Filed under: Dance, inspiration, personal | Tags: american college dance festival, annie sprinkle, autumn quartet, baton rouge, click here 4 slideshow or 6-8 character limit, coco loupe, cocoloupedance, columbus, columbus dance theatre, comfest, cuddle, deborah hay, dj moxy, elizabeth stephens, eric falck, feverhead, FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival, from one foot to the other, grooveasana, jeff fouch, loupe'd, of moving colors productions, queer porn, queer yoga, stupid cupid, the ohio state university, the runner, TRAUMA, wall street nightclub, wholly craft, wild goose creative, Yoga
I want to write about CoCo Loupe in Columbus, Ohio. Or maybe it’s more like: I want to write about CoCo Loupe and me in Columbus, Ohio.
I recognize the impossibility of this endeavor before I even begin, but the impossibility of an endeavor must not diminish the possibility of attempting it, because the attempt will surely produce something other and more than that which is impossible.
Impossible because it will never be a complete account; any trace that I can write will only thread together fragments and gaps to offer an incomplete view, a partial perspective, woven from memory and forgetting.
My life with CoCo begins long before Columbus.
CoCo’s life with Columbus begins before I arrived here.
My life with Columbus will continue once CoCo moves back to Baton Rouge—where we first met—although her having been here will always continue to be how I know this place.
This trace will not offer an account of everything. I doubt it will be entirely linear. But here it is:
I first met CoCo when I was in high school. She was my first modern dance teacher, at The Dancer’s Workshop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we are both from. My memories of CoCo from that period: her shaved head, the intensity of her classes, the Run Lola Run soundtrack, something called “acid jazz,” learning to do “illusions” and something she called “shnorkles,” and lots of pushups and crunches—a series she called G. I. Jane.
She was teaching at LSU at the time, and sometimes her students from the university would come and take class with us.
I would often see her getting coffee at the CC’s around the corner before class. I knew of her before I took her class at Dancer’s Workshop; she had done a show called Loupe’d with the modern dance company with whom I would eventually dance, Of Moving Colors Productions (OMC), and I remember seeing the posters for the show at my high school. Later when I worked for OMC, I filed lots of flyers with her bio on them, and saw this photo all the time:
This was how I saw CoCo for many, many years.
When working for OMC, I saw a video of Loupe’d, and I watched it obsessively for years; she did not know this at the time. What I saw in CoCo’s choreography, and her collaborative work with Amiti Perry, was unlike any dancing I had seen in Baton Rouge. It was so strong and connected; I could hardly keep up with how one action became another and led into something else. I knew I wanted to dance like that someday.
Years later, I would create a solo based on a solo that CoCo presented in Loupe’d; I didn’t know this at the time.
Then she moved to Columbus, Ohio, for grad school, and I went to college in Jackson, Mississippi. We saw each other several times at American College Dance Festivals during those years, and I felt like our lives were being braided together somehow, from this starting point in Baton Rouge to somewhere I did not yet know. I took her technique classes a these festivals, and I remember being disoriented by how familiar it was, and also how much her dancing had evolved, the mix of the unfamiliar within what was already intimately incorporated into my body from years earlier. When I graduated from college, I chose to apply to the Ohio State University for my MFA in Dance because this was where CoCo went and because the work that I had seen her present at ACDF year after year was the kind of work I aspired to make. I was accepted to the program.
During those years, I devoured CoCo’s blog, From One Foot To The Other. The things that she wrote and thought about were the things I wanted to write and think about, and we left long traces of comments back and forth discussing things I can no longer recall but which gave me the first taste of what it would be like to think about and write about dance. I felt like my world was expanding line by line, post by post, thread by thread, comment by comment. Her blog gave me a connection to somewhere else, both literally her life and practice in Columbus (and then Oregon), and also a dancing life where dance and choreography functioned as research, where bodies were sites for critical inquiry, and dancing could ask questions about time and space and memory and cognition.
Year later, her blog would disappear—deceased—and it would be transformed into a zine and live on as a dance. We didn’t know this yet.
Years later, I would be teaching a course called Writing About Dance at the Ohio State University, and CoCo would come perform for my students so that they would have live dance to write about. We didn’t know this yet either.
When I first came for a visit to Columbus to find a place to live, CoCo met me for lunch at a place called Bodega. We ate salad and drank coffee, and she showed me a video of her dancing a solo called The Runner choreographed by Deborah Hay. Years later, words from Deborah Hay would become part of the structure and score for a dance CoCo would make called from one foot to the other, and I would see some of the words from Hay scribbled on the walls of a place called Feverhead, but we didn’t know this at the time.
In the years since then, I’ve seen CoCo perform The Runner several times. I saw it at least once at AGORA when Junctionview Studios was still in operation. And this is the dance that she would eventually perform live for my students, an updated version of the solo, formerly The Runner, now entitled 1976: a bicentennial death at the disco. we ran for our lives. I saw this dance for the first time on CoCo’s laptop on a hot June afternoon sitting in the front of Bodega in 2008.
At the end of my first year of grad school, CoCo asked me to dance in a new piece, originally to be titled 3 boys and an old prophetess, with Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, CoCo, and myself, to be performed in a concert called Anthro(pop)ology II at the Columbus Dance Theater. I didn’t know Eric before this project, and I hardly knew Jeff. During the process of creating that piece, the four of us rehearsed in CoCo’s attic and a dance studio called Floorspace that no longer exists. During the process, it became unclear who were the three boys and who was the old prophetess; we all had prophetess solos, we all made solos to pop songs, we all danced together and with one another. And then CoCo got injured. Her role changed, and she became a figure who watched us, witnessed us, recorded us, and shared us. In the final version of the piece, she sat at a desk on the front edge of the stage with her computer and camera, watching us dance; on the opposite side of the stage was a large screen onto which was projected her computer’s desktop, and the audience watched as she watched us and uploaded comments and photos live to her Facebook. In the final version of the piece, we took turns dancing with one another and dancing for one another, watching each other and being watched by each other. The succession of solos was suffused with anticipation, I remember, charged with aggression and eroticism and tenderness, and each time we danced it, I think I fell in love with everyone involved again and again. The piece was entitled click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, and we danced it all summer and throughout the autumn until it premiered in the fall of 2009.
That same fall, I began choreographing a new dance temporarily then permanently entitled Autumn Quartet, with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, Amanda Platt, and myself. It was an experiment with explicit violence and sexuality, with more pop music, with conventional vocabularies of erotic performance—pre-figuring my work in burlesque, but I didn’t know this at the time—and systems of determinate and indeterminate algorithmic choreography. More aggression, more eroticism, more pop music, more tenderness, more falling in love. We danced set phrase material, made choices within an algorithmic score, stripped for one another, rolled around on the floor biting each other, leaving our marks on each other, being naked with each other, getting dressed in each other’s clothes. I asked CoCo to come see the piece and give me feedback. This is not the only dance of mine to which I would ask her to watch and respond; it was not the first nor was it the last. She was my guide, my other eyes; I could trust her to see what I could not see and to show my own dance(s) to me. I was so lost in that lovely, unpredictable, structured mess of a dance, and the dance CoCo described back to me was perhaps the first time I realized that we are always doing so much more than what it is that we think we are doing, in our choreography and in our lives. It’s an intimate act, to ask someone to give you their view of your own work, to invite that view into the creative process, to let their words affect the choices that you make in the dance that you are creating. In life—by which I mean something like life beyond the dance studio, although admittedly the boundaries get blurry—I think we call this something like love. CoCo is one of the few people who I have welcomed again and again into that position.
Over the next year, we danced together sometimes, as CoCo healed from her injury. She played golf. And sometimes we danced.
One time we danced at a food festival in the Gateway.
[I’m forgetting all kinds of things, and leaving things out. Each memory unravels into all kinds of other stories, other histories, other connections. Why don’t I remember enough to write about BACKSPACE or the times I saw CoCo perform with them, all the different settings and situations in which we were together at Columbus Dance Theater? Why not explain that at the Gateway food festival, in the middle of an improvisation with whatever band was playing, I met Heidi Kambitsch who would eventually host the Queer Yoga classes that I teach at a space called It Looks Like It’s Open? How can I not tie together all the strings of relationships with other people and faces in these photographs? Isn’t it amazing that in trying to write one impossible trace, I can feel the pull of so many intersecting histories and how we’ve all made a life together here in this place called Columbus?]
That year—2010, the year I was accepted into the PhD program in the Department of Dance at OSU—CoCo did several performances/practices with the idea of “the other woman” (I think that’s what she was called). It was a version of CoCo, a video of her dancing, sped up and digitized, and the flesh-and-blood CoCo tried to learn this digitized, sped up version of herself, tried to dance like this other woman. Those were really important works for me to witness; I felt like she was dealing so directly with the impossibility of ideals, the intense labor of our bodies struggling to live up to standards that have been manufactured as digital images of ourselves, while also fully accepting our own cyborg statuses, how we are already actualized in conjunction with all kinds of digital software/hardware, and how our flesh-and-blood bodies have already become something other than they might have been because we have looked at ourselves in the mirror of technology and (mis?)recognized ourselves as our digital avatars. This is grown-up, cyborg “mirror phase” shit, and I was enthralled. She danced around this hybrid other woman for a while, at Wild Goose Creative, in the window of Wholly Craft, other places.
I didn’t know that soon thereafter CoCo and collaborators would stage an interactive dance/projected chat room spectacle at Wild Goose where I would be invited to be an “expert commentator,” to write about the dance that was happening live, to have that writing projected on the walls of the gallery for the spectators and performers to see, to have that text absorbed back into the dance. She has been dancing around our lives with technology for a while. I didn’t know that years later I would be dating someone that CoCo introduced to me who performs at Wild Goose month after month. There’s a lot we didn’t know all along.
A lot happened the following summer—2011. We did a performance with a lot of dancers at Comfest, and many friends I have since come to know and adore reference that performance as the first time they saw me (dancing with CoCo).
That same summer, Feverhead came into existence.
How do I even begin to write about Feverhead? It has been the setting for so many important moments in my life and in the lives of dancing and not-dancing people in this city. In July 2011, CoCo had the opening and tour of the Feverhead space, a space for making dances and for dancing, for performances and classes, the home of a collective of dancers called They Might Be Dancers and their collaborators. I showed up late after teaching yoga across town. I stretched out in the space for the first time that night.
I had no idea how many times I would stretch in that space, dance in that space, rehearse in that space, watch performances in that space, teach in that space, read my own writing in that space, teach and take Queer Yoga classes in that space, watch myself in a dance film projected on the walls of that space, cuddle in a bed with friends and lovers and strangers in that space, screen queer pornography on the walls of that space, cry on the floor of that space, pose for photos for a Valentine’s article about Columbus couples in that space, listen to music composed and performed by friends and loved ones in that space, discover new ways of thinking and moving and loving and performing all in this crazy little space called Feverhead. We simply had no idea at the time.
That fall, CoCo asked me to perform with her at TRAUMA, an annual kink/fetish Halloween event that has been happening in Columbus for over a decade. We learned choreography and rehearsed at Feverhead. This would be the first time I would perform in six-inch heels on stage. This would be the first time I would be flogged in front of hundreds of people. We danced for almost five hours on two different nights, on the main stage, on the dance floor, and again on the main stage. We left with welts and bruises from COREROC/Ashley Voss whipping us with floggers dipped in paint, marks on our bodies that would linger for days/weeks. It continues to be one of the most intense performances I have ever done, and I did it with/for CoCo. I have continued to perform in TRAUMA every year since then. Performing together was surreal and a total genderfuck: CoCo is this intensely muscular body wearing combat boots and I am next to her, long and lean, in six-inch heels; we were both wearing gas masks. I like to think that we brought something queer/genderqueer to the TRAUMA stage, that together/alongside one another, we brought contemporary dance to a non-traditional space, and performed bodies that do not readily conform with the normative expectations for what gendered bodies should be. I know I felt visible because I was dancing next to her.
A month later, CoCo had an event at Feverhead called “Afternoon Delight,” a kind of mixed-media casual art event, with live music and visual art and dancing. She asked me to read an essay that I had written called “Who/How I?” We didn’t know at the time that two years later, this essay would be published on NPR’s This I Believe web archive. I thought this one public reading constituted the life and impact of that writing, and sharing it in public was a gift that CoCo gave me. We ended up dancing together that afternoon; it seems like we always end up dancing together.
In 2012, CoCo decided to create an event modeled on events that she used to produce in Texas (I think?) called STUPID CUPID, an alternative Valentine’s party. She asked me to contribute a performance, and I staged a piece called cuddle which I had first performed in U.Turn Art Space in Cincinnati as an homage to the piece by the same title originally performed by artists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens. This piece involved installing a full sized mattress in what was then the gallery space at Feverhead. Over the course of the evening, I cuddled with partygoers for seven minute intervals, in solos, pairs, and trios. We may have had one quartet? I think I cuddled with around forty people that night. But one of the first people was CoCo. We were very quiet. Some people talk when they cuddle. Some want to chat or share intimate details or ask questions; we just rested together, for seven minutes, before the party really got going.
Shortly there after (maybe a week?), I hosted my first queer porn screening at Feverhead. I had attempted to have a queer porn screening in multiple other venues in the city, and it had never come together. CoCo offered me the space. It was an opportunity to bring more visibility to work that is already being done in pornography to bring visibility to more bodies, sexes, sexualities, and genders. We screened the work of Shine Louise Houston, Madison Young, and Courtney Trouble, all queer/feminist pornographers committed to ethical productions and ethical representations of bodies, people, and their sexualities. This was the first of two porn screenings that I have had at Feverhead.
The screenings were both followed by conversations in which a room full of people talked about their perceptions of pornography, sex, sexualities, what it means to be queer, what it means to be trans, how to stimulate the g-spot, what it means to produce ethical representations of sex and bodies, and the sheer excitement of seeing other people have sex in ways that you perhaps have never imagined. Feverhead has been an incredible space for many people and for may purposes, but hosting those queer porn screenings/conversations were pivotal for me: through those events, Columbus became more of the city where I wanted to live. I know I’m not the only one who feels like Columbus is a better place to live because Feverhead is here.
Sometime that spring, CoCo was training for a 24-hour or multi-day performance. She had a (I think) four hour performance in which people were invited to drop by for any amount of time throughout the afternoon. I stopped by for a bit. I ended up dancing with CoCo while DJ Moxy made sound with us live in the space. It was not the first time I had danced to Moxy’s music, but it was maybe the first time I had danced with CoCo to Moxy’s music. It would not be the last. I have lost track of how many times and the different places where we have danced so hard while Moxy dj’ed that we sweated through all of our clothes and closed down the bar, soaking wet and completely alight. We had no way of knowing that over a year later, the three of us and others would be grooving through a yoga practice that might be one of the most transformative physical experiences of my life thus far (also at Feverhead), or that we would be standing together on Gay Street watching Way Yes at the Independents Day Festival, or dancing into another sweaty mess together at the Columbus RED Party.
That autumn—2012—CoCo premiered a new dance called FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance with They Might Be Dancers Too (Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann), with appearances by They Might Be Dancers (Noelle Chun, Nicole Garlando, Lindsay Caddle LaPointe, Noah Demland, Leigh Lotocki, CoCo Loupe) and Karen Mozingo, with original music by Counterfeit Madison and Noah Demland. This was the dance that her blog became, the blog that I read before coming to grad school. It became a zine and it became a dance, made with and for three adult dancers—Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann—who had only begun dancing months earlier. I have written at length about that piece here, and if you have time, I hope you follow the tangent to read about that piece and come back here.
[There’s so much I’m leaving out. There’s so much I’m forgetting. There was the time that I desperately wanted to present my research at the Ecosex Symposium II in San Francisco and I did not get the travel grant I applied for and CoCo sponsored my travel so that I could present my research, where I continued to collaborate with Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, about whom I am writing part of my dissertation, who first performed the cuddle piece to which I performed in homage, where I met Jiz Lee who performed in the queer porn that I would eventually screen in Feverhead, where I stayed with Karl Cronin who CoCo introduced to me years earlier and about whom I am also now writing in my dissertation. And the quarter that CoCo taught technique at OSU and I took her dance class again, six or seven or eight years after I had first taken her classes in Baton Rouge. And that CoCo performed with the Velvet Hearts before I did, and I watched her performing with this burlesque company on the stage of Wall Street years before I would perform with them on that same stage. And dancing into a sweaty mess at HEATWAVE. And the time we were both part of the Noble Peach Awards, and I gave Eileen Galvin the award for Biggest Genderfuck, and CoCo called the two of us goddesses, and she was given an award for—I think—most likely to dance into exhaustion, and I was so excited to be part of a community of people who would show up and celebrate and honor these kinds of people and accomplishments. And watching one another perform more times than either one of us could possibly count. And more.]
In the spring of 2013, I created a dance for the first FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival based on a solo that CoCo had choreographed that I had watched again and again on an old VHS tape of a concert called Loupe’d in Baton Rouge. CoCo let me use/adapt her choreography for this solo, choreography that was too difficult for my body to dance, choreography that had to be slowed down and altered to fit my body and to function as burlesque. Somewhere in what the choreography became, our bodies met (again). I made a video from footage that CoCo shot so that there could be a video component that approximated an idea that CoCo had for the original piece that had never been realized. She met me in a warehouse in Franklinton, and videoed me dancing this solo that I had made from her solo; in the final performance, the video was projected on five screens surrounding the audience at Wall Street Night Club while I performed the solo live on stage. This is the video that was projected, CoCo videoing me dancing the solo made from her solo:
There’s so much more to tell, about sitting on a couch at Impero and exchanging mantras to mend our broken hearts while clutching mala beads as spring became summer. About all the dances and classes and collaborations through which CoCo has made Columbus what it is, for which I was not present, for which I cannot account. This is, after all, an impossible trace. It’s all fragments and gaps and memories and forgettings. There are people who maybe should have appeared in these traces that have not, and tangents that I maybe should have followed. There are so many other accounts that could be written.
This autumn—2013—we knew CoCo would be moving back to Baton Rouge.
She also started this Friday night class called Grooveasana, a yoga/movement improvisation hybrid class the danced in and out of asana, that found asana and transitions between asana as we danced around them. I can’t completely explain why this practice has been one of the most fulfilling/generative practices in my life…it has something to do with my long-time yoga practice providing a trusted preparation and container for wherever else my curiosity might take me/my body. For many weeks, we were still trying to figure out exactly what it was we were doing, how to go about a loosely structure yoga asana practice that could dissolve into grooving and dancing and exploration and then easily transition back into savasana/relaxation. Sometimes Moxy dj’ed. And we found our groove, again and again and again, in different ways, along different paths.
But I don’t want to diminish the significance that it was CoCo leading the way, and my earliest experiences in dancing were following CoCo’s lead, as a teenager taking dance classes in Baton Rouge, following her lead to OSU and Columbus, OH, following her throughout this community, in and out of Feverhead in so many ways, and through this groovy familiar/unfamiliar yoga/dancing space.
It is no exaggeration to say that I don’t know where I would be if I had not followed CoCo, all the traces she left for me and in my dancing body/life; I know that I would not be here. I don’t know how my body would move; I would have never considered moving to Columbus or going to OSU; I’m not sure if I would have made the dances that I’ve made; I know I would not have danced the dances that I’ve danced. When and where would I have ever had queer porn screenings or cuddling performance art or watched my loved ones new and old performing together for the very first time or grooved my way in and out of yoga?
I have never lived in this city without CoCo, and Columbus will always be what it is to me because of CoCo having lived here with me.
But this is really just a concrete metaphor for something vastly more true: I have never lived the life I am living—and dancing and writing and teaching and loving—without CoCo, and it will always be what it is to me because CoCo has been braided in and through it for so long.
This is an insufficient trace. I can’t seem to put words to what it felt like, all these years, the ebbs and flows of inspiration and elation and hesitation and contemplation and perplexity and frustration and grief and laughter and seeing each other again after longer periods of time and the overwhelming sense of recognition, of having been seen by another for so long, and so much delight and so much relief and so much love… There is so much I can feel slipping just beyond the edges of the screen, and what I’ve written cannot begin to do justice to this person I love. But I needed to try to record what I could fathom of these years, pieced together from memory and Facebook. There’s a part of me—the part of me who is a writer, the part of me who writes in order to show appreciation, in order to extend the duration of that which I appreciate—that is already grieving the loss of being able to write about CoCo and her work, at least for the foreseeable future. And here I’ve found myself writing a trace of her/our dancing life/lives perhaps as a way of holding in the present—and into the future—the tangle of that dancing and writing that I will miss so very much.
Our lives will continue to braid, in Baton Rouge, beyond; the trace certainly does not stop here.
[Friday, December 13, CoCo is offering a gratitude and farewell concert at Feverhead: https://www.facebook.com/events/391730200961595/
On the program:
Noah Demland’s “Timelines”
Obstinate Robinson AKA Counterfeit Madison AKA Sharona Sharona Sha-ro-na
Corbezzolo – Marie Corbo, Philip Kim, and Noah Demland
“Very, Very, Very”: A new trio by CoCo Loupe with music by Noah Demland for Nicole Garlando, Leigh Lotocki, and Amanda Platt
New video work by Nicole Garlando w/ photography by Eve Hermann
“re: addressing”: A solo (CoCo) bon-voyage-dancing-gift
Friday, December 13, 2013
Feverhead: 1199 Goodale Blvd, Columbus, OH, 43212
Tea and BYOB party follows performance.
Free admission but donations happily accepted.]
Filed under: culture, Ontology, research | Tags: 14 years of living art, annie sprinkle, ecosex symposium II, ecosexuality, elizabeth stephens, Kim TallBear, linda montano, love art lab
I was so thrilled when Kim TallBear posted her piece of writing, “What’s in Ecosexuality for an Indigenous Scholar of ‘Nature’?” on 29 June 2012. I am so excited to see other academic scholars taking an interest in what I consider to be a significant opportunity for generating new ways of thinking and making our world, bringing ecosexuality into contact with a range of disciplinary perspectives, and allowing for what Donna Haraway and Karen Barad might call “diffractive” readings between them. TallBear does an excellent job in opening up this topic of conversation, and I hope you take a moment to read what she’s written, as well her addendum, and the comment thread that is developing.
This afternoon, I finally took a few minutes to make my own meager contribution to this discussion, which I am posting below. Besides my scattered musings on ecosexuality on this blog, a few conference presentations, a few papers, and a chapter for an anthology that is currently in the editing process, I haven’t had very much opportunity to share my work on ecosexuality with a broader audience. Eventually, ecosexuality in performance will be the project of my disseration, which I’ll start sometime in the spring. Until then, here are some glimpses of what I’ve been thinking:
I want to first say THANK YOU to Kim for authoring what I think is one of the most sophisticated academic accounts of ecosexuality that I’ve yet encountered. I had the honor of presenting my research alongside Praba Pilar, Jennifer Reed, and Sha LaBare on the “Theories of Ecosex” panel at the EcoSex Symposium II in June 2011, and I was excited by the ways in which each of their work rigorously considered the social, political, and personal implications of ecosexuality. The movement around ecosexuality includes a broad spectrum of voices, perspectives, practices, and personal histories. I’ve met artists, activists, academics, and allies, each with subtle and dramatically different inflections in their articulation of what ecosexuality can be, and I think it is great that this movement holds a space for so much difference. At the same time, I have felt discontent at times—a discontentment tempered with an excitement towards the work to be done—with the lack of critical rigor within these discussions, at the symposium, at the weddings (I performed in the Purple Wedding to the Appalachian Mountains and the White Wedding to the Sun), and on the Ecosex, Sexecology, and Sustainable Love facebook group. Far too often, I’ve felt that unquestioned assumptions are being reinscribed and invested with cultural currency through the use of terms like “nature,” “sex,” gender categories, specific (or ambiguous) spiritual traditions, and so on. To be clear, I’m not opposed to these terms themselves; rather, I’ve been resistant to some of the uncritical patterns of their use in discussions around ecosexuality. In this piece of writing, Kim has opened up many of these terms and invited critical attention to both how they are operating within ecosexuality, as well as the potential within ecosexuality to significantly reconfigure how we understand the world in and through such terms.
I also sympathized a lot with Kim’s statement, “…encounters with ecosexuality this past year, it turns out, constitute a pivotal intellectual moment of growth for me.” I remember when I first encountered ecosexuality in Beth and Annie’s work in SF in 2009, interviewing them at their Sexecology exhibit at Femina Potens. I had been awarded a grant to see their work and to interview them about more general themes relating to the intersection of life and art practices. However, when I arrived at the gallery, when I encountered their work—the ephemera from the 2008 Green Wedding and the 2009 Blue Weddings, as well as new ecosexual collages and photographs and videos—and listened to them speak, something began to shift. I could sense that there was something important about this term/idea/identity/practice of “ecosexuality.” And I’ve spent the last three years continuing to articulate that importance to myself and to others in various writings, conferences presentations, performances, and formal and informal discussions.
While reading Kim’s piece, I felt a response to the suggestion that, “On the other hand, some of my UC Berkeley students probably do get turned on by trees if they open up their minds to think about it that way.” This “opening up their minds” is something I address more below, but here is raises the questions: What constitutes getting turned on? Where and how are we drawing the lines between various forms of contact and encounter, states of excitation and attraction? If the parameters of what counts as sex and sexuality blossom out into new variations and possibilities for contact between bodies, flows, and all sorts of material-semiotic actants that participate in the proliferation of life and livability within our world, how might we find ourselves reoriented towards that world—bees and trees and seas and flowers and rocks and all sorts of animals and so on and so on and so on—in ways that generate new possibilities for action? I feel that Beth and Annie’s work, among others, is explicitly reconfiguring the potential for what sex and sexuality can be within a whole spectrum of encounters between bodies (see their ecosexual herstories, among other work).
Most of all, I appreciate Kim’s direction of attention towards “pervasive boundaries and hardened [binary] categories that structure our minds … and our world today.” In my ongoing exploration of what ecosexuality is and can be, where it occurs, and what it accomplishes in through its enactment, I come again and again to the ways in which it restructures the very grounds from which we think and (reiteratively) produce our world. In addition to the structural boundaries between nature/culture, animal/human, female/male, queer/straight, nonwhite/white, and so on, I am aware of the ways in which these categories get deployed towards social/political ends. For instance, the complex alignments of “nature” or “the natural” with purity and “the unnatural” with contamination and/or “culture,” in tension perhaps with alignments of the animal with the savage, the unevolved, or hedonistic, and the human with the rational pinnacle of evolution and culture. Or the centrality of sex and sexuality with psychoanalytic accounts of the formation of the subject, or within legal discourses around rights and representations as they relate to identity. Or even the model within discourses like environmental management that figures the human as somehow outside of environmental conditions which then must be controlled and/or engineered, as if from the outside. The point I am trying to make is that what I find exciting about ecosexuality, specifically Beth and Annie’s performances of ecosexuality, but others as well, is that it does not/cannot operate within these pervasive normative categories that structure who we are, how we think, and what actions are available to us from such perspectival positions. I believe that ecosexuality—or, as I’ve come to prefer in my own work, ecosexualities—operate from new ontological grounds, new ways of conceptualizing the living material world, new forms of sex and sexuality that have profound implications for the understanding of “the human subject”—implications that might even include abandoning this model for articulating life and activity—and thus new routes along which to consider life, livability, and ethical responsibility as a participant in the production of the world.
Regarding the issue of “new age” in ecosexuality: In my own writing and presentations about ecosexuality, one place that I’ve encountered accusations or observations of what has been called “new age” in the Love Art Lab work specifically is in the projects’ use of the chakra system (which stems from various branches of yogic/tantric philosophy and practice) as its organizational logic. This format was in homage to Linda Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art, which has itself been called new age. I have little interest in determining whether something “is” or “is not” “new age”; that term is slippery. Rather, I think there could be value in interrogating the effects of that term in relation to this work, or to ecosexuality more generally. What does it DO to call this work new age? What does it DO to deny that category? Where is appropriation at play, and what are the effects of those appropriation? What discursive traditions are being invoked/incorporated into the work through such appropriations/citations/iterations/etc.? And so on. Certainly whenever appropriation comes up, there is the potential for ethical dilemma or even injury. Yet appropriation itself cannot become demonized; it is a well-worn practice in the development of innumerable species of human and nonhuman naturecultures. I appreciate Kim’s advocacy for “caution” around appropriation in her original post. I think caution and care are more productive modes of approach than moralizing accusations of right and wrong. I think a productive orientation towards the places at which ecosexuality and ecosexual practices incorporates disciplinary/cultural traditions is to ask, “What are the effects of such incorporations, and what are our responsibilities towards those effects and those affected by them?”
Lastly, I wanted to mention a few authors/texts that have profoundly influenced my thinking on ecosexuality, just to invoke them in the dialogic developing here:
-Donna J. Haraway (almost all of her work)
-Elizabeth Grosz (specifically her books Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics and Art; and Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth)
-Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things
-Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning
-David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous
-Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: Objects, Orientations, Others
-Judith Butler’s “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street”
Kim, thank you again for such a thoughtful piece of writing and for opening up this conversation in such critical ways, and thank you Beth and Annie for pioneering this road down which each of us have turned.
Filed under: art, research | Tags: annie sprinkle, butoh, ecosexuality, elizabeth stephens, journal of a solitude, karl cronin, love art lab, may sarton, performance, queer porn
the last few months I have been bothered by an important question. actually, I will say that I have perhaps been plagued by this question in all my years of making and thinking and writing. it is a concern: how does my work contribute to the field/culture/world? for years, this quotation taken from May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude was a significant guiding force in my work:
“Millions of boys face these problems and solve them in some way or another–they live, as Captain Ahab says, with half of their heart and only one of their lungs, and the world is worst for it. Now and again, however, an individual is called upon (called by whom, only the theologians claim to know, and by what, only bad psychologists) to lift his individual patienthood to the level of a universal one and to try to solve for all what he could not solve for himself alone . . . not everyone can or will do that–give his specific fears and desires a chance to be of universal significance . . . one must believe that private dilemmas are, if examined, universal, and so, if expressed, have a human value beyond the private . . .”
-Erik Erikson, Robert Cole, May Sarton
times have changed, my work has changed, and my [shifting, mobile, fluid] beliefs about the world have changed as well. I no longer believe in universals, and producing work of universal value is no longer my intention. however, I still concern myself with producing work that has value beyond–however much it might be grounded in–my own interests and dilemmas. with each dance I make, each paper I write, each interest towards which I direct my attention and efforts, the question of, “how does this contribute?” arises. especially, as of late, with my primary research, that of ecosexuality as a framework for performance analysis.
one thing that I think is of value in the work I hope to accomplish is writing artists and art works that have not been given critical academic attention into the literature of performance scholarship. the work that interests me–Love Art Lab, Karl Cronin, queer porn, butoh, etc.–is work that has in some cases not been written into scholarship at all, and in most (if not all) cases, not been considered for their potential interventions in the formation/production of sexualities and environmental ecologies. this seems to be an accomplishment worth pursuing in/through my work.
but over the last couple of days, something more/larger has occurred to me. it might even seem obvious, but it has become central to how I understand the potential importance of what I am doing, beyond my own dilemmas or interests (and I am indebted to Maree ReMalia and Deder Gordon for talking through these ideas with me). the fundamental assumption/assertion of the work that I am doing seems to be: through performance we are given access to other possible worlds, other possibilities in/of our world, in ways that reconfigure the sedimented registers of meaning within our cultures and societies. performance is not [only] an act of representation or re-presentation, but is as act of doing the world differently, and that doing has radical potential on the physical level at which bodies are formed/deformed/reformed through the actions that they take (the potential for the performer), and on the level of perception, of the visual display (the potential for the spectator). performance (perhaps all arts, in their own ways), has the potential to operate within recognizable symbolic registers and systems of meaning attached to the body (such as gender, sex, sexuality, race, age, ability, nationality, etc. etc. etc.), but to do so in ways that go against the grain, reconfiguring familiar codes in ways that function in new/unfamiliar ways. this is what I mean by performance giving access to other possible worlds, or ways of world-becoming (yes, there are hints of deleuze and guattari here).
this may be obvious. my friend Deder actually responded by saying, “well, of course. isn’t that what we always do?” and my answer is yes, it is, on some level, but performance is not always considered in this way. too often performance (dance, theatre, performance art, porn, etc.) is approached with the expectation of representation, that the work is showing us something of or about the world, or (perhaps even worse) telling us something about the world. and it might be. but I am interested in what else the work might do, how it might provide as space in which we can both imagine and enact other worlds, other meanings, other bodies and beings and becomings. and I’m not opposed to representation/re-presentation, but rather than looking for representations of the [affirmed] actual, I’m interested in how performance works might actualize virtual landscapes of possibilities. that is (perhaps) the radical potential of performance, that is actualizes/physicalizes the virtual. it is never fully artificial; it is embodies and thus always to some degree actual.
this is how my work with ecosexuality began (I now realize/articulate). ecosexuality is a configuration of sexual and environmental subjectivity that emerged from performance work, specifically the work of the Love Art Laboratory (Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens). their performance work offers another possible world, a reconfiguration of the world in which we live and the way in which we live in/as/with it. it performs new possible sexualities that are not constrained by human organ-ization or global territorializations, and it has done so through reconfigured performatives such as the wedding, the vows, and the roles associated with the wedding ritual. it’s from this set of reconfigurations, this performance work that raises the very possibility of an ecosexuality, that I turn my attention to other performances to ascertain how they too might contribute to the expansion of what can be understood as sexuality, ecology, and the environment–shifting notions of humanity, personhood, ethics, and even love.
so I suppose how I answer myself today when I raise the question, “how does my work contribute to the field/culture/world?”, these are my answers. I am looking to performance works for the ways in which they configure other possible worlds, other possible sexualities as ways of relating not only to one another, but to the world in which we live. this shift in what “sexuality” and “environment” can mean carried with it a shift in possible ethics, the extent of which I cannot even begin to articulate (except to say that it is significant). in a larger sense, I hope I am modeling a way of attending to performance, not for its capacity to represent the world as it is, or to express some hidden feeling or belief about such a world, but for its capacity to enact different possible worlds. performance can never be fully artificial; it is embodied, and as such it is always fundamentally real. it is, in itself and in its display, a movement towards doing/perceiving/doing the world differently.
Filed under: art, culture | Tags: amy champ, amy marsh, annie sprinkle, carol queen, center for sex and culture, dylan bolles, ecosex manifesto, ecosex symposium II, ecosexual queer porn, ecosexuality, elizabeth stephens, femina potens, joseph kramer, madison young, michael j morris, robert lawrence, san francisco arts commission, sasha hom, serena anderlini, sexecology, sharon mitchell, stephanie iris weiss, tania hammidi, tessa wills
Today I am flying to San Francisco for an exciting week of events that relate intimately to my research. The primary purpose for the trip is the Ecosex Symposium II and Ecosexual Manifesto Art Exhibit (see flyer and press release below):
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For all the information about the Symposium go to SexEcology.org
Contact: Center for Sex & Culture—415-902-2071
Love Art Lab 415-847-1323
Femina Potens Press: Malia Schaefer HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com
Annie Sprinkle HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com
Elizabeth Stephens: firstname.lastname@example.org
San Francisco, CA
ECOSEXUALS UNITE FOR AN ECOSEX SYMPOSIUM & ART EXHIBIT
The Ecosex Symposium II– a public forum where art meets theory meets practice meets activism—will take place June 17-19 at the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco, CA. What’s an ecosexual? Why are skinny-dipping, tree-hugging and mysophila so pleasurable? Where is the e-spot? Can the budding ecosexual movement help save the world? What is this new sexual identity and environmental activist strategy all about? These are some of the questions that will be explored. Femina Potens Gallery is producing the event in collaboration with Center for Sex & Culture.
Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D., a feminist-porn-star and artist turned “SexEcologist,” and Elizabeth Stephens, a UCSC art professor and environmental activist are organizing this event. The two women explain, “as a strategy to create a more mutual and sustainable relationship with our abused and exploited planet, we are changing the metaphor from the Earth as mother, to Earth as lover.”
Sprinkle and Stephens kick off the weekend with their “Ecosex Manifesto,” an art exhibit with new collages, wedding ephemera (they married the snow in Ottawa, the moon in Los Angeles and the mountains in West Virginia), and a manifesto. They have also invited a dozen other artists to display their related works.
Ecosexual author of the seminal text, Gaia and the New Politics of Love, Serena Anderlini, Ph.D., from the University of Puerto Rico will present the keynote address. What is Ecosexual Love?:A Guide to the Arts and Joys of Amorous Inclusiveness. Good Vibration’s sexologist, Carol Queen, Ph.D., will explore The Sexology of Ecosexuality. Dr. Robert Lawrence, Ph.D. will cover ecosex fetishes. Also presenting is Madison Young, the award winning queer porn movie director and the Femina Potens Gallery director. She will cover the Greening of the Sex Industry. Artist Tania Hammidi will perform a dance piece about conflict, genocide and olive trees in the Middle East. Other presenters are artists Dylan Bolles & Sasha Hom, Amy Champ, and the legendary porn actress, Sharon Mitchell, Ph.D., who will talk about The Sensual Pleasures of Gardening. The author of the book Ecosex; Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable, Stephanie Iris Weiss will be Skyping in from New York. Erospirit Institute director, Joseph Kramer, Ph.D. will guide the group in some somatic ecosex practices. Michael J. Morris will discuss theories of ecosexuality. Amy Marsh shares how toxins ate her sex life, and performance artist Tessa Wills offers an Anal Ecology performance piece. There are twenty five scheduled presenters, and there will also be an open mic forum for attendees to share their work and ideas. Becka Shertzer’s Brazennectar and Mister Cream team up to create and serve a gourmet, “ecosexi-love-a-licious” vegan lunch.
Expected to attend the conference are artists, activists, theoreticians, nature fetishists, environmentalists, ecosex community movers and shakers and people from many other walks of life. These events are sponsored by Femina Potens Gallery in collaboration with the Center for Sex & Culture. Stephens and Sprinkle received a cultural equity grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission to help make it all possible.
All the details and advanced tickets are available at SexEcology.org The producers of these events say that their aim is to “make the environmental movement a little more sexy, fun and diverse.” They’d also like to see an “E” added to GLBTQI.
Friday, June 17
7:00-9:30 ECOSEX MANIFESTO ART EXHIBIT OPENING RECEPTION &
ECOSEX SYMPOSIUM RECEPTION (Everyone is invited. Free.)
All three days of events will be held at the new Center For Sex & Culture, 1349 Mission Street. (Between 9th and 10th)
Saturday, June 18.
ECOSEX SYMPOSIUM 11 ($35. for the whole symposium.)
10:30 AM to 10:45 PM
Sunday, June 19
ECOSEX MANIFESTO ART EXHIBIT
The Ecosex Manifesto Art Exhibit will be open for public viewing for a month through July 24th. Check SexEcology.org for gallery hours.
June 16, 8:00 Femina Poten’s ECOSEXUAL QUEER PORN NIGHT—Tall Tree Tambo, 776 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA
June 19 5:00-7:00 DIRTSTAR PERFORMANCES at the Tenderloin National Forest/Luggage Store, 1000 Market St., San Francisco, CA.
Filed under: culture | Tags: annie sprinkle, bodies that matter, crash pad, crash pad series, daily writing practice, gender, heavenlyspire, james darling, judith butler, madison young, porn, pornography, queer porn, quinn valentine, sex, shine louise houston
I was recently inspired/challenged by one of my faculty (Dr. Harmony Bench) to begin a daily writing practice as a method for not only developing as a writer, but also in preparation for the intensive writing I will be doing for my candidacy exams and dissertation. I will not post everything I write from this daily writing practice here on the blog, but what I wrote today is something I want to share:
I am enamored with Shine Louise Houston’s work, on both her Crash Pad Series project and on her more recent endeavor, HeavenlySpire.
“HeavenlySpire is a Shine Louise Houston creation for the purpose of masculine appreciation. HeavenlySpire focuses on masculine beauty and sexuality and how it manifests on different bodies. Following the same vision as Houston’s previous projects HeavelySpire focuses on capturing genuine pleasure with a unique cinematic style.” This work is personal and intimate in ways that is traditionally considered to be antithetical to pornography. The performers are introduced as people: they discuss themselves, their sexual predilections, their appreciations of their own bodies. They set a context of individual and aesthetic appreciation in which they then display their own bodies and sexual behaviors. In a sense, it functions as portraiture. This work functions as a kind of “docu-porn” (other work with which I am familiar that would fit into this category includes Madison Young’s Fluid series and Annie Sprinkle’s Linda/Les and Annie, the first FTM trans love story/sex film, in which the re-presentations of bodies/sex/sexuality/sexual behaviors operate within the framework of personal identities), and emphasizes what I consistently consider to be one of pornography’s potential virtues: a public archive of human sexual behavior, responsible for both the documentation, preservation, and re-presentation of bodies, sex acts, and sexual (inter)subjectivities, and for the production of sexual subjectivities in the virtual and actual experiences of the spectator of pornography. Porn records and produces the ways in which people perform and understand sex, and thus themselves as sexual subjects.
HeavenlySpire as an archive does something more: in the interview segments, the performers call attention to erogenous and erotogenic zones and surfaces that exceed genital sexuality. They call attention to their forearms, their eyes, their chests, their legs, their asses, their nipples, etc. They introduce themselves in their own languages, and we are then given access to some sense of how they consider themselves as sexual beings as we encounter their displays of their own sexuality. Heavenly Spire is also radical in its treatment of gender/sex (the two being perhaps not as discrete as they may seem): in these videos, we are introduced to cis-men and trans-men, those who identify outside of the gender/sex binary of man/male/woman/female. We are asked to consider bodies both within and outside of these binaries.
Last night I watched a video featuring James Darling and Quinn Valentine. It blew my mind. It is elegant and a little campy, and one of the most illuminating artifacts of human sexuality that I have encountered in a while (although I would say that the illumination of the range of human sexuality is a mission furthered actively by Shine Louise Houston, Madison Young, Courtney Trouble, and the plethora of directors, performers, and producers in the “queer porn” genre).
In the video, the boys introduce themselves, and James confesses that he’s been checking Quinn out for a while, online. Quinn says, “You had a picture of yourself in sparkle unicorn drag, and I couldn’t resist.” They laugh. James say, “Yeah, you were the most sparkly, femme cis-boy I’d ever met, and I was just enamored immediately.” They talk about the first time they hung out (a “really fun time” in James’ shower) as “the beginning of something amazing.” They talk about what they love doing to one another: James says that he loves fucking Quinn, that he’s really into Quinn’s cock, but that he really enjoys fucking Quinn in the ass, and the sounds Quinn makes when he’s cumming; Quinn talks about going down on James—“I could get lost in your junk for days …”—and holding James while he fucks him, feeling the movement of James’ muscles; James’ facial expression; his chest. The way they look at one another while they’re talking is the way that I look at someone when I am so moved by their beauty that I can no longer contain my desire to touch them.
The scene starts in black and white, both wearing bowties, Quinn wearing fairy wings, with white feathers falling and floating in the air around them. An old time-y piano song in playing in the background, and there’s something tender and nostalgic about the romance being staged.
The music fades out as the scene saturates to color.
These boys kiss long and hard, and the way that their lips press and linger is both calm and electric, a stillness full of activity.
I won’t go into a detailed description of the video (Buy a membership to HeavenlySpire to see the video. Support queer porn.). But I do want to give attention to one moment in their scene, the moment when James penetrates Quinn. A cis-guy being penetrated by a trans-guy is something that I have never seen re-presented in a pornographic archive. Having spent my week reading Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (for the third time), I can’t encounter this scene without recalling Butler’s discussion of “the phallus” as the imaginary position characterized by its own uninhabitability. The phallus is a position of privilege and power, considered to be the ultimate signifier, the form by which the intelligibility of objects and subjects are understood. It would be easy to read the phallus as symbol of the penis, and in doing so attribute this privileged position of power (and its form) to the position of male bodies in social economies. And yet the male position is characterized (for Freud and Lacan) by the fear of castration, the anxiety of losing the phallus, an anxiety that exposes the reality of the phallus having never been fully possessed to begin with. The phallus, then, is never fully attainable, always transferable. Butler even suggests that the phallus is the very principle of erotogenic transferability, the capacity for other bodies and other organs to take on the erotogenic potential ascribed to the phallus. When James Darling dons (what looks like) the Feeldoe dildo, taking it into himself as [part of] himself, and penetrating/fucking Quinn with it, my morphological registers are disrupted. I see both of their cocks, and both organs are taken out of this penetrative configuration. The dildo functions in a way that recalls some of what I’ve read of Beatriz Preciado’s philosophy of “dildonics” which substitutes the “dildo” for the “phallus,” casting this privileged signifier not only as a commodity, but one which can be exchanged, taken in/taken on, a prosthetic device in the construction (and deconstruction) of cyborg bodies (and in our post-human era, all bodies are cyborg bodies, always already composed of [biological, psychical, cultural, social, etc.] pieces and parts in machinic systems that we stabilize/treat as stable in our reference to their corporeal coherence. Cyborg is not a secondary/compromised position of bodies that are somehow less than whole; instead, it is a position that seeks to expose the never-whole/always-open-to-completion condition of all bodies, whether they be trans or cis, whatever their range of ability, etc. Elizabeth Grosz has also written intelligently about the inherent openness of biology to cultural inter-constitution). The significance of the penis (an idealized significance that might be considered consistent with the notion of the “phallus”) is here displaced from organic material and transferred into the synthetic. Bodies become denatured in a way they liberates them from the sexed specificity. Organs lose the clarity of their significance, and in becomes free to become more ambiguous surfaces of intensities (I’m here reaching towards an understanding and application of Deleuze, a theoretical frame to which I am attracted but with which I am only familiar in a fleeting way). This sex act reconfigures bodies, giving them significance that exceeds their normative boundaries, borders that it simultaneously displaces/disrupts.
When Quinn cums, I am drawn to the noises that he makes, having been told that those noises are part of what is hot to James. As Quinn cums on James’ chest, Quinn’s appreciation of that chest is part of what makes it hot. These bodies (bodies in general?) are not only remade by re-presentation of their sexual behavior; their sexual behavior is given [part of] its significance by the exposure of its personal meaning for the performers. Through this docu-porn format, I am offered new personal experiences and understandings of sex and bodies to inhabit in my spectatorship, and in my willingness to do so, I allow this information to participate in the materialization bodies, especially as they materialize in/as sex.
This is a rough first draft, but ideas that I wanted to share.
Filed under: art, culture | Tags: annie sprinkle, art, black spark, body fluids, elizabeth freeman, history of sexuality, intersubjectivity, jiz lee, madison young, michel foucault, morethekill, porn, pornography, queer porn, sex addiction, sunday faith, syd blakovich, time binds: queer temporalities queer histories, twincest
I recently wrote a paper entitled “twincest/body fluids/fluid bodies.” It’s a bit of a performative paper that looks at video documentation of a performance piece entitled body shots by the duo twincest, comprised of Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich (twincest is no longer in operation; they created work from 2005-2009); the paper also looks at a scene from Shine Louise Houston’s Crash Pad Series, Season 1, Episode 3, also starring Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich. The paper looks at these performance projects for their potential as discursive spaces in which bodies are reconfigured (specifically beyond heterosexist or normative models of bodily significance), considering their permeability/penetrability, as well as their production of fluids (ejaculate, blood, etc.), as routes through which to consider the intersubjective potential of bodies. I also incorporate some writing about my experience as a conjoined twin, and how the body-that-does-not-stop-at-my-own-skin which I find to be inherent in the ontology of being a conjoined twin, might participate in the theoretical positions emerging from this analysis.
I hope to have a “web safe” version of the paper to share soon. It includes an experimental writing project of inhabiting multiple authorial voices simultaneously, reducing the gap between my voice and the voices of other scholars in the way that I am using their work. It is fundamentally plagiarism in its current form, thus can’t be posted. I’m working on finding another expression of this idea of transgression individual/discrete voices that is not a disservice to the scholars with which I’m working (Baitaille, Irigaray, some Kristeva, Linda Williams, among others). There is also a possibility that the paper will be posted on the twincest site to live alongside the materials/performance it addresses. Which would be exciting.
This is not the first time I’ve written about porn (specifically queer porn). I even written about it here on this blog. I don’t want to be redundant here about my summaries about why I think analyses of porn might be significant contributions to the understandings of our culture, sex/sexualities, and bodies (see earlier posts). I don’t know how much of a research topic this is going to become in my writing and contributions to “the field” (which for me is something like “body-based performance”). But I do seem to be spending some time exploring down this rabbit hole (which reads kinkier than I intended it in this context . . .), and there’s another “porn phenomenon” that I’ve been wanting to consider in writing.
The Black Spark.
The Black Spark is a film/video-maker whose videos first began to appear on XTube in the fall of 2010. Other publications have recounted this history more specifically: OUT.com, The Sword, and Boy Culture have all published interviews with Black Spark situated in accounts of the appearance and continued visibility of his work. I’ve considered situating anything I write about this project similarly, but in actuality I find a lot of what is said in these interviews to be extremely disconnected from how I experience the work. I find the artist’s insistence that what he is doing is “not porn” to be naive (which is fine; according to all accounts, he’s twenty). Erotic intensities can flow similarly in what is labeled “art” or “porn.” Pornographers like Madison Young have done exceptional work that questions and even collapses the lines between art, porn, and sex. Certainly there are dominant narratives in the porn industry from which the Black Spark wants to distance his work, but the same can be said (based on interviews) of the distance he is attempting to maintain between his work and the work of other artists with which his work might be associated. He presents this work as if it is his “real life,” and invokes certain [also dominant] narratives of “authenticity” and “realness” as the substance of the work, perhaps without engaging completely or reflexively with the complexity and politics of “the real,” or the actuality of the video camera and editing as systems of mediation, re-telling, re-making what it “real.”
[To be clear, I like this work. I hope to continue to see more of this work. And I hope that part of how the work evolves, beyond the “organic” process that Black Spark continues to describe, particularly in the incorporation of new players and characters as he meets new people interested in participating in the work, is a more critical understanding of what the work is beyond just the artist’s “real life,” the mythology of the Sparks, or making cool videos to songs that he finds meaningful. There is more going on in this work than just those things, and the “more” is what might make them really good.] Also, it isn’t that I have any need to argue that the work “is porn” or “is art;” rather, without making this the focus of anything I write about this work, I would suggest that there is value in recognizing that within the cultural (not to mention digital and virtual) landscape in which the Black Spark is situating his videos, he is already participating in frameworks associated with (and informed by) pornography, art, social media, etc. Those frameworks are not necessarily “inherent” in the work, but nor is the work entirely separable from the frames in which they are functioning. My suggestion is that rather than the artist or his audiences committing to positions of defining what the work “is,” we (and the work) might all benefit from recognizing these multiple frames, not simplifying or demonizing any of them (for instance, Black Spark in OUT: “It’s not porn — it’s my life. What you’re seeing is not a show I’m putting on. People need to know they’re seeing something real and the reality of it makes it art. There are no faked emotions. When people in my work look passionate or in love or deeply in lust, that’s all very genuine. Whereas in porn you put two people together and you’re paying them $500 to do a scene. Just because two people are having sex and you get to watch it, doesn’t make it porn.” This assumes SO MUCH: Yes, when you edit video material of you having sex for the purpose of presentation, and then post those edited videos on the web or share them in public viewings, what you’re doing is a show that you are putting on. The reality of anything is mediated, including the realities produced in porn–especially feminist and queer porn in which reality of desire, pleasure and feelings is an explicit goal of the work; and the equation of “reality” and “art” is a huge jump, especially because many art makers are engaged in their work precisely because of the artifice they can create. And for many people, by many definitions, getting to watch other people have sex on video is exactly what makes it porn. That isn’t all that it is, and that doesn’t make it less important. It’s just one registry in which the work can sit. And that seems to me a good thing.).
I think there are exciting possibilities for Black Spark’s work–possibilities opened by both the artist and the viewers recognizing that what the work “is” will always be a joint project between these two parties, not to mention the endless social and cultural frameworks in which that joint project is taking place–if we recognize that the work functions simultaneously in multiples registries of significance, and that “reality” gives it the potential to create and have effects in multiple areas of culture simultaneously. And that’s kind of cool.
There’s something to this first film about mythologizing daily life. The video begins with the inter-cutting of sex acts and what appears to be just life around an apartment. Mundane life and sex acts become transposed into the pastime of super heroes with super powers (lit with special effects); browsing gay porn becomes jerking off and fucking in public spaces (public, assuming the video rental place was public, but also public in the sense that it is now re-told through the web presentation of the work). I am struck by the discontinuity of time (this narrative is not sequenced chronologically, which, while not particularly exceptional in contemporary film/video media, does seem to heighten the sense of transforming “real life” into mythology and fantasy, where the normal rules of life no longer apply). The temporal discontinuity of the video also reminds me of how Linda Williams describes early pornographic videos that were sometimes just montages of sex acts, not necessarily building to climax or cum shots, and not necessarily sequenced in a linear fashion (this is one point at which I can read this video as in dialogue with the culture and history of porn, beyond the obvious connection of public displays of sexual behavior). The temporal distortion also recalls certain questions about queer temporalities raised by Elizabeth Freeman in Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories, in which sexuality and sexual orientation or considered alongside their implicit compliance with or deviation from chrononormativities. I would suggest that the deviation linear time might be a small way that a much larger project–that of queer temporality–is at work in this video. There’s also an emphasis on social networking, in this video as well as others, and the whole web culture around Black Spark. This is in one sense perhaps just a reflection of our culture, but it is also unique in that these stories/images/sexual displays are not given as a mono-directional exchange, but are offered as an invitation for dialogue and communication. Alongside a visual tour of the performers’ bodies and sexual behaviors we are given email and facebook addresses. This adds a layer to what might otherwise be simple/recognizable citations of the roles of “porn performers” or “super-heroes”: whereas these figures are typically unreachable (unattainable?), here the artist is inviting the reach, inviting dialogue/exchange (this is fostered further on facebook and twitter, but my focus here is on the videos themselves).
I’m interested in the inter-cutting of the masked images, the images of sex acts, and the mixture of the two (having sex, wearing masks). There are so many ways to read this, of course, and the incorporation of the Eyes Wide Shut-esque white Venetian mask definitely inflects the content/context of the work. Regardless, here are some basic ideas that come out for me:
there is a relationship between sex (who we are when we have sex, how we have sex, etc.) and the “masks” that we wear. If I was to read for an easy “message,” I would say that there’s something here about sex adjusting or disrupting our masks, or even that sex unmasks us. I don’t think the video content is that simple, nor do I personally think that would necessarily be an accurate understanding of the personal effects/affects of sex. A baseline from which I can begin to offer one interpretation of the work is that the masks withhold a particular (privileged) facet of who a person is, namely, the face. The code name/alias functions as another kind of mask, withholding another particular (and privileged) facet of the person: the name. We are given access to other facets, namely the naked body and visual spectacle of sex in various forms and configurations. Bodies and sex function as revelations of the parts of a person often withheld in public culture (except perhaps in the frames of porn or art), and so these images might function as a kind of personal confession of these parts of (him)self. Juxtaposed with the mask images, however, and considering the highly produced condition through which these materials (bodies, sex) are being mediated (the videoing, the editing, the organization of these images alongside musical accompaniment, etc.), a question is raised about how these facets of identity also function as “masks” that withhold. Does a slab of chiseled abdominals become a signifier that obscures other aspects of who a person might be? Do particular sex acts (anal penetration, oral penetration, various positions and configurations, etc.) signify a person composed of social norms (to “bottom” means something in our culture, to “go down” on someone means something, “rimming” means something, etc.), and in doing so obscure other details of who that person might be? There’s a sense in which the limited range of personal dimensions offered in the video(s) functions itself as a mask. While these images are discussed by the artist as “real”—a personal journey, even—they are without extensive context; their (limited) context becomes the music, the masks, the settings, the code names. And, perhaps most interestingly, the kind of meta-web production/presence in which they are situated (email, facebook, twitter, tumblr, etc.). Certainly there are stories being told here, but they are only (selected) parts of the stories. These parts are about sex and bodies on display, and in such tellings, those parts of the story become foregrounded to stand in for the whole. Masks. Isolation (“No Spark wants to be alone …”) and connection (in the visual displays of sexual partnership, but also in the invitation for web-based social networking). And “sexual addiction” (one of the first phrases that scroll across the screen introducing us to the world of the artist is “I am Addicted to Sex”). [Without going too far down an adjacent tangent, I think there is something interesting about the fact that this figure/artist/work is characterized under the auspices of “sex addiction.” Annie Sprinkle, former porn star, among others, has written about the myth of sex addiction: http://anniesprinkle.org/writings/sex_addiction.html. I find the notion of “sex addiction” to be a product of a “sex negative” culture, and it is curious to read these videos as simultaneously a myth-making project, a celebration of (homosexual) sex, and simultaneously as a confession of failing to live up to the values of the culture (in classifying sex as an “addiction,” and thus inherently destructive in its excess). This would be an interesting thread to follow, exploring how the production of sexually explicit videos might simultaneously contribute to and counter a culture that views sex as inherently negative outside of certain socially constructed prescriptions.] This moment of “I am Addicted to Sex” frames the work in/as a mode of confession, and this for me recalls Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality Volume I, in which Foucault traces a genealogical production of this modern notion of “sexuality,” specifically through the apparatus of “confession” in religious, medical, and psychological settings. Here again sex becomes a confession, and its meaningfulness is inflected/constructed in/as such a confession.
Some sub-stories: about how our lives are organized by music (our socialization includes the production of soundscores for our daily lives), and how the mundane can take on super importance.
Looking at the video Sunday Faith:
This video has a much more tender tone (mainly because of the music selections that include Imogen Heap, but also because of the insinuated focus on a central relationship), the alternating between partner sex and masturbating that is eventually revealed to also be partner sex (what is left to the viewer’s imagination is whether this is the same partner, or some other web-fuck-buddy situation. I feel as if both are suggested, the former by the text that alludes to a loving, trusting, “faithful til the end” relationship that is interspersed throughout the video, the latter by the constant insertion of email and facebook addresses inviting the viewer’s contact, the intense gazes into the camera (thus, into the gaze of the spectator), and the momentary glimpse of the three-way sex situation, indicating that this loving/trusting/faithful partnership is not monogamous. The latter may even go as far as to suggest that the viewer might become implicated into the scene, a kind of seduction into the possibility that to get in touch with the Black Spark by way of the constantly-advertised social media access points is to get involved with the kind of scene being presented). There’s a lovely play of language in the middle of the video, when the text on the screen reads “If you are interested in helping my project …” and we hear the person who at that point is being penetrated anally say “I have to stop . . .” and the text on the screen then reads “Support love.” What begins as what feels like a clumsy fund-raising pitch quickly turns intimate and even romantic, with the notion that project at hand is really “love.” Love here may be a euphemism, but it is yet another way that the viewer is invited into the project, the suggestion being that if you “support love,” then you are a part of what you are seeing. Although all the [early] videos include this textual push to establish contact by way of email and social media, this video in particular seduces me the most. It makes me as the viewer want to contact the Black Spark, because on multiple levels (the gaze, the text, the inclusion of the web-sex and three-way sex) that I am already a part of what I am watching, or that I could be if I wanted to.
Another reason I appreciate this particular video is that it begins with a cum shot. The cum shot is the money shot of porn (and most bad sex I’ve had). It is the climax, the “goal;” everything that comes before the cum shot is in preparation for it, rendering all other forms of sexual engagement as “foreplay,” only segues on the way to penetration and subsequent ejaculation. In this video, the cum shot is given first. It displaces what can easily become the fixed (fixated) goal of porn/sex, and in doing so, at least in part resignifies everything else that is shown afterwards. I as a viewer am freed to contemplate what else might be taking place or inspiring the sex acts that I am witnessing (love, for instance). Sex is no longer only something that leads to orgasm or ejaculation; the temporal manipulation creates the possibility for other stories to be told (again, this significance comes out for me directly because I am considering the work through the cultural framework of pornography. It is an example of why I am reluctant to abandon that frame as a way of considering Black Spark’s videos. Looking at them as porn—specifically the ways in which they deviate from the normative devices of mainstream porn—gives me access to a broader significance of how these re-presentations participate in the socio-cultural constructions of what and how sex takes on meaning).
I might add, one of my favorite videos thus far (aesthetically, but also because it shows the potential for switching roles between being penetrated/penetrating, which I think might be a difference in how I consider “queer sex” and “gay sex”) is Dance Inmyheartnow (can also be viewed at the link above). Perhaps at some point I will make the time to write about it and other videos.
That might be all I can write on the subject now.
Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
I hope to see Black Spark and/or some of his work when he comes through Columbus on 13-14 June (if I’m not in San Francisco doing a residency/conference that week; funding pending).
[I might suggest that the tour is yet one more avenue through which the work seems intensely centered on connecting with the viewer base/community surrounding the work]
Other useful links for Black Spark
Filed under: creative process, inspiration | Tags: annie sprinkle, billy castro, catriona sandilands, christopher kennedy, courtney trouble, drew deveaux, dylan ryan, erotism death & sensuality, georges bataille, jiz lee, karl cronin, laboratory for independent scholars, madison young, queer porn, shine louise houston, sketches, syd blakovich, travis mathews, twincest
I wanted to take the time to leave the trace of another constellation of ideas that are forming frames for me right now. In the midst of everything else I’m doing, I have also been lucky to find some intense inspirations. One of the most notable is work happening in and around queer porn.
I have written around some of these ideas on the blog for the Laboratory for Independent Scholars (the collaborative research project with Karl Cronin, Christopher Kennedy and myself). You can check out those posts here.
On that blog, I listed lots of the individuals involved with and responsible for queer porn that have quickly become heroes in my life. I don’t want to be redundant, but I do want to leave a trace, so briefly (with hyperlinks, which are anything but brief when blogging), they are:
Jiz Lee (genderqueer porn star, blogger, activist, artist, etc.)
Madison Young (porn star/director, gallerist, educator, etc.)
Shine Louise Houston (porn director/producer, etc.)
Courtney Trouble (porn star/director/producer/etc.)
Syd Blakovich (porn star, artist, activist, etc.)
Drew DeVeaux (porn star, model, etc.)
Dylan Ryan (porn star, academic, etc.)
Billy Castro (porn star, etc.)
Annie Sprinkle (one of the the original queer porn performers/directors/dreamers; artist, activist, sexecologist)
Travis Mathews (filmmaker, activist, artist, etc.)
These people are some of my many heroes.
I wish I could write a whole essay right here about why I think queer porn is a radically progressive force in our world, culture, society, etc. (I’ve dabbled with some of these ideas on the LIS blog), but the short version is that queer porn, among much else, demonstrates and performs bodies and sexualities in a way that substantially disrupts and subverts normalized heterosexist configurations of bodies, identities, sex, sexualities, and gender. By giving representation to bodies and acts that live at or beyond the edges of normativity, queer porn offers legitimacy and recognition of those lives to others who are living them . . . that’s not clear . . . what I mean is that one of the things queer porn does is offers a site of identification for those who live and perform their bodies and sexualities outside of the socially sanctioned and normative. But it also functions as a activism towards a public archive of such lives/bodies/sexualitites that authors our culture beyond the edges of the normative. It leaves a trace of some for all, an archive that subverts the notion that all bodies and people are a particular way (this is most notably a heteronormativity, but I would venture to argue that much of gay sexual practices, identities and representations have configured themselves as imitations and emulations–thus representations and reiterations . . . maybe even simulacra–of heterosexuality, thus constituting a homonormativity that continues to abject some lives/bodies/sexualities and sexual expressions/acts as unlivable; I think the efforts of queer porn disrupt these normativities as well). In this way, queer porn accomplishes in representations of sexual encounters, relationships, pleasures, etc., what I tend to strive for in my dancing life–a practice, experience and perhaps even representation of bodies of vast possibilities, bodies that know and become more rather than less, that form and reform within mobile, fluid edges, never stable and always in transition.
I have some ideas of how my work will begin to dialogue with practices in queer porn. Some of this will be explored in the forthcoming reconstruction of “Sketches of Shame” (discussed in my previous post), although I’m not yet certain how.
I also have become interested in how this work and work by these individuals beyond the scope of “porn” might become topics of my research (alongside arts practices by the Love Art Laboratory, Karl Cronin, and various Butoh artists). One such example is a project with which I have recently become completely enamored called Twincest:
Described on their site:
“twincest was a multimedia collaboration between two lovers, Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich. They spent 4 years together documenting their interpersonal dynamics and intimacies through sound, movement, video, photography, body fluids, pain, aggression, meat, sex, and love. Founded in 2004, their art and performances not only strengthened their budding relationship, but also provided a playground for the more complex elements that manifests in love’s shadows.”
“My blood brother/sister,
Bonded by bloodpissshitcumspitpussweat-andassjuice, we share a body/canvas/culture for projections of disjunctured identities. With you, I expose and archive the physicalities of the sorid, you are my twin conjoined through the technological extentions of the body, a desire for the same…
wrpt in soild shts
Traces of their work.
Syd Blakovich says on her website (which is distinct from the twincest project that she conducted in collaboration with jiz lee from 2004-2009): “My interest in movement based performance is similar to my interest in body fluids. It’s a dialog between bodies and the spaces they occupy.”
Which is completely ecosexual, as far as I’ve theorized it.
I want to write about this work. I need to study it more. I need to be in contact with Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich at some point. I need to draw together supporting theoretical materials needed to discuss this work. I already think Bataille’s Erotism, Death & Sensuality has a lot to offer. I think Catriona Sandilands “Eco Homo” article has a lot to offer.
I’m thinking about flesh and fluids, permeability and that which permeates, transmission and that which is transmitted (this has to do with performance, performativity, writing, choreography, etc., in the metaphorical sense), but also the levels of the body which we (in dance, in society) don’t address. I remember reading Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s writings about Body-Mind Centering, and those writings referring to movement on a level of fluids and tissues and bones. I didn’t find it to be very precise, although I have heard from colleagues who are more familiar with that work that those who understand it intimately, it is incredibly precise.
As I talk about fluid bodies, how can I not talk about body fluids? The morphability/malleability/instability of bodies is at the skin, in the seeping and sloshing and squirting, the sweating, the threat of leakage, the “necessity of management” (or of an aesthetics of flesh, re: Sandilands) in an age of latex. As I write about sexual epistemologies (see the paper posted in previous post), how do I not discuss latex and liquids, the edge between safety and danger that is inseparable from how we must know/understand sex in this era, and how does that affect how we live/understand the world, bodies, identities, dancing, etc.?
And what does a dissertation begin to look like if these are (potential) figures to be considered: the Love Art Laboratory (Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens), Karl Cronin and the Somatic Natural History Archive, twincest (Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich), and Butoh artists such as Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata, and Yoko Ashikawa?
I’m not sure where any of these ideas/inspirations are going, but I knew I wanted to begin to leave their traces here.
I’ll keep you informed as to how they develop.