michael j. morris


Factum, phenomenology, biopolitics, embodiment
13 February, 2011, 1:04 pm
Filed under: creative process, research | Tags: , , , , , ,

This week has involved several new insights into potential shifts in my creative/research processes and practices, alongside a stream of personal revelations, many of which were artwork-inspired.

Of particular note was a profoundly affecting experience with work recently introduced at the Wexner Center for the Arts. the pieces are entitled Factum, by Candice Breitz. On display are three of Breitz’s two-channel video portraits of identical twins. I spent about an hour with this work, and it is my intention to revisit it throughout its time at the Wex. The basic form of the work are videoed interviews/portraits with identical twins, dressed and styled identically, interviewed separately in the same seated locations. When I first approached the work, I thought the two screens displayed the same person; when I realized that they were twins, a lifetime of experiencing assumptions about the sameness of twins came rushing up, and I myself was implicated in these assumptions by my encounter with the visual display. On a formal level (which carried a weight of emotional significance for me), an interesting component of the pieces are how the individuals begin to register in their differences as time passes. After having spent almost forty-five minutes with the piece Factum Misericordia I realized that the sisters no longer looked anything alike to me. I’ve experienced this with twins I’ve known (and frequently been informed of this process as people knew my brother and I for longer durations, especially when we looked more alike): the gradual differentiation that takes place, the recognition of asymmetrical details in facial features, mannerisms, patterns of speech, etc., but this usually takes place over longer stretches of time. To have the recognition of this content condensed into a matter of minutes (facilitated by the concentrated looking, reinforced by the exactly identical attire and setting), had a shocking quality to it, one bolstered by my own emotional content (calling up experiences in which I felt that I was or was not being seen clearly because I am a twin).

There were so many poignant moments in the narratives being shared in the interviews. There were specific experiences with which I could identify acutely, but also just a general sense of familiarity with the kinds of lives being told. The tendency for people to assume that twins are the same person; the shift when people begin to differentiate and impose/inscribe polar qualities to each twin (the dominant v. the passive, the light v. the dark, the happy v. the brooding one, etc.); the powerful anxieties surrounding death–not particularly around one’s own mortality, but the weight of knowing that two came into the world together, but will not leave the world in the same way; the inevitable sense of losing that connection.
In watching the Factum Misericordia piece, I was struck by a particular resonance. Both sisters used very clear language distinguishing between being “a twin” or “a single” in the world, and periods of their lives in which they were apart and were living in the world as “a single.” I brought up notions of passing, a certain historical (not so pervasive in our present moment) stigma of being a twin (particularly a conjoined twin), and the differences in the existential experience of being in the world as one rather than two. Right now my twin brother and I live in two different cities. For all practical purposes, we live in the world as “singles” rather than “twins.” This distinction (and the recognition that even if we live as “singles,” we are still twins) has made me ponderous. I’m curious how this sense of a shared history, shared life, shared flesh/fluids/body has impacted my particular research interests (the loss of the subject/object binary, the fluid boundaries of the self, intersubjectivity, etc.). It’s a curiosity, one that may not come very much into play, but I am curious how a particular “twin subjectivity” might come to bear on these areas of interest in my research.

Also of note was a rather important conversation I had with my friend/colleague Mair Culbreth. We were discussing the development of our areas of candidacy for our exams in our doctoral program. I mentioned that I keep questioning whether or not phenomenology will be one of those areas for me. Phenomenology might be the research paradigm/methodology that makes the most sense to me in the investigation of dance as a site of knowledge. What I view as the real potential significance of our field is the experience of dancing, the experience of being inside of physical practices and choreographies and creative processes and performance situations. This is not to say that the spectatorial experience of viewing dance is not of any use; I don’t believe that to be the case. But it functions differently, more into the realm of signification and kinesthetic empathy. I am interested in analysis of dance works/practices from “the outside,” as it were, because those performance events circulate in the production of culture. I am fascinated by projects like Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced that conducts an analysis of choreographic structures, as if from the outside, but developed from the insider accounts of dancing inside of the work. This hybrid inside/outside analysis interests me. But of even more interest is the research developed from the phenomenological experience(s) of being inside of the work. I see the practice of dance to be a practice in forms of biopolitics, learning and unlearning, forming, unforming, reforming bodies (thus subjectivities) through the acts of doing, the practice/rehearsal being the space of reiteration, where new bodies with new potentials and new knowledge are formed. Most significantly to me is that these practices and bodies have the potential to subvert the dominant biopolitical discourses in our culture, the various ways in which bodies are regulated, produced, and normalized within society. My interest (it seems) is broadly in a phenomenology of biopolitics, and particularly how dance/body-based practices participate in these biopolitical discourses. More particularly, my interest seems to be a phenomenological account of the biopolitical potentials and effects of the lived experience of dance practices. Most particularly, I am interested in the production of an ecosexual subjectivity through the lived experience of various body-based/dance practices, and giving an account of these.

As I gradually move towards candidacy exams and dissertation, and attempt to understand what it is that my project is/might be, I have been considering the development of a theory of ecosexuality (drawing from studies in ecofeminist philosophy, ecology, queer theories, psychology, phenomenology, sexology, etc.), and then applying this theory as a system of analysis for various historical/contemporary body-based performance work (such as Rudolf Laban’s movement practices, Butoh, Anna Halprin, the Love Art Laboratory, Karl Cronin’s Somatic Natural History Archive, etc.). This has felt like a rewarding pursuit, but it struck me that I would still be offering an outsider account, an analysis of work based on viewing, documentation, conversation, etc. This is where Mair connected a dot for me: she was discussing research from embodied knowledge, researching from a place of practice and the knowledge produced by the body, and it occurred to me:
why would I not engage with these performance works as practices, “re-staging” them as it were, in order to experience them myself, to encounter the lived experience of Laban’s practices, writing from Butoh on the inside, marrying the earth, sky, sea, moon, mountains, snow, etc., embodying the kinetic patterns of various species of flora and fauna and holding those as a corporeal archive, all in the production of a different body, an ecological body, and researching the potential production of an ecosexual body.
Last year I wrote a paper giving a phenomenological account of learning and dancing Trio A from Labanotation score. This project has felt adjacent, off the map of my primary research interest (ecosexuality). Now it feels as if that paper could function as a kind of model for how I might engage with this work. It could of course be paired with outsider analysis, but it introduces embodiment as a methodology for research, a methodology that I see as germane to the field of dance. Our practices are those of physicalizing movement, particularly movement patterns generated by others. We are practiced in taking “the other” in/on/as ourselves, in technique class, in choreographic processes, in various improvisational techniques. This feels like a potential shift in where I thought this work might go. It will of course be grounded in the development of a theory of ecosexuality, which will involve a grounding in critical theories, BUT it centralizes a embodiment as a mode of engagement, the body as the site of knowledge, the body as a practice in knowing the biopolitical potential of body-based performances, rather than only offering an external account.

I’m excited about this potential development.

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1 Comment so far
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There’s a Brazilian artist, named Tunga, who did a performance piece / installation (or instauration, as he calls it) which shows two identical twins, who were born conjoined by their hair. There’s also a piece of fiction about it he wrote, that told about the time they were thirteen years old and had to decide if they would separate from each other or not. When they did cut the hair, they both died.
There are some pictures of it:
http://tinyurl.com/4o8yhvv
http://tinyurl.com/4pua5vb
http://tinyurl.com/4upgtnl

Your post made me remember him.

Comment by Yuri Kotke Cunha




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