top of page

Chapter Four: Artaud and 'The Digital Double' 

In the previous chapter the focus was establishing the methodology of Artaud as alchemical and it was concluded that numerous similarities were shared between Artaud’s theatre and Alchemy. As I turn my attention to applying this Artaudian alchemical paradigm to contemporary stage language I may introduce the phenomenon of 'The Digital Double'. The focus of this chapter shall be to elucidate the nature of 'The Digital Double', primarily through the taxonomy presented within Dixon’s (2007) Digital Performance.

Dixon’s initial commentary surrounding the realisation of Artaud’s ‘Double’ within the realms of the digital technology shall be the first focus of this chapter. In addition I shall discuss the ‘healing’ qualities of this stage phenomena in light of the atavistic lineage of the Double. I shall explore the examples presented by Dixon and offer further commentary on the Artaudian application of these individual instances of 'The Digital Double’. 

While I may utilise the taxonomy presented by Dixon it is worth establishing a working definition of 'The Digital Double'. This is somewhat challenging as 'The Digital Double' is an extremely varied and capricious entity. It may be prudent therefore to curtail this definition of 'The Digital Double' to its deployment within the practical research of this thesis. Suffice to say then, ‘The Digital Double’ is a digitally born presence which shares a quality of similarity between its physical counterpart. This may be in its aesthetic similarity or kinetic character. I have chosen the term ‘digitally born presence’ as 'The Digital Double' is not limited to a purely aesthetically driven duality and may exists as a sonic entity (see Ploeger, 2007). Within the context of this study 'The Digital Double' is generated through the mediation of an infrared silhouette of a performer which exists simultaneously alongside them. As alterations are made to this silhouette, the nature and classification of 'The Digital Double', and therefore its Artaudian application evolve. 


Dixon claims that “the notion of the double has been a particularly potent concept since the publication of Antonin Artaud’s Theatre and Its Double” (Dixon, 2007, 241). Within Artaud’s theatre, The Double evokes an idea of a transcendental aspect in performance. If I am to explore this thought then performance must either evoke, or contain within it an aspect of duality. This duality Dixon claims has been visualised through digital performance through the simultaneous presence of performer and mediated form. Artaud’s key similarity between theatre and Alchemy was within their aims “in a higher imaginary field” (Artaud, 1974, 34). Performance and Alchemy operate upon both physical and metaphysical levels and similarly produce a physical and metaphysical outcome. Within this model the digital can be conceived as analogue to the achievement of the metaphysical. 

Dixon traces the notion of the ‘second self’, The Double which exists within many atavistic cultures. As we have discussed previously, Artaud held a great deal of admiration for the Tarahumara and so Dixon’s discussion of the atavistic nature of the ‘second self’ becomes relevant to the nature of 'The Digital Double' as Artaudian stage language. Dixon notes the magical quality of The Double, regarding it as “an alternate and simultaneous second body for the performing subject” and also a vessel of healing in “relation to the ancient laws of imitative and homeopathic magic.” (Dixon, 2007, 245) If 'The Digital Double' shares this capacity as the spiritual Double of these atavistic cultures, then its “homeopathic” properties can be compared to the cleansing power Artaud believed theatre could posses, if it was able to restore its lost language (Artaud, 1970, 63). 


(Lemiux Pilon 4D Art, (2002) Anima) 

In addition Dixon sites specific performances which literalise directions of Artaud (through the use of the digital technology); for instance “like those tortured at the stake signalling through the flames” (Dixon, 2007, 242) within the works of 4D arts ‘Anima 2002’. While obvious, it is nonetheless worth noting, that through the deployment of contemporary stage technology the limitations of visualisation have been somewhat lifted. With greater ease are the audience able to confront that which was previously thought impossible. However my understanding of the theatreof Artaud is not as a literal manifestation of his language, but a development of his intention. I feel emphasis should not be placed on literal depiction of his imagery, but instead upon the creation of the atmosphere and visceral effect he wished to achieve. Dixon provides three key links to the Artaudian nature of 'The Digital Double’; the duality of performance being made manifest, the realisation of the abstract directions of Artaud’s text, and the homeopathic quality of its presence. I shall now explore the taxonomy which Dixon offers for 'The Digital Double'. 

Dixon’s Taxonomy

Dixon presents a taxonomy of ‘Digital Doubles’ split into four categories. Within his taxonomy Dixon accompanies these particular doubles with practical case studies and explores their presence. These doubles are; the double as ‘Reflection’, the double as ‘Alter-Ego’, the double as ‘Spiritual Emanation’, and 'The Digital Double' as ‘Manipulable Mannequin’. (Dixon, 2007, 245) It is also important to note that he stresses the lucidity of these definitions and that The Double rarely exists within a strict categorisation and often flits between multiple aspects of each. This analysis of Dixon’s taxonomy shall be presented alongside consideration of the application of 'The Digital Double' as an Artaudian stage language. 

When considering 'The Digital Double' as a ‘Mirror’, Dixon’s primary focus is the myth of Narcissus, the Greek hero who met her peril through a fascination with her own reflection. Dixon explores these notions through the performance of Blast Theory’s 10 Backwards (1999) in which the main  character ‘Nicky’ sits in front of her ‘Digital Double’, repeating the pre-recorded actions of her eating cereal. Dixon notes how the relationship between her and her ‘Digital Double’ links “past, present, and future” (Dixon, 2007, 246). Within the performance Nicky, is progressively becoming more synced up between her actions on stage and her previously recorded ‘Digital Double’. Blast Theory blur the lines between live and previously recorded action demonstrating the lucidity of memory; They regard it as; “A play about time travel and déjà vu seen through the unreliable lens of digital video.” (Blast Theory 2008). This deployment of technology speaks of the ‘Carrion Man’ culture humanity has descended into and offers a subjective view of it’s ludicrous nature.

“The blurs, judders and pixellations of digital video fascinated us. These artefacts provided a rich metaphor for the ways in which technology (and art) struggles to capture reality” (Blast theory n.d.) Within 10 Backwards, Blast Theory have engineered a stage language utilising this level of familiar uncertainty to initiate a feeling of unease. 


Dixon introduces his second category of ‘Digital Double’ as ‘Alter Ego’ which; 

“coexists with the live performance but is not directly watched and acknowledged by her, or where the double undertakes asynchronous activity, or presents another side or visual embodiment of a character” (Dixon, 2007, 250). 

Within his discussion of the ‘Alter Ego’, Dixon focusses upon the two personas with which this figure may take; that of a beacon of light, or a vessel of shadows. Dixon focusses his exploration upon the work of 4D Art citing their production of Anima (2002). Within this production through the use of carefully placed mirrors a holographic projection with a three dimensional quality, interacts and performs alongside its physical counterpart. This case study becomes all the more fascinating within the realms of Artaudian application when its narrative influences are considered. Anima (2002) explores the schism of intellectual and emotional reasoning, influenced by the work of Desmond Morris author of The Naked Ape (1967). 

“Morris’ social analysis is examined in terms of the themes of soul searching, interpersonal relations and uprootedness. These juxtapositions illustrate the feeling of alienation resulting from our increasingly disembodied interaction with each other.” (Lemieux Pilon, 2017) 

Of particular interest to Dixon is the duet between performer and his ‘Alter Ego’, in which the two violently, yet gracefully, fight each other. The conflict between man and his digital ‘Alter Ego’ can be perceived as a canalisation of the turbulence between emotional and intellectual reasoning. The performance engages with the Artaudian notion of the bestial nature of humanity; this is revealed through the cleansing power of an expressive theatrical language, perceived here as 'The Digital Double’. 29 

“The clash between the real and the virtual brings out other dichotomies: those between body and soul, the biological and the technological, the present and the past, wakefulness and dreams.” (Lemieux Pilon, 2017) 

Exploring the works of Suzan Kozel and her motion responsive ground projection within the performance Contours (1997) Dixon compares the halo surrounding the performer to Christian religious art of Hippolyte Baraduc (1850-1909) and Louis Darget (1847-1921) “purportedly showing the paranormal phenomena of etheric spirits and ectoplasm emanating from the bodies of clairvoyants.” (Dixon, 2007, 254). 'The Digital Double' as ‘Spiritual Emanation’ represents an otherworldly quality or aspect of divine light emanating from within. “'The Digital Double' as ‘spiritual emanation’ symbolises a mystical conception of the virtual body, performing a projection of the transcendent self of the soul.” (Dixon, 2007, 269). Dixon considers the theories of Roy Ascott, who believes that technology is a means of transcendence and a tool for exploring consciousness. Ascott proposes that the digital ‘Double Vision’ mirrors a model of conscious exploration similar to that of shamanic tradition. Ascott in particular cites the use of the sacred hallucinogenic plant Ayahuasca. 


“By double consciousness I mean the state of being which gives access, at one and the same time, to two distinctly different fields of experience. In classical anthropological terms this is to describe the shamanic "trance" in which the shaman is both in the world and at the same time navigating the outermost limits of other worlds, psychic spaces to which only those prepared by physical ritual and mental discipline, aided often by plant "technology," are granted access.” (Ascott, 1998, 357) 


Ascott believes that through the use of digital and plant based technology we are able to access two distinctly different realities, virtual and physical. We access these two realities through our conceptual technological framework (in this instance the use of 'The Digital Double') but can see this technology as a Western counterpart to the shamanic sacrament of Ayahuasca. Ascott’s proposal is fascinating and should be considered alongside Artaud’s appreciation of the theatricality of the Peyote Ritual of the Tarahumara.30 Both Artaud and Ascott recognise that the altered state of consciousness resulting from both Ayahuasca and Peyote allowed for the theatrical exploration of consciousness. As the reader may recall, Jamieson regards Artaud’s theatrical ideal straddling the point of life and death. 

“He described these deaths as out of body experiences, transgressing beyond his material flesh and for a short time, occupying the metaphysical realm. Such images reoccur throughout his work and serve as a reminder of his belief that material corporeality is not an absolute requirement for existence” (Jamieson, 2007, 29) 

Perhaps then I may consider the role of 'The Digital Double' as ‘Spiritual Emanation’ as a ‘Double Vision’ of life and death or physical and metaphysical. 'The Digital Double' as ‘Spiritual Emanation’ engenders a visualisation of the metaphysical reality simultaneously existing alongside the physical. In this regard the ‘Spiritual Emanation’ visualises Ascott's model of plant and computer based technologies conferring a state of ‘Double Vision’. 


Dixon’s final classification engages with the notion of 'The Digital Double' as a ‘Manipulable Mannequin’, exploring the perception of The Double existing in cyber space as an avatar. Interestingly Dixon note the similarities between

the avatar and Artaud’s stage language within the use of ‘giant stage mannequins’. 

“Artaud’s calls for the use of giant stage mannequins in The Theatre and its Double have thus been answered in a myriad of ways within digital performance, from avatars and robots to virtual dancers, to the reduction of the live human body itself to a puppet, manipulated by audience at a distance.” (Dixon, 2007, 270) 

Evidently the ‘Manipulable Mannequin’ is a loose and flexible definition of 'The Digital Double'. For this paper I shall focus upon the aspect of the ‘Manipulable Mannequin’ as “...reduction of the live human body itself to a puppet...”. 

“The manipulable mannequin, the most common of all computer doubles, plays myriad dramatic roles, as a conceptual template, as a replacement body, and as the body of a synthetic being.” (Dixon, 2007, 269) 

Of particular interest to the nature of this study is the use of particle systems as a “conceptual template” for the body. Klaus Obermaier’s work demonstrates a close relationship between performer and technology. Within Apparition 2004 I believe Obermaier best exemplifies this synergy, through the use of digital systems as conceptual templates for the human body. 

“The objective was to create an interactive system that was something more than an extension of the performer, rather its partner. There are three fundamental parameters in the interaction with dancers: the proximity, the velocity and the size of the movement.” (Obermaier, 2013) 

Obermaier utilises this data to produce impressively dynamic particle systems which gravitate towards the performer. Obermair’s particles present themselves as a suitable candidate for 'The Digital Double' as ‘Manipulable Mannequin’. Within this ‘Digital Double’ the kinetic quality of the performer is inherited, and translated into an abstract system of light; while aesthetically they are different, they are undoubtedly related. There is a duality within this aesthetic between performer and ‘Digital Double’ however the duality coalesces into a singular image. “I’m not adding something. I want to make a complete, whole of it.” (Obermaier 2013) In this manner Obermaier adheres to the Artaudian role of ‘Producer’, orchestrating multiple stage languages into one total image. 

I would also consider that within this deployment of 'The Digital Double' we can perceive an aspect of the “cosmic content” of Artaud’s Dramas with which he idolises within the Balinese performance. “These ideas on Creation, Growth and Chaos are all of a cosmic order, giving us an initial idea of a field now completely alien to theatre” (Artaud, 1970, 64) The depiction of movement in such a chaotic and expressive manner is a manifestation of the energy surrounding the body as it moves through space. 'The Digital Double', when acting as conceptual template for movement, allows the revelation of such energy. 


(Obermaier, (2004) Apparition) 

In Digital Parts/Modular Doubles (2010) Ploeger criticises Dixon’s over simplification of 'The Digital Double' in a number of ways. First he notes that the identity of primary performer and 'The Digital Double' within Dixon’s examples is always separated, that is to say one can discern the physical from 'The Digital Double'. 


“The theatre has a double, which it supposedly refers to and is based on, but this double is not perceptible in the work itself. Dixon’s double, on the other hand, is a digital artefact which is actually present in the performance and can be perceived by the audience.” (Ploeger, 2010) 

Ploeger’s comment is hugely relevant; Artaud’s ‘Double’ is an intangible concept which is evoked through his theatre, however Dixon’s ‘Digital Double’ is a literal manifestation. Secondly he notes that Dixon’s ‘Digital Doubles’ are all driven visually, where as through Ploeger’s own performance of Feedback (2010), Ploeger identifies that 'The Digital Double' may in fact be composed as a sonic entity. Ploeger also remarks on the oversimplification of the similarities drawn by Dixon between 'The Digital Double' and Artaud’s ‘Double’, citing Artaud’s call for ‘The Double’ to be an aspect outside of man’s grasp. 31 Therefore 'The Digital Double’ can be conceived as a scenographic means to the discovery of Artaud’s ‘Double’ and not a literal manifestation of it. 

The taxonomy presented here is by no means definitive; however it should have aided the understanding of 'The Digital Doubles’ deployment and variations within performance. With each unique aesthetic of 'The Digital Double' comes a distinctive host of symbolic interpretation. Now that I am equipped with an understanding of the forms of 'The Digital Double' I can formulate an understanding of the practical research accompanying this study within this conceptual Artaudian alchemical framework. 

29 My formation of the Artaudian bestial nature is taken from Theatre and Plague. “The remaining survivors go berserk; the virtuous an obedient son kills his father the continent sodomize their kin...” (Artaud, 1970, 15) 

30 Artaud was enamoured by both the world view of the Tarahumara and their choice of ritualistic activity. He writes of of their Peyote Ritual; “Absolute, Eternity, Infinite—still exists in this race of old Indians who say they have received the Sun in order to transmit it to the deserving, and who in the Rites of Ciguri have preserved the organic gate of that ordeal by which our being has rejected, knows that it is connected with that place beyond bodily perceptions where the Heart of the Devine burns to summon us.” (Artaud, 1976, 72) 

31 When writing to his publisher Jean Paulhan, Artaud states that ‘The Double’ is “reality untouched by the men of today” (Artaud, 1989, 87)

32 I use the term entheogenic in its original Greek form of ‘becoming divine within’. 

bottom of page