The surrealistic dimension of performance dance: a visual study of body-form and motion in Argentine

When approaching Tango as new media artist I usually think: what can I add new?

The iconography of tango is so well established that at times I feel completely inundated and dumbed. I no longer react to it. So the challenge I set for myself is: how to re-invent a poetic approach to image making in tango culture?

One plausible approach, the one explored in this essay, is to 'make the familiar strange' by applying a process of re-contextualization.

Andre Breton (1896-1966), the founder of Surrealism, believed that placing objects in radically different contexts re-invigorated their mysterious qualities. At the core of this artistic movement it was the notion that thought, language, and human experience could be liberated from the limitations of individualism and rationalism. Surrealists considered the 'unconscious mind' as the primordial source of artistic creativity, and experimented on methodologies to create art free from the rational and conscious mind. One of the methodologies they developed was 'automatism', published in the book The Magnetic Fields (Breton & Soupalt, 1920), that described an automated writing technique as means to literary composition.

Automatism is also central in the field of computer art, in which algorithmically-based systems have the capacity for the technical construction of images in the art making process. In this sense, the computer complements and sometimes replace the 'conscious mind' during the creative journey.

Thus, the use of re-contextualization and automatism in the form of computer generated art can be considered surrealism in modern times. If this is so, what would then be the 'tango object' that needs to be re-invigorated from a surrealistic perspective? For the purpose of this study, the 'tango object' in question is video as medium of dissemination of performance dance. It is the norm among professional tango dancers to video record their performances and practices as means to disseminate their craft to the general public via social media, and have an archive of their past work on their web portfolios at the same time. Video is also used as means to record a choreography and novel movements invented by the artists. It followed then that I could use video files from tango artists as means to explore the visual representation of bodies in motion, and consequently create abstract art directly from the properties inherent to the medium. I embarked then into the exploration of video as topology for the abstract image.

The work I present here is based on video files (*) recording practice sessions of Adriana Salgado & Orlando Reyes (, who are very well known professional dancers in the NYC community and recognized for their innovative choreographies and intense performances. Their video gave me an insight into the process of choreography making, the creation of form and the transition of bodies through space. *Note 1 (see below for more artists)

I interrogated their temporality of form and movement using the technique known as slit-scanning. Briefly explained, slit-scanning transforms the frames of a video into a single image. This entails that the passage of time in video is transformed into a static arrangement of continuos forms. This is produced because for each frame of a video, a slit (a single column of pixels) is captured to make a very narrow camera. Columns of pixels are then recombined to create a single image.

The artworks created are the following:

The aesthetic appropriation of slit-scanning and its implementation to tango dance performance comprised the integration of three aspects of computer vision and image processing: optic-vision-image. The optical aspect is reflected by the dancers theirselves in the use of their phone's cameras as the optical system that recorded their motion. They were the generators of form and also the providers of input data into the computation algorithm. The vision aspect involved the use of the image processing algorithm embedded on the slit-scanning technique for the creation of the resulting images and subsequent curation by me, the new media artist.

Because part of the creative process was delegated to a technical system (computer algorithm), it requires a re-adaptation of visual perception in order to 'assimilate' and 'comprehend' the created images as surrealistic art. For me, the first re-adaptation of perception occurs at the conceptual level, an understanding that the images obtained are not a deformation of the dancer's bodies but in turn a re-construction of their form in motion as seen by a 'one-pixel-wide camera lens' as time progress in the video. In the resulting images display the bodies progressing through space as continuous movement whereas time traverses the static image from left to right.

Can we compare these surreal artworks to watching the original videos without music? Certainly not because the video as tango object was re-contexualized and automated from the medium of the moving image to the medium of the static image, deemed to be art by the author because of the emergent qualities not present in the source video itself.

If the images presented by the author in this work are indeed surreal art, can they be used as novel iconography in tango culture? As long as slit-scan based imagery can provide tango enthusiasts with aesthetically pleasing visuality and novelty not previously seen in still images and video, surrealism in conjunction with computer art could indeed re-invigorate tango visuality and mold new sensibilities in perception of tango as performance dance.



I would like to thank Adriana Salgado & Orlando Reyes for allowing me to experiment with their video recordings.


Note 1_ Additional artists featured in this work

Artwork based on video recording of Adam & Ciko performance was added to this post on January 24, 2018. Adam & Ciko are celebrated milonga organizers in NYC (Tango Cafe & Mala Leche), teachers and tango performers. They are known for their unconventional approach tango social events and dance style. You can find more about them here:

Artwork based on video recording of Pablo & Iwona performance was added to this post on January 25, 2018. Pablo and Iwona are emerging tango performers with great promise. They teach and perform throughout New Jersey and Philadelphia. You can find more about them here: