as well as augmented performance where 3D real-time motion capture
systems and technologies are used in the said contexts. Here the body is inves-
tigated as a conscious, living and ‘lived’ entity radically challenged by techno-
logical, scientific and philosophical advances (Fenemore 2011). However, such

Embodied interactions

experiments explore the performing body and its spatial dimension, through
the relationship between body and position or body and movement, as well
as the complex relationship between one performing body and other bodies
– the performers’ or the audience’s. Hence this considerable and broad body
of work focuses on interpretations of the body mainly within space and time,
leaving relatively unexplored the perspective of the technology-based perform-
ing body as a costumed body within a given narrative.
This article focuses on one type of wearable technologies – i.e. wearable
electronics – and investigates the notion of embodied interactions through elec-
tronic devices and circuits in costume in various areas of performance practice.
The term embodied interactions here addresses the interactive possibilities
provided by embedded technology through the costumed body. A brief over-
view of different examples of electronics embedded in performance costumes
serves to map the use of wearable technologies from the perspective of costume
design. In order to discuss wearable electronics as new costume design mate-
rials more thoroughly, light-related applications are investigated as one type
of current practice broadly used in musical performance. In these, however,
expressivity is limited to visual effect. Therefore, to highlight how technology-
led costume can enhance dramaturgy within a performance concept through
embodied interactions, an early example of costume designed for large-scale
performance from the Opening Ceremony of Athens 2004 Olympic Games
is examined from a phenomenological and concept–analysis perspective. By
analysing this case, this article aims at generating a discourse on the potential
for characters, technologies and bodies to come together through the inter-
pretive and meaning-making artistic processes of costume design, proposing
new options for expression and narrative through costume.

Exploring wearable electronics in performance costume

The use of electronics and other technology-based new materials such as
smart textiles has rapidly expanded in fields related to costume, such as the
field of fashion, introducing new performative and interactive qualities of
surfaces, materials and garments. Although the idea and the first experiments
of wearable computers date back to the 1960s (Rhodes n.d.), the first wearable
computer prototypes emerged in the early 1990s (Quinn 2012), and it was
not until after the year 2000 that the field developed radically towards more
advanced integration of electronics. Today the area of fashion embraces a
broad range of materials and technologies, and numerous projects and prod-
ucts were conceived in the past fifteen years at the intersection of fashion,
science and technology (see Seymour 2008, 2010; Quinn 2010, 2012). A new
performative character is applied to these garments, which address not only
the visual element but a conceptual, a mental and a multi-sensory experi-
ence for both the wearer and the audience. With the use of electronics, smart
garments respond to the movement of the body, to actual body data, or to
external stimuli that come from the environment or from other individuals.
‘Fashionable wearables are the intermediary between the human body and
the spaces we navigate’, writes Sabine Seymour; ‘our clothing, accessories,
and jewellery are the epidermal interfaces with which we can experience the
world’ (Seymour 2010: 13).
The fusion of textile and fashion design and advanced materials requires
the collaboration between arts and design principles, processes and traditions
and multiple science and technology disciplines, for example electrical and

Sofia Pantouvaki

1. The investigation of electronics engineering, digital electronics, materials science, nanotechnology,

the intersection of
each one of these
physical computing, interaction design, robotics and mechatronics, biology
fields with fashion and biomimetics.1 This multidisciplinary approach brought a need to develop
design is currently new terminology, such as: e-textiles, smart textiles or intelligent fabrics, high-
under development
in numerous research tech textiles, wearable technology, wearable electronics (aka wearables), fash-
projects globally. ionable technology (Seymour 2008), intelligent fashion, interactive garments,
2. E.g. the ‘staging’ of high-tech fashion, tech couture, scientific couture, biotextiles and biocouture.
interactive garments It has also generated many new interdisciplinary possibilities for future inves-
in specific spaces, with tigation and development, which extend to related fields, one of which is
particular lighting, and
through the movement performance costume.
of the human body. Fashion, technology, costume and performance intersect, yet they distin-
3. The term fashion guish. In fashion garments with interactive possibilities, the performative
performance is also environment functions as a conceptual locus for experimentation and commu-
increasingly in use in
the field of fashion
nication of the wearer with and through the intelligent garment. Performance
both to describe practices2 are employed for demonstration purposes of the interactive quali-
fashion shows as well ties of the garments in live, mediated or recorded presentations. By using a
as to delineate the
performative qualities performative frame,3 the technology-based qualities of fashion garments are
of fashion garments. enhanced and communicated. This can also be identified in the language
4. This approach is used to describe, for example, ‘wearables used performatively’ (Birringer and
remarkably similar Danjoux 2009: 5) or ‘performative wearables’ (Syuzi 2012). In costume design,
to the practice on the other hand, the performance context is the most essential factor for the
of contemporary
interactive garments’ definition of a garment, since costume is shaped and obtains meaning only as
creators who use inherent part of the performance narrative. Therefore, the technology-based
digital recordings to
demonstrate their
performative qualities of costume are defined and designed according to
concepts. performance scenarios. In costume, interaction is an option for communica-
tion and expression as the result of interpretation, and it has definite or open-
ended features dependent on the conceptual and meaning-making approach
undertaken. In both cases, ‘the intention is to open up an experience through
the construction of a poetics, with potential impact upon the imagination,
sensibility, and expression of those who read it’ (Kozel 2007: 181). However,
even though the media overlap – in both the nature of fashion and costume
equally involving garments, as well as in both using technologies – the art
forms are different, and hence the event the audience is invited to experience
is different. It is in this perspective that looking at the context of performance
and storytelling acquires an important role for the integration of new tech-
nological systems and materials for costume design in the performing arts in
more essential ways.
The integration of performance costume and technology is certainly not
new to the field of costume design. Early experimentation in technology-led
costumes already happened in the late nineteenth-century performances of
Loïe Fuller, the modern dance pioneer, whose illuminated flowing draperies
painted with light fascinated the audiences of her contemporaries. Fuller’s work
‘discloses not only a modern attitude but also a critique of modernism that
evokes postmodern and contemporary ideas,’ notes Malka Yellin (2013: 43). It
is not only an embodied interaction between the body, the movement and the
light, but also a visual interaction of rhythm and colour. In order to capture the
effect of her performance, Fuller arranged to film it, realizing that only this new
medium (film) that had just become known could record the temporal/sequen-
tial aspect of her concept better than still photographic image.4
In the mid-twentieth century, an individual artwork from a new type of
art, today well established as performance art, presents how technology can
be wearable and performative: Atsuko Tanaka, a Japanese artist and member

Embodied interactions

of the experimental Gutai art movement,5 created an iconic garment for the 5. The Gutai Group, a post-
World-War-II art group
– then yet inexistent – field of wearable technology: the Electric Dress (1956). in Japan whose name
This pioneering technology garment was an early type of fusion of technology means ‘embodiment’,
and the body, expressed in a sculptural form consisting of electrical devices. were the first to carry
out ‘happenings’ and
It was designed as a kimono-style outfit made of electrical wires and more performance-based
than 200 light bulbs and short neon tubes, hand-painted in primary colours. works internationally.
The lighting devices, whose electrical circuits and wiring ‘form[ed] a kind of 6. The dress,
weaving’, would ‘turn on and off alternately’ (documenta 12 2007), creat- reconstructed in 1986,
ing a bright colourful spectacle. The Gutai had an embodied approach to art has been exhibited in
various retrospective
and their works incorporated physical actions playfully; the Electric Dress was exhibitions, including
shown in the ‘2nd Gutai Art Exhibition’ in 1956 where Tanaka wore her full- 2007 ‘documenta 12’ in
Kassel, mounted on a
body costume ‘in the tradition of the Japanese marriage ceremony’ (Schimmel life-size steel armature;
1998: 28f). As Paul Schimmel notes, ‘Tanaka began to envision Electric Dress in these presentations
1954, when she outlined in a small notebook a remarkably prophetic connec- seem to lack the
performative power
tion between electrical wiring and the physiological systems that make up the of the garment and its
human body’ (Schimmel 1998: 28f).6 – almost dangerous –
In the late twentieth century, the vast majority of explorations of technological features
when embodied on the
technology-based performance involve the body, its expression and its move- artist.
ment in relation to space and performance context, concentrating on spatial
7. See, for example, the
qualities of the body per se and the notion of virtuality,7 and putting aside seminal technology-
or even ignoring the contribution of costuming. Embodied technologies in based dance practice
of Merce Cunningham
performance at the turn of the twenty-first century include a large variety of experimenting
options and systems that range from advanced motion tracking to interac- between the visual and
tive video displays and wearable computing ‘miniaturized, embedded, wire- the technological in the
early 1990s.
less […] worn on, and warmed by, the body, enhancing abilities to transport,
store, communicate, and modify personal data’, as in the work of Suzan Kozel 8. A music festival
inspired by the
(2007: 270). It is therefore of great interest today to investigate how and where Woodstock Music
wearable technologies interrelate and connect, not only to the performing and Arts Fair in 1969
body, but to and through the costumed performing body. and organized to
commemorate its 25th
The use of wearable technologies has been popular in costumes for musi- anniversary.
cal performance on mainstream stage. A few well-known predecessors to
9. Bono used this black
electronics involve wearable electrical devices: Michael Jackson’s costume leather jacket in the
designed by Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins for the futuristic 3D sci-fi encore of the show.
film Captain EO (Coppola 1986) was decorated with embedded lights, which
would light up during action and dance scenes. As for live performance, in
1994, Red Hot Chili Peppers performed wearing headgear resembling light
bulbs at Woodstock ’94.8 Red Hot Chili Peppers, widely known as ‘often
appearing nearly naked in photographs and in their performances’ (Perone
2005: 75), created an impressive light-based stage effect in full costume during
the first song of their show. The bulb-headgear, literally lit like a bulb, aimed
at a visual impression at long distance, creating a rhythmical connection
between music and the performers’ movement, emphasized by the choreog-
raphy of the voluminous light heads.
In the age of digital technologies similar ideas have developed through
wearable electronics. Costumes in live music concerts enhance interac-
tive visual effects through embedded lasers and LED circuits and weara-
ble video displays, mediating real-time interaction. German-born engineer
and designer Moritz Waldemeyer, who collaborated with fashion designer
Hussein Chalayan for his pioneering laser and video dresses in 2007, created
in 2009 Bono’s Laser Jacket for the U2 360º Tour.9 The jacket featured 240
lasers that ‘extended Bono’s every move all the way across the audience’
(Waldemeyer n.d.). The concept and its effect through the performer’s

Sofia Pantouvaki

10. Creative designers costumed body are expressed in different presentations of the garment, as
Francesca Rosella
and Ryan Genz, who
in this one:
develop interactive
garments using micro- The jacket offsets the tradition of the spotlight, which alienates the
electronics, see http:// performer from his crowd, as Bono is able to project his own light onto
thousands. It provides an interactive and personal element to the show
whereby individual members of the audience are literally connected to
Bono for an instant through a single laser beam. This creates an electri-
fying sense of the performer reaching out to his audience audibly, visu-
ally and spiritually.
(Fairs 2010: n.p.)

Some additional jackets were created for all members of the U2 group
by another creative team, CuteCircuit,10 and were used during the North
American leg of the 360º Tour in 2011. These were black and white jackets
with over 5000 pixels embedded in each one, displaying individually synchro-
nized lights able to recreate dynamic displays, patters and video in real time,
wirelessly controlled by the lighting design team (CuteCircuit n.d.). These
jackets would, again, create a rhythmical visual interaction between music and
light through electronics, through the group’s costumed bodies.
Similar outfits with embedded electronics have been used by various sing-
ers on the pop and rock music stage, including Rihanna at the American Music
Awards Show (2009) and at her 2010 UK show at O2 Arena, English pop
group Take That at their Progress Live Tour (2011), American rock band OK
Go (2010), Italian pop singer Laura Pausini for her Inedito World Tour (2011–
2012), Safura, the Azerbaijan performer for the 2010 Eurovision song contest,
the Austrian performers for the 2012 Eurovision song contest, as well as by
singers Katy Perry and Sarah Brightman, to name only a few. Of the numer-
ous garments further mention can be made to Laura Pausini’s skirt, advertised
by its creators as ‘the world’s largest soft wearable display ever used in live
performance’ (CuteCircuit 2011). This skirt extends in the space through its
4.5 metres length in silk chiffon incorporating thousands of LEDs in its lining,
creating a cascade of moving light above audience level. Visually orchestrated
with Pausini’s ballads, the effect in this case is poetic and signifies the singer
as a fairy tale character sitting on a swing and singing, harmoniously inte-
grated through her lit costume with the overall stage environment.
In the field of dance, costumes with wearable electronics are at the core of
experimental projects. Denmark-based research and innovation design team
Diffus have explored the potential of different combined wearable technolo-
gies such as sensor technologies, embodied optical fibres and electrolumines-
cent wires, and textile prints changing colour according to digitally controlled
input circuits in a number of projects using dance performance as a context for
experimentation: Cypherdusa (2007), Costume Choreography I (2007), Costume
Choreography II (2008) and 100 Dancers (2011). The technologies engaged
in these projects create interactive soundscapes or light patterns based on
the dancers’ motions and positions; the output produces real-time interac-
tions between performers, performers and space, and with the audience. The
specific creative team has approached lighting not only as a medium for visual
effects, but also as an immaterial textural material:

The way we use light is as patterns embedded into the texture of textiles;
this seems to reconciliate material and immaterial elements of the

Embodied interactions

design into one tangible and evolving experience. When light becomes
texture in our costumes it also means that light becomes an integrated
part of the artefact, used for its abilities to create surface structures and
not necessarily for its affordance to produce ambient lighting effects.
(Diffus 2008: n.p.)

A similar approach is undertaken in the work of researchers elsewhere, as in

Worbin’s (2010) research on dynamic interactive textile patterns, where she
also uses dance performance as her site for experimentation. Worbin (2010:
139) notes, ‘we designed a collection of costumes as tools, aimed to explore
how temporal and spatial conditions may influence and affect visual expres-
sions related to the expressions of body movements’.
These projects represent important achievements in transdisciplinary
collaboration between design, craftsmanship and technical advancements in
the field of wearable electronics with possibilities for many different applica-
tions. Whilst dance performance (and its costumes) are often used as a tool
for experimentation and for the exploration of corporeality on a personal,
spatial and social level open to kinaesthetic interpretations (see also Kozel
2007), stage and media events related to entertainment industries seem to
have found another aim for using wearable technologies: to enlarge the visual
experience and expand the scale of expressiveness on the stage; LEDs and
lasers seem to be replacing analogue sequins in creating spectacle. What is yet
to achieve in these cases, beyond visual effect for celebrity personas? The most
essential tools for costume design, i.e. interpretation and meaning-making,
offer advanced options for concept development and storytelling and have not
yet been explored through new technological materials and media. Moreover,
the use of wearable technologies demands an overlap of conventional borders
between performance design disciplines; because of this, wearable technolo-
gies can become tools through which costume designers may develop new
processes for collaboration with the rest of the creative team for designing

Towards embodied interactions through

the costumed body
By discussing the relations between the actor, the costume and the audience,
through ‘double visions engendered by the act of dressing-up at the thea-
tre’ (Monks 2010: 3), Aoife Monks generated a discourse on the perception of
the performer and the performer’s body as indistinguishable from his or her
costume. A performing body in costume acquires additional layers of meaning
based on qualities, characteristics, and interlinking relations of both the body
and the costume with other elements of performance as well as within each
other. ‘The bodies produced by costuming’, notes Monks (2010: 12), ‘[…]
are bodies that are unstable, unreliable and occasionally disconcerting’. It is
exactly in this complex set of shifting relations and in the varied yet individu-
ally specific performance contexts that lead to certain (costume-) design deci-
sions that emergent technologies provide innovative expressive means and
options for interactive connections and interpretations. Therefore, if

costuming can [also] invoke the audience’s deeply complicated act of

looking at the surface of the actor’s body, and allows us to recognise
how the performance might not want us to ‘see’ the actor’s surface, but

Sofia Pantouvaki

rather encourage us to look beyond, past, or through it to some imagi-

nary internal substance or being.
(Monks 2010: 3)

then embodied technologies can expand the potential of costuming towards

the creation of new visual, sensorial, spatiotemporal and sociocultural iden-
tities. How can costume-embedded technologies enhance storytelling and
re-propose meaning-making processes by means of costume? In what ways
do these technologies function through and beyond the performer’s costume,
or even in between the performer’s body and costume? These questions are
used to imply a potential of technologies that expands on both a technical and
conceptual level that can be reached through the process of costume design,
offering new expressive and narrative possibilities. ‘New media embrace the
dynamic, real-time event that has always differentiated performative prac-
tices from the static objecthood of the visual arts’, remarks Chris Salter (2010:
21). Therefore, new technological systems can be employed in costume as
design tools and materials that extend beyond long-established visual and
tactile traditions, proposing new ‘ways of revealing’, in Heidegger’s (1977)
words, and offering immaterial, sensorial and interactive qualities previously
unknown in conventional costume design practice.
The notion of embodied interaction can also be understood within the
conceptual frame of costume. An interesting parallel can be drawn in the
development of the concept of embodiment in human experience from both
the ICT and the social theory perspective: When Paul Dourish introduced
the notion of embodiment in context-aware computing at the intersection of
computer science and social science, he defined it as ‘the property of being
manifest in and of the everyday world’ (1999: 8), constituting the transi-
tion from the realm of ideas to the realm of everyday experience. Dourish
addresses the setting within which the human activity unfolds not merely as a
background, but as ‘a fundamental and constitutive component of the activity
that takes place’ (Dourish 1999). He employed the term embodied interaction
to bridge the gap between the Cartesian, or ‘disembodied’, way to design –
which has been prominent in the field of human–computer interaction – and
the real physical and social interaction that people actually engage in with
designs. He perceives interaction as an embodied phenomenon that denotes
not only physical reality but participative status. Therefore, his discussion
relates action and meaning through bodily experience. Concurrently, Joanne
Entwistle introduced the notion of embodiment from a historical and socio-
logical perspective in fashion social theory by developing the concept of dress-
ing as a ‘situated bodily practice’ (2000: 11) and, based on Merleau-Ponty’s
phenomenological approach, introducing the ‘lived, experiential body that is
articulated through practices of dress’ (2000: 5). Entwistle positions the body
and the embodied experience of dressing at the centre of fashion and dress
analysis. She understands the body as ‘the product of dialectic between nature
and culture’ (2000: 27), and suggests that fashion becomes embodied in every-
day life and communicates meanings. Thus embodiment focuses on participa-
tion and meaning through bodily experience, and interaction is defined as an
action of communication by means of the dressed body. Entwistle’s approach
to meaning and communication through embodied activity is interestingly
very close to Dourish’s, even though they root in different fields.
Current research in the field of costume design is informed by Entwistle’s
concept of dress as ‘situated bodily practice’ and by Merleau-Ponty’s

Embodied interactions

phenomenological approach (1962/2010) understanding dress as an embod- 11. Nudity is certainly

understood as an
ied experience located spatially and temporally. In fact, the experience of the intended design choice
costumed body constitutes an ‘environment of the self, to be inseparable from (see also Monks 2010).
the self’ (Entwistle 2000: 6) as an ‘active and perceptive vehicle of being’ (2000: 12. The phrase is quoted
29) understood externally by the audience through internal experience. The from the Official
costumed body acts in particular ways in a specific time, space and context, and Programme, Opening
Ceremony of the Games
determines how persons are presented and how they interact with one another of the XXVIII Olympiad
within this specific spatial, temporal, dramaturgical and overall performative on 13 August 2004 in
context. Monks (2010) elaborates on this theoretical approach and addresses Athens, Greece. It refers
to the conceptual
the multiple levels of interaction between performer and costume, and frame of the ceremony
costumed body and spectator, within the performance action and its reception. section entitled ‘The
Book of Life’.
Hence costume in performance can be investigated not only as a sociocultural
product and a visual and material entity, but also as a lived and experiential
entity that interacts with other entities through space, time and storytelling. It
is related to bodily practices and meanings, and is articulated through semiotic
codes and notional associations. The bodily actions as well as their representa-
tions through costume create interactions through which we experience, read
and perceive the costumed body as an embodied practice. Costume design is
thus essential not only in creating an abstract embodied experience, but also as
a meaning-making creative tool in the context of a performance narrative.
Emergent technologies can be explored in their relation(s) to the perform-
ing costumed body as new tools for the artistic field of costume design, even
when this body is naked;11 through them, costume can challenge the poten-
tial for advanced embodied interactions – and hence extended meanings  –
communicated through the costumed body.

‘We are all made out of the same secret’12: The potential
of wearable technologies for poetic narratives through
performance costume
To explore the expressive and narrative potential of performance costume
through wearable technologies, it is important to research to a deeper level
how and what kind of notional connections can be developed between
wearable technologies and costumes within a performance context. In
support of this argument, a specific case is analysed in this section: a
1 minute and 30 second fragment from the Athens 2004 Olympic Games
Opening Ceremony featuring a pregnant woman at the ceremony section
entitled ‘The Book of Life’. The Athens 2004 Opening Ceremony, concep-
tually entitled Birthplace (relating to the Olympic Games returning to their
birthplace, Greece), was conceived, visualized and directed by Dimitris
Papaioannou. Papaioannou is a Greek multi-disciplinary artist, who has
trained and worked as a painter and comic artist, as well as a performer,
choreographer and director. His multi-talented personality was crucial in
conceiving the ceremony in its entirety. Prior to this large-scale commis-
sion, Papaioannou had been a founding member, director and choreog-
rapher of Edafos Dance Theatre Company (1986–2002), for which he had
often also designed. It was there, as he says, that he was able to balance his
‘overflowing emotional and intellectual approaches to life’: ‘As a painter,
this was the place to create images; as a comics artist, this was where to
tell my tales; and as a performer, this was the context in which to present
myself’ (Papaioannou n.d. a). His creative team for the Opening Ceremony
included fashion designer Sophia Kokosalaki as costume designer, as well as

Sofia Pantouvaki

performance designer Lily Pezanou, one of Papaioannou’s longest-running

creative collaborators. However, as his concept sketches reveal, the overall
artistic concept of the event belongs to Papaioannou.
The Athens 2004 mission promised that the people of Greece would host
‘unique Olympic Games on a human scale’ (Athens 2004: 2); the human
aspect was present throughout the conceptual dramaturgy of the ceremony.
Papaioannou and his team used the rich history and diversity of Greek art
in an allegoric sequence through time symbolizing how ‘Greek civilisation
discovered and established so many fundamental ideas – across the arts and
sciences, and politics and philosophy – that continue to resonate even today’
(Athens 2004: 31–35).
In order to analyse the selected fragment, it is essential to study the context
and the development of the performance: The first part of the ceremony,
‘Allegory’, used three iconic periods of Greek sculpture and particularly three
human forms – a Cycladic idol, a Kouros, and a Classical statue – ‘to symbol-
ise the growth and evolution of Greek civilisation and human consciousness’
(Athens 2004: 31–35). Following, a real human figure appeared crouching on
top of a rotating cube – a perfect geometrical shape that symbolizes the earth –
and performed the evolution of man, eventually standing and walking. Next

Figure 1: Extract from the Opening Ceremony Media Guide (Athens 2004 2004b: 47) (author’s personal

Embodied interactions

appeared a flying Eros, ‘the unlimited force that brings opposites together and
in composition’ (Athens 2004 2004a: n.p.), accompanying two Lovers, a man
and a woman, to their act(ion) of connection. The next part of the ceremony,
entitled ‘Clepsydra’, continued the narrative through a chronological proces-
sion of images depicting stylized figures from different periods of the history
of art, symbolizing the passing of generations of people. This was emphasized
by introducing ‘Clepsydra’ through a Minoan Goddess of Fertility. And fertility
brings new life: The next section of the ceremony was entitled ‘The Book of Life’.
In this, the passage from past to future was signified by a figure of a Pregnant
Woman, ‘a symbol of new life and of hope for the future’ (Athens 2004: 48–49).
The short fragment from ‘The Book of Life’ provides a fascinating exam-
ple of a mystagogic performance creating meaning through the costumed
body that is wearing costume and technology. The storyboard of this scene
(Figures 1 and 2) provides the context:

1. Symbolizing the future, the last figure of the parade is a pregnant woman
(the first was the Fertility Goddess).
2. To the voice of Maria Callas ...
3. ... Eros removes her dress.
4. The pregnant woman steps down to the ground. (Athens 2004 2004b: 47)

Figure 2: Extract from the Opening Ceremony Media Guide (Athens 2004 2004b: 48) (author’s personal

Sofia Pantouvaki

1. As the pregnant woman walks towards the water, the parade figures shed
their costumes (their history) and also step down to the ground.
2. The pregnant woman enters the water and her belly gently glows with
3. Beneath the water is revealed an image evocative of a galaxy. It radiates
outwards from the pregnant woman ...
4. ... as all the performers enter the water. (Athens 2004: 48)

Figure 3: The pregnant woman from ‘The Book of Life’, Athens 2014 Olympic Games
Opening Ceremony. Photographer: Adam Pretty. © Getty Images.

Embodied interactions

Figure 4: The pregnant woman reaching a moment of ecstasis, ‘The Book of Life’, Athens 2014 Olympic Games
Opening Ceremony. © Associated Press.

The elements of this short performance fragment, i.e. the movement, the 13. The author wishes to
lighting, the space, the music and the costume, are poetically orchestrated thank the unknown
reviewer of this article
in terms of both narrative rhythm and visual and spatial rhythm. In reading for this remark.
this ‘myth’ and the symbolisms embodied in the pregnant woman, ‘not
only from left to right, but at the same time vertically, from top to bottom’
(Lévi-Strauss 1978/2006: 40), the audience experiences this performance as
an embodied art form in a poetic as well as a sensual way, in which the
body is an affective object (Merleau-Ponty 1962/2010) while lighting shapes
and directs the spectator’s point of view. The scene can be characterized as
‘being poetically abstract and concretely poetic at the same time, or accord-
ing to what is more meaningful for us at the time’ (Kozel 2007: 181). The
light embedded in the woman’s belly here represents life, and the birth that
is to come. When the belly is lit (Figure 3), it transforms into transparent
skin that allows a very intimate view of a private and personal experience of
the female body. The effect of transparency through the performer’s body is
further enhanced by the skin colour of the costume and its soft and trans-
parent draped silk material. Through the embodied light, the performer’s
costumed body becomes a site of performance as well as a site for meaning-
making. Moreover, pregnancy is that kind of subjective experience that
can resonate broadly to the global audience on an emotional level beyond
language, social and cultural traditions, or standardized beliefs. It also thor-
oughly reorients the sense of space and materiality towards internal sensual
experience.13 Dimitris Papaioannou clearly expresses that this effect of inti-
macy was his intention, in explaining:

Sofia Pantouvaki

I sought to create intimacy on a grand, spectacular scale, and to appeal

to archetypal emotions and images in order for the ceremony to work
on both a spiritual and emotional level. The ceremony could not be a
story – it could only be the unfolding of a dream sequence.
(Papaioannou n.d. b)

This is exactly where the power of this scene lays: in the poetic, dream-like
expression that focuses on human experience beyond conventional expressive
styles for large-scale performance. And here, the wearable devices that make
the pregnant woman’s belly to glow are the tools inviting the audience to this
intimate interaction. They overcome distance and allow a spatial experience of
the senses (Merleau-Ponty 1962/2010).
Poetic representations and poiesis in responding to our engagement with
the world – in the ancient Greek etymology of the word, which means ‘making’
or ‘creating’ – embody ‘action and transformation, as well as ongoing narra-
tive experience’, as noted by Wilde (2009: 3). In Heidegger’s understanding of
poiesis as ‘a bringing forth’ that ‘brings hither out of concealment forth into
unconcealment’ (Heidegger 1977: 10–11), wearable technology here creates a
direct connection to the birth that is to come, through embodied transforma-
tion. In Heidegger’s terms (1962), the pregnant woman in this scene reaches
a moment of ecstasis in the performance narrative when the belly glows. For
a few seconds, the audience is ‘brought forth’ to experience the miracle of
human life, perhaps unexpectedly transferred from the large scale of the public
event to the intimate scale of the human body. In Merleau-Ponty’s defini-
tion, this happens through the synthesis of time and space in which the body
inhabits (Merleau-Ponty 1962/2010). ‘This poetics is read through our phys-
ical and emotional experiences of specific structures’, remarks Kozel (2007:
181). The poetic interaction involved here is made possible through narrative,
context, the costumed body and the technology this body embodies.

The Athens 2004 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony had a strong positive
international appeal, which supports Papaioannou’s claim that,

mainstream notions of producing large-scale shows with the lowest

common denominator in mind, and the overrated rule that a show must
be logically understood rather than emotionally experienced need to be
reconsidered. […] creative vision should be the only guide.
(Papaioannou n.d. b)

As shown through the analysis of this case, the intersection of costume and
new technologies has the potential to create new artistic concepts as well as
new expressive narratives. It must be emphasized that the specific example
performed in public in 2004 (hence the concept had been developed earlier
than that), when wearable technologies were still an emergent and not yet
refined medium for performance experimentation; yet the result retains its
expressive power. It also implies that a much more dynamic potential lies
within latest achievements in wearable technologies.
This article claims that, using new technological materials and media,
costume can become an interactive interface between the body of the performer
and the environment – the space, the other performers, the audience – as well

Embodied interactions

as a transmitter and receiver of emotions, experiences and meanings in new

and innovative ways. The meaning-making process involved in performance
design and in costuming, in particular, can be inspired and enriched by this
potential to create advanced connotations between the visual, sensorial and
emotional experience of performance through the costumed body. From the
perspective of costume design, through embodied technologies, the role of
the costumed body as the centre of performance and as a site of meaning
of cultural, social, political, and psychological significance for both performer
and audience can be re-examined and explored at new levels. A technology-
enhanced costume has an extended potential ‘to provoke a sensory and
intellectual awakening of the creative imagination’ (Kozel 2007: 181). By
experimenting with new technology-based solutions and systems, it is possi-
ble to investigate how interactive and responsive costumes can transform
performance on both a larger stage scale, as well as the intimate and relational
scale of the costume.
What comes next? It is intriguing to consider the potential of emergent
technologies in more complex performance storytelling, including narrative-
led and text-based theatrical performance. Although dance and the musical
stage have already offered context for experimentation with embodied tech-
nologies, many other genres of performance, and mainly theatrical perform-
ance, still lack the experience in using new technologies in costume design, or,
even more, in developing ways to integrate the extended possibilities offered
by these media into their artistic processes. ‘Scenographic practice is char-
acterised by willingness to adapt new methods during the creative process,
to collaborate, to rework’, note McKinney and Iball (2011: 132). It is, there-
fore, yet to see how costume designers and performance designers in general,
including text-led performance directors, can be familiarized with digital and
electronic tools as new creative materials for meaning-making, suggesting new
storytelling options and expressive means within performance narratives. This
discourse will hopefully continue as the investigation of emergent technolo-
gies as a new design tool in interactive garments for stage and performance
gradually integrates in costume designing processes through education and
new artistic research, giving an opportunity to generate meaning, communi-
cation and expression in new, still unexplored, ways.

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Suggested citation
Pantouvaki, S. (2014), ‘Embodied interactions: Towards an exploration of
the expressive and narrative potential of performance costume through
wearable technologies’, Scene 2: 1+2, pp. 179–196, doi: 10.1386/scene.2.1-

Contributor details
Sofia Pantouvaki, Ph.D., is Professor of Costume Design for Theatre and Film
at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, Finland.
Trained in scenography at the University of the Arts London and La Scala,
Milan, her background includes over 70 designs for theatre, opera and dance
productions in Greece, Italy, UK, Cyprus and Finland. Co-author of History
of Dress: The Western World and Greece (2010) and co-editor of Presence and
Absence: The Performing Body (2014), Sofia has taught, lectured and published

Sofia Pantouvaki

internationally. She is Project Leader for Performance: Visual Aspects of

Performance Practice (Inter-Disciplinary.Net), and Associate Editor for
Studies in Costume & Performance (Intellect 2015); also, International Curator
for Costume Design for World Stage Design 2013 and Associate Curator for
Costume in Action (WSD 2013). At Aalto, she founded and leads the Costume
in Focus research group and supervises Ph.D.s in costume and performance
design. Her recent research focuses on performance costume, costume cura-
tion and clothing in the concentration camps of World War II.
Contact: Aalto University, Department of Film, TV and Scenography, P.O. Box
31000, FI-00076 AALTO, Helsinki, Finland.

Sofia Pantouvaki has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work in the format that
was submitted to Intellect Ltd.