michael j. morris


The bigness of the body
27 August, 2010, 1:26 pm
Filed under: cosmology, creative process, Dance, Grad School, research | Tags: ,

If I’m honest, I feel like I’m in state of some degree of burnout right now. I know I’ll recover, but I just feel unable to read another thing (even as I read an article by Sondra Fraleigh on the correlation between Butoh and nature this morning), and my mind is hardly synthesizing all that I have read/done/researched this summer. I have ideas about dances that I want to make, but in general I am experiencing a persistent near-paralysis in my making. This morning in conversation with my friend/colleague/gaga-guru Maree ReMalia, I think I began to understand why:

This all started (by “this all” I mean to refer to this research journey into Sexecology, Ecosexuality, ecologies, etc. etc. etc.) in the pursuit of a body that extends beyond the constraints of [the assumedly fixed] biological morphology, a body that accounts for its ongoing state of becoming/constructedness/de-and-re-constructedness, a body that not only participates with its environmental surroundings, but blurs its edges into that space, the body being implicit in consciousness and perception and sensation. My earliest articulations of my (then MFA project)n involved “the listening body,” the body constituted in its attention, and its reciprocal participation with that which exists beyond it. When I applied for my PhD, my proposed research interest had to do with understanding the body as the site of identity, and analyzing/understanding dance practices with with a sense of the active formulation of individual identity in our participation in the formation of dancing bodies: dance as a choreography of identity. Since that point, my working understanding of identity has become less fixed: identity is not a stable essence but an ongoing construction, multiple and fluid and unfixed; I would say the same for “the body.” Through my engagement with the work of the Love Art Laboratory and their art/research in the areas of Sexecology and Ecosexuality, I began to consider the functional systems of interdependency as a primary situation by/in/through which we experience (phenomenally) our selves/bodies. This was powerfully echoed in my research in Tantric philosophy and its function as a foundation for the practice of yoga, a dissolving of the distinction of subject and object into a larger whole that is Consciousness (necessarily a body-based consciousness). In my course work, the constructed nature of the body/individual self became implicated in issues of power, production, reproduction, and the compulsive reiteration of normalized identities. The body is not singular but citational. The body is not only physical but also social, cultural, sexual, economic, etc. etc. etc. The body is “both/and”: it is completely itself, non-representational, meaningful is its own kinesthetic experience; and the body is a [part of?] systems that extend infinitely from it, into history, society, culture, the environment, etc. Its form presents its formulation, a formulation that is constant and ongoing and bigger-and-beyond its biological morphological form.
In short, the body is no longer simple. And it is big.

My choreography has always functioned as a kind of physical philosophy. The dances that I have made have more often then not been principally concerned with cultivating a physical experience/understanding of a facet of human experience. But at the same time, they were also crafted of moving bodies in time and space. I know how to choreograph for those bodies: finite, structural, sensing/knowing. But I think at least a portion of my creative paralysis is that I have not yet figured out how to choreograph for these bodies that are indicative of such bigness, that are always already implicated in such a complex nexus of interesting constitutional forces, that are implicit in the expanse of consciousness, functioning in systems and ecologies far beyond my knowledge/comprehension, constantly changing and (re)forming even as I participate in that formation, who experience and know themselves as sensual and sexual, erotic and desiring; to the degree that we are defined (within our own experiences of ourselves, and within the societies in which we function; and understanding definition as unfixed/shifting/potentially fluid) by our desires, the task of making dances for desiring/desirous bodies is daunting. To the degree to which bodies function as sites of the production of power, I don’t yet know how to situate myself in a choreographic relationship of shaping bodies (through the movement which I offer or generate) and assuming that power.

It all converges in this tension of the “bigness,” the [post-modern?] condition of disparity and unity, the individual and the larger “whole”/”organism” of which the “individual” is always already a part . . . this is a tension that is held in yogic philosophy, in astrology (the life of the individual is unique, but it is also an expression of a larger cosmological whole), in ecology, and even in the corps de ballet. Obviously this tension is not a concise research agenda, but it has something to do with where I want to be/am going. And it has to do with Butoh, and yoga maybe, and the Love Art Lab and Karl Cronin, Sexecology/Ecosexuality, queer theory and queer ecologies, queering dance practices, the erotic, phenomenology, etc.

And right now that’s as much as I’ve got. And I’m feeling a little too burned out to do much with any of it today. I know I’ll find the energy/inspiration for this work . . . just maybe not today.



Purple Cuddle and the construction of self

Two ideas have been steeping for the last few weeks. It’s about time to get them down somewhere.

The first is a piece that I am performing next weekend at U·turn Art Space in Cincinnati. I participating in a group show entitled “Breakups R Tough.”

This is the gallery’s description of the show:

“Cincinnati, OH—About now, many of those relationships that were flourishing at Valentine’s Day aren’t looking so good. U·turn Art Space is pleased to announce a group exhibition that generates a wry discourse to deflate the melodrama of failed relationships. The exhibition includes Shawnee Barton, Stephanie Brooks, Alex Da Corte, Craig Damrauer, Erica Eyres, Lynne Harlow, Peter Huttinger, Eric Lebofsky, Joetta Maue, Casey Riordan Millard and Michael J. Morris.

Artists using embroidery, drawing, installation, performance, photography, sculpture and video offer different perspectives on crisis points in the human experience. Not strictly focused on just the ‘breakup’ between romantic partners, Breakups R Tough considers how interpersonal interactions cease or mutate into something more chaotic. Grafted into the dialogue are slanted looks at other stages in the quest for love, companionship and sex, such as propositions, courtship and self-pleasure. The assembled artists will address the topic with humor, wit, sexuality, physical comfort, and suggestions for remodeling our culture’s structure for types of relationships and categories of love and conflict.”

You can read more about the show here as well.

This is the published blurb about my piece:

“During the opening reception of Breakups R Tough, Morris will be creating a performance piece in homage to a 2005 artwork by the Love Art Laboratory, which is comprised of the famed sex artist Annie M. Sprinkle and her wife, artist and activist Elizabeth M. Stephens. LAL is a seven-year long undertaking in which the two women facilitate annual performance-based projects and rituals, including wedding ceremonies. In their first year, 2005’s Red year, Sprinkle and Stephens created the work entitled “Cuddle” in the Femina Potens Gallery. Once a week, during the exhibition the artists would put on cuddle outfits and spend several hours cuddling gallery visitors who had made advance appointments. They invited the participants to take off their shoes and socks and cuddle with them for seven minutes. This piece has been recreated by LAL in multiple locations, both nationally and abroad. After receiving a grant to travel to California and interview Sprinkle and Stephens in December 2009, Michael J. Morris will conceive a version of this piece as a performance in the U.turn exhibition. His piece is intended as a subversion of popular cultural perceptions of interpersonal acquaintance and intimacy, physical promiscuity, and socially authorized physical behaviors, while also serving as a celebration of the body as central to identity and expressions of love in non-traditional forms. For more about the Love Art Laboratory, please visit the website here.”

You can read about and view documentation of LAL’s original piece here.

There are marked differences between Annie and Beth’s (and their dog Bob’s) original piece and my re-created homage to their work. Aspects that immediately spring to mind are the differences between cuddling with a lesbian couple and cuddling with a single gay man, the difference between this piece being staged in an alternative arts space in San Francisco (or Glasgow or Austin, where it has subsequently been restaged) and staging this piece in a gallery in the midwest, in Cincinnati. Another difference is that I am attempting to partially contextualize the piece in Love Art Lab’s current work. As simple an alteration as it may be, I am making a purple bed/space: purple sheets on the bed, purple curtains (hopefully), and maybe even a purple cuddling costume. Love Art Lab is currently in their Purple year, the year of the Third Eye Chakra (Ajna), centered on intuition and wisdom. My hope is that the recontextualization of the piece goes deeper than just a shift in color but also in intention. In the original piece in 2005, the emphasis came out of the Red Year (Root Chakra, Muladhara), Security and Survival. Here cuddling seemed to be a kind of reassurance, a cultivation not only of love (part of the mission of LAL) but also a kind of interpersonal security, the safety offered by holding or being held. I think these aspects can’t help but carry over into my re-creation of the piece, but there is also the potential for a shift in intention to be one of knowledge and knowing. The act of cuddling, this temporal physical engagement being an act of both knowing and being known. As I’ve stated, my interests for the piece are “intended as a subversion of popular cultural perceptions of interpersonal acquaintance and intimacy, physical promiscuity, and socially authorized physical behaviors, while also serving as a celebration of the body as central to identity and expressions of love in non-traditional forms.” These notions harken back to the piece I created last year (and enacted this year in the process of Autumn Quartet), “KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY)“. Because my research and current perspective situate the body itself as the site for the perpetual perception, negotiation, and performance of identity, I often find it troubling that our culture privileges visual and verbal modalities for the acquaintance of individuals. We get to know one another predominantly  by what we see of one another and what we say. I am interested in subverting this, privileging the body not only as the site of identity, but a potential site of acquaintance. The Cuddle piece serves this, and I think there is something of this physical “getting to know you” that echoes the knowing intuition of the Purple Year of LAL. I’m also thinking about the extension of the body/self into the environment (this is essential to my understanding of “Sexecology” and “Eco-Sexuality,” ideas that have emerged from LAL and their performance work), and how the construction of this “cuddling space,” the bed and the curtains and the (hopefully) soft lamp light, may also serve as an extension of myself, the implication of myself into the space, and the subsequent implications for inviting gallery patrons into that space. I am also fascinated by the relationship between this work, Love Art Lab, the chakra system (and thus Tantric philosophy out of which it emerged) and my own yoga practice and teaching of yoga. How does my teaching inform this work, and how might it is turn inform my teaching?

I’ll let you know how it goes.

In a seemingly completely unrelated speculation (but of course it is all related), I am thinking about a practice or a course (or book?), something like “Scoring: The Constitution of the Moving Self.” This thinking started while writing my recent paper on the process of reading and dancing Trio A from Labanotated score (see previous post), but has evolved into a constellation of thought, touching on my predicted dissertation research and additional systems of “scoring” that I have explored. I am thinking about the lived “here-and-now” experience of the dance and the dancer as inseparable, that in the moment of dancing, both are mutually defined by one another (or, perhaps more accurately, as one). I am thinking about how dances or movement are generated and created, and how the individual is constituted through those generative processes. Because I think of movement as an extension of self (and a force by which the self is invented in the present here-and-now), I am interested in how scoring systems are used to generate movement and in doing so generate individuals. I am thinking about scoring systems like Labanotation and Motif Description, but also verbal/imagistic scores used to produce movement, as in Butoh (the language used to generate movement are called “Butoh-fu” which literally translates to “Butoh notation”) and Gaga, and the various systems of scoring that I experienced in the Forsythe project here at OSU last year, things like “room writing” or inscribing in space (tracing imagined forms in space), and the production of the wall score for Monster Partitur (line tracings of shadows produced by paper sculptures from skeleton models that emerged from a personal history). I am also thinking of Fluxus scores and scores used in choreographic practices by artists such as Pina Bausch. What comes to mind is the question of “what is a score?” Right now I am thinking of it as a persisting physical, linguistic or conceptual artifact by which movement is produced. The nature of the scoring system determines that nature of the movement and the nature of the method by which it is produced. I am not thinking of scores so much as documentation of what was (a record of movement that existed) as much as I am considering it as a generative source. It is, of course, situated somewhere in between these moments/movements: the means by which the score was generated (this may be a documentation of movement as in Labanotation or an idea, as in Butoh) and the movement that the score then produces.
Central to these ideas are the fact that the movement produced (by the score) is intrinsically unique and definitive of the individual. While the score itself is persistent, the movement it produces is not. It is unique to the individual, as the individual body, emerging from and simultaneously contributing to the identity of the individual.

There is a relationship between scores and the regulatory normalities by which persons are constructed/produced. I’m reading Judith Butler right now, and I am thinking about the pervasive culturally constructed systems by which individuals are regulated and produced. Gender, according to Butler, does not precede the acts by which gender is signified, but is in fact constituted by those acts by which it is perceived to be persistent. I am thinking of the engagement of the individual with the score as an active co-creation/participation in the generative structures by which the individual is produced. By enacting the score, the individual practices agency in the formulation of action and the methods/structures by which they are produced. If identity (and gender) are not that from which performative acts emerge but are in fact constructed through the sequence/repetition of performative acts, what then is the implication of the persistent score in the generation of acts? What is there to analyze in the relationship between the score and repetition?

And so, in a sense, it all relates. “Cuddle,” as formulated and enacted by Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens in 2005 now serves as the score by which my own actions are produced. I engaged with the documentation of that work as a score and in doing so select the structure by which my self, my situation, and my contribution to culture and society are produced.

I would love for this to be a course at some point, examining the nature of scores and scoring, how it may reflect, co-create or interrupt the pervasive social “scores” by which we are produced (I love the idea of situating Butler in the context of movement scores/scoring), and exploring various systems of scoring in the conscious production of self. If I apply for jobs at some point, I could imagine this being a course that I would propose to teach.

Those are my thoughts today. I hope to have time to continue to serve these ideas as weeks go by. I hope to continue to read and dance Trio A as a means of constructing myself, and to engage with additional scores in the production of movement/self.

Onto the spring quarter . . .



click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit

A morning reflection.

Two shows down. One to go.

Every time we do this piece, it’s different. And maybe it’s partly because of the way that I am thinking about my own work right now, but it is so completely conflated with life and living and loving, in the dancing, in the movement/content, in the structures and organizations of the content, in the facebook status updates, in the bruises and bouncing curls and kisses and massages and body piles and pairs back stage . . . it is in no way something that we put on, and for me there are not characters: the way that we are (I am) in the dance, what we do on stage, is coming directly from and feeding back in to everything else. This is us, this is Michael and CoCo and Eric and Jeff. That’s part of why I still have not yet completely made my peace with bowing after “the piece,” because the bow feels like such a theatrical trope, and admission of something like spectacle, a confession that “what has transpired here has not be ‘real,’ it is simply something we do, not who we really are.” But a good friend of mine said that it doesn’t feel that way . . . the whole thing has been so intimate up until that point, the intimacy carries into the way we stand there, looking at the audience, fold at our hips, and strike our “set.”

After the first show, I commented on my facebook status that it felt like an ending, and that from now on the piece would have to be something else. I think part of last night’s permutation of the piece was partially in mourning for the what the dance had been (what we had been?). Today will be something else entirely. In response to the comment on the “ending” quality, this dialogue unfolded via facebook status/comments between CoCo and I:

“Did it feel like an ending? For me it felt like I never got going. Could be b/c the wifi was dead at first. Felt like playing catch up the rest of the time. I could feel you 3 pouring everything into the space however. Also feel a bit like a traitor b/c I’m not observing in the way that I want to. Total immersion in other words. It’s all very fragmented for me. Like I’m not respecting the experience. I’m certainly getting a new perspective on this whole digital interaction/connection thing. And am knowing now that i want the real version of humanity as a general rule w/out the computer screen in b/w.”
-CoCo

“So I think you have landed on another potential “theme” of this piece. The potential between the digital and the human connection. And you situating yourself at the edges of both. Maybe you are revealing something more than just your personal predilections. Maybe this is part of the “commentary” aspect of the work. And maybe the unfolding “human drama” on stage is something like a commentary from the other side? If every human interaction has indeed become a collision, maybe we create buffers like facebook and status updates and video cameras . . . these are my morning ramblings, but maybe there’s something there.
One more.”
-Me

Ambiguity with specificity. This was something that my brother said about the piece, the Friday night performance. And I think it has deep resonance for how I know the work, how it is unfolding for us (how I understand the universe right now?): each thing, each moment, each experience, each phenomenon is incredibly specific, completely and entirely itself and yet elusive, fleeting, gone into the next moment, another distinct intersection of complex contexts and perspectives and perceptions. Each moment is in itself constantly “yet to be revealed,” and yet is dissolves, evaporates, is lost into the next moment, full of its own ambiguity and specificity.

Then there is this quality in the gestalt of experience, the piece as a whole (life as a whole). We tend to be categorizing creatures, we tend to find names for things, labels, taxonomies for organization. I think we do this for ease . . . it’s easier to assume that identities are persistent, fixed, unchanging, recognizable, and not entirely unique. And yet maybe that is not the nature of things. As we look at a gestalt, this dance for instance, we tend to need to know “what it is.” We need to recognize it, to have a name for what it is, clear distinctions for what it means. And yet it may not be so pin-down-able. Besides the moment by moment shifting ambiguities, there is the ambiguity of what we read as the “whole.”

This relates to the perpetual idea of the “in-between,” an idea I return to again and again. We know a thing by what it is not. Knowledge is contextual, established by contrast (we are aware of light because there are shadows, we establish what we think of as male because we compare it to female, etc.). We do not simply know what a thing is, we know what it is in-between. We know that it is not this or that, but it has a kind of relationship to both. For many of these experiences, we either as individuals or as cultures have established names, labels, categories. I would question the fixity even of these experiences. But besides that, there is the question of all the experiences that lie in between our categories, our labels, our recognizable forms. We know them, we experience their specificity, their meaning (more on this later?), but it is completely embedded in its ambiguity, its in-between-ness.

Meaning. This is a question that has continued to come up in a course I am taking this quarter called “History, Theory, Literature of the Analysis of Movement.” Most analysis assumes a meaningfulness, attempts to identify and illuminate the meaningful. This has raised the question over and over again, “What is meaning?” or “What are we referring to when we refer to ‘meaning’?” I has established a working definition of meaning for myself. It is something like: “Meaning is the substance by which a thing is recognizable.” It is broad. I do not intend meaning to be a synonym for “interpretation.” It is before interpretation. It is similar to recognition, but recognition implies a cognitive process, and I think meaning is more sensation, situated in sensory perception, not the cognition of those perceptions. It is the substance of that by which a thing is recognized. It is the specificity in the ambiguity.

The meaning for “click here . . . ” changes every time we do it. There are elements that are persistent. The choreography is set, the sequence of the piece is set, the points of my body that hit the floor, the expanding bruises, they testify to the persistence of certain elements. And yet there is something about it that is continually unrecognizable. It’s meaning, the experience by which it might becomes recognized, is unfamiliar. It is not a situation or intersection I have experienced before. As we go out onto the stage with CoCo and take our poses upstage in the red light, it is something new and unfamiliar, even as we are enacting familiar actions. I don’t yet know what it is, and part of the dance is trying to come to more of a place of knowing, maybe even recognizing the gestalt.

 

All over the place . . . this post is all over the place. To cap it off, some images, taken by CoCo on stage as part of the piece/performance. Something of the dance is recognizable in these images, and yet I am acutely aware of the fact that they are not the dance nor are they what will transpire at 3pm today at Columbus Dance Theater. One more show. Another permutation/translation/expression/specificity.

clickhere_loop

clickhere_michael_leap3

clickhere_michael_leap1

clickhere_michael_leap2

clickhere_jeff_screen

clickhere_michael_eric



International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

This just came across my feed on facebook. I hope to be in San Francisco for this week in December and will hopefully be able to participate in the event Annie is organizing there. Here is a bit about the event:

“December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This event was created to call attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers all over the globe. Originally thought of by Dr. Annie Sprinkle and started by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle Washington. International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has empowered workers from over cities around the world to come together and organize against discrimination and remember victims of violence. During the week of December 17th, sex worker rights organizations will be staging actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers. The assault, battery, rape and murder of sex workers must end. Existing laws prevent sex workers from reporting violence. The stigma and discrimination that is perpetuated by the prohibitionist laws has made violence against us acceptable. Please join with sex workers around the world and stand against criminalization and violence committed against prostitutes.”

If you would like to read more about this event/these issues, please visit the Sex Workers Outreach Program website:
http://www.swopusa.org/dec17/

 

Here is a list of ways to participate that Annie wrote:

“Absolutely EVERYONE is invited to participate. Here’s how:
1. Organize (or attend) a memorial in your town. Simply choose a place and time to gather. Invite people to bring their stories, writings, thoughts, related news items, poems, lists of victims, performances, and memories. Take turns sharing.

2. Hold (or attend) a candlelight vigil in a public place.

3. Do something at home alone, which has personal meaning, such as a ritual memorial bath, or light a candle.

4. Call a friend and discuss the topic.

5. Send a donation to a group that helps sex workers stay safer. For example, some teach self-defense or host web sites that caution workers about bad Johns.

6. Go to the Sex Worker Outreach Project’s, http://www.swop-usa.org, read it, and add something to the site. Do let others know about any planned Dec. 17 events by listing them on the SWOP web site.

7. Spread the word about the Day to End Violence Towards Sex Workers and the issues it raises; or blog, email, call, send a press release, or forward this text to others.

8. Go to Washington DC. This December 17, 2008 there will be a National March for Sex Worker Rights. People will converge from all over to take a stand for justice and safety. Info at http://www.swop-usa.org

9. Organize a panel discussion about violence towards sex workers. Procure a community space and invite speakers like sex workers, police, and families of victims.

10. Create your own way to participate.”

 

I have burgeoning ideas about the field of sex work in this country, but I don’t have time to expound upon them at the moment. The fastest summary is this: at present, laws in this country prohibit prostitution and sex work. The logic behind this seems questionable at best, but includes rational that prostitution is detrimental to the individuals that engage in the profession. Prostitution continues with or without the sanction of the law. Because of the existing laws that make sex work illegal, the violence committed against sex workers cannot be reported. The legal system that condemns sex work because of the danger it presents to those involved in it is contributing to the continuation of that violence. Of course these issues are more complex than this, and certainly this is an issue surrounded by moral controversy, but at some point I think I realize that these are individuals suffering from violent crimes (assault, battery, rape, and murder), and because they are engaged in a profession that is currently illegal, that violence continues. The logic becomes circular. And I want to see violence prevented.

 

Lastly, NPR’s “Intelligence Squared” did a debate show addressing the issue of paying for sex. You can read about the show or listen to the podcast here.

I hope you consider supporting an end to violence against sex workers and take some time to engage critically with this issue in our nation.



Integration of Art and Life

Integration.

Balance. Integration.

Connection. Balance. Integration.

Art. Life. Love. Loving. Identity. Multi-media. Interdisciplinary. Integration.

These are the things that I am thinking about. I feel as if most of the time these things become areas of my life or parts of my life, competing and conflicting and challenging one another rather than a more fluid, connected, integrated flow of living.  I’m sure there is a rich field of precedents in the various arts of artists who have managed this sort of integration of life and art. We looked at many of them in my seminar course in Winter with Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil. But if I were to make a sweeping generalization, this integration mainly came about (the most effectively, in my opinion) when the definition of “art” was opened to a broad place, and the activities of living became the art. Political activism as art. Ecological activities and humanitarian aid as art. Service aesthetics, in which an activity normally associated with the service industries were appropriated as art practices. In an even broader generalization, the art became ways in which people interact. Social living became the art. And there’s something beautiful about that. That is part of what I see at work in the Love Art Lab with Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle. Their relationship with one another, their love, their activism in areas like same-sex equality, violence against sex workers, and anti-way politics, becomes their art in magical and creative ways. I am so inspired by this.

And yet when I’ve been aware of dance artists who have danced this line, they become separated from the “dance world,” from dance techniques, dance history, the evolution of this form. They become removed from concert dance, and “traditional” ways of making. And there’s a part of me that is not ready to lose those connections. As I delve deeper into graduate school, I am submerging myself in those areas of study and research. I am going deep into dance history and dance and aesthetic theories, investigations of the body, etc. But also away from things like “performativity.” I still care about sharing work, displaying work, but its the experience of the dancer, the person dancing the piece . . . I feel myself continuing to get farther away from concerns like fabricated expression and anything artificial. I think for a while now I have not been able to separate what I do on stage (or in a studio, or anywhere else) from “real life.” I am interested in it being a real experience that is in turn witnessed, and we as a community of people, of dancer and spectators, are some how benefited by the sharing of that experience. I’m not sure if this is making any sense, and it feels a bit tangential, but it’s where my mind is going with this speculation. When I performed “Red Monster” in May, it was not “pretend.” It was actually me standing in front of a room of people, without a shirt on, revealing my body, taking measure of it, tracing and touching the parts of my body that I am sometimes ashamed of, and in doing so in front of this room of people, actually engaging with that discomfort and shame. The piece involves a fantasy of an Other . . . maybe in a more vulnerable version of the piece I will not imagine an Other, but actually find someone in the audience who will fill that role. But the fantasy was real in that I was really envisioning that person, really generating those experiences of desire and shame, really fantasizing about having sex with that person as I unzipped my pants and moved as if masturbating [IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE PIECE, I apologize if this makes no sense. You can see a video of it on my youtube account here]. And the piece was about the distance between self and the Other . . . the Other is intended to be absent from that moment. So even though it does lapse into fantasy, the piece is about lapsing into fantasy. If that makes sense. And when the piece was over and I went and sat down in the audience, I had actually done those things in front of viewers.

This is beginning to lapse into my thoughts on the choreography of identity, or choreographing identity. The short, muddled version of that notion is that we know ourselves and our situation in the world first and foremost through our bodies and the movement of our bodies. Corporeal identity (what I am calling the way in which our identity is known and expressed through our bodies) becomes something of a loop, perceiving who we are through our bodies, then contributing to that identity by our conscious and subconscious decisions and directions for how we move, behave, and take physical action in the world. The way we move, the way in which we do things, both expresses and contributes to that corporeal identity. I am also interested in the somatic notion of the memory of the body. I haven’t gone very deep into this investigation, but somatic forms such as Rolfing and Feldenkrais (as well as others) posit that the body carries its history, its memory, in its structure and thus behavior. The way in which we do things, the condition of our bones and muscles and neuromuscular interfacing, represents that which has come before, the history that we carry in our bodies. I am interested in how this might relate to a dance practice. How does the experience of dancing “Red Monster” continue to “live” in my body as part of its history, and thus part of my identity? In very literal ways, I have scars from some dances that I performed (importantly, both my own choreography and the choreography of others); there are literally marks that reveal how my body (and thus my Self) has been changed by this practice. Because of my dance training, I exist in my body differently than someone without the same training. I am aware of my physical abilities and limitations in a different way. This has an effect on my perception of self, my self-identity. I am curious about more subtle ways, like how repetition in the rehearsal process might build strength or weakness, tension or release, in joints and muscles and tendons and ligaments, in the structure and thus behavior of my body. How does that choreography continue to “live” in my body? And in even more subtle ways, like style of movement, movement qualities, etc. I had an amazing experience this past quarter studying modern technique with CoCo Loupe, who was one of my first modern dance teachers when I was in high school. Close to ten years later, my body had an understanding, a memory, of her way of moving. I don’t perform it perfectly, but my body remembered it, because it was part of my early training. I don’t know how to quantify that observation as data, but experientially I was aware of how that way of moving had continued to live in my body, my identity.

Dancing, and choreography, then, takes on an almost sacred quality, because we are literally constructing and deconstructing our bodies/Selves in/through what it is we are doing as dance artists. When I take a class or dance my own work or the work of another choreographer, I am taking that experience, that real experience, into my body as part of its history. It becomes part of the way I exist, part of my corporeal identity, my Self.

And maybe that’s a clue to the kind of art/life integration that I began this post speculating. When talking to my brother yesterday, he mentioned the possibility of the solution being one of “ritual,” in which dancing and training and stylization and ways of moving take on an important role in living, in personal or social life. The dancing becomes more than theater, more than spectacle, more takes on a sacredness that reflects the work I observe being done in the individuals involved. And it alludes to taking on spiritual significance as well.  

That’s all I have time for at the moment. I hope to return to this speculation/contemplation/integration soon.



Impermanence: “Monster Partitur,” Meredith Monk, “About” and “Passage”

I have been both thrilled and overwhelmed at the response to my last post. it amazes me how quickly anything on the web can go viral in so few hours. Thank you all for reading (if you are continuing to read); I hope my reflections offered you insight into this experience and provoked contemplations of your own.

I have further contemplations/connections to reflect upon emanating from this experience working on the constructions and tracings for “Monster Partitur.” For days now, despite the sound scape that has been present in our work space (that has ranged from Madonna, to BT, to Jay Brannan, to Cirque du Soleil, to the Cranberries, etc.), the sounds that are constantly occurring to me come from Meredith Monk’s album impermanence. Released last year, it was a composition triggered in response to the unexpected death of Monk’s partner, Mieke van Hoek, in 2002. It has been discussed as a meditation on death, loss, and the fragility of human life. You can read an article about the piece and Monk’s thoughts of music for posterity, and listen to a few of the tracks (I highly recommend “Last Song” as one of the most profound pieces of music I have ever experienced) from NPR here

I assume the connections between this work and the work with which I have been participating are fairly evident. Both are responses to or expressions of loss and grief, both contain a meditative quality on the transitory nature of life, of all things. Both raise issues concerning that which is left behind, the translation of an impermanent experience into a lasting trace, be that trace in musical composition, or graphite drawings on plywood panels. 

Monk offers these words in the liner notes of impermanence:

“How does one create a work about impermanence? One can only brush upon aspects of it; conjure up the sensation that everything is in flux, everything constantly changes, we can’t hold onto anything. What we have in common as human beings is that we will all die and we don’t know when or how. We will lose our loves ones, our own health and finally our bodies. Keeping this in mind leads to a deep appreciation of the moments we have, to not take anything for granted.

“In a way, making a piece ‘about’ impermanence is an impossible task. I could only imply it, offer glimpses, create music that would be evocative but would also leave space for each listener to have his or her responses. Generally, the music for impermanence is more chromatic and dissonant than what I usually write. My music tends to be modal while in this piece I explored other harmonic possibilities. The themes to the piece seemed to suggest the musical language that I found.

“In the past I composed primarily for the voice and deliberately kept my instrumental writing simple and transparent to leave space for the voice to fly. now after composing my first orchestral work and string quartet, I have begun to open up to the rich qualities of instruments. From the beginning, I wrote the voice as an instrument; now I am allowing myself to think of the instruments as voices . . . ” 
-Meredith Monk

Themes that this short passage bring to mind are the elusiveness of the impermanent, or perhaps even our condition at large; ending as more accurately changing, shifting, becoming; the inevitability of ‘endings;’ allowing space for the personal experience, the subjective, and the awareness that reality itself is objectively inaccessible, but perhaps apprehend-able as a conjunction of subjective experiences. 

How does one directly address that which is fleeting, constantly shifting, or gone? More elusively, how does one go beyond addressing a thing that is impermanent, and address the condition of impermanence? I’m not sure I would know how, and yet I find that both Monk and Forsythe have found solutions to this inquiry. As Monk states, she does so by implication, brushing the service of a thing, a state of being, that refuses to stay, to still. In my experience of this work with “Monster Partitur,” I find impermanence is addressed by facilitating an experience in which the relationship between that which is impermanent and the record of that thing is brought to the fore-front. I am not sure how that will translate into a solo performance, nor how it will reside in a gallery exhibition. Nor am I certain that a meditation on impermanence is the goal of “Monster Partitur;” yet that quality and subject have been essential to my experience of this project. I will be unable to view the “product” of this work without the connotation of loss, of creating and recording and destroying, of marking that which will shortly no longer remain, and how all of this pertains to the human condition.

Without a major segue into a discussion of my most recent work “About,” I did want to relate that piece to this discussion. First, there is the reality that it is “over,” that this process and performance with this cast, with this piece in this form, is now passed. I am experiencing the familiar “postpartum” grief of a lengthy process coming to a close. I am grieving that loss in a sense. Which certainly relates to the subject at hand. I am wondering the ways in which the piece now lasts, in body and cognitive memory, but also as concept or information, as a “choreographic object” (to allude further to Forsythe’s research), and how that choreographic information might find expression or realization in another form. A professor of mine speculated today whether this piece might become a sort of “life work,” continuing to be questioned, carrying its concerns throughout my life, with new dancers, new spatial situations, new configurations of the concept. What if the cast was larger? What if it evolved into an evening length work? What if it was seen from above, and the full complexity of the spatial patterns could be appreciated (perhaps is a space like the Guggenheim, where, remarkably, Monk just presented a performance of her “Ascension Variations” this month).

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photo by Stephanie Berger for The New York Times

 

The question concerning “About” has become how might it live on in this field of constant flux and change? How might it’s “ending” contribute to a future “beginning”? 

This is another larger speculation that has recurred in my own work, but become more acute in this experience with “Monster Partitur,” the question of ending as something like an illusion. Perhaps nothing ends absolutely, but instead participates in a collective state of reorganization. This was the inspiration/subject of a piece I choreographed in 2007-2008 entitled “Passage.”

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photo by Clara Underwood

It was a reflection of our human aversion to death and ending, the inevitability of loss, and an awareness that as any thing ends, it contributes to the formation of something new. I was thinking about decomposition as fertilization, or the conservation of matter/energy, how nothing truly ends absolutely, but instead in reconfigured, reorganized, to become something new. 
[You can see videos of “Passage” here or here.]

This speculation does shift me experience of the work on “Monster Partitur.” Yes, it is an exercise in perceiving impermanence, yes, there is a gravity in creating tracings of that which will cease to exist, and relating that experience to my personal experiences of loss and memory. But even in the loss, something new comes into being. It is not the thing itself, but it is the evolving expression of the thing. The trace, the translation, becomes the embodiment of that which no longer exists, and in that sense, it does continue to exist, reorganized into a new configuration, into new materials, new spatial and temporal situations, but born of the loss of what was.

This is perhaps all art. Nothing is truly created because all that exists always has and always will. The work that we do when we “create” is reconfiguration, reorganization, making and describing connections that perhaps had not been made before. The artistic/creative process is feeling like an eternal three-step-program, something like “the idea, the realization of the idea, the trace or record of the realization,” in which the tracings or that which remains from that which no longer exists becomes the basis of the next idea to be realized. In this sense, impermanence is a constant state of being more related to change than ending.



Monster Partitur and Memory

I have had an overwhelming day, following an already overwhelming week. Today we began work at the Wexner on the sculptures and drawings that will serve as the score for William Forsythe’s “Monster Partitur” that will be presented at the Wexner in April. I don’t know everyone else’s experience with this process, but it has brought me into a deeply contemplative, introspective, internal place. And yet I also feel like my thoughts are drowning in one another, in need of some sort of organization. That is what I will attempt to do here.

I think my foremost awareness after today is how much choice and arbitration is a part of art making, living, recording, memory, etc. This process of constructing sculptures from cardboard “human skeleton” kits was an elaborate exercise in choice making. These choices were a negotiation of personal aesthetics, group collaboration, restrictions that had been put on the choice making (such as each piece needs to become three-dimensional, but can only be folded along the originally implied ‘fold lines’), informed by gravity and the shadows cast by the sculptures, with the foreknowledge that the primary purpose of these constructions is to serve as shadow casters, shadows that will then be traced and serve as the “score” for the dance. In each moment we were asked to make a decision: how to fold the cardboard units, how to assemble them, how to suspend them in order to cast light through them, how to orient them in the light, which shadows to privilege in the drawing, etc. I became keenly aware of the infinite field of potentialities within every moment, and I felt a bit overwhelmed by that awareness, and by my mantra, that to do any thing is to do so to the exclusion of all else in that moment. That can be sometimes too heavy, and starts raising questions concerning the importance (or lack there of) of every moment. More on that later perhaps . . .

My second large existential issue in today’s experience concerns . . . what remains of something that is impermanent. What is left behind, and in what form. Such as these shadows that are in themselves impermanent traces of these sculptural forms, traces that vanish as soon as the light changes. I began to think of what remains of the impermanent, primarily in the form of memory or representation. I am very aware that the medium in which I operate (dance) is extremely transitory in both time and space. It exists only briefly and then is gone. Part of the research that Forsythe is doing with OSU on the “Synchronous Objects” project is how those impermanent experiences leave traces that are then translated into other remaining forms. I’ve done some work cataloguing images of “movement traces” of my own work, in an attempt to see what occurs over time, what is energetically ‘left behind.’ There is a sense in which I have made my peace with this transitory nature of dance, with the consolation that it continues in a new form, the form of memory, within the bodies of the dancers, and within the cognitive memory of both the dancers and the viewers. Today this came into question . . . as I drew the shadows of these sculptures, the question of accuracy came to mind. I was companioned by the awareness that the marks I was making were the only record of that moment, that shadow, that impermanent situation and its orientation, and with that awareness came an incredible concern that what I leave behind was as accurate as possible. I recognize that the subject of accuracy itself is complex. What is the most accurate, the most correct? All knowledge of a thing is filtered through subjective experience, and so my drawings, reacting to these shadows, are obviously “accurate” to my experience within each moment. But what of the thing itself, the inaccessible objective sculpture, the shadow it casts? It seems a bit insignificant, the accuracy of a shadow, but the pressure is a familiar one. It occurs in the performance of choreography, attempting to honor the original intentions of the choreographer as accurately as possible. It occurs in the record of history, attempting to leave behind precisely that which occurred, as objectively as possible. It occurred today with the memory of the dead.

Here is where today’s experience became incredibly personal and emotional. I was very aware of the fact that this piece, “Monster Partitur,” exists in response to the death of Forsythe’s wife to cancer, and his grief surrounding the experience of losing her. I made a choice to hold that awareness in mind as I made these sculptures and tracings, recognizing and referencing the origin of what it was I was doing, and allowing it to become personal. I began to think of my grandmother, Marion Dorice Rogers. She died of cancer in January 2006. My brother and I spoke just yesterday about the length of time in which we grieve/mourn. It is long, and various in its approaches and expressions. Today became a part of my grieving, allowing these drawings to not only be tracing shadows, but an act of grief, allowing that grief to inform the way in which I was drawing, and offering that experience to this larger work. I began to think further about memory and accuracy and that which is left behind, that which we record. And I began to become anxious, that my memory is too imperfect, that already, only three years later, things are missing. The lines are less clear than they were in life. The traces of the impermanent are so much less accurate than the life that was lived.
There are other traces, the unconscious traces that live on in me, the way I do things or think of things that are a direct result of the life of my grandmother. But it is the conscious trace that troubles me, the one for which I feel responsibility and inadequacy and loss.  

This sense of responsibility segued into a speculation concerning the way in which we know a person or a thing. I watched as we cast light on the sculpture from one direction and traced its shadow, made a record of it, then cast a different light from a different direction, leaving behind an entirely different shadow. The traces we left are a negotiation of these two shadows, and neither are the thing itself. This makes me think of the removal of experience, the relationship of the subjective to the objective (hint: this is the subject of my piece “About” which some of you may have seen this week). It also made me aware of the arbitrary nature of memory and record, how in remembering, we are selecting what to remember (consciously or unconsciously), and there is the inevitable omission. Just as in knowing a person, we only ever know them in parts, in certain ways, in specific situations; who we think of when we think of that person is a construction/negotiation of these (sometimes conflicting, sometimes intersecting) perspectives. For a little more existential anxiety, this is not only the way in which we know, but it is also the way in which we are known.

Finally (and this hardly concludes all that I have dwelt upon today, just the major themes), I began to question the density of experience. It should come as no shock to those who know me or my work that I appreciate, almost more than anything, taking time with a thing. Thus slow movement. Thus long rehearsal processes and conversations. It is an effort to fully understand (which is an impossible ideal that I find to be worth reaching towards) or fully appreciate (which we so rarely do). I spend time with a thing, with a dance, with a person, with myself, in order to recognize and appreciate the nuance, the complexity, the uniqueness, and here discover true beauty. This was extremely important at the beginning of the day today. But I confess, as the day wore on, the uniqueness of each line, of each shadow, of each moment, became less important, less rare in a field of the similar. And yet it was still full of its own uniqueness and nuance . . . but in the dense experience of these moments, these lines, these shadows, the distinction became less clear, lost in the speed at which we were moving and the amount of experiences. I have to say I regret that. I regret even more that life can become that way as well.

 

That’s all the decompression for which I have time. Last performance of “This Season” tonight at Sullivant Hall Theatre at 8pm. I hope you can make it.

[EDIT]

I just wanted to offer a few images from our process to hopefully illuminate what I am sure seems a little esoteric. These photos are courtesy of Lindsay:

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