Kyla Arsadjaja unites dance and design through programming and the visual notation of movement
Creating her own choreographic tools through a variety of methods, the Indonesian designer is interested in how notations are originally meant to archive dances.
- Jyni Ong
- 5 January 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Kyla Arsadjaja’s cultural heritage is a key aspect of her design practice. Throughout her portfolio, traditional graphic design methods collide with Kyla’s deep affection for her Indonesian upbringing, bringing together the country’s rich diversity and cultural roots with print. After studying the medium in Singapore, she moved to New York back in 2016 to work as a graphic designer at an agency. Not long after this, she enrolled at the prestigious Yale School of Art of pursue an MFA, an experience which transpired to be “one of the most transformative experiences in my life,” she tells us. Graduating during the height of the pandemic just last year, the post graduate degree threw up some important teachings for Kyla, discerned through lines of inquiry and various outcomes described below.
“Grad school allowed me to look beyond the traditional framework of graphic design,” Kyla shares, “shaping my skills towards a media-agnostic approach.” Notably, she started to incorporate dance into her practice, tapping into her Javanese cultural identity where dance is a highly prized expression of heritage. As such, dance became a new medium and language for the designer. Particularly intrigued by how dance can be used to notate movement, she delved into the history of this semiotic behaviour and how it has mutated to inform visual language today.
“I am interested in how notations are originally meant to be tools to archive dances,” Kyla explains, “but will eventually get lost in translation as they are passed on.” When a dance is first choreographed, it instantly becomes open to interpretation. Arguably all interpretations of an original dance have been disrupted in some respect, and it is this regeneration of choreography that Kyla continually absorbs. In turn, this sparked an intention as to how the designer can further explore this notion using design principles. “The idea behind translating movement notations as a generative process,” she says, “inspired me to create my own choreographic tools which I have developed through creative writing and programming.”
The resulting choreographic tools rely on metaphysical constructs that hint to the notation of movement: the poetry of incompletion, the unconditional, the anticipation of the new, the strange, the future and the unknown. As a consequence, new outputs are borne out of these resources in a number of dance-related designs. In Duet Yourself for example, Kyla interrogates the role of the mirror in dance studios – usually using a symmetry tool to achieve perfect lines in the body. Without the presence of studio mirrors due to dance studios closing in light of the pandemic, Kyla began to explore the expression of the body without the ceiling-high reflections. She learnt to trust her body which was suddenly free from the self-conscious glare of the mirror, “relying on the poetry of improvisation” as a result. “I began to acknowledge my reliance on mirrors as a hindrance instead of art. I have learned to recondition the mirror by embracing its distorted and pixelation reflected,” she adds.
The longer Kyla spends away from her birth country of Indonesia, a sense of anxiety surrounding the loss of cultural identity starts to creep in. With this in mind, she imbues memories and nods to her cultural roots within the work too. “There is a Javanese term ‘napak tilas’ which literally means ‘walking or tracing back someone’s footsteps,” says Kyla. “It is a saying to describe one’s ‘doing’ in the present to appreciate what has been achieved,” she adds on the importance of the term within her work. Whether a project is dance related or not, all of Kyla’s work bears some connection to Indonesia. She sprinkles cherished childhood memories, local myths, beliefs, heritage sites, textiles, rituals and ornamental references throughout her practice; an ode to her life back home and the ones she loves.
In Three Spectrums: No1 to 200, Kyla was inspired by the popular Indonesian myth about the Goddess of the Southern Sea. The myth dictates that anyone wearing a green garment on Parangtritis Beach on Yogyakarta will undergo misfortune as green is the goddess’ sacred colour. Inspired by the myth and her own trips to the beach, Kyla created a website that displays a range of colours within the blue, yellow and green colour spectrums. She invites viewers to submit phrases of movement through the website using the colours offered, resultantly creating a new choreography or performance through this interaction. In other work, Kyla collaborates with artists and performers by designing accompanying publications. Here she demonstrates her capabilities for refined layouts and at the same time, a conceptual prowess for translating gestural movements into typographic treatments.
As for the future, she’s been commissioned by the Yale Dance Lab to fulfil the role of graphic designer and video editor for the ongoing project Transpositions: dance poems for an online world. Working alongside 18 choreographers and sound designers, not to mention the Yale dance community, the aim is to create a series of digital dance poems. The project will knit together local, national and international communities of dance, in other words “Transpositions.” As Kyla goes on to explain, it will also “explore the continuous and interrupted transmission of embodied dance practices in digital life.” Due to launch in Spring 2021, look out for Kyla’s latest endeavour bridging the realms of the dance and design.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.