michael j. morris

Scattered thoughts

Life seems too busy for any sort of formal exploration of a single idea. So I think this post is going to be yet another scattered list of the ideas that are playing around in my mind right now.

Spring is here in Ohio, and it has carried me into a week of bliss. Mornings of yoga and Qi’Gong in the grass facing the sun, afternoons reading on a blanket in the park, strawberries, and the negotiation of getting work done and surrounding myself with pleasant company. I feel happy, and it makes me think of something my dear friend Laurel once said to me: in a year in which their seemed to be a direct conflict between nurturing my art/my creative self and my larger life happiness, she offered that perhaps it was also a service to my art/creative self to be happy. That maybe being happy would also serve to produce “better” art. So in the blossoming weeks of spring and flowers and friends and sleeping with the windows open, I am again negotiating those poles (that probably overlap quite a bit): the pressures of graduate school and this intensive investment in my art/creative self/education, and the more holistic happiness of living life.

This addressing a speculation concerning the line between art and life (this is not a new paradox). Where does the line between the two lie, if in fact there is a line. This was a frequent theme in the class I took last quarter with Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil, that of the intersection of art and life. How might the activities of our daily life be considered an art experience? How might the activities that we generally relegate to art be considered in the larger scope of our living (this is applicable for viewers of art, but even more so for creative artists)? If we distinguish between these, “Art” and “The Remainder of Life,” why do we make the distinction? Particularly in dance, which unfolds/progresses over time and space, is it “separate” because of the time/space in which we demarcate it? This is more simple when we speak of a  specific dance work. Or maybe not. I know my piece “About” because of it’s beginning and it’s ending. But in another sense, it also contains the months of conceptualization, the months of rehearsal, and continues to live on in the bodies and memories of those who encountered it, either as dancer or viewer. The “work” or “About” continues into the “remainder of life.” Is that continuation still an “art experience?” 

There is also this quality I have encountered in other dancers in which that which occurs within a specific piece is something like acting, pretend, or not real. And I don’t understand that. If you are playing a particular “role,” perhaps the distinction is more clear. If I were to dance in Les Noces, clearly I am not actually “The Bridegroom.” But is that the dance? Is the name the art, or is it the physical experience, the way the piece lives within the body? In which case, that “role” is a part of who I am, part of “real life.” Embodied experience cannot be “faked” or “acted.” It simply is, and as such, is for me part of the larger continuum of “real life.”

These are some of the ideas I’m thinking about.

On the subject of the collapse of Art/Life categories: This inspires me; I wish I could be there. An excellent example of art and life completely getting lost in one another:

Wedding as expression of relational love between two (queer) people. Wedding as performance art, as socio-ecological statement. The lines are blurry. The wedding is real, it is a wedding between these two women, their fifth actually, and it is also their art. And their art is their love. And their love is their art. I love this.


Other creative quandries:

I have a question about violence. I find that increasingly the subject matter of my work is the physical experiences themselves. Sometimes they exist loosely as a metaphor for larger existential experience, but even in those instances, my subject, my emphasis, is on the corporeal nature of that experience. How might those ideas live in the body, etc. Right now I seem to be thinking in reverse. This has come largely out of Mark Johnson’s The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. He proposes the notion that meaning emerges from embodied experience, and it is in fact that experience that is the substance of what we know. For example, he discusses doubt or shame. These are feelings, pervasive sensations of emotion and the body that synthesize as an experience we might call “doubt.” He tries t describe the physical experience of doubt, the slight tension in the body, the effect on the breath, the hesitancy that enters into action and respiration. He proposes that these physical experiences do not “accompany” doubt, they ARE doubt. They are the experiences by which we “know” the thing we call doubt.

My interest right now is engaging with specific physical experiences, and allowing that which we feel/know/understand of its “meaning” emerge from the physicality. And right now there is an extremity to this interest, bordering on violence. Such as intense pulling in of the musculature towards the midline to the point of literal physical exhaustion. Or explosively launching from a squatting position up and back into space, as far as you can. These border on destructive, but they hold my interest because I think in them lies a specificity of experience that relates to larger existential topics. I am interested in the capacity of these specific physical experiences to reveal something . . . more. Something about what it means to exist. We’ll see where it goes . . . the connection is that these experiences, in all their brutality, are real, they are part of life. How do we live with them? How do I ask a dancer to live with them? I can articulate what I see as their value, and I do believe that risk can be part of what makes good art, but what about the lasting affects?

Which segues into another speculation, that of choreographing identity. I am interested in how these real physical experiences, that cannot be separated from “real life” are absorbed and retained in the body, and thus in identity. By engaging in specific actions, through the choices we make in the body, we are contributing to what our body is, its consistency, its memory, and thus who we are. It seems to add a gravity to what we do as dancers, as choreographers, the roles we take on, the classes in which we participate, etc. And I am also thinking about the “non-dancer population.” I am teaching a modern dance class to non-dance majors tonight. How am I contributing to their identities through the physical experiences through which I plan to guide them? 

Somatics is playing a big role in these research interests as well. In almost every branch or field of somatics, the body and mind are conceived of as inseparable, a unit, a soma. Memory, then, might exist in the muscles, the skeleton, the blood. Feelings and emotions have chemical foundations within the body, and those are experienced and retained. Thought is grounded in the brain, but extends into the body as well, which is why as  one directs thought to certain subjects, the way the body feels/is held/is experienced changes. Etc. etc. etc. This is where I see my research developing.


That’s all I have time for today. Those are my scattered thoughts, ideas, and inspirations.


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