michael j. morris


Purple Wedding/Re-Membering the Mountains/S(he) Sylph

What a week of work. I hardly have time to be writing this (I am certain it is tedious how frequently I start blog posts by saying that I don’t have time to be blogging), but I don’t know how to go on to other projects without giving (at least some) attention to these.

Yesterday was the Love Art Laboratory’s Purple Wedding to the Mountains. I participated in various capacities: I performed a new solo entitled “Re-Membering the Mountains Ritual” (see previous post and below), I was a member of Beth Stephens’ bridal party, and I carried an Ecosexual Pride Flag in the procession. I had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people (artists, academics, activists, people who make their home in the Appalachians, eco-chaplains, sex workers, curators, videographers, photographers, etc. etc. etc.). The wedding was a beautiful event held in the Galbreath Chapel on the Ohio University campus. It is my hope that the web will soon begin to flourish with documentation traces from the work; there were always so much cameras (video and photo) running.

Beth Stephens, Joseph Kramer, and Annie Sprinkle; photo by Sarah Stolar (who also made the costumes for Beth and Annie)

Having written about Love Art Lab, Annie and Beth, Sexecology/Ecosexuality so much for so long, it was a profound shift for me to be inside of the work. Several brief thoughts spring to mind:
-the absolutely collaborative nature of the wedding(s). Beth and Annie have spoken about this so much, and although it is evident in the wedding documentation/ephemera, it was a arching theme in my experience this weekend. The event really lives from/between the contributions of many many individuals.
-the unique diversity of the community constructed surrounding the event. I was struck by the range of backgrounds/experiences represented in the wedding, both as performers and as witnesses, and the reality that many of those individuals would have no reason or opportunity to function as a community otherwise. It felt like an ideal demonstration of coalitional politics and communities of affinity: there was no shared essence or pervasive common denominator in those present. There were simply common concerns (primarily for the Appalachians and environmental politics) that established this [fluid] community.
-the generative creative chaos leading up to the event. There were amazing facilitators and organizers involved, but with something of this scale, we were soon behind schedule and I wasn’t sure how the wedding would happen/start on time. And then it did. And it suggested a different way of approaching work/art, a more spontaneous method for creative convergence.

My solo (discussed more extensively in my previous post) was very well received.  There was a lot of documentation happening, so hopefully there will be a video/more photos soon.
I made a few new discoveries as I was dancing. The score expanded. It was certainly an incorporation of environmental melancholy, and a practice of experiencing grief for the destruction of the mountains (and the lives that depend on the mountains), but in a very queer ecofeminist way, it became an incorporation of a deep sorrow for other apparatuses of oppression: the abjection of queer lives as unlivable, the exploitation of women, the earth, and all those who suffer as “others.” I experienced a deep grief that I did not foresee, and my melancholia was for so many things that go ungrieved in our culture. I was brought again to Catriona Sandilands words: “how does one mourn in the midst of a culture that finds it almost impossible to recognize the value of what has been lost?”  In a culture that does not recognize the loss of livability, whether that be for queer people or the inhabitants of the Appalachian mountains, how can we grieve? [this was made even more palpable having read Foucault on biopolitics and Agamben on bare life last week] Unlike what I had prepared, I do not think I reached a state of mourning–if mourning is distinguished from melancholia, the latter being an inability to let go of that which is lost, the former being an act of moving through/letting go. Against so much of my yogic/Tantric philosophy, I did not let go. I incorporated the violence/terrorism of these un-grieved (the mountains, etc.) to carry them with/in/as me. I “re-membered” the mountain, I ended drawing myself up into Tadasana, but it was not an uncompromised form: the mountains cannot ever be what they were before the onslaught of human violence, and we now live in a world of wounds [“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” –Aldo Leopold]. We live in/from/as wounded mountains, and oppressed peoples, despite whatever liberties they attain, carry the history of oppression, of abjection. For me, in the wedding yesterday, there was no “letting go.” There was in incorporation of “the other,” a recognition that it (the mountains, the other, etc.) is NEVER NOT myself. In the ecological/Tantric sense, if all things are One, then that violence, that terrorism, that world is the world in which I live, which is (phenomenologically) the world of my body.

Photo by Elizabeth Linares

Lastly, I feel the need to write something about Courtney Harris’ new work that premiered this week, S(he) Sylph. To be transparent, I am close to this work. I designed and constructed the costumes, I have seen it grow and evolve throughout the rehearsal process, and I live with Courtney. But I saw this work as a great (even radical) work on so many levels, and before another week begins, it was important for me to articulate why.

To begin with, S(he) Sylph was “a contemporary re-imagination of the 1832 ballet, La Sylphide.” The press release goes on to describe it as an investigation of “the complexities of narrative and character development through modern movement vocabularies grounded in a classical idiom. Joined by members of the Royal Renegades, Central Ohio’s premiere drag king troupe, Harris and cast reinvigorate this Romantic-era production to explore gender transgression, queer identity, and feminist perspectives.” Although I feel that the piece stands bolding and beautifully on its own, this context adds something to what I consider to be its radicalness. Contemporary creative reconstructions are a growing interest in the field of dance. I view them as a practice concerned with “doing history,” potentially revisionist, reflexive of the field/form, and depending on the relationship of the choreographer enacting the reconstruction to the “original,” a practice of recuperative autoethongraphy. In Harris’ case, this is a familiar historical ballet. She has danced the “original,” and it lives as an artifact of a particular epoch within her particular [dancing life] history. To revisit, reprocess, revise, and recreate this work functions as more than just an exercise in reconstruction or historicity; it is–in my estimation–a radical act of exploring/generating divergent (deviant?) perspectives and conclusions to one’s own history, as well as the history of the particular ballet. This is part of the context in which I have viewed the work.

In this feminist/queer re-engagement with the Sylph, issues that had to be confronted were primarily in the narrative and character definition, although movement vocabulary, setting/situation, and music were reconsidered as well. The figures of S(he) Sylph are more abstracted than those of La Sylphide. The narrative as I experience it is the presentation of “James” within the context of hyper-masculine men in which he does not quite fit [this hyper-masculinity itself becomes subverted/displaced as the piece progresses, and this gang of guys are revealed as drag kings. I saw this an amazing demonstration of gender as performed, and even the most masculine of men, the standard in this context, become revealed as not essentially that which they perform. This functions for me more as a symbolic plot supporting the more foregrounded narrative of the “James” character] [As the costumer, I want to to comment on how “James” is presented alongside the kings: they are in suits with shoes. He is in a black military jacket trimmed in gold (suggestive of the gold throne around which the kings congregate–for me a symbol of a masculine grounding, and the field of hanging gold frame–for me a symbol of that which must be crossed over/transgressed; it hopefully alludes to a military history of domination, Orientialism, Western superiority, patriarchal occupation, and “othering”) and a kilt, suggestive of the Scottish “James” of La Sylphide, but also functioning to distinguish his performance of masculinity within the context of the men he is alongside. We see hints of dark purple chiffon at the cuffs, collar, and tail of the jacket, suggestive of some additional content]. With the departure of the group of guys, “James” trailing behind them, a mysterious woman (“Madge”)–who has been standing in observation for the opening of the piece–enters the space. Her vocabulary echoes aspects of the first movement with the drag kings and foreshadows the vocabulary of the “Sylph.” She is serpentine and sinuous, and I feel her strength into the floor and through the air like the coil of a boa constrictor. She is regal in her carriage, but her regality is not the flawless linearity of the court ballet. [Again, as the costumer, I want to comment on the presentation of “Madge”: for me, she is the cyborg/composite/queer figure; she wears a black military jacket, reminiscent of the jacket worn by “James” with similar trimmings attaching her to the gold elements of the set and the implications of its military elements, but her jacket is trimmed in ruffles, subverting the design and function of a military jacket (a possible allusion to the feminization of the military persona, the threat implied by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” etc.); she wears men’s Calvin Klein briefs, an inhabitation of an intimately male attire/position, and possibly engaging with a discourse of having/being the “phallus;” beneath her jacket is a hint of black lace; and her jacket is bustled with various colors of chiffon, tassels, lace, and chains, a foreshadowing of a relationship with the materials of the “Sylph;” She is never only one thing; she is internally inconsistent, contradictory in her demeanor and design] Perhaps most importantly to me, she is a figure of mystery: we know that this figure watches/observes much of the action on stage, and there are moments in which she participates in the action between “James” and the “Sylph,” but her role is never perfectly clear, and this ambiguity is another facet of how I read her character as potentially queer. The “Sylph” enters, and we see her move in synch with “Madge;” we are shown/given the opportunity to read a correlation in these figures/characters. Some scholars have suggested various configurations of relationship between “Madge” and the “Sylph” in La Sylphide, and I feel as if this suggestion of relationship continues in this speculation. There are obvious similarities and disparities between these two [again, as costumer: with the “Sylph,” we are confronted with what might superficially be identified as simultaneously the archetypal feminine and the exoticised “other” (calling up suggestions of Latin or show hall dancers). She is a veritable cloud of purple chiffon ruffles, bouncing, drifting, and rippling through the air. Yet my own feminism is at play in the design: her figure is partially obscured. The dress design is taken from a 1930s frock, more of a sheath with a flounce, not accentuating her curves or immediately revealing her body, but provoking the viewer to go looking for her form amidst the ruffles (amidst the expectations of her form?), and perhaps in doing do reveal to the viewer his own attention to and participation in the economy of desire surrounding the female form]. Her movement is easily the most balletic, making reference to yet another history of feminine ideals. In a duet between “James” and the “Sylph,” he chases behind her, looking after her but never directly laying eyes on her, moving through suggestions of her movement as if tracing her traces in the air. The relationship between “James” and the “Sylph” is perhaps the most radical departure from La Sylphide. In Sylphide, James’ desire for the Sylph drew him outside of his engagement to be married, outside of his community (it functioned in some ways as a morality tale, warning against the wiles of the exotic); yet in S(he) Sylph we are shown not specifically a trajectory of desire, but something more like identification or inhabitation. “James” traces the “Sylph” in the air not in an effort to acquire or attain her as an object of desire, but to suggest her form as himself.

In the middle section of the piece, the trio of “Madge,” “James,” and the “Sylph” dance together, “Madge” seeming to mediate the nature of contact between the other two, moving them through space and inhabiting the space between them (again, this “between-ness” can function as a significant factor in considering the figure/character of “Madge”). The “Sylph” exits once more (beyond the frames: the frames function as some kind of divide, accentuated further in the following section. Madge and the Sylph initially emerge from beyond the frame, from an “other” place, and this is to me significant), and now the piece becomes even more interesting.

Erik Abbott-Main as "James," Jessica Zeller as "Sylph" and Veronica Dittman Stanich as "Madge," set pieces by Nicole Bauguss, costumes by Michael J. Morris

Behind the frames enter the drag kings, now in various states of undress, situated liminally between the recognizably female and the recognizably male (I might suggest here Butler’s account of the subversive potential of drag in the destabilization of sedimented gender roles; I might also suggest the spatial/symbolic consistency of the undressed drag kings being situated beyond the frames). “Madge” removed “James'” kilt, and the kings, reaching through the frame, assist in removing his belted jacket. A new version of “James” is revealed: flowing purple chiffon blouse (yes, the same chiffon from the Sylph’s dress and Madge’s bustle) and black men’s Calvin Klein briefs (yes, the same cut as those worn by “Madge;” it is my hope that the correlation not only draws a connection between “James” and the bricolaged condition of “Madge,” but might also raise question of how he inhabits this intimate ‘masculine’ space, one which has been demonstratively inhabited already by “Madge;” what does it do for him to now also inhabit that space?). The “Sylph” reenters and he dances alongside her, now finding a consistency with her movement that he did not find alongside the kings in the opening scene. He dances alongside her, and even when they partner (briefly) it is not is the idiom of the pas de deux; it is along trajectories of sameness and shared vocabularies. “James” is now performed/demonstrated in the terms of the “Sylph,” becoming (rather than desiring/acquiring) those tropes of “otherness” established in the figure of the “Sylph.” His kilt and jacket disguarded (now hanging from the gold throne), he passes through the frames, following in the traces of the “Sylph” as the light come go down. Our last image is “Madge” atop the throne, what I choose to read as an enthronement of ambiguous, liminal, even queer [gender] identity atop/above/against the masculinist paradigm.

So much of this explication has to do with what/how the piece means for me, which says very little of the strength of the dancers (Erik Abbott-Main as “James,” Veronica Dittman Stanich as “Madge,” and Jessica Zeller as the “Sylph”), nor the exceptional craftsmanship of the choreography. Nor the excellent performances/participations of the Royal Renegades as the drag kings in the piece. But as this piece has marked a significant investment of my time, energy, and attention over the last few months, I wanted to contribute my own reading of the work to whatever other dialogues emerge around/about it. I don’t take my reading as authoritative in any way, nor does it necessarily represent Courtney’s reading of her work. It is simply how and what the piece means to me as a designer and spectator.

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Erotics (eco-logic)

This is not going to be my most eloquent post, but I’ve had ideas spinning around the notion of “eros” and “the erotic” for a while now (years?) and I think it might be developing into something a bit more effable, but I think I just need to get the ideas down.

I think my earliest encounter with the speculation on “eros” was with Anne Caron’s Eros: The Bittersweet, still one of my top recommended reads. Carson is a professor of classical literature, and Eros is her formulation of how eros functioned within Greek lyric poetry and thus how it might be considered to function within interpersonal relations. She explores the evolution of a literary culture’s impact on the senses of those engaged with that culture, a bounding, an edging and delimiting in the conception of the individual, concurrent with these lyric expressions of the sweetness and agony of eros. In her formulation, eros is desire that denotes lack: it is that which we do not have (or, she goes on to formulate with certain Freudian tones, that which we no longer have, that which we perceive to have lost), and the sweet-bitterness of eros comes in that agony of not having. We can no longer want that which we have, because wanting is itself predicated on lack.

I employed Carson’s text in a paper I wrote recently exploring theorizing “Sexecology” and “Ecosexuality” as it is performed in Love Art Laboratory’s Green Wedding Four (2008). In this paper, I began to explore the possibility that the erotic is a state of contingency. It is a state of empty spaces, spaces of lack, that seek to be filled. I correlated this with collaboration, that when we allow ourselves to collaborate, as artists, as researchers, as people (relationships themselves might be viewed as collaboration), we are actively engaging with those places of lack, perhaps even forming or formulating spaces of lack in order to find compliment from those with whom we are collaborating. It is an intimate exchange, it is a space of varying degrees of vulnerability, because in bearing our lack, we relinquish portions of our control. We ask to be filled by another, and coextensively, we do our part to fill in and meet and complement the places of lack presented by our collaborators. The product is necessarily unpredictable, indeterminate, and emergent. I don’t mean to imply that in all collaborative settings the distribution of power is equal and balanced; I think of settings in which I have functioned as a choreographer or director. There is a collaborative experience with the dancers in the work because the work would not be possible without their participation, and certainly the dancers bring their own personal and creative energies to the work. But the power is not balanced: I maintain a degree of control that extends beyond that of anyone else in the project. There are of course nuances throughout, but what I mean to address is that in this discussion of collaboration being predicated on a kind of erotic exchange between lack and complement, I am aware that power is imbalanced, potentially in flux, and rarely distributed equally.

This is where I begin to equate “collaboration” with “ecology”–it is not a perfect equation, but a functional one. Ecology (etymologically “the study of habitation/dwelling”) is predicated on “situation,” situation being necessarily complex, reciprocal, and potential systemic. For my purposes, I tend to shorthand “ecology” as the study of functional systems of interdependency. The jump to “collaboration” is not far. What I think I’m getting at is that the functionality of ecologies and eco-systems (systems of habitation, situation, which, again, are necessarily reciprocal; habitation is not passive) depends on complement, which depends on spaces of interdependency and lack. This in itself seems to evoke the erotic to me, but I think there may be yet another step. For there to be lack and complement, in itself, may not be erotic. Instead, it may be the sensation of that lack and complement. Is eros a sensation or a structural/systemic relationship/state, both or otherwise? Not sure.

I think our culture carries an anxiety surrounding “lack.” Perhaps it is simply the modern humanist individual, perhaps it is even reinforced by feminist projects that have deconstructed the conceptual/social/sexual dependence of women on men, but we shirk away from dependence (inter-dependence, co-dependence) towards notions of independence, that we are each our own, complete, lack-less, need-less, individual. I not only find this to be a tad bit inaccurate, but not helpful. I remember talking to Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens in December, and their discussion of their move away from the “modern genius” individual artist to collaborative work, because there’s more possible when you collaborate. I think I am theorizing this draw towards the “more that is possible” as the erotic. It softens at its edges, it expands and becomes fluid, willing to mingle and mix and exchange; it is porous and permeable, and accepts the risk of that permeability (the risk of “pollution,” perhaps). There is a danger to the erotic, to exchange, and collaboration; to no longer being in control. Catriona Mortimar-Sandilands, among others, has written exceptional writing addressing the correlation between environmental projects such as state parks and “nature reserves,” the project against pollution of the “natural environment” (need I remind myself that to inhabit is not passive, but is already an exchange?), and the medicalization and defense of bodies, the fear of the polluted body, the dangers of sex and exchange of fluids and the solidification of the edges. It is a complex question without (for me) a yet clear trajectory (I can see it pertaining to questions surrounding sex work, pornography, safer-sex practices, contact improvisation, localvore food cultures, etc.), but there is something about an acceptance of the permeability of edges, spaces of lack within our borders/boundaries, and the invitation for exchange across those edges in order to complement those spaces of lack. I call this ecology. Or eros. Or sexecology, or ecosexuality.

This relinquishing of (some) control/power connects to another conversation I recently had with Daniel Holt. In discussing his Guerilla Dance Project, I began to identify with a certain desire to not be completely in control. In other words, I noticed and identified with a need/desire (lack) to create work for which I (or one) is not solely responsible. I think this tendency fits into larger meta-narratives: for instance, the post-modern shift away from the single generative choreographer (prevalent in early modern dance) towards sourced-materials (dancers generating movement material to be shaped/crafter by choreographer) to collectives and improvisation (Grand Union, etc.), and even (what I have been referring to as) indirect methodologies for movement generation: methodologies that do not dictate movement from one body to another (direct), but put (indeterminate, or at least not fully determinate) systems or scores in place by which movement is then produced (image-based systems like Butoh and Gaga would fit into this category, but also the vast field of improvisational scoring that has evolved from the mid-20th century onward). It is a shift away from singular determinacy towards multiple indeterminacies, and it is fully engaged with this shift towards permeability, complementarity, and (erotic) lack. I think it fits into a context of yet larger meta-narratives, like the shift to Web 2.0, and maybe even models for emergent taxonomies in general. There is a move away from hierarchy and toward democratization of power, which necessitates interdependence and collaboration. I don’t know if I could pin-point a single or even list of reasons for this shift, except maybe what Annie and Beth said: there is the potential for something more. I might identify this, in a broad sense, as the erotic sensation.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking more about the notion of the sensation of the erotic, how this sensation comes to be (the genealogy of sensation?). I’ve been thinking about erogenous zones as spaces and surfaces with which we comes to associate “something more:” a site of further sensation/increased sensation, a site for potential pleasure, a site for potential participation, etc. These spaces and surfaces becomes charged through their histories (by histories, I mean the complex intersections of experiences that contribute to the construction of these spaces and surfaces as we experience them; I am assuming that biology is always infused with culture, and thus to say, “My body feels this way or that way,” is never unaffected by the (cultural/social/ecological) history of that body), through experiences that allow for the recognition of potential. This is where I begin to correlate “queer” and “erotic:” both are an insistence on possibility. There are differences perhaps . . . I take queer to connote a range of possibilities always in flux, always fluid and mutable and unfixed. The erotic, on the other hand, is possibly dependent on a degree of predictability. In order to experience the sensation of the erotic, we must have first identified or become aware of a potential that we then experience as lack (available to be filled/fulfilled).

Or maybe not.
I remember something I said to Bebe Miller last year about the erotic experience of discovery. There is something intensely titillating about not-knowing (the not-knowing being a place of lack) that seeks knowledge. It has not clearly identified the lack, nor that which might fulfill it, but it allows for the gap. I experience this with bodies, with trees and landscapes, with new research endeavors, with collaboration and experimentation: the erotic charge is in those spaces of not-knowing that then fuels the search, the seeking. I feel it in contact improvisation, I feel it in sex, I feel it in nature walks, etc. These experiences deaden when it feels completely “known.” In contact jams, it deadens when we fall into patterns, the same sequences of actions and supports, without any new discovery/ies. The same is true with sex: when it feels scripted, when sensations feel predicted or expected, when actions and positions begin to feel sequenced and even practiced, when bodies are no longer landscapes to be discovered, etc. And so much is lost of our experience of our environment when it becomes predictable or “known” (which is of course inaccurate; it, like us/with us, is always in flux). On my walk to and from school in the mornings, or across the Oval and back again when acquiring (yet more) books from Thompson library, or our delightful “Notice What You Notice” practice in Current Issues with Bebe Miller and Norah Zuniga Shaw this past spring, all of these become an ongoing space for (erotic) discovery. Acknowledging the unfamiliarity of the seemingly familiar, searching for the unexpected or unnoticed, seems to me an act of constructing spaces of lack, spaces of potential, in order to be filled. I am reminded significantly of David Abram’s work in The Spell of the Sensuous and Sara Ahmed’s queer formulations of phenomenology: we are always potentially in reciprocal exchange with our environments (be that landscapes, dance settings, other people, etc.) and when we tune into that exchange and recognize our participation in it, I think we/I begin to experience that erotic sensation.

As I’ve worked through so many of my ideas about Sexecology and Ecosexuality, a questions that comes up every now and again has been “why?” Why look for sexual experiences with the environment? Why try to understand habitation and systems of interdependency through a sexual lens or epistemology? One reason that I have come to before is that sexuality, among many other taxonomies of our selves and our experiences, has the potential to serve as a site for liberation, transformation, discovery/re-discovery, and political/personal activism. I still think this is true. But I also think that it has something to do with this logic of the erotic. We (can) experience eros acutely through our sexuality; sex and sexuality are constant discourses of lack and complement, subjects and objects, desire, etc. It’s not, as I think I’m beginning to formulate, that sex is the only situation for the erotic, but that it is a familiar space. Here is where I see the potential for the employment of a sexual epistemology as a means for accessing/understanding/recognizing the erotic, both within and beyond what we experience/identify/taxonomize as “sexual.” Annie and Beth talk about sex being something really big and broad, not narrowly defined. I think this expansive sexuality, that explodes sex beyond specific acts and experiences and begins to recognize the relationship between those normally(normatized) experiences identified as “sex”  with a larger landscape of experience(s). I think that the erotic might be a significant connective tissue within this expansion.

Those are some of my thoughts. Looking forward to seeing where these ideas go.



Purple Cuddle and the construction of self

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

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

This is the gallery’s description of the show:

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

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

You can read more about the show here as well.

This is the published blurb about my piece:

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

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

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

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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

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

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

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

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

Onto the spring quarter . . .



Cloud of Interests

This week I read an article by Alexandra Carter entitled  “Destabilizing the Discipline: Critical debates about History and their Impact on the Study of Dance.” In it she describes history not as neat boxes of knowledge but as clouds of “dispersing interplay” of discourses. My life, art, and interests feel a bit like that right now. I feel as if I have several large foci with small shifting bolts of connective tissue (big ‘ole mixed metaphor) linking them together. Some of these are illustrated in my tag cloud, others are not so concrete as to have a “tag” attached to them. I feel like I am trying to figure out how they all relate, how they inform or reinforce one another, and how the work I am doing might adequately address/serve/interrogate all of these interests.

At the heart of it all is the body. There is the subject of my arching research interests, that of situating the body as the site of the perception, negotiation, and demonstration of identity, and how this state is considered within the choreographic process. Specifically I am interested in considering movement material generated by the body as the extension of personal identity, and examining how the physical practice of movement material constitutes not only the construction of dance but also the construction of personal identity.

From here I am already aware of the paths that connect to other interests. One that seems to be of increasing centrality is the expansion of the notion of the body. This comes up in my yoga teaching, in the paper I wrote about Synchronous Objects, and in the ideas I have surrounding the work of Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology, and Ecosexuality. In yoga I privilege the body as the site of perception. The sage Abhinavagupta wrote: “Nothing perceived is independent of perception, and perception differs not from the perceiver; therefore the [perceived] universe is nothing but the perceiver.” If perception is a physical activity, as Mark Johnson, George Lakoff, and Alva Noë (among others, I am sure) have suggested, and if perception is the unity between the subject and the object (that which is “external” of self, the perceived universe), then the body take on far more importance as the site not only of the subject, but the subjective universe. This is perhaps not a profound recognition, but I think it may have profound implications. Our experience of the world can no longer be entirely considered as a subject moving through an external landscape; instead, the subject (and thus the body) becomes implicated in the “external” world. I think this may be the connection point to Sexecology/Ecosexulaity. The foundation of my understanding of these radical, fabulous, and beautiful notions as they have evolved out of the collaborative work of Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens is that one looks to find sexual (thus bodily) content in the natural environment. I think this recognition of the body as already implicated in environmental situation by virtue of its role as the creative/perceptual site for the subjective universe offers a natural extension to the exploration of sexuality in that environment. For more about my ideas surrounding sexecology/ecosexuality, see my earlier post. Going back to my yoga practice/yoga teaching, part of the way in which I understand yoga is a kind of alchemy of self, the “splendor of recognition,” the recognition being that Self is not separate from the universe in which it occurs, consciousness is the substance by which we create our own universe, Self is not fixed, nor is the universe, nor is the body, and that by cultivating this awareness of the body/Self/universe in our yoga practice, we are substantially transforming not only ourselves, but our consciousness, and thus the universe in which we live.

Adjacent (but connected) to these interest is the piece that I am working on right now, Autumn Quartet, with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt. This piece has been in process since September, and I am still not quite sure I understand it yet. There are so many blog posts writing specifically about this piece, I don’t want to be redundant, but the major ideas that have emerged from this process are: the relationship between intimacy and violence, undressing/redressing the body, shifting power dynamics, indeterminacy/agency (as created by the structure for the piece being an algorithmic score), the integration of life and art . . . those are the main ideas. Recently I’ve become interested in how this piece relates to sex, the presence or implication of sex in the piece even in the absence of actual sexual action. As I listened to Jiz Lee and Tommy Midas discuss sex in a couple of docu-porns by Madison Young, I was reminded of this dance. I’m still not quite sure what the connections are, but I think they are there. Part of how I am interrogating those connections is by bringing that text, that language, into the process, into the studio. I am situating it into my commentary on the work here on my blog, and in the sound score for the piece. [On a side note, I follow both Jiz Lee and Madison Young on Twitter, and it was an exhilarating surprise to have both of them tweet about my using that text in this piece]. I think as I watched footage of a run-through of the piece, I also began to make aesthetic associations with several films, a few that I have been thinking about since the start of the piece, and one that I had not considered. The last couple of scenes in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer have always been iconic moments for me, and as I looked at this dance, I recognized images that directly relate to those scenes, namely the wild flurry of bodies in various states of undress, and the biting, consuming, eating of a person. In case you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it was a new connection for me.

Other points of interest branch out from this piece. I am in a course looking at the history and theory of post-modern and contemporary dance this quarter, and in considering what it is I would like to research for this class, this piece has suggested several points: the utilization of undressing as choreography, its reasoning, its perception, etc.; the explication of violence in choreography in post-modern dance: this has interested me for a while. Much of dance has an intrinsically masochistic quality to it. It is difficult, demanding, and often damaging to the body, in small, overlooked ways. I am interested in tracing the expansion of explicit physical violence in choreography, and considering how it might be indicative of an explication of the intrinsic violence, masochism, and even sadism  of dance practices. I am also considering writing my paper on Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology/Ecosexuality, as a component of this course, as the destabilization of fixed parameters of the body might be considered essentially post-structuralist, i.e., essentially post-modernist.

I have been feeling hungry for Butoh lately. Butoh has been the most transformative, fulfilling, actualizing physical practice of my life. Studying with Yoshito and Kazuo Ohno in Yokohama in 2006 was a formative experience for my dancing life. And yet ever since I came to grad school, the time and attention I have made available for a Butoh practice has been non-existant. I regret this, and at the same time I’m not sure of the solution. And yet all of these things, the body as the site of identity, the situation of the subjective universe, subliminal and explicit violence, these are all aspects that I find that Butoh can address.

I’m interested in applying notions of queer theory to choreographic practice, subverting the assumed normative roles of choreographer and dancer, without reverting to the post-modern model of dancers generating movement/choreographer structuring that movement. While that suggests the (perhaps illusion?) of a democratic process, I don’t know if it has substantially subverted those roles. Again, I think of statements made by Jiz Lee in “Thin Line Between Art and Sex” about being a “switch,” the fluidity of roles, leading and following, and how that sexual perspective might inform not only dance practices (as reflected in forms such as Contact Improvisation), but also choreographic methodologies. Truly, I am fascinated by Jiz’s ideas. They have addressed a whole spectrum of concepts that I have wanted to explore for a while and to which I have not yet given my attention. Jiz also wrote an article in a publication called ArtXX looking at the relationship between cognitive science and queer porn. I just ordered my issue; can’t wait to read it.

Which leads to the last interest that I might address here, and that has to do with a notion I’ve considered as “Sexual epistemology,” or ways of knowing that emerge from sexuality, sex, sexual identity, etc. This sense of considering choreographic process from the perspective of “switch” as suggested by a kind of sexual identity could be considered a kind of sexual epistemology. I am curious about what modalities or methodologies might be suggested by other sexual topics, like penetration/non-penetration, arousal, auto-erotic behavior, kink, etc. I have been interested in how the “sex-positive movement” might address or inform academia, or even more specifically, dance in academia. There has been some acknowledgement of sexual dynamics as playing a role in dance practices, but I question whether these have been acknowledged through as “sex-positive” lens. Carol Queen defines sex-positive as follows: “It’s the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent” (quoted from her article “The Necessary Revolution: Sex-Positive Feminism in the Post-Barnard Era.”). How might our acknowledgement, treatment, and even utilization of sexual understanding affect dance practices in a positive way? I don’t know, but it is a budding interest of mine.

I’m not sure of all the ways in which these interests relate. Nor am I sure of how to give attention to all or any of these during the difficult and demanding period of grad school, but even just by articulating them and cataloguing them here on my blog I feel that I have served the process in some way.

On to other things.



The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Yesterday evening I was honored to have the opportunity to participate in a vigil for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers at Femina Potens Art Gallery in San Francisco. In addition to being present for the vigil itself, I was honored to be included in a press conference preceding the event on behalf of my blog. I came to San Francisco to experience and write about Love Art Laboratory‘s current exhibit “Sexecology: Making Love With The Earth, Sky + Sea” (currently on display at Femina Potens). Although this vigil was not an official event of the Love Art Lab, I timed my trip in order to be present for this important cause. I am pleased to be able to contribute to the “press” surrounding the event.

I have considered and reconsidered how I might want to document this event, while still pertaining to what I consider to be the mission or creative platform of this blog. What makes the most sense to me is to relay what I found striking, what will stay with me, what I found to be of importance. This relates mostly to ideas, perspectives, and theories surrounding culture, violence, and sex work(ers). Statements or ideas may not always be credited to specific speakers; that was not the way in which I was engaging with the event. I won’t be detailing the rich history of this event or its spread and international implications (more can be read about the history and founding of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers here). Instead, I will offer ideas, quotes, and paraphrases that emanated from the community in attendance, while recognizing that any community is constructed from a complexity of intersubjectivity, a collection of individuals, and that any one of these ideas that have stayed with me originated in a specific individual even as it became expressive within and of the community.

I will briefly offer context. The gallery is a beautiful space, currently filled to the brim with work by Elizabeth M. Stephens and Annie M. Sprinkle (Love Art Lab) addressing sexecology (or ecosexuality). Chairs were set up facing the back corner of the gallery where there had been erected a simple altar for victims of violence against sex workers. Signs with provocative statistics surrounding violence in this industry/community, red prayer candles in memorial to specific victims, red umbrellas that would fulfill a further function later in the evening, and a collection of flowers comprised the altar. In attendance (introduced at the press conference) were Annie Sprinkle and co-hostess of the evening Kimberlee Cline, Madison Young, executive director of Femina Potens, and Carol Queen, noted sexologist, co-founder of the Center for Sex and Culture.

The press conference gave us the opportunity to hear and discuss issues surrounding sex work, violence against sex workers, the implications of violence throughout our cultural infrastructure, the complexities of the community which is identified as “sex workers,” and the relationship between the the movement for sex workers rights and the LGBT rights movement.

from left: Madison Young, Annie Sprinkle, Kimberlee Cline, Robyn Few, and Carol Queen

The vigil itself took the form of an informal ritual. Carol Queen opened the ritual with a stunning invocation honoring the Goddess, Her sexual power, creative potential, and presence. This invocation was followed by the reading of names of sex workers who have been murdered in 2009, read by hostesses Kimberlee Cline and Madison Young. This was a list of women, men, transgendered, and unidentified bodies, of all ages, from around the globe. After reading and honoring those who have been lost, the ritual shifted to an open mic for anyone who wanted to share or express. Some told stories, some offered poems, others shared their personal histories in sex work. Annie Sprinkle closed the ritual with guided breathing experience, breathing in the love and connectivity and support of this community and taking that into ourselves to bring back into the world. Having this vigil opened and closed in such sacred yet open and inclusive “liturgies” added a specific tone to the event, alluding to a kind of community practice that spans bodies and spirit, that contains space for our differences and diversity rather than being formulated on a sacredness that abjects/rejects an other as “profane.” This was to me significant in understanding both the extent of violence in our culture and the(a) form of resistance to this violence. The next phase of the vigil was a “solidarity stroll” from Femina Potens to St. James Infirmary, which provides “compassionate and non-judgemental healthcare and social services for all sex workers while preventing occupational illnesses and injuries through a comprehensive continuum of services.” Those of us participating carried the signs, candles and umbrellas that previously adorned the altar in the gallery. It had a sacred feel as we became the bearers of these implements, a mobile “altar” of human beings. It was also a time for community, people talking with one another, hearing one another’s stories, making connections with people who had previously been strangers. This was the conclusion to the vigil.

on the Solidarity Stroll

Emerging from this structure and community were so many profoundly relevant ideas and perspectives surrounding sex work and the culture in which it operates. To begin, there is the breadth of what sex work includes, and the complexity that such diversity entails. “Sex work,” as discussed throughout the evening, signifies professions including street prostitution, indoor prostitution and escort services, work in the porn industry, strippers, exotic dancing, erotic massage, etc. It includes professions in which sex, whatever its form, is, at least in part, that for which one is being paid. This diversity presents its own difficulties. During the press conference, Madison Young and Carol Queen discussed the tensions and divisions that can exist between these professional subsets held tenuously together under the umbrella of “sex work,” making a unified and cohesive politically activist community even more difficult. Rather than recognizing the similarities and affinities that may unite these professionals as the foundation of a coalitional political identity, emphasis is lost on distinctions. As Queen put it, the strippers can always say, “Well, at least I don’t fuck them.” I describe these infrastructural tensions and divisions because conceptually I think they are expressive of one of the fundamental issues surrounding violence, both against sex workers and within our culture at large.

Similar to the expansive nature of the designation “sex work,” another function of the evening was exposing the expansive and pervasive nature of what constitutes “violence.” This was a profound realization for me, considering that which serves as the foundation for violence as implicit in the violence itself. Addressed were the perhaps obvious forms of violence: murder, rape, assault, abuse, battery, physical and emotional trauma. But also addressed were what might be seen as the more subtle aspects of violence: porn companies that prohibit the use of condoms, the lack of sexual education for those entering the sex work industry, the lack of compassionate medical and psychological care for sex workers, without judgement or assumption, the defamation of character suffered by those in sex work, the laws in this country the prohibit sex work, making reporting violence effectively impossible (this double-bind of the illegality of sex work is perhaps one of the most profound contributing factors to violence against these individuals, discussed further below). One speaker specifically addressed the “violence of shame, the violence of having to hide.” This was striking to me. Shame has been a recurring subject in my creative work for some time. For my purposes, shame is an interpersonal experience in which one’s experience of oneself is compromised or contaminated by one’s perception of the Other’s perception. A culture of shame is familiar territory within the LGBT community (one of many similarities between these two sometimes overlapping communities), but what was a substantial shift for me was the recognition that the society or culture that propagates shame might be considered a culture of violence. The foundation of shame is judgement, or at the very least the perception of judgment. Put simply, that it is not okay to be who you are, either in whole or in part. A culture of shame emerges when the social assumption is that in difference and diversity there are correct and incorrect ways of being. A culture of shame emerges when diversity and difference are not celebrated, when their distinctions are used to separate and divide rather than unite. This makes me think of a presentation that Norah Zuniga Shaw gave concerning “Synchronous Object for One Flat Thing, reproduced” in which she emphasized counterpoint as a system of recognizing diversity and difference as the superficial organizational structure, supported by a deeper unity of purpose and intention. She presented this not only as a potential way for looking at dance, but also for considering society, culture, and community. My thought is that a society which looks for sameness and uniformity, in which diversity is potentially unacceptable, which proliferates shame surrounding difference, is a society in which violence is implicit.

I question that occurs to me is “To what degree do we celebrate difference? How ‘different’ is still acceptable?” I think the answer is perhaps simple: to the degree that the difference itself does not produce violence.

One of the commonalities or deeper unifying organizational structures within the “sex worker” community that was discussed was the “sex-positive” movement. It is perhaps here, from perspectives of sex and sexuality, that this culture of shame and violence emerges. “Sex-positive” is a loosely defined term, but what it hopes to promote is the perspective that sexual expression is good and healthy, an essential aspect of our humanity and being. It is in response to cultures that cloak sexuality in secrecy, shame, restriction, repression and suppression [there is certainly space here for an intertexutal discourse involving Michel Foucault’s rejection/genealogical reformulation of the “repression mythology” surrounding contemporary sexuality, responses to Foucault’s work by authors such as Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (among others), and the vast literary history of “sex-positivity” emerging from the feminist “sex wars” of the 1980s (including such texts as Pleasure and Danger: exploring female sexuality edited by Carole S. Vance from the papers presented at the 1982 conference “Towards a Politics of Sexuality” held at Barnard College. This discourse is, of course, beyond the scope of this reflection on a specific event, but it is worth acknowledging that these issues are complex; they have not only been discussed by many great thinkers, but there is still space for yet more discussion and discourse.] I dare say that while there has certainly been progress, American society and culture continues to be less than “sex positive.” Sex is addressed in the public and political arenas as a moral issue, a religious issue even. Once sex is considered in these terms, diversity and difference are less likely to be celebrated. These are the arenas in which homosexuals are considered deviants, whores are considered criminals, in which sex carries a narrow definition and in which expressions of sex and sexuality that extend beyond this narrow definition are deemed inappropriate. They become targets of condemnation, shame, and thus violence. I believe that this is the predominant, mainstream culture within our country, a site of struggle for any individual or community that exists outside of the mainstream, or predominantly accepted, definition of sex and sexuality.
This was not the culture represented at last nights vigil.
Sex work was discussed as an expression of giftings, “undervalued gifts of robust sexuality,” overwhelming compassion and generosity, a deep capacity for creativity, healing, and love. Sex workers were described as heroes, super-heroes, priestesses of the Goddess, who make their living opening themselves, completely, becoming vulnerable and sharing love and energy through what they do. These giftings, this openness, this generosity and sharing is part of what makes this community susceptible to violence.

With this honoring of sexual difference, sex as positive, and diverse sexual expression came an emphasis (or re-emphasis) of the source and site of violence, not in these professions themselves, but in the conditions of these professions that are produced by our culture of shame and violence. For instance, because prostitution is illegal, prostitutes become susceptible targets to violence; the violence cannot be reported without the targets themselves becoming implicated in the crime. Medical care is compromised due to cultural mindsets that there is shame or indecency in these professions. Stigma is attached to the persons of these professionals, potentially compromising their social standing and personal relationships. Because the difference and diversity that this community represents is not celebrated, the conditions this community faces become compromised and compromising. The violence emerges not from these individuals, not from what they are doing, but from the society and perspectives in which they are operating. And, no, it isn’t as simple as changing the laws, although this would/will be a profound shift in our culture. Amsterdam and New Zealand both have regulation for legalized prostitution, and violence still persists in these countries. The shift must be deeper, a shift of perception, and a value for the diversity of sexuality, sexual activity, sexual identity, and sexual expression.

One speaker made a statement that I found to be a striking summation of this plight: “Human rights are human rights; they don’t stop at sex work.” This could be said about so many communities and individuals that face violence based on actual or perceived difference. Human rights do not stop at our differences. They are pervasive. The right to own, honor and express one’s own person, one’s own body. The right to happiness. The right to love and have that love recognized. The right to explore and express the uniqueness of individual identity without fear or shame. Too often difference and diversity are denounced as destructive; this is fear, and eventually hate. Those who are perceived as different or deviating from the regulatory norms of culture are dehumanized, deemed less than human, by effectively denying them these fundamental human rights based on their differences. What I suppose I am proposing or supporting is a shift of consciousness as the “end to violence,” recognizing diversity and difference, and celebrating them as not only essential to the fabric of culture, but as a fundamental human right.

The vigil last night was both solemn and celebratory. Solemn in memory of those who have suffered the effects of violence in our culture, and angry at a society that, if not condones, does nothing to prevent such violence. Celebratory of difference and diversity, because it is in this celebration, in this shift to recognizing a deeper pervasive unity in the uniqueness of human and sexual expression, that the potential to end violence resides.



Lady Gaga, Ballet, Synchronous Objects, etc.

I haven’t updated as recently as I would have liked. There is so much going on here at the end of the quarter, but I feel that there are several points that I want to quickly share. I confess, there is very little overt connective tissue between these various ideas, but the common denominator is that they are occupying my attention right now, and as I hope is clear through the overall journey of this blog, that which occupies my attention inevitably finds its way into influencing “the work” (i.e. my creative practice, the dances I make, the papers I write etc.)

So there’s Lady Gaga. There’s her new album Fame Monster that is blowing up my world.

And there’s its connection to ballet. On November 14th, Lady Gaga premiered her new song “Speechless” at MOCA’s 30th Anniversary Gala in Francesco Vezzoli’s “Ballets Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again).” She played a piano customized by Damien Hirst, wore a hat designed by Frank Gehry, was accompanied by dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet, who were attired in costumes designed by Miuccia Prada. That alone should be enough said. But you can read more about it here. And see a clip of it below. And an image.

So for my last week of teaching ballet this quarter (to beginner non-majors), I set all of my barre combinations to Lady Gaga, predominantly the new album, as an homage to this contemporary intersection of high Russian ballet and contemporary pop culture, it in itself an homage to the Ballets Russes and the work of Serge Diaghilev. After having taught Vaganova Technique all quarter, it felt appropriate.

I had an amazing opportunity to take a class with Jill Johnson, former dancer with William Forsythe and the Frankfurt Ballet (among a list of other credentials). I relished the opportunity to revisit a way of moving that became familiar last winter working with Nik Haffner and Forsythe’s “Improvisational Technologies.” Today Jill emphasized the relationship between these ideas and classical ballet technique, epaulement as rotations in the body, and working rigorously in abstracting these various rotations and counter-rotations. It was not the same way of moving that I explore last year, but there was significant overlap, and moments of realizing how that experience last year changed the way that I move “naturally.” You can see me exploring some of those ideas in a piece I performed in October here.

I am also working on authoring a new paper, the working of title of which is “Body of Knowledge/Knowledge of the Body: An Analysis of the Presence of Embodiment in Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced.” I am working to construct a working theoretical definition of what is meant by “embodiment” from synthesizing writings by Mark Johnson, George Lakoff, Judith Butler, Amelia Jones, Heidegger, and Henry Sayre, among others, and then looking for the presence of embodiment in Synchronous Objects. I have found that there is a fairly widespread uncomfortability amongst dancers engaging with this dance-based research project. I think it has something to do with a sense that the knowledge that we know as our moving bodies has been extracted, transformed into date, and re-presented in forms/objects other than the moving body. My interest in the implication of embodiment throughout the project, in the site of origin (the dance), the collection and translation of the choreographic systems into data, the transformation of the data into alternative re-presentations, and ultimately (and perhaps most viscerally) in the viewer of the project himself or herself. While the paper is still in the works, I feel that there are implications of embodiment throughout the project; this is most acute in the viewing of the project. The project is an object to be viewed, to be understood by a viewer. It is a request for the re-embodiment of the knowledge being re-presented. I am attempting to describe that not only does the site itself necessitate the (embodied) presence of the viewer, but that the way in which the objects themselves are understood are through conceptualizations of time, space, density, movement, etc. that emerge from an embodied experience of the world in which we live. This is supported primarily by Johnson and Lakoff’s writings in Philosophy in the Flesh and The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. I’ll keep you posted on the paper. In the mean time, I hope you go and explore the site.

In the reading I’ve done in preparation for writing this paper, a gem of a resource was a book I came across by Henry M. Sayre entitled The Object of Performance: the American Avant-Garde since 1970. Sayre writes about the shift of importance in the visual art world from the art object to the performative act, and in doing so the shift of “presence” from the artist/object to the viewer of the object. He writes beautifully about the photograph emerging as a respected medium, a signifier of both presence (the viewer of the photograph, and even the photograph as an object itself) and absence (that which the photograph depicts). He also wrote about the action painting (re: Pollock, Krasner, others) as a significant shift, in which the paintings that were bought by museums and collectors were not the action painting itself. It was a thing concerned with the immediacy of the action; the painting acted as a trace, a document of the action, and yet an object itself. Like the photograph. Like Synchronous Objects. It has sparked some fascinating notions as I have engaged with visual art after this reading. Last weekend I saw a series of works by Dale Chihuly, mostly large glass sculptures. It was fascinating and exciting to engage this work as “movement traces,” the documentation of the actions of the glass artists (which, in Chihuly’s work, art already mostly interpretations of Chihuly’s “action painting” designs for the pieces), and even farther as potential “movement scores.” Visual art as movement score. Reading visual art as movement scores as a method for engagement. There is something there.

Speaking of art object as documentation of action, I just ordered a “Tit Print” by Annie Sprinkle. She posted on her facebook today that she just made another batch of them, and had them on sale today. They consist of large ink or paint prints using her breasts as her instrument. I think they’re lovely, a kind of Yves Klein way of revealing the body. And the fact that I am going to San Francisco later this month to interview Annie and Beth and see their upcoming show “Sexecology: Making Love with Earth, Sky and Sea” at Femina Potens Gallery.

One of Annie's Tit Prints

Yves Klein "untitled"

Finally, a little rant: I am exhausted about hearing about making art or dance “accessible.” I take issue with this word. Because it rarely refers to making art experiences available to the population. It most often implies that the art be constructed in such a way that the viewer can “get something out of it.” It is not about making the art itself accessible as it is about making a specific experience (or kind of experience) of the work accessible. I think it has emerged from the collective anxiety of audience and artist worrying that they have somehow misunderstood the art experience. And my issue is this: “accessible” implies that there is something to be “accessed,” something encoded that must be (able to be) decoded. It assumes that art is essentially communicable, that its purpose or intention is that the viewer understand or “access” the experience that the artist has of her or his own work. And I think that is simply not the purpose of art. My theory is also that we live in such a visually complex, communication driven culture that we spend our lives trying to “figure out” what we’re supposed to understand from images, advertising, commercials, etc. etc. etc., that we come to the art experience with that same pressure. It is my opinion that the art experience is perhaps the opportunity for reprieve from this way of engaging and understanding. The purpose is not to access the encoded meaning, but instead to engage with that with which you are presented and make it meaningful for yourself. Construct meaning rather than access meaning, using your experience of the dance or sculpture or literature or music, etc., as the materials by which you construct your meaning. In this sense, I am opposed to making art “accessible.” I am in favor of making art available. But I would like to do away with this language/concept that there is anything to “access” in art. It is there. You experience it. You make that experience meaningful for yourself using the materials before your as the materials of your meaning.

There. That’s my little rant for today.

Back to reading/writing about Synchronous Objects.



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.