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Dancing With the Machine: Studio Visit With Jonah Bokaer


Jonah Bokaer’s immersive performances explore relationships between technology and the body.

"Why Patterns," courtesy of Snarkitecture

Jonah Bokaer has become known as a dancer-turned-multimedia maverick for his performances and choreographies, as well as his films, interactive installations, and mobile apps. Through the manipulation of architecture, lighting, video, and sound, he mines the limits of contemporary technology, and of the human body.

He is also a galvanizing force within the broader Brooklyn arts community. As co-founder of Chez Bushwick and the CPR – Center for Performance Research, Bokaer’s collaborative approach extends beyond his personal practice. Both organizations are non-profit venues dedicated to fostering interdisciplinary and performance-based art. CPR, Brooklyn’s first certified L.E.E.D. green building, demonstrates that sustainability, technology, and art are not mutually exclusive.

"Eclipse," courtesy of Benjamin Nicholas

Bokaer explores a variety of themes and disciplines, from the exalted to the mundane. In “Why Patterns” (2010), co-created with the design firm Snarkitecture, thousands of ping-pong balls shower upon four dancers, who—countering predetermined computerized designs with their spontaneous actions—align body, objects, and setting to yield continuously changing forms. This spring, Bokaer will tour the United States with “Eclipse,” a partnership with installation artist Anthony McCall that first premiered at BAM in 2012 and explores the intersections between light, time, and space.

"The Ulysses Syndrome," courtesy of Benedicte Longechal

Bokaer’s work is intertextual in both genesis and execution. Take “The Ulysses Syndrome” (2013), which he performed with his father at the World Nomads Festival. According to the artist, the title not only refers to the Homeric epic, but to Tunisia, his childhood, a sense of displacement, and the Arab Spring. Yet what really sets Bokaer apart from other dancers is his unwavering commitment to the visual and the sensory. His art is an immersive experience, one that assaults multiple senses, and provokes an engagement that is at once visceral and cerebral. Bokaer invites us to reconsider the processes of viewing and, ultimately, to see dance and the physical world a bit differently.


Johanna Sluiter is a PhD student in art history at The Graduate Center, CUNY.

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