michael j. morris


courageous appearance

I sat down this afternoon at the local cafe and started to write about gratitude, specifically gratitude for the array of public figures that bring diversity to the public sphere, specifically folks who identify their genders in ways that do not conform neatly—or at all—to clear, discrete binaries of masculine/feminine or male/female. I am grateful for so many folks: musical performers like Justin Vivian Bond and Antony Hegarty, porn performers like Jiz Lee, Drew Deveaux, James Darling and a whole community of queer/trans/genderqueer porn performers who I admire, burlesque performers like Eileen Galvin, scholars like Eva Hayward and Susan Stryker and the whole trans studies initiative at Arizona State, people like Jack Halberstam, public figures like Kate Bornstein, Carmen Carerra, and Laverne Cox. People in academia and different modes of public performance who are actively reshaping how we see and think about gender and sex.

And then my thoughts on gratitude drifted, and I found myself scribbling out thoughts on appearance, recognition, vulnerability, and courage. It is not a formal essay, but the start of some thoughts. Not the start, actually, because this thinking follows closely so much that I’ve learned from Judith Butler, Hannah Arendt, Bobby Noble, Shine Louise Houston, and Brené Brown, among others. I won’t be offering formal citations in these scribbled thought, but they are certainly indebted, built with and from the work that each of these people have done:

The space of appearance is fundamentally a social space: to appear is to appear for someone or someones, to be made available for others, with others, and to be apprehended within that availability. Society and social norms then come to condition that space of appearance, structuring how it is that bodies and people can appear, can be made to appear, can be made not to appear, can be made to disappear. To appear in ways that do not conform to such such—or refuse to conform to such norms—is to insist on a different social space, a different society that depends/relies upon different structures of visibility and recognition. Dissident appearances or appearances that dissent from the dominant norms exert force on such norms to adjust, adapt, and make space for appearing otherwise; for such norms to make space, the society that enacts—or is enacted by—such norms must become otherwise as well.

Of course, it is possible that such insistence will be intolerable, will not be tolerated, and will be punished or eliminated in order to maintain the existing norms that regulate who can be visible, who can appear, who can be recognized, and how. This maintenance can take any number of forms: subtle social pressures and insidious coercions, self-policing that takes the place of the policing of behavior that we have experienced or that we have witnessed, a look or posture from an other that registers one’s unintelligibility—a stare that communicates that you are seen and apprehended as incoherent, or even unapprehendable because of one’s incoherence; it can take the form of harassment or threats of violence; it is possible that one’s appearance will render one invisible, a kind of invisibility that accumulates in a space from which people avert their eyes, away from which people turn.

To not appear in ways that align with the norms that condition and regulate the social space of appearance—norms organized according to sex, gender, race, ability, and any number of other dimensions, indeed, norms of appearance that in part shape what is understood as sex, as gender, as race, as an able or disabled body—is always a risk. It is to risk invisibility, incoherence, discrimination, harassment, and violence; it is to risk the compromised sense of self that can result from any encounter with another in which the self that one appears to be is reflected back to that self as invisible, incoherent, or the cause for discrimination, harassment, and violence. And to not appear in ways that align with such conditioning norms must not be figured as always a choice, as if those who do not appear or appear incoherently, or whose appearance results in harassment or violence, could be said to have chosen such an existence, or to have chosen otherwise, as if such person could have chosen to conform to the social expectations for appearance. This is not, or even often, the case.

And yet, whether dissident appearance is or is not chosen, it is courageous. It is courageous because it is a risk, and the stakes of the risk are certain unavoidable vulnerability that make up what it is to be embodied with-and-in a world of others. To be is to be among others, and to be among others it to be physically exposed to them, to their words, to their gaze, to their touch, whether their words or looks or touches are caring or abusive. We are all [and here “we” and “all” are not only human] exposed to one another in any number of ways, and that exposure constitutes both the risk and the requirement of social existence. It is because of our shared vulnerabilities that we are already given over to one another; we require one another’s care, one another’s protection, one another’s assistance, one another’s nonviolence. Butler writes that we are already obligated to nonviolent coexistence because of this pervasive exposure and shared vulnerability. And all that we require from one another depends first on our having been recognized by an other.

When recognition requires appearance, and when appearance is regulated by exclusionary norms such that it becomes possible to not appear or to appear in such a way that renders one unrecognizable, or to appear as such an aberration of the norms of appearance that one is made into a target of violence, appearance then carries the risk of misrecognition or not being recognized or recognizable, making appearance a question of survival and livability.

These are common vulnerabilities, the risks that accompany appearance and recognition for everyone. But these vulnerabilities are taken for granted, overlooked, or even repressed when appearance closely approximates the normative expectations that enable and constrain recognizability. When society appears in ways that are homogenous and consistent, when those who appear maintain the effect of norms as natural, the stakes or cost of appearance are less apparent. When how one appears is how one must appear in order to be recognizable, the risk/cost of appearing otherwise cannot be obvious.

Thus, to appear in ways that resist or do not align with such norms is not courageous only because to do so exposes one to vulnerabilities; rather it is courageous because it exposes those vulnerabilities that might otherwise remain unappreciable, precisely when doing so also risks some degree of duress or suffering.

And: such appearances are also courageous because in the face of this all, they insist on the possibility—and livability—of such appearances. They insist on a society or social existence in which it is possible to appear and to be recognized in ways that exceed the available norms—of sex, gender, race, or ability. If such appearances or recognitions are to become possible, intelligible, even in their incoherence, it will be only because of the pressures exerted on the norms of appearance by those who appear otherwise, who courageously insist on public visibility.

Today I am grateful for the world that is given to me by those who insist on appearing otherwise.

Afterthought: Although dissident appearance is not always a choice, it can be a choice, a courageous choice, to appear otherwise. To produce more incoherence within available norms. To dress or present oneself in ways that do not confirm the expectations of one’s given sex or gender, to explore more diverse performances of self, more unexpected styles of movement and behaviors, to try out fashions or looks that introduce more diversity into the social space of appearance. To wear things that other than how they were intended to be worn. To wear clothes made by designers who are pursuing design into unexpected places, designs that reshape how we look at bodies, that reveal bodies differently. To make choices about one’s appearance—hair, make-up, no make-up, shaving, not shaving, tattoos, piercings, other surgical interventions, how you carry yourself, how you take up space—in ways that are intentional, thoughtful, and resistant to what you feel like you should do. I am not saying that these strategies alone are what makes or unmakes bodies, sexes, genders, races, etc., but I am suggesting that the more difference that we introduce to the social space of appearance, the more difference that social space will be expected to absorb and make space for. These are small activisms that are available to all of us, in our presentation of self, our production of self, and our production of the shared spaces in which we live.



scarlette fall fashion preview

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Scarlette Fall Fashion Preview on the Wexner Center for the Arts Plaza.

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Scarlette Magazine is the Ohio State University’s first fashion magazine, released twice a year. Friday’s runway show previewed looks from the magazine’s upcoming Fall Issue.

Taking place on the Wexner Plaza, Sullivant Hall, currently under renovation, served as the backdrop for the event. As I sat in the overbearing sunlight waiting for the show to start, the DJ blasting sounds across the plaza, I thought about how the context and setting were already coloring my experience of what was yet to unfold. I came to graduate school in 2008 for my MFA in Choreography. Sullivant Hall was my second home for three years. To date, I have probably spent more hours in that building than anywhere else in Columbus. I have danced, choreographed, studied, taught, and shared so much inside those walls. But over the last two years, the Department of Dance has been displaced, spread throughout a handful of buildings across campus while Sullivant was gutted and rebuilt from the inside out. This fall the Department will gradually begin to move back into our spaces, along with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, the Department of Arts Administration, Education, and Policy, the Advanced Center for Computer Art and Design, the Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise and the Barnett Theatre; the new building will no doubt hold wonders untold. As I sat in the sun anticipating this fashion preview on the OSU campus, I felt suspended before renovation, somewhere between a manifold of memories of what once was and all the promise that is suggested by what is yet to come.

Then the show began. Photographers, maybe five or six, hovered around the crowd and at either end of the runway. The first model was one of my former students, wearing a palette of golds, khakis, and beiges, a kind of sarong wrap skirt, a lace midriff camisole, and golden lips. Gold was a theme throughout a number of looks (nineteen in all?), a kind of anchor that shimmered across the surface. I am not a fashion writer, and I cannot pretend to be; what has lingered with me days later was the event as a performance, how the event enacted a version of fashion within a particular choreography, within a particular context, and with particular bodies. The choreography, with minimal deviation, involved a long single pass down the cement runway at one side of the plaza, a pose, another pose, and a second long pass back up the runway, affording the audience the opportunity to apprehend, accumulate, and appreciate the bold and subtle details of each look. The pace of the steps was driven mostly by the music of the DJ, with only one or two models experimenting with different layers of tempo, differing the rhythms of their steps. Throughout a show that seemed run through with individuality and personal expression, the rhythm of the runway had an odd regulatory effect, these bodies falling into step with tempos being given to them by the DJ. This is of course not uncommon for runways, but perhaps that is something to be considered: the runway as ambivalently given over to both individual expression and a—can I call it disciplinary?—regulation of bodies. Fashion [shows] as a form of corporeal discipline? This all collapsed momentarily when the sound system overheated and shut off, leaving the models to walk the runway to no given beat, only the busy sounds of the Friday campus outdoors. After the initial flurry of, “What happened? Is something wrong?” settled in the crowd, there was an almost John Cage-ian quality to watching these models walk with whatever sounds there were, as if they were simply walking through daily life.

And this is an important part of how the show has lived with me over the last few days: what it had to do with daily life. These were students’ bodies on display in an outdoor public space on the campus where we live our daily lives. That we were all sweating together in the intense sunlight—the audience and the models alike—made this liveliness tangible. Behind the models was Sullivant Hall. Pedestrians—possibly their professors and classmates—stopped throughout the show to take a look at what was happening. I myself have walked across the Wexner Plaza more times than I can imagine, on my way to teach or take class; I’ve danced with those trees, walked that cement runway, noticed the bodies of other people moving around and alongside one another in loose choreographies, and in ways that are likely both similar and distinct, I’m sure most people sitting there or walking that runway have lived portions of their lives on that plaza. But it wasn’t just the context the gestured to everyday life; it was the fashion itself. I can’t go into detail about every look—there was a black dress with what seemed to be white metallic paint on the front side, worn by a model with severe black eyebrows penciled in and carrying a candle; there was a beige open back halter shirt draped with a loose harness made from ropes and tassels, a kind of baroque suggestion of a BDSM aesthetic—but what I noted was that most of the garments were what I would call found and/or altered pieces. This was not haute couture, and it was not big budget. Most of the models wore their hair in ways that likely isn’t that dissimilar to how they wear it any other day, and most of the shoes were what I would think of as a “best fit,” the shoes that worked best given what people had to work with. In short, this was a student fashion show. And herein was its brilliance: it was not a display of the unattainable, garments fabricated from far-off fantasies and aspirations. It was a parade of looks cohering around several tangible themes—gold, black and white, the juxtaposition of athletic wear and formal wear, among others—all of which were imaginable and realizable by and on the bodies of students, in some ways that echoed currents trends and aesthetics in RTW and couture fashion lines, and in other ways that seemed to emerge from the possibilities suggested by these found pieces themselves. For me, this was a glimpse of what a campus like ours could look like, with students experimenting with what they have in order to make something new and different and exciting. By the end of the show, the backdrop of Sullivant, in the process of renovation, somewhere between what it was and what it could be, felt very appropriate.

Scarlette Magazine makes its mission “to showcase campus individuality and beauty, presenting new ideas and exciting photography both to the Ohio State University campus and to the world.” If the presentation of both new ideas and the potential for beauty and individuality on campus within their Fall Fashion Preview is anything to go by, I would say that they are serving that mission. And I look forward to seeing the forthcoming Fall Issue.

For more information about Scarlette Magazine, its staff, past and current issues, and writings about fashion, visit:
http://www.scarlette.osu.edu/index.html
and
https://www.facebook.com/scarlettemagazine
and
http://scarlettemagazine.tumblr.com



More from Nathan Hurst

I haven’t been as free to jet down to Cincinnati nearly as often as I would have liked as of late. There has been so much of note going on (for a highly reputable listing, I refer you to Matt Morris, my twin brother, artist/writer). One series of events that I regret not being able to see if the continued exhibition and evolution of one artist/designer Nathan Hurst. I was able to attend the premiere of Hurst’s “Urban Regalia” couture line this summer (see post) and have been excited to see how he and his work continue to take form.

On 20 of September, Hurst exhibited his line in People’s Collaboration with Pump and Mitchell’s Salon. Here’s the blurb about the event:

peoples_collaboration

“On September 20th at 8 P.M. Mitchells Salon & Day Spa, and Pump Salon team up with local fashion house Urban Regalia by Nathan Hurst for People’s Collaboration, a one night fashion show fundraiser in honor of the victim of the rock throwing incident on Columbia Parkway, Joyce Baresel. The fashion show will be held in downtown Cincinnati at Lodgebar on 7th st.
For a ticket to our amazing door prize raffle just donate 5 dollars at the door. Also take advantage of Lodgebar’s generous drink specials, including 4 dollar martinis and 2 dollar Miller Lite and Coors Light. With 1$ from each Martini purchase going to the benefit of Joyce Baresel.
For more information on the Joyce Baresel incident please visit friendsofjoyce.com
Thank you so much for your support and generosity
Pump Salon
Mitchell Salon & Day Spa
Lodgebar
Urban Regalia”

This video was recently posted and it at least gave me a sense of atmosphere and the way the work was presented. Enjoy:

This past weekend, 2 October, Hurst participated in a group showing entitled “Fashion it Forwards” at Leapin Lizards Lounge. I look forward to hearing more buzz post this event, maybe even see some video/images from the show. I hear tell that it would be much more fluid surrounding the performance/demonstration of gender than Hurst’s previous shows. I regret that I had to miss it, but I was performing in my own show the next day (60×60; see previous post). I can at least offer you the blurb about that project:

“Fashion It Forward will feature an encore performance of Nathan Hurst’s Urban Regalia, designs from Toby Tyler, Lindsey Whittle + more. Music from DJ Sara Surreal & DJ Tim Cleary, performance by The Beautiful Mirage Love, Queen B and even more to come!

“Fashion It Forward” is a runway project designed to raise money for the Northern Kentucky Pride Festival 2010. The show will showcase the works of up & coming designers, models & local boutiques. The “project” utilizes volunteers, musicians, make-up artists, hair stylists, DJs, designers & boutiques to put on a mixed media show to benefit NKY Pride, now planning the first ever Northern Kentucky Pride Festival in Covington KY October 2010.

“The overall concept of Fashion It Forward is to feature garment designs that push the envelope of today’s fashion including men’s, women’s & drag in a theatrical atmosphere with music, lighting and surprises.”

Hurst is also developing himself as a photographer, and I find this aspect of his work alluring as well. I’ll offer one as evidence:

photo by Nathan Hurst; model Nina Bertaux-Skeirik

photo by Nathan Hurst; model Nina Bertaux-Skeirik

This image reminds me of images by Gregory Crewdson. Re: Six Feet Under.

Still excited about Nathan Hurst.



Cincinnati Fashion
20 August, 2009, 11:16 am
Filed under: culture | Tags: , , , , , , ,

My attention is drawn once again to the Cincinnati fashion scene by up-and-coming fashion force, The Brush Factory, the creative concept of Brittany rose Kovacs. The mission statement of the space is as follows:

“The Brush Factory is a studio and retail space that designs and produces high quality hand crafted apparel for fashion conscious men and women. It will provide Cincinnati with an exciting shopping alternative by being able to view the process and become an incubator for emerging design talent.

This organization and design co – op will provide professional development and resources so designers can establish a sustainable livelihood through inspiration and craftsmanship.”

You can read a short article about the new space at CityBeat.

You can also read more about Brittany rose Kovacs at her blog, “A Dose of Design.”

And you can view her work at the Etsy shop featuring her own line, Poncho Rose.

I have to say that even as an only occasional visitor to Cincinnati (I visit about once a month), I perceive something exciting happening in Brighton, a suburb of Cincinnati just off of downtown. Maybe that will warrant a post at some point, the exciting new developing Brighton.



Urban Regalia

Friday, 14 August, I had the opportunity to see the premiere of Nathan Hurst’s new couture collection “Urban Regalia” at his show “Off with Their Heads” at CS13 in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to the show’s facebook, “Urban Regalia focuses on a royal renewal of precious vintage finds, explores the reconstruction of former garments, and serves as a host for his [Hurst’s] original design concepts inspired by a reinvention of historical regalia.”

I haven’t stopped thinking about this show since I saw it. I’m not quite ready to commit those ideas to type yet, but I thought I would go ahead and let you in on this inspiration in my world right now. Suffice to say that it was a brilliant first showing from a talented young designer/artist:

urbanregalia_001

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You can read Matt Morris’ article about Hurst and the show in CityBeat here.

You can also see images from the show at CS13’s facebook page.

Hurst just posted this video this week. Many of the pieces from the collection are on display. What I love most about it is that just as many of the pieces are appropriated and repurposed garments, their transmogrify is heightened further in their transgression of traditionally gendered morphology on the body of the designer. Just as Hurst engages in processes of “renewal” and “reinvention” and “reconstruction” of vintage finds, former garments, and historical regalia, their situation on the male body both further recreates the garments themselves, and recreates the meaning of the male body. Amazing:

I have an evolving ideology on the concept of the actual body and the social body. The actual body in my mind has to do with biological morphology. The social body refers to the contextual connotations that we associate with the body. The way it’s dressed, the way it’s depicted, the way we think about it because of its treatment in culture. Identity (including corporeal/kinesthetic identity) is situated somewhere in the midst of these. This seems to be the hazard of any sort of focused research: suddenly everything relates to your research interests, but I love how Hurst’s work and this video in particular  relates to my interests in the relationship between the body and identity, and that relationship to the choreography of identity.

I don’t want to make too much of the video as a “video dance” (for those of you who are unfamiliar, “video dance” is a whole field of dance expression, choreography and dances specifically made to be explored/directed/displayed via video rather than live/stage presentation), but I do have critical responses to the movement in the video, not just the garments it animates. To be clear, I view the organization of the body itself as a kind of choreography, the carriage of the body, its stance, its dynamics. But there is also the movement itself. Of course the most obvious observation is its appropriation/mimicry of the runway format, the advance and the retreat, the gate of the “model” (and to be clear, I read it as meaningful that in this case the model also happens to be the designer . . . it relates to my perspective on the choreographer and the dancer (see previous post), a relationship that although different is similar in that it involves the creative action of one individual, the negotiation of that creative activity on the body of another, culminating in an event that represents the identities of both. Here, those individuals are the same, the creative activity of the one individual recreated/translated on the body of that same individual, all taking place in and through the site of the singular body), and the punctuation of poses both near to and far from the camera lens. The advance and retreat reads as meaningful to me: the retreat gives way to the advance, moving away gives the opportunity to move forward once more. It’s aggressive. I like it.
I’m also struck by the contraction of time. We know because the outfits change that a remarkable amount of time has passed in the filming, but we are given something far more surreal to be viewed, in which events occur one after another, like a series of fevered memories (memory being the space in which time becomes flexible, fluid, non-sequential). This contraction of time seems to reflect in video editing what has been done in the construction of the garments. It says, “Look again. And again. And again. Because what it once was is not what it is any longer.”
I am also struck by the gaze of the model/designer (can I add “dancer” if I am viewing the video as a kind of choreography?). While the video reads to me as an aggressive invitation to gazed upon, it’s confrontational. The model/designer/”dancer” gazes back. The viewer can actually meet his eyes (negotiated through the video . . . and I can’t even begin to discuss the politics of presence and absence in the medium of video, not in this post). When he is undressed, it is he who undresses himself, not the viewer undressing him.
I love the drama of the tossed fan, the thrown jacket, the twirl of the long white dress, the coy smiles, the laps when he doesn’t pause to be viewed, but moves towards and away in a single path, almost as if to say, “You can look, but I’m not going to assist you in your looking.”
There. That’s my brief critical dance response to a fashion video.

Oh, and this is a picture of Matt and I at the party after the show. I think we look nice:

couture_michael



These Pleasures Instead of Others

Not being a believer in the concept of “should” or “should not,” I can hardly say that I should be doing other things. There is certainly work to get done that I am neglecting in favor of other pleasures. I am presenting a paper on the negotiation of gender in the choreography of Bronislava Nijinska at the 2009 Midwest Slavic Studies Conference in April, and that paper is still in need of revision. It will serve as a component of a panel in which I am participating entitled “Aspects of the Ballets Russes,” with colleague Hannah Kosstrin. 

There is also the work of the new solo I am choreographing entitled “Red Monster,” which I discussed in an earlier post. I am not sure when this piece will be premiered, but there is an adjudicated concert at OSU in June, and the adjudication is on 4 April. I may attempt to have the piece presentable by then.

But instead, I have given myself over to other pleasures. The pleasures of today include perusing the Fall Ready-to-Wear lines and reading Nico Muhly’s blog

I have recently become obsessed with Muhly’s music. I heard the soundtrack for The Reader and became smitten. Then I explored some of his earlier works, and today purchased Mothertongue in its entirety from iTunes. I recommend all of his work. It bounces around personal references like Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Arvo Pärt. Today, it is my only listening pleasure.

The Fall lines. I have to say, as always, I am mostly disappointed by the men’s lines (not to mention the larger philosophical objection to lines like “men” and “women”). I don’t know why it is that for the most part the bodies of men are somehow perceived and displayed as shapeless. I don’t know how anyone can examine the male form and come to the conclusion that it is composition of loosely tapered cylinders. Yet that seems to be implied by so many collections of jackets and coats and slacks. And there’s something else: the forms are all so . . . closed. Guarded. Shielded. Prada even made a comment about her line being about survival and strength. And I just want to shout, “It’s been done!” Men portrayed as strong survivors? groundbreaking. So I suppose I’ll begin by sharing the few pieces for men that struck me, then follow with the far more interesting women’s lines:

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costume national

hermes_fall09_001

hermes

hermes_fall09_002

hermes

Oh, that was it for the men.
Onto women’s (also see previous post with a few images): 

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prada

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prada

lacroix_fall09_001

christian lacroix

philip_lim_001

philip lim

philip_lim_002

philip lim

akris_fall09_0011

akris

verawang_fall09_001

vera wang

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vera wang

dior_fall09_001

christian dior

So lovely. I should say that all images are from style.com

I hope you enjoy my pleasures for today. Perhaps I will begin to give attention to Nijinska and “Red Monster” this evening. Or perhaps tomorrow.



inspiration today

I feel the urge to write a “real” post, especially in the wake of “This Season,” the OSU Dance Winter Concert, my piece “About,” and the other work I’ve experienced (last show TONIGHT. If you have an opportunity, I highly recommend it). But it will have to wait. I am off to the Wexner for seven hours to begin work on “Monster Partitur,” about which I am very excited.

Until I write a “real post”, I offer you inspiration for today. These I love:

Alexander McQueen’s ready-to-wear 2009 line:

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mcqueen_09_002

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Images by Anthony Gayton, sent to me by my friend Maungsai. They made him think of my new piece “About”:

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gayton_2

 

And finally, also from Maungsai, a tremendous joy in my week:

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Hope you have a truly inspired day!




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