michael j. morris


porn and performative productions of (inter)subjectivities: The Black Spark, etc.

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.

In looking at the videos:
I started by looking at the video titled MoreTheKill.

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
http://blackspark.tumblr.com/

http://www.facebook.com/blacksparkfilm

http://twitter.com/#!/theblackspark

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Constellations of Thought

I am so overwhelmed at the prospect of sitting down to write this post, and I can hardly even justify the time, knowing that it will be insufficient and incomplete (as are most things) for all that I am interested in exploring/expressing. And I have not even expanded on my “tag cloud reflection” in my last post. But I also feel that in three days of this new quarter, with new and important classes, as well as the density of inspiration coming from all of the Forsythe work in and around OSU/the Wexner, I am adrift amongst veritable constellations of thought. I am sure that I will only be able to address a few specific ideas, and even then, from light years away (as opposed to the microscopic examination I would prefer), but here we go. In no particular order.

Yesterday I attended a lecture by Alva Noë. His primary research concerns are philosophy and cognitive sciences, specifically exploring the nature of consciousness. He posits that consciousness in action, it is something we do, not some internal phenomenon that exists somewhere in our brains. He is questioning a somewhat established assumption that consciousness takes place specifically in the brain, and that thus on some level we are our brains. He asserts that the brain is only a part of the larger structure of consciousness.

And all of this is fascinating to me, especially in the context of dance.

But more of what I would like to address in these brief lines, in this brief time, is his comparison or art and philosophy. I commonly reference my choreography as being specifically concerned with the exploration of aspects of the human condition through the moving body. In a sense, it is an action of philosophy (and research). The piece I just premiered in March, “About,” was previously entitled, “Phenomena to Noumenon: This Simple Thing,” which is essentially a philosophical discourse concerning the nature of reality and perception, objectivity and subjectivity. Noë began by saying that art has been a problem for philosophy for a long time (in the same sense, philosophy is the central problem for my art), asking what is art, what is its value, can it produce knowledge, etc. He asserted three points:
1. Both philosophy and art either have neutral or no subject, or their subject is the whole or time and space, anything about which there can be thought, consciousness itself. Unlike other fields, they are not subject specific but more a way of approaching or addressing subject, which might be anything, and certainly arises out experience and thus consciousness.
2. Both philosophy and art find themselves problematic. Both raise the question for themselves, “How can a dialectic that does not need to produce results be a thing of value?” Both are in a constant state of reevaluating, recontextualizing, reenvisioning and questioning the nature of themselves, what they are and what they do. This relates to a subject Bill Forsythe has spoken on several times this week, that of doubt. We as artists/dancers/choreographers/philosophers are problems to ourselves because we have the ability to doubt or question what we know of ourselves, what has been previously established in our fields.
3. There is a blurring distinction between method and result, process and product. There is a sense in which the results of both philosophy and art only have value in the context of their methods/processes, and thus where on ends and the other begins because a difficult edge to find.

Noë also spoke about the nature of understanding, of understanding or recognition as the essential way in which the world reveals itself to us, and that this understanding is one of context. We recognize a thing in that way in which it fits within our frame of reference, our particular continuum of experience. A thing is unrecognizable, unseeable, when it completely unexpected, when you don’t even know what to look for. This is perhaps one of the values or interests of art, that it cultivates an ability to truly see, to recognize and understand, a microcosmic experience reflecting the macrocosm of all of life. All human experience is a process of bringing the world into focus through understanding and consciousness. Engaging with art gives us the opportunity to cultivate this process of understanding; it is the domain of investigating the process of perception and understanding.

And this is the work of “Synchronous Object for One Flat Thing, Reproduced” (NOW LIVE! CHECK IT OUT!). It is the process of cultivating the experience of understanding. If understanding is truly a phenomenon rooted in a context for perception, than understanding is the problem addressed by “Synchronous Objects.” It the exposition of choreographic work and information in the form of choreographic objects, or visual or pictorial expressions or representations. 

Today, in conjunction with the launch of “Synchronous Objects,” the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Department of Dance at OSU hosted the Choreographic Objects Symposium, bringing together a panel of collaborators and experts in the fields of dance, computer programming, animation, geography, architecture, philosophy and beyond to discuss the work of this project. I cannot possibly address all that was said by which I was inspired, but I will throw out a few key moments.

Maria Palazzi, the director for the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, commented of the process of understanding through the process of making, the creative process as an act of recognition or understanding. This ties directly into the lecture Noë, and adds another layer, taking consciousness as action into an area in which context for understanding is constructed through the process of making. This was a consensus across the panel, many of whom had very little experience with dance previous to this project, that is doing this work, in creating about this choreography, the choreography became legible for them. The hope is that these points of entry that emerged during their creative work are then transmitted into the objects offered on the new site. It raises new ideas (or new to me) concerning the development of audience literacy in our field. Beyond the incredible work that has been done on this project, what is the potential for making dance legible through creative activities? An obvious application is that once people take dance classes, they understand dance further, but what are other creative (by which I mean generative, making) activities in which might audiences in order to make this art form more accessible? In order to establish a context in which understanding might thrive?

This relates to ideas that are coming up in my graduate teaching seminar with Susan Hadley about the relationship between content, the organization of material, and methods of communicating. What are the ways in which we transmit information?

Which connects to ideas I have been pondering surrounding the application of Labanotation to adjacent dance studies. I am finding my research profile situating itself somewhere between choreography/composition and history/theory; notation serves as a ready link between the two. In Labanotation, choreography becomes a written history, and a written history becomes choreography. I am becoming more and more interested in how this system might lend itself to embodying what is essential an embodied history. Far too often I find that we read, write, view and listen to our dancing history. It is transmitted textually, orally, and visually, but rarely corporeally. I am curious about the potential for notation to lend itself to the study of history, giving students the opportunity to embody seminal dance works that have previously only ever existed for them in disembodied translations. I am considering taking a Labanotation Teacher Certification Course this summer to these ends, to fuel this inquiry. 

Amidst much of this other thought there is the constellation of Somatics. I am taking a course this quarter with Abby Yager that surveys various somatic forms and methods. It may reveal itself to be one of the most significant (to my own interests and research) courses that I have taken thus far at OSU (and I have taken some incredible courses). Among its goals are:
-to cultivate deep listening
-to awaken awareness and clarify a sense of Self 

These are essentially my primary research interests in dance. I am fascinated by how awareness comes from movement of the body and how awareness then affects the way in which the body moves. Ever since I experienced the work of Pauline Oliveros (who has developed a musical/meditation technique described as “Deep Listening”) I have been interested in what a “listening body” might be, and more specifically, how it might move, and how choreography might arise out of that movement. I have felt a resonance of this idea in the somatic fields, but having it so explicitly stated in the syllabus excites me to know end (I am also in a course with Bebe Miller entitled “Creative Processes” exploring the process by which we make dances; I am interested to see how this research interest might be addressed in this composition course, supported by the work I am doing in Somatics with Yager).

My larger research interest has been evolving into something like “the choreography of identity,” the ways in which we come to recognize ourselves and others through the ways in which we move, and how we participate in the formation of who we are through these same processes. Clearly this relates to awareness. It also relates to issues of gender representation, queer theory, gaze theory, relational politics, social conditioning, etc. And it addresses another larger issue, that of the individuals connection to their body. I am interested in resisting the dualistic Cartesian model in which the body is merely the vehicle for the mind, the mind being the essence of the individual. The individual is composed of a mind-body, a body-mind, a cohesive, holistic, inseparable unit. A person is as much their body as they are their mind, and in honoring this fact, we discover that part of knowing ourselves and knowing one another is through an awareness and investigation of the body. This was illustrated in a piece that I designed in my seminar with Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil last quarter but have yet to enact entitled KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY) in which participants engage in a physical conversation with one another, directing one another in a dialogue of physically exploring one another’s bodies.

And perhaps here is where this post comes full orbit and finds its pause: beginning with cognition/consciousness as more than the brain and ending with the person as more than the mind. The essence is that it is through the body that we come to know. Through dancing, through making, through embodying history through a practice of Labanotation, through somatic study, etc. we come to know ourselves and the context that makes up that concept of Self.

Other subjects that deserve attention but must wait for some other time: seeing the performance of “Monster Partitur.” Twice. The process of continuing work of this new piece “Red Monster,” and how it relates to the subject of identity and a sense of Self. The potential for “Synchronous Objects” to inspire further investigations into the representation and exposition of dance and choreographic knowledge. Briefly, this relates to a conversation I had with a friend this evening after the symposium. He raised the question of how this work might be continued. Forsythe has expressed interest in developing a Motion Bank, a library of these sorts of investigations, and while he is currently pursuing funding for the next addition to this “library,” one wonders how else this continuum of information my evolve. Partly, I see it as present in endeavors such as this blog (in the most basic and fundamental of ways): by this blog serving as a public creative platform, I am contributing to the exposition of the internal information of my dancing/choreographing life. I think the more interesting potential evolution of this “library” is one that emerges from public culture, embedded in public culture, rather than continuing to develop out of the work of a single (admittedly remarkable) choreographer. That is yet one more potential development for “Synchronous Objects,” how it my inspire and provoke additional investigations of a similar nature . . . 

And finally an announcement for my readership:
For those of you at OSU or in Columbus:

This Sunday, 5 April, I am restaging “About.” The cast and I had a particular interest is re-contextualizing the work site-specifically. We were interested is how it might be experienced in a circular space, and also how its choreographic structures might be further revealed when seen from above. So this Sunday we are going to explore the piece in these contexts by performing it in both Sullivant Hall rotundas, first in the one next to Studio 6 (the entrance faces Mershon Auditorium) around 5pm, followed by the High Street rotunda (the entrance faces High Street, between Sullivant Library and the Music and Dance Library). The first rotunda offers a circular, domed space with seating in the round, the second has a full mezzanine, from which the piece can be viewed in the round and from above.

I am not particularly advertising this event; it is less about a public performance and more about exploring the nature of this choreography in a different space. It will be informal, and there is no pressure to be in attendance. I simply wanted you to know that this was happening in the event that you had an interest in experiencing the work in this context. 

 

 



Transcendent Siren
26 February, 2009, 10:50 pm
Filed under: art, inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Tonight I witnessed Ray Lee’s sound installation Siren at the Wexner. I have to say that I feel spoiled by the Wexner these last few weeks. Tonight’s experience was transcendent, last week’s performance of Japan Dance Now was deeply inspiring, and the week before that was Batsheva. So many good things.

I think it is probably best to begin my description of tonight’s installation by sharing this video. It can in no way serve as a substitution for the actual piece, but the visual aid saves paragraphs of wordy descriptions:

Among many other experiences I had with this work, it was most of all an exercise in subtlety and nuance, a gradual crescendo and decrescendo of sound and light. Two performers slowly and deliberately activated the sound devices used in the piece, first just emitting different tones (in stillness) with the small LED lights at either end, then activating their motion (slow, steady rotations), gradually increasing their speed until it came to a point of whirling, the lights now leaving traces in space, the sound climaxing in drones and overtones and ebbs and flows in the space. All the lights in the space (other than the small LED lights) were turned out, and we were left in a dark space surrounded by red spatial orbits and the droning symphony. Then the process was reversed (still in the dark), slowing the devices to the point of stillness, then one by one removing the tones from the space. When the last machine was turned off, the silence rushed into the previously occupied space so densely that I felt suspended in it.

There were so many factors involved in this 45 minute performance/demonstration/experience. One aspect that was acute for me was the participation of the audience in the overall soundscape. We were asked to remain silent throughout the piece, but were invited to move around the space in order to experience the sound/visual landscape from and variety of vantage points. This act of motion, of moving bodies around me as I moved or remained stationary, was a more subtle layer in the experience of the aural symphony, as the way in which the sound moved through the space and encountered me was shifted constantly by the participation of these moving bodies.

I couldn’t help but relate this experience to the choreography I am premiering two weeks from today entitled “About.” The basic formal structure of my choreography is slow circular pathways in space with a constantly shifting axis point. The basic idea is that the choreography is not a demonstration of a thing itself, but an implication of a thing by this movement about/around it. This is a metaphor for the subjective nature of experience and the elusiveness of the truly objective reality.
As soon as the machines in Lee’s piece were sped up and I began to see the circular traces of light in the air (only amplified when all other light was removed from the space), I was entranced by the idea of the implication of the invisible, and how we might come to know of a thing by that which moves about it.

In the program notes, it is offered that “Lee’s work investigates his fascination with the hidden world of electro-magnetic radiation and in particular how sound can be used as evidence of invisible phenomena. He is interested in the way that science and philosophy represent the universe, and his work questions the orthodoxies that emerge, and submerge, according to the currently fashionable trends. He creates spinning, whirling, and pendulous sound installations that explore ‘circles of ether,’ the invisible forces that surround us.”

This was almost precisely my experience of this work.

I’m sure I have more to say on the subject, but for now I will conclude with a recommendation that if at all possible, you make an effort to experience this work.

[EDIT]

Indeed, I did awake with further ideas/clarity, and felt compelled to jot them down over my morning coffee.

I felt that on some level of meaning-making, I experienced the work in reference to the “age of panic” in which we sometimes find ourselves. In a culture that has become familiar with terror (some valid, some of our own imagination), the crescendo and decrescendo of these “sirens” brought to mind mounting and waning panic, the sounds of sirens, the whir of helicopter blades, the mass of machines almost like an army. It was certainly a connotation, but one which I felt was worth mentioning.

Akin to this connotation was the reality of the danger of the piece. As the performers adjusted the speed and tones of the machines, they did so by navigating through the spaces in between them, avoiding the whirring arms that carries immense destructive force. This overwhelming experience of beauty was perhaps even deepened by this awareness of its danger, the physical power this installation possessed, in addition to the aesthetic and ethereal.

I pause briefly to consider the title, Siren. In our contemporary association, words that come to mind are “warning,” “rescue,” “assistance.” But in the mythological association, sirens were a drawing towards danger, a seductive beauty that led inevitably to destruction. This is perhaps worth further speculation.

The performers themselves and the manner in which they carried out their tasks offered another layer to these constructed meanings. Their careful, steady, calm, and resolute motion through the machinery felt like a statement for humanity in the context of an age of panic, perhaps a prescription for a possible mode of behavior, a calm amidst a storm. Going deeper into my own meaning-making, I would acknowledge that I also was very aware of the amount of control that these performers carried. It was their actions that brought everything to pass, from the initiations of the sound, the rotations of the machines (instruments?), the acceleration of the action, the plunge into darkness, and the reversal of these actions. Witnessing this, I felt as if I was being told that this is all of our own making, this world in which we live, the beauty, the panic, and the destructive force. There may be invisible forces at work, but we are active co-creators with them.

I also cannot get away from this idea of climax. Over the course of 45 minutes, the piece built gradually almost to a point of ecstasy (there were even couples making out in the darkness), then gradually settling from that high. The metaphors for climax are endless, but I mention it because of implications it held for me. In the field of beauty, panic, and danger, it seemed to unify this all into a plane of almost erotic ecstasy, the reaching towards a climax, and the successive move towards calm. It also added a more fundamental truth, that most ascensions are followed be descensions. Which brings to mind waves. Waves could be one of the most prominent metaphors (the rise and fall) and materials in the work (sound waves, light waves, the oscillations in the sound due to the rotations of the instruments, the overall rise and fall, even the shifting tides of the audience moving through the space).

Again, I’ll conclude my contemplations with a recommendation that you experience this work if you have the opportunity.