michael j. morris


Cuddle (Purple) 2010
6 May, 2010, 5:06 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , , , ,

I am finally finding the time to write a bit about my experience performing a piece entitled “Cuddle” (in homage to the piece by the same name that was originated by the Love Art Laboratory) in a group show entitled Breakups R Tough at U.Turn Art Space in Cincinnati. The piece was performed at the opening reception for the show on 3 April 2010.

The basic premise of the piece was the installation of a mattress in the gallery on which I would cuddle with visitors to the gallery the evening of the reception. The mattress was installed in small space in the front end of the gallery. We also hung a shear curtain to add a bit more of a remove for the bed space. The bed was dressed with organic purple sheets, throw pillows, and a patchwork coverlet. Small lamps from IKEA added an intimacy to the little “room.”

I had my anxieties that participating in the piece would not be attractive to the Cincinnati audience who visit the gallery, but earlier in the day I made my piece with that possibility. It seemed to me that there would be just as much of a statement/revelation/contribution to the show in a single person sitting alone in a bed for the duration of the evening. However, this is not how the piece worked itself out. The first hour was rather slow, with only one visitor to me bed. She stuck her head in the curtain and asked if she could come in. I asked if she wanted to cuddle, and she said no, that was a bit too much for her, but could we just sit and talk. And we did, for seven minutes (part of the construction for the piece was a timer, allowing for seven minutes to cuddle; when the timer went off, the time was up. It was a built in series of “breakups;” but it seemed perfect to me . . . because I have serious doubts surrounding the permanence of any human relationships, it seems to me a forgone conclusion that relationships end. The built in breakups seemed to acknowledge this, and opened a beautiful space in which to engage and appreciate connections with people with the foreknowledge that the connection will pass). She told me that being physical was not part of the way that she experienced or showed love. She told me that she was decidedly Irish Catholic and had felt for a long time that she was “supposed to” relate to people in her life in a certain way. Now, she was learning to practice what made her comfortable. When the seven minutes were up, she asked if she could give me a hug. It was a perfect start to the evening.

Throughout the course of the evening, I cuddled with six people on their own, two couples, and two three-ways (with me they became four-ways). All of the visitors came to cuddle on their own volition: part of the piece was that if I was not cuddling with anyone at the moment, patrons could feel free to come inside; it was they who had to initiate.

The demographics for the people who came to cuddle ranged from young women to middle aged women; the five men with whom I cuddled all seemed to be within their 20s.

I did not always follow the rules. Eric Falck (Autumn Quartet, etc.) drove down from Columbus to see the show/piece, and because of our history, I think we cuddled well over 20 minutes. I broke the rules, but that’s part of what we do, part of the rapport we’ve established (especially in Autumn Quartet, the rules and when/how we break them). It was poignant . . . because it seemed to illustrate the “theme” of the show most readily. Breakups are tough. Separation and the act of separating, the decision to say, “It’s time for you to go,” can be impossible sometimes. It was consistently impossible to ask him to leave when yet another seven minutes were up. There was to much familiarity, especially after a bout of relative distance. He bit me, leaving a mark similar to the marks he left on me from Autumn Quartet. It was a fascinating recontextualization of that physical rapport with one another, now on display in an art gallery behind a shear purple curtain. Cuddling with him was easily the most physical of the evening.

It was a very tender piece. I generally attempted to let the tone be set by the person I was with, and most decided to talk. The conversations ranged from literature to social justice to cooking, relationships and breakups and honesty and plans for the future, art, sex, and death. Only in one session did we not talk. Two young men cuddled with me in the middle of them. After negotiating who would be/face where (I ended up facing one, the other spooning behind me), we were just quiet. When the timer went off, one of the boys said, “It was really relaxing, to just . . . not have to do anything, to try . . .” I think he articulated something I felt pervaded most of the encounters, that of realizing ease, comfort, even something like love, just in the fleeting embraces.

Patricia Murphy and Michael J. Morris in "Cuddle (Purple)" 2010

Eric Falck and Michael J. Morris in "Cuddle (Purple)" 2010

Between the times at which I was cuddling, I knitted or journaled. Earlier that day I had come across a book by Sark (I think it was The Bodacious Book of Succulence: Daring to Live Your Succulent Wild Life) from which I derived little mantras that I silently repeated to myself throughout the evening. Examples included: “Come together,” “Keep surprise close at hand,” “Be willing to live between right and wrong,” “Wake up to love,” “Love imperfectly” (a very important one) . . .

“Please surrender to love. Let love past all your armor.”

“Let love flow past all the flood gates”

“Float in the arms of love.”

“Turn your face towards love and find the dancing part of your heart.”

“Welcome the dark parts of love and the deep, unknown layers. Let them speak too.”

“Swim in the swirl of love.”

“Love with all your faucets on.”

I also kept repeating to myself “Open all chakras,” which was on a bumper sticker given to me by one of my former yoga students. It was a mantra for staying open and available for whoever was going to get in bed with me next.

There were moments, especially during the first hour, in which there was an almost carnival sense to being in the show, as if to say: “Step right up! Come and see the single male homosexual, here on display for your viewing pleasure! Step right up!” People would walk up, read the description of the piece on lavender paper on the wall, look at me, then walk off. There was an unexpected element of the grotesque, in being something on display.

View of gallery from inside bed+curtain installation

At the end of the night, I turned the lamps off, crawled out of bed, and left my knitting on the bed. This was how the installation remained for the remainder of the show during April, the empty bed, the pillows and sheets tracing the former presence/current absence of the former occupant(s).

This is a piece I hope to reproduce again at some point. Keep it in my repertoire (always acknowledging that it is in complete homage to Love Art Lab’s original piece), and continue to subvert popular cultural perceptions of interpersonal acquaintance and intimacy, engage in public physical promiscuity, and reinvent socially authorized physical behaviors, while also celebrating the body as central to identity and expressions of love in non-traditional forms. This piece is so simple but resonates with me as so very political.

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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 . . .