michael j. morris


Visiting the Love Art Laboratory

I found out this morning that I have received funding for a research trip to San Francisco in December, to view work by and interview Love Art Lab (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens). The hope is that I will write something for publication or conference presentation based on the research I do on this trip. I can hardly wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be there meeting them/talking to them about their work/seeing their work in less than a month. I have thrived on their work remotely for so long . . . I can hardly imagine preparing myself for first-hand engagement.

These are the (unfiltered) ideas I am interested in talking to them about:

-The implications for perspectives of the body in their work, both their larger project of Love Art Laboratory, the projects they have done year by year, and their recent evolution into “Sexecology” (the intersection of sexology and ecology). What does it mean that the whole Love Art Lab project is centered around the chakra system, which is a distillation of energy centers within the body (the body as the starting place for this project, via the work of artist Linda Montano)? What does it mean that these projects are predominantly performative (or artifacts of the performative), which situates the body at the (intersecting) center of political activism, environmentalism, interpersonal relationship, sexual identity, etc.?

-What does intersecting “sexology” (the study of sexual behavior, predominantly in humans) and “ecology” (the branch of biology dealing with the relations of interactions between organisms and their environment; environmental science) say about how we view the body, organizations/relationships of bodies (people), etc.?

-What kind of progressive “body cultures” or cultures for progressive perspectives of the body are furthered in their work (this might address anything from clothing trends, body modification such as tattoos or piercings, exploring the boundaries between the private and the public as it relates to revelation of the body and bodily (even sexual) acts, etc.)?

-How does their work illustrate a conflation of art, life, and love? How has that functioned, the art seeming to be so entangled with the personal relationship between the artists (collaborators and wives)? How does that affect/direct the content of the work? How does the relationship serve as material in the art, and how does the art serve as a component of the personal relationship? Where is the line between public and private? What gets put into the art, and what stays out of it? What comes into the relationship, and what has to stay “in the studio,” as it were? To whatever degree the art functions as a profession, how does that affect the art or the relationship? I am fascinated by artist relationships, specifically in which both the relationship and the art are collaborative. I am fascinated by relationships emerging from the creative process (re: “click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit“; “Autumn Quartet“), how art furthers relationships, how relationships function as material for art, etc.

-On some (utopian, idealistic) level, I think I am looking to Annie and Beth as gurus of sustainable integration. That isn’t fair and I know it, but their work integrates so much: personal, public, professional, creative, political, sexual, ecological, etc. etc. etc. And somehow, from the remote observer, it seems to be working. I need this to be answered . . . disillusioned, nuanced, confirmed, whatever. The most difficult part of the creative life (for me) is the integration. I am interested in Fluxus artists. I am interested in early post-modernism, and how they worked so hard to dissolve the boundary between art and life, and at the same time I am interested in maintaining my connection to the art form, to the history of dance, the technique and craft and practice of it. I don’t want to integrate dance and life simply by considering my daily mundane life (the walking to and from school, drinking coffee, reading and writing papers, washing dishes, folding clothes, seeing friends, etc.) dancing (which it is); I want to maintain a dancing practice, a connection to dancing history and technique without those things feeling remote from the rest of life . . . by which I think I mean (predominantly) relationships. I mean cooking and cleaning and other life experiences as well, but I think the conflict I find most of all is the amount of time that the “dancing life” demands infringing on the quality and quantity of time I can spend nurturing and fostering human connection. The irony is that my art form is predominantly social; we do it in groups of people.

I should say that between the project I just completed with CoCo Loupe, Eric Falck, and Jeff Fouch (“click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit”) and the project I am working on with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt, I feel nearer to this “integrated living” than I have (in quite some time)(ever). And yet I feel like (I hope) Annie and Beth can say something to this.

 

That’s all I have time for. Ecstatic to have funding. Can’t wait to be in San Francisco.

Advertisements


Sensation, Vulnerability, and the Present

I am behind on my work. I still have an article by Marcia Siegel to read and generate a kind of abstract of for a class that’s in a little over an hour. But I need to write right now, not read. I have ideas spinning, coming out of dancing and choreographing and relationships, and I think that’s is primary purpose of this blog, to note those contemplations/processes, and offer them as entry points into the creative process.

I am thinking about the line between sensation and interpretation. This is not a new speculation for me . . . I think it began with taking a class in Gaga (Ohad Naharin’s “movement language”) last Winter and being asked to expand my concept of pleasure. We worked in pairs slapping one another’s bodies as hard as we could, and inviting ourselves to interpret that sensation, both of slapping and being slapped, as pleasure. Before pleasure and pain there is sensation. What we think of as pleasure or discomfort or pain or exhaustion, etc., are interpretations of physical sensations. In that Gaga class we were being asked to reinterpret, to intercept ourselves before interpreting sensation and pain and potentially reinterpreting the sensation as pleasure. I remember that for the rest of the quarter, into the spring and my Somatics Survey course with Abby Yager, I continually brought myself back to the place of sensation, trying to intercept interpretation and perhaps discover new possibilities for pleasure.

Last night the I met with the “cast” (I hardly even consider us a “cast” . . . I am not yet sure what the purpose of this process is . . . it has to do with the present, with the doing, with what we are doing, not yet the “why” we are doing . . . what are we then, a group that does things together? Is that a “team” or does “team” necessarily denote competition, opposition? Community? Kula? Autumn Quartet?) to review the movement material for the dance that we’re creating, then we reconvened at my house for conversation. We each had generated a writing of our “Body History” (a concept from Andrea Olsen’s Body Stories that was adapted by Abby Yager in our Somatics course in the spring). The format/prompt was as follows:

“Body History (adapted from Andrea Olsen’s “Body Stories” via Abby Yager)
Write your personal body history. Allow yourself to collect memories over time.
Include:
-The story of your birth. Include the exact date and time of the day, season, and year. Include pre-birth, if possible; the mood, health, and activities of your mother affect life in the womb.
-Your earliest movement memory. Go back as far as you can to the point where memory blurs into dream.
-Your earliest kinesthetic sensation. Again, go back as far as you can. You might not be able to locate or identify where this sensation came from.
-Physical joys/physical pleasure/physical training
-The environment where you grew up, your favorite place, and where you feel most at home.
-Comments you received which shaped your self image.
-Attitudes towards sensuality, sexuality, and gender
-Injuries, illnesses, operations. Note differences you perceived in yourself pre/post event. Identify scars on your body and where those scars came from.
-Nutrition/food. When do you feel most alert? Sluggish? Revved? Calm?
-Anything else in the history of your body that interests you.”

We (Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, Amanda Platt, and myself) each shared our body histories, aspects of which were extremely personal, aspects of which were vulnerable, etc. My evening concluded with a feeling of so much more insight, connection, understanding of these people with whom I am working. There was a sense in which I felt that this was a continuation of our experience with KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY). A more holistic way of knowing. Amanda made the statement that these were the kinds of things she wanted to ask/know about all of her friends. I think we all agreed. It’s a level of knowing that we don’t always get to with the people we know/work with/love. I adore these three people . . . because of what I know of them. How their bodies feel, how they direct my attention, my hand and focus and care, over the surface of their bodies, how they execute my movement material, situating these parts of myself in their own bodies (by which I mean their own selves), how they think of and remember their own histories, the histories of their bodies. It is intoxicating, the amount of knowing. I think it is a kind of knowing that provokes loving, in a sense. I question how I could know all that I know and not adore these three individuals. Somehow I feel that this way of knowing, maybe even loving, is at the center of this piece.

Erik made the observation that a kind of vulnerability seems to be what I am getting at in this process . . . and I think that is incredibly astute. It has to do, again, with getting inside who another person is . . . through all these various methodologies . . . and that somehow informing or contributing to the dance itself, its movement material, its choreographic structure, its content, and the more subtle qualities of how we experience one another/move with one another as a dancing ensemble. I love that these experiences are part of the work . . . and I wonder if there is a way to more specifically allow the work to emerge from these vulnerable, personal, intimate experiences with one another.

Of course this makes me think about Love Art Lab and the conflation of life and art, love and art, life/love/art/relationships/gender politics/sexuality/etc. I am pleased to recognize that connection.

One of the questions in the body history related to the concept of physical pleasure . . . which, I realized after I read my body history, I had interpreted in an incredibly limited fashion. Given the speculation on sensation and interpretation, why had I limited my description of my physical pleasures to “expanding awareness in movement as in practices such as Butoh”? What about the pleasure of white wine with brie, honey, and red pears? What about the pleasure of hugging or kissing or sex or masturbation? What about the pleasure of the wind blowing on me, warm blankets, or throwing myself across the floor in a dance studio space (re: “click here 4 slideshow or 6-8 character limit”)?

In this speculation on pleasure and sensation, I am brought to an idea that I am teaching/offering in the yoga class that I am teaching this quarter at OSU. It comes from the Bhagavad Gita primarily, the idea of taking action without concern for results of actions. I can offer a couple of quotes:

“But the man who delights in the Self,
who feels pure contentment and finds
perfect peace in the Self—
for him, there is no need to act.

He has nothing to achieve by action,
nothing to gain by inaction
nor does he depend on any
person outside of himself.

Without concern for results,
perform the necessary action;
surrendering all attachments,
accomplish life’s highest good. (65)”

“You have a right to your actions,
but never to your actions’ fruits.
Act for the action’s sake.
And do not be attached to inaction.

Self-possessed, resolute, act
without any thought of results,
open to success or failure. (Chapter 2, stanzas 47-48)”
(20-21)

In returning to sensation itself, before interpretation or expectation, we are thrust back into the present. Sensing, not considering sensing. Focus on action and the sensation of the action. I feel this when I am dancing in Abby Yager’s modern technique class this quarter, mostly phrase material from works by Trisha Brown. The execution is something like “this right now, bending the leg, now spearing the arm, now dropping the weight, now pushing away, now, and now, and now . . .” I think the movement lends itself to this sort of approach. It means letting go of what comes next, what just happened. It means letting go of expectation and even interpretation (for a bit).

And that’s what I am thinking about right now. That is what is coming into the work, influencing and generating the work. Back to Marcia Siegel and the development of lexicons for the observation, analysis, and critique of dance.



Autumn Quartet

I have been neglecting my blog ever since this quarter of grad school started. Which I regret. I have rehearsal in less than an hour for “click here 4 slideshow or 6-8 character limit,” the piece previously entitled “3 boys & an old prophetess,” to be premiered in a couple of weeks in Anthro(pop)ology II at Columbus Dance Theater downtown. The piece is devastatingly beautiful, and rocking with pop culture. This is one project on which I am working, and hopefully in the next half hour I will have time to share some info about a few other things I’ve been doing.

I am creating a new piece right now with three amazing dancers (Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt). I feel like I hardly know what to say about this piece yet. The creative process is very different than anything I have ever made before. It reminds me modes of approach that we explored in a “creative processes” course with Bebe Miller in the spring. In the spring this way of working was so foreign, and frankly frustrating. It has to do with pursuing points of interesting, interrogating those interests through exploration, and spending time with a thing to discover what it is rather than starting out with a concept to materialize. In a previous post I detailed the list of interests in between which this piece is evolving. Rehearsal have involved exploring some Butoh, enacting KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY), a piece I designed last year intended to privilege the body as the site of identity and interpersonal knowledge, learning and repeating movement material, discussions, writing exercises, degrees of undressing, watching video clips (Uma Thurman’s way of moving in Kill Bill vol. 2, a kind of snapping wispy-ness, the cooch dancers in Carnivale, a kind of disinterested, detached, and almost clumsy attempt at sexy, and the angry crowd of men watching Jenny strip at the end of season 2 of The L Word, my source material for escalating angry gestures, the kind that are demanding intimacy; all of these have shades of movement interest that relate to the movement I’ve been generating for the piece.)

If there is an idea or concept about which the piece seems to be orbiting, it is “getting inside who one another are,” through movement material (by learning my movement the other dancers in the piece are accessing something of my identity), by biting (coming from my interest in the vampire craze in pop culture, but also relating to a forceful entry, and welcome intrusion), undressing/being undressed/perhaps redressing in someone else’s clothes or literally getting inside their clothes with them, writing and reading (personal body histories adapted from Andrea Olsen’s Body Stories, and answering a series of questions offered below), etc.

Some of the questions we’ve answered and shared with on another (maybe you would like to answer them and post them as a comment, contributing to creative research?):

“My body is _____.”

“Sex is _____.”

“A man is _____.”

“A woman is _____.”

“I am ashamed of _____.”

Describe when you were most happy, or a memory of a time when you were truly happy.

Finally, I can offer a video clip of our progress. It is a rough cut, mainly for our own purposes of seeing and analyzing the movement, but I offer it as further insight into what is being made. Enjoy:



Current Ideas

Because I have neglected my blog since this Autumn quarter started, I feel the need to offer a quick update on thoughts/ideas/creative activity/etc. It will hardly be comprehensive, but I need to take a break from reading; blogging will be my break.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a Butoh class with Marianne Kim. It was amazing. it was the most pleasure I have taken in movement in years. I’ll confess, directly after the class, I wanted to drop out of grad school and just go do Butoh somewhere. This is of course not what I’ll be doing, but it did reawaken a need for that way of moving in my life. I’m not sure how that will affect my physical practice, my choreography, or my research . . . but Butoh has been essential to my evolution as a dance artist, and it feels like it is time to return to that “movement home.” I’m not yet sure what that will be.

Last week I started working on a new trio (maybe a quartet if I dance in the piece; I haven’t yet decided). It is one of the most ambiguous works of choreography on which I have ever embarked. I don’t yet know what it is going to be or even what I want it to be; I simply have a field of disparate interests, and this piece is forming somewhere in between those interests (it’s always about the in-between). I feel now that Creative Processes with Bebe Miller in the spring affected me more profoundly than I could have been aware of at the time. I have never just gone into a studio with a cast to see what happens; I always have a plan, an idea of what the piece will be, and even if I deviate from that plan, I have the fundamental structure as my anchor; that is not how I am working with this piece. I began by casting the piece; the cast went through several evolutions. As of now it is comprised of: Erik Abbottmain, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt (plus myself). I generated several movement phrases. I listed my interests and shared that list with the cast. it included:
-the cooch dancers in the HBO show Carnivale
-the cultural fascination with vampires, with biting, the sexiness of it, the tension between predator and willing prey, the possible relationship to rape fantasies
-Undressing/Redressing; the actual body v. the socially presentable body (many of these ideas I began to explore in the solo I performed in 60×60)
-How we know one another, how we “get inside” who one another are
-Getting inside one another’s clothes (a metaphorical action)
-KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY)
-My larger research interests concerning the constitution/negotiation of identity as the body, the extension of identity in the generation of movement material, the intimate act of choreography in which the movement material (extension of the choreographer’s identity) is transmitted to the body of the dancer and integrated into her own corporeal/kinesthetic identity

I don’t know where this piece is going yet. For this week, we will likely engage in KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY); we might try biting one another; I may teach more movement material, and we will review the material we learned last week. The existing movement material is dance-y and a little vulgar; there are choreographed facial expressions (this is likely influx from my History, Theory, Literature of the Analysis of Movement course; we’re looking at Delsatean systems of theory and training; more on this below).

This course (HTLAM: The History, Theory, and Literature of the Analysis of Movement) is a core Ph.D. course in the department. More than anything, the meta-inquiry of the course is, “How do we find movement meaningful, and what are we looking at in order to apprehend that meaning?” We began doing readings in phenomenology, then into analysis of movement for meaning (work by Paul Ekman, David Abram, Charles Darwin, John Martin, etc.) Now we are looking at Delsarte and his theories about the meaning of the body (this is what I am reading about tonight). I am already starting to consider my potential final paper topics. I am thinking about something like: the construction of female identity through Delsarte, compared/contrasted with female identity as constructed through contemporary lesbian dance club practices. Both evolved in primarily homo-social settings but exist(ed) in social structures driven mostly by male power/dominance. I’m not sure yet, but that’s the direction I’m considering.

I finally saw a video of the piece I co-choreographed last year (I supplied a libretto that was the interpreted into choreography) with Audrey Lowry called “Observing Solitude.” I am not yet prepared to write a description/analysis of the piece, or even describe my experience of it beyond simple, stunning beauty. I was very pleased.

I am still in rehearsals with CoCo Loupe, preparing for Anthro(pop)ology II, the piece now entitled “click here for slideshow or 6-12 character limit.” Here is CoCo’s blurb about the piece:

“cocoloupedance will be premiering click here for slideshow or 6-12 character limit. Choreographer CoCo Loupe has structurally designed this piece to metaphorically resemble an internet slideshow. Composed of interconnected (still-framed, slideshow-like) solos, duets and trios danced by Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, and Michael J. Morris, this work examines the kind of dehumanizing social fragmentation that results from overwhelming over exposure to current trends in rapidly developing technology and mass mediation. CoCo Loupe will sit “in a cafe” on stage and engage in blogging, texting, emailing, and tweeting activities directly related to the performance. Her real-time computer interactions will be projected on a screen in such a way as to question what it means to interact socially in today’s touch screen (rather than touch each other) world.

For more information about cocoloupedance or CoCo Loupe, visit http://www.cocoloupedance.com/

I am writing a grant right now to hopefully travel to San Francisco in December to view/review a show or prints by Love Art Lab at Femina Potens Gallery, and to interview Annie and Beth about their work. Here is my working “project description”:

“I am requesting funding for travel and lodging in order to interview performance and mutli-media artists Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens—who together make up the artist couple Love Art Laboratory—and have the opportunity to experience an exhibition of their work entitled “Sexecology Solo Exhibition” at Femina Potens Gallery in San Francisco. While Sprinkle and Stephens are not specifically identified as dance artists, I find the work of the Love Art Lab to have profound implications for politics surrounding the body, the emergence of progressive physical cultures, and the body as the site for sexual, ecological, and political activism, all of which are relevant conceptual situations for the evolving field of dance. These ideas are expressed and explored through their performance work, including their annual performance weddings, various gallery and alternative space performance installations, and theatrical stage productions, as well as their photography, paintings, and prints.

In addition to the relevance of their work to issues surrounding the body, I am also interested in interviewing Sprinkle and Stephens about their integrated art-and-life practices and the concept of sustainable practices in arts professions. In my analysis of their work, the Love Art Lab seems to produce work that functions not only as their profession, but also as an expression of their personal relationship, their sexuality and sexual identities, their creative interests, their politics and activism, and their ecological concerns. I am interested in hearing them speak on these subjects, and how integrated life/art practices contribute to personal sustainability. I feel that Sprinkle and Stephens may in fact be authorities on these subjects, and there exists very little critical writing about their work as Love Art Laboratory.

It is my intention to review the show of prints at Femina Potens, potentially for publication, and also generate critical writing surrounding their work and the issues discussed above, also potentially for publication or conference presentation. I feel that I have exhausted the limited literature that has been produced about the work of Love Art Laboratory, and I believe there to be value to expanding critical dialogue surrounding their work by contributing to the existing literature. I have yet to have a first-hand encounter with Love Art Laboratory’s work, basis my understanding and limited analysis on existing literature and web documentation of the work. Having the opportunity to experience Sprinkle, Stephens, and their work first-hand would profoundly enhance my ability to write critically about the work, and its relevance to issues that concern both the field of dance and art practices as a whole.”

It’s a draft. it will probably evolve. But it offers a sense of something I am working on/towards.

And that’s all I have time for. That’s my brief offering about my creative life.