If I had to choose one film that most attracted my attention during the festival of dance and dance cinema Moving Body, it would be Doll+ Body Transmigration in its Ideal Fantasy. The reason for this is its sensitive and critical, but at the same time playful and ironic view of the human consciousness standing on the border between the physical and virtual world. The work successfully explores the subject through a multitude of viewpoints adjoined to both Western and Eastern philosophies, the antiquity, the present and the future.

The digital 3D aesthetic often found in video games is applied, thus the narrative addresses reality as a game the rules to which are constantly changing. Therefore, the audience is also confronted with the urgent need to rethink their own bodies with the help of this cross-genre video essay, which does not provide a single answer, but rather expands our worldview into a fluid, multiple truth.

With its very first shot, the film takes us to the home view of a 3D modeling software – an empty space reminiscent of the primordial void of the creation myth, in which the great designer creates volumes and assembles them into a human figure. This makes us think about the truly limitless possibilities of the digital space, which seems to have been created to satisfy our desire for power, apart from consequences and responsibilities. That is why the title of the project contains the idea of ​​fantasy. In this case, this is the falling into the rabbit hole of virtuality, surfing in which is reminiscent of lucid dreaming – the experience of all possible plots and boundless pleasures, which, however, remain entirely illusory. Or not quite. Could it be that the internet is an extension of our reality, a parallel dimension that is no less real, just real in a different way, by following its own rules?

Кадър от Doll+ Body Transmigration in its Ideal Fantasy с режисьор Ran Zhou 

We can also call this phenomenon by the name of another concept from Eastern philosophy – Maya – the illusion of existence, known in the modern West as the matrix or simulation theory. It appears as an endorsement of the ideas of solipsism and a confirmation of the way in which the digital world undermines our sense of reality in the physical. This paradox is later highlighted by the koan about the monk and the butterfly.

“Once I dreamed that I was a butterfly, and since then I have not known whether I am a man who dreamed that he was a butterfly or a butterfly that dreamed that it was a man.”

These words sound ironic while strange chimeras – syringes with butterfly wings – fly across the screen. This symbolic neologism creates the feeling of fragility and danger, evokes the idea of ​​the medicine, but also of the drug, of the crude intervention of man in the processes of nature. From the dolls dancing to disco music to the winged syringes – the whole film carries the philosophy of the absurd, which is one of its most valuable qualities. It talks about sensitive and deep topics, but does it as if in jest – ironizing its own ideas. The discomfort it creates is brilliant, precisely because it easily crosses and blurs the boundaries of what we think we know about the world and ourselves.

Perfection and the ideal are also important elements of the film’s complex conceptual structure, as they again emphasize the tension between reality and virtuality. In his mechanical voice, the narrator deconstructs Da Vinci’s theory of the golden ratio in the construction of man, calling it “a mixture of idealism and naturalism”. And although our bodies do indeed follow the mathematical principles of nature, they rarely respond to them with precision. So rarely that it’s impossible to define what perfection even is. The canon doesn’t exist outside of our heads nor outside the cold, perfect world of digits. Nature and even reality itself do not obey an algorithm, but have an infinite number of forms of manifestation. Each body is perfect in its own way.

The author carefully makes us think about all the alternative bodies – the too old ones, the sick, the damaged, the obese, even the inhuman – the animal or the inanimate ones and validates the ways in which they move and exist, differ and at the same time are alike. “My body is a chess piece, a gear, a mountain, a sea.”

The image of the molten, pink plastic being poured into the doll’s mold is also highly affecting to the audience. It cleverly reinforces the truth that capitalism exploits the idealizing instinct to sell its commodity. Turning everything, including the human body into a product, condemns it to standardization – taking away its imperfections also takes away its soul.

Кадър от Doll+ Body Transmigration in its Ideal Fantasy с режисьор Ran Zhou

I remember how when I was studying 3D design, the professor kept telling us that there are no perfectly spherical oranges. In his classes, we also learned how to create imperfections in their shapes – bulges and flattenings, textures resembling bruises for the sake of realism. This is what the author of the film does by showing us the two versions of his doll – as a smooth and simplified model and as an imperfect, suffering body, covered with wrinkles, hairs and freckles. This also brings us to the most dystopian moment of the narrative – the one in which a mechanical scalpel removes the human skin and the plastic shines beneath it.

Spirituality is also touched upon throughout the entire film as a force beyond rationalism that fills and propels corporeality and sends us to that beyond, the transcendent. And this is exactly what happens to the doll at the end – it gets wings and leaves the stage through a door in the sky. The transmigration has been completed.

This image also refers to the theme of death. Will we be able to avoid it if we move to the digital world? In it everything seems eternal and imperishable, and therefore in some strange way holy, close to the disembodied, perfect world of the deities. But is it really like that? Isn’t it precisely this possibility of the mortality of both the public and the artists during live performance and dance that gives it life and makes it so deeply moving? Aren’t it’s fragility and embodiment, the qualities which cannot be recreated by any artificial intelligence.

At the end of my essay, I will quote the first sentence from the very beginning of the film: “I cannot see my body. I cannot see myself while I am facing others.” – says the doll. And with that, it reminds us of everything we don’t know, don’t understand, and won’t be able to understand. About the impossibility of fully seeing into the others, or even into ourselves, about the secrets that, despite the progress of science, our bodies and subconscious minds still hide deep inside, and about art as an attempt to understand them.

This material was created within the project Translation on Air – a section dedicated to dance for the screen or screendance. Every month we invite the professional and amateur audience, tempted by this intriguing symbiosis between cinema and dance, to join our readings, conversations, and discussions with active practitioners and choreographers in this field from the country and abroad.

The project Translation on Air is implemented with the financial support of the National Fund Culture under the program Audiences 2020 and One-Year Grant 2021.

Видеография и референции: 

Short film Doll+ Body Transmigration in its Ideal Fantasy

Website of Ran Zhou

Aleksandar Gabrovski, born in 2002, is a poet, writer, and more recently a playwright. In 2020 he published his poetry collection called “And the Locusts Dream” and is currently studying interdisciplinary arts at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Although he paints and often appears on stage, his starting point is always words.