michael j. morris


an impossible trace: coco loupe in columbus

I want to write about CoCo Loupe in Columbus, Ohio. Or maybe it’s more like: I want to write about CoCo Loupe and me in Columbus, Ohio.
I recognize the impossibility of this endeavor before I even begin, but the impossibility of an endeavor must not diminish the possibility of attempting it, because the attempt will surely produce something other and more than that which is impossible.
Impossible because it will never be a complete account; any trace that I can write will only thread together fragments and gaps to offer an incomplete view, a partial perspective, woven from memory and forgetting.
My life with CoCo begins long before Columbus.
CoCo’s life with Columbus begins before I arrived here.
My life with Columbus will continue once CoCo moves back to Baton Rouge—where we first met—although her having been here will always continue to be how I know this place.
This trace will not offer an account of everything. I doubt it will be entirely linear. But here it is:

I first met CoCo when I was in high school. She was my first modern dance teacher, at The Dancer’s Workshop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we are both from. My memories of CoCo from that period: her shaved head, the intensity of her classes, the Run Lola Run soundtrack, something called “acid jazz,” learning to do “illusions” and something she called “shnorkles,” and lots of pushups and crunches—a series she called G. I. Jane.
She was teaching at LSU at the time, and sometimes her students from the university would come and take class with us.
I would often see her getting coffee at the CC’s around the corner before class. I knew of her before I took her class at Dancer’s Workshop; she had done a show called Loupe’d with the modern dance company with whom I would eventually dance, Of Moving Colors Productions (OMC), and I remember seeing the posters for the show at my high school. Later when I worked for OMC, I filed lots of flyers with her bio on them, and saw this photo all the time:

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Amiti Perry and CoCo Loupe on a rooftop in New York

This was how I saw CoCo for many, many years.
When working for OMC, I saw a video of Loupe’d, and I watched it obsessively for years; she did not know this at the time. What I saw in CoCo’s choreography, and her collaborative work with Amiti Perry, was unlike any dancing I had seen in Baton Rouge. It was so strong and connected; I could hardly keep up with how one action became another and led into something else. I knew I wanted to dance like that someday.
Years later, I would create a solo based on a solo that CoCo presented in Loupe’d; I didn’t know this at the time.
Then she moved to Columbus, Ohio, for grad school, and I went to college in Jackson, Mississippi. We saw each other several times at American College Dance Festivals during those years, and I felt like our lives were being braided together somehow, from this starting point in Baton Rouge to somewhere I did not yet know. I took her technique classes a these festivals, and I remember being disoriented by how familiar it was, and also how much her dancing had evolved, the mix of the unfamiliar within what was already intimately incorporated into my body from years earlier. When I graduated from college, I chose to apply to the Ohio State University for my MFA in Dance because this was where CoCo went and because the work that I had seen her present at ACDF year after year was the kind of work I aspired to make. I was accepted to the program.

During those years, I devoured CoCo’s blog, From One Foot To The Other. The things that she wrote and thought about were the things I wanted to write and think about, and we left long traces of comments back and forth discussing things I can no longer recall but which gave me the first taste of what it would be like to think about and write about dance. I felt like my world was expanding line by line, post by post, thread by thread, comment by comment. Her blog gave me a connection to somewhere else, both literally her life and practice in Columbus (and then Oregon), and also a dancing life where dance and choreography functioned as research, where bodies were sites for critical inquiry, and dancing could ask questions about time and space and memory and cognition.
Year later, her blog would disappear—deceased—and it would be transformed into a zine and live on as a dance. We didn’t know this yet.
Years later, I would be teaching a course called Writing About Dance at the Ohio State University, and CoCo would come perform for my students so that they would have live dance to write about. We didn’t know this yet either.

When I first came for a visit to Columbus to find a place to live, CoCo met me for lunch at a place called Bodega. We ate salad and drank coffee, and she showed me a video of her dancing a solo called The Runner choreographed by Deborah Hay. Years later, words from Deborah Hay would become part of the structure and score for a dance CoCo would make called from one foot to the other, and I would see some of the words from Hay scribbled on the walls of a place called Feverhead, but we didn’t know this at the time.
In the years since then, I’ve seen CoCo perform The Runner several times. I saw it at least once at AGORA when Junctionview Studios was still in operation. And this is the dance that she would eventually perform live for my students, an updated version of the solo, formerly The Runner, now entitled 1976: a bicentennial death at the disco. we ran for our livesI saw this dance for the first time on CoCo’s laptop on a hot June afternoon sitting in the front of Bodega in 2008.

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CoCo practicing The Runner in what was formerly Studio 2 in Sullivant Hall at OSU

At the end of my first year of grad school, CoCo asked me to dance in a new piece, originally to be titled 3 boys and an old prophetess, with Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, CoCo, and myself, to be performed in a concert called Anthro(pop)ology II at the Columbus Dance Theater. I didn’t know Eric before this project, and I hardly knew Jeff. During the process of creating that piece, the four of us rehearsed in CoCo’s attic and a dance studio called Floorspace that no longer exists. During the process, it became unclear who were the three boys and who was the old prophetess; we all had prophetess solos, we all made solos to pop songs, we all danced together and with one another. And then CoCo got injured. Her role changed, and she became a figure who watched us, witnessed us, recorded us, and shared us. In the final version of the piece, she sat at a desk on the front edge of the stage with her computer and camera, watching us dance; on the opposite side of the stage was a large screen onto which was projected her computer’s desktop, and the audience watched as she watched us and uploaded comments and photos live to her Facebook. In the final version of the piece, we took turns dancing with one another and dancing for one another, watching each other and being watched by each other. The succession of solos was suffused with anticipation, I remember, charged with aggression and eroticism and tenderness, and each time we danced it, I think I fell in love with everyone involved again and again. The piece was entitled click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, and we danced it all summer and throughout the autumn until it premiered in the fall of 2009.

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click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, photo by Dr. G

That same fall, I began choreographing a new dance temporarily then permanently entitled Autumn Quartet, with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, Amanda Platt, and myself. It was an experiment with explicit violence and sexuality, with more pop music, with conventional vocabularies of erotic performance—pre-figuring my work in burlesque, but I didn’t know this at the time—and systems of determinate and indeterminate algorithmic choreography. More aggression, more eroticism, more pop music, more tenderness, more falling in love. We danced set phrase material, made choices within an algorithmic score, stripped for one another, rolled around on the floor biting each other, leaving our marks on each other, being naked with each other, getting dressed in each other’s clothes. I asked CoCo to come see the piece and give me feedback. This is not the only dance of mine to which I would ask her to watch and respond; it was not the first nor was it the last. She was my guide, my other eyes; I could trust her to see what I could not see and to show my own dance(s) to me. I was so lost in that lovely, unpredictable, structured mess of a dance, and the dance CoCo described back to me was perhaps the first time I realized that we are always doing so much more than what it is that we think we are doing, in our choreography and in our lives. It’s an intimate act, to ask someone to give you their view of your own work, to invite that view into the creative process, to let their words affect the choices that you make in the dance that you are creating. In life—by which I mean something like life beyond the dance studio, although admittedly the boundaries get blurry—I think we call this something like love. CoCo is one of the few people who I have welcomed again and again into that position.

Autumn Quarter rehearsal in what was formerly Studio 2 of Sullivant Hall at OSU

Autumn Quarter rehearsal in what was formerly Studio 2 in Sullivant Hall at OSU

Over the next year, we danced together sometimes, as CoCo healed from her injury. She played golf. And sometimes we danced.

improv jam at Travonna Coffee House

improv jam at Travonna Coffee House

improv jam at Columbus Dance Theater

improv jam at Columbus Dance Theater

One time we danced at a food festival in the Gateway.

gateway food fest

gateway food fest

[I’m forgetting all kinds of things, and leaving things out. Each memory unravels into all kinds of other stories, other histories, other connections. Why don’t I remember enough to write about BACKSPACE or the times I saw CoCo perform with them, all the different settings and situations in which we were together at Columbus Dance Theater? Why not explain that at the Gateway food festival, in the middle of an improvisation with whatever band was playing, I met Heidi Kambitsch who would eventually host the Queer Yoga classes that I teach at a space called It Looks Like It’s Open? How can I not tie together all the strings of relationships with other people and faces in these photographs? Isn’t it amazing that in trying to write one impossible trace, I can feel the pull of so many intersecting histories and how we’ve all made a life together here in this place called Columbus?]

That year—2010, the year I was accepted into the PhD program in the Department of Dance at OSU—CoCo did several performances/practices with the idea of “the other woman” (I think that’s what she was called). It was a version of CoCo, a video of her dancing, sped up and digitized, and the flesh-and-blood CoCo tried to learn this digitized, sped up version of herself, tried to dance like this other woman. Those were really important works for me to witness; I felt like she was dealing so directly with the impossibility of ideals, the intense labor of our bodies struggling to live up to standards that have been manufactured as digital images of ourselves, while also fully accepting our own cyborg statuses, how we are already actualized in conjunction with all kinds of digital software/hardware, and how our flesh-and-blood bodies have already become something other than they might have been because we have looked at ourselves in the mirror of technology and (mis?)recognized ourselves as our digital avatars. This is grown-up, cyborg “mirror phase” shit, and I was enthralled. She danced around this hybrid other woman for a while, at Wild Goose Creative, in the window of Wholly Craft, other places.

dancing with the other woman at Wild Goose Creative

dancing with the other woman at Wild Goose Creative

dancing as the other woman at Wholly Craft

dancing as the other woman at Wholly Craft

I didn’t know that soon thereafter CoCo and collaborators would stage an interactive dance/projected chat room spectacle at Wild Goose where I would be invited to be an “expert commentator,” to write about the dance that was happening live, to have that writing projected on the walls of the gallery for the spectators and performers to see, to have that text absorbed back into the dance. She has been dancing around our lives with technology for a while. I didn’t know that years later I would be dating someone that CoCo introduced to me who performs at Wild Goose month after month. There’s a lot we didn’t know all along.

A lot happened the following summer—2011. We did a performance with a lot of dancers at Comfest, and many friends I have since come to know and adore reference that performance as the first time they saw me (dancing with CoCo).

Comfest performance 2011

Comfest performance 2011

That same summer, Feverhead came into existence.
How do I even begin to write about Feverhead? It has been the setting for so many important moments in my life and in the lives of dancing and not-dancing people in this city. In July 2011, CoCo had the opening and tour of the Feverhead space, a space for making dances and for dancing, for performances and classes, the home of a collective of dancers called They Might Be Dancers and their collaborators. I showed up late after teaching yoga across town. I stretched out in the space for the first time that night.

Feverhead opening 2011

Feverhead opening 2011

I had no idea how many times I would stretch in that space, dance in that space, rehearse in that space, watch performances in that space, teach in that space, read my own writing in that space, teach and take Queer Yoga classes in that space, watch myself in a dance film projected on the walls of that space, cuddle in a bed with friends and lovers and strangers in that space, screen queer pornography on the walls of that space, cry on the floor of that space, pose for photos for a Valentine’s article about Columbus couples in that space, listen to music composed and performed by friends and loved ones in that space, discover new ways of thinking and moving and loving and performing all in this crazy little space called Feverhead. We simply had no idea at the time.

That fall, CoCo asked me to perform with her at TRAUMA, an annual kink/fetish Halloween event that has been happening in Columbus for over a decade. We learned choreography and rehearsed at Feverhead. This would be the first time I would perform in six-inch heels on stage. This would be the first time I would be flogged in front of hundreds of people. We danced for almost five hours on two different nights, on the main stage, on the dance floor, and again on the main stage. We left with welts and bruises from COREROC/Ashley Voss whipping us with floggers dipped in paint, marks on our bodies that would linger for days/weeks. It continues to be one of the most intense performances I have ever done, and I did it with/for CoCo. I have continued to perform in TRAUMA every year since then. Performing together was surreal and a total genderfuck: CoCo is this intensely muscular body wearing combat boots and I am next to her, long and lean, in six-inch heels; we were both wearing gas masks. I like to think that we brought something queer/genderqueer to the TRAUMA stage, that together/alongside one another, we brought contemporary dance to a non-traditional space, and performed bodies that do not readily conform with the normative expectations for what gendered bodies should be. I know I felt visible because I was dancing next to her.

TRAUMA 2011

us at TRAUMA 2011

me at TRAUMA 2011

me at TRAUMA 2011

A month later, CoCo had an event at Feverhead called “Afternoon Delight,” a kind of mixed-media casual art event, with live music and visual art and dancing. She asked me to read an essay that I had written called “Who/How I?” We didn’t know at the time that two years later, this essay would be published on NPR’s This I Believe web archive. I thought this one public reading constituted the life and impact of that writing, and sharing it in public was a gift that CoCo gave me. We ended up dancing together that afternoon; it seems like we always end up dancing together.

Afternoon Delight November 2011

Afternoon Delight November 2011

In 2012, CoCo decided to create an event modeled on events that she used to produce in Texas (I think?) called STUPID CUPID, an alternative Valentine’s party. She asked me to contribute a performance, and I staged a piece called cuddle which I had first performed in U.Turn Art Space in Cincinnati as an homage to the piece by the same title originally performed by artists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens. This piece involved installing a full sized mattress in what was then the gallery space at Feverhead. Over the course of the evening, I cuddled with partygoers for seven minute intervals, in solos, pairs, and trios. We may have had one quartet? I think I cuddled with around forty people that night. But one of the first people was CoCo. We were very quiet. Some people talk when they cuddle. Some want to chat or share intimate details or ask questions; we just rested together, for seven minutes, before the party really got going.

Cuddle at STUPID CUPID 2011

Cuddle at STUPID CUPID 2011

Shortly there after (maybe a week?), I hosted my first queer porn screening at Feverhead. I had attempted to have a queer porn screening in multiple other venues in the city, and it had never come together. CoCo offered me the space. It was an opportunity to bring more visibility to work that is already being done in pornography to bring visibility to more bodies, sexes, sexualities, and genders. We screened the work of Shine Louise Houston, Madison Young, and Courtney Trouble, all queer/feminist pornographers committed to ethical productions and ethical representations of bodies, people, and their sexualities. This was the first of two porn screenings that I have had at Feverhead.

15_warming_up_feb2012
The screenings were both followed by conversations in which a room full of people talked about their perceptions of pornography, sex, sexualities, what it means to be queer, what it means to be trans, how to stimulate the g-spot, what it means to produce ethical representations of sex and bodies, and the sheer excitement of seeing other people have sex in ways that you perhaps have never imagined. Feverhead has been an incredible space for many people and for may purposes, but hosting those queer porn screenings/conversations were pivotal for me: through those events, Columbus became more of the city where I wanted to live. I know I’m not the only one who feels like Columbus is a better place to live because Feverhead is here.

Sometime that spring, CoCo was training for a 24-hour or multi-day performance. She had a (I think) four hour performance in which people were invited to drop by for any amount of time throughout the afternoon. I stopped by for a bit. I ended up dancing with CoCo while DJ Moxy made sound with us live in the space. It was not the first time I had danced to Moxy’s music, but it was maybe the first time I had danced with CoCo to Moxy’s music. It would not be the last. I have lost track of how many times and the different places where we have danced so hard while Moxy dj’ed that we sweated through all of our clothes and closed down the bar, soaking wet and completely alight. We had no way of knowing that over a year later, the three of us and others would be grooving through a yoga practice that might be one of the most transformative physical experiences of my life thus far (also at Feverhead), or that we would be standing together on Gay Street watching Way Yes at the Independents Day Festival, or dancing into another sweaty mess together at the Columbus RED Party.

CoCo, Moxy, Michael

CoCo, Moxy, Michael

That autumn—2012—CoCo premiered a new dance called FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance with They Might Be Dancers Too (Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann), with appearances by They Might Be Dancers (Noelle Chun, Nicole Garlando, Lindsay Caddle LaPointe, Noah Demland, Leigh Lotocki, CoCo Loupe) and Karen Mozingo, with original music by Counterfeit Madison and Noah Demland. This was the dance that her blog became, the blog that I read before coming to grad school. It became a zine and it became a dance, made with and for three adult dancers—Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann—who had only begun dancing months earlier. I have written at length about that piece here, and if you have time, I hope you follow the tangent to read about that piece and come back here.

FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance

FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance

[There’s so much I’m leaving out. There’s so much I’m forgetting. There was the time that I desperately wanted to present my research at the Ecosex Symposium II in San Francisco and I did not get the travel grant I applied for and CoCo sponsored my travel so that I could present my research, where I continued to collaborate with Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, about whom I am writing part of my dissertation, who first performed the cuddle piece to which I performed in homage, where I met Jiz Lee who performed in the queer porn that I would eventually screen in Feverhead, where I stayed with Karl Cronin who CoCo introduced to me years earlier and about whom I am also now writing in my dissertation. And the quarter that CoCo taught technique at OSU and I took her dance class again, six or seven or eight years after I had first taken her classes in Baton Rouge. And that CoCo performed with the Velvet Hearts before I did, and I watched her performing with this burlesque company on the stage of Wall Street years before I would perform with them on that same stage. And dancing into a sweaty mess at HEATWAVE. And the time we were both part of the Noble Peach Awards, and I gave Eileen Galvin the award for Biggest Genderfuck, and CoCo called the two of us goddesses, and she was given an award for—I think—most likely to dance into exhaustion, and I was so excited to be part of a community of people who would show up and celebrate and honor these kinds of people and accomplishments. And watching one another perform more times than either one of us could possibly count. And more.]

In the spring of 2013, I created a dance for the first FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival based on a solo that CoCo had choreographed that I had watched again and again on an old VHS tape of a concert called Loupe’d in Baton Rouge. CoCo let me use/adapt her choreography for this solo, choreography that was too difficult for my body to dance, choreography that had to be slowed down and altered to fit my body and to function as burlesque. Somewhere in what the choreography became, our bodies met (again). I made a video from footage that CoCo shot so that there could be a video component that approximated an idea that CoCo had for the original piece that had never been realized. She met me in a warehouse in Franklinton, and videoed me dancing this solo that I had made from her solo; in the final performance, the video was projected on five screens surrounding the audience at Wall Street Night Club while I performed the solo live on stage. This is the video that was projected, CoCo videoing me dancing the solo made from her solo:

CoCo photographing me outside 400 West Rich after videoing my/our solo

CoCo photographing me outside 400 West Rich after videoing my/our solo

me performing the solo alongside the video projected at the FIERCE Festival

me performing the solo alongside the video projected at the FIERCE Festival

There’s so much more to tell, about sitting on a couch at Impero and exchanging mantras to mend our broken hearts while clutching mala beads as spring became summer. About all the dances and classes and collaborations through which CoCo has made Columbus what it is, for which I was not present, for which I cannot account. This is, after all, an impossible trace. It’s all fragments and gaps and memories and forgettings. There are people who maybe should have appeared in these traces that have not, and tangents that I maybe should have followed. There are so many other accounts that could be written.

This autumn—2013—we knew CoCo would be moving back to Baton Rouge.
She also started this Friday night class called Grooveasana, a yoga/movement improvisation hybrid class the danced in and out of asana, that found asana and transitions between asana as we danced around them. I can’t completely explain why this practice has been one of the most fulfilling/generative practices in my life…it has something to do with my long-time yoga practice providing a trusted preparation and container for wherever else my curiosity might take me/my body. For many weeks, we were still trying to figure out exactly what it was we were doing, how to go about a loosely structure yoga asana practice that could dissolve into grooving and dancing and exploration and then easily transition back into savasana/relaxation. Sometimes Moxy dj’ed. And we found our groove, again and again and again, in different ways, along different paths.
But I don’t want to diminish the significance that it was CoCo leading the way, and my earliest experiences in dancing were following CoCo’s lead, as a teenager taking dance classes in Baton Rouge, following her lead to OSU and Columbus, OH, following her throughout this community, in and out of Feverhead in so many ways, and through this groovy familiar/unfamiliar yoga/dancing space.

Grooveasana, photo by Kate Sweeny

Grooveasana, photo by Kate Sweeny

It is no exaggeration to say that I don’t know where I would be if I had not followed CoCo, all the traces she left for me and in my dancing body/life; I know that I would not be here. I don’t know how my body would move; I would have never considered moving to Columbus or going to OSU; I’m not sure if I would have made the dances that I’ve made; I know I would not have danced the dances that I’ve danced. When and where would I have ever had queer porn screenings or cuddling performance art or watched my loved ones new and old performing together for the very first time or grooved my way in and out of yoga?
I have never lived in this city without CoCo, and Columbus will always be what it is to me because of CoCo having lived here with me.
But this is really just a concrete metaphor for something vastly more true: I have never lived the life I am living—and dancing and writing and teaching and loving—without CoCo, and it will always be what it is to me because CoCo has been braided in and through it for so long.

This is an insufficient trace. I can’t seem to put words to what it felt like, all these years, the ebbs and flows of inspiration and elation and hesitation and contemplation and perplexity and frustration and grief and laughter and seeing each other again after longer periods of time and the overwhelming sense of recognition, of having been seen by another for so long, and so much delight and so much relief and so much love… There is so much I can feel slipping just beyond the edges of the screen, and what I’ve written cannot begin to do justice to this person I love. But I needed to try to record what I could fathom of these years, pieced together from memory and Facebook. There’s a part of me—the part of me who is a writer, the part of me who writes in order to show appreciation, in order to extend the duration of that which I appreciate—that is already grieving the loss of being able to write about CoCo and her work, at least for the foreseeable future. And here I’ve found myself writing a trace of her/our dancing life/lives perhaps as a way of holding in the present—and into the future—the tangle of that dancing and writing that I will miss so very much.

Our lives will continue to braid, in Baton Rouge, beyond; the trace certainly does not stop here.

[Friday, December 13, CoCo is offering a gratitude and farewell concert at Feverhead: https://www.facebook.com/events/391730200961595/
On the program:
Noah Demland’s “Timelines”
Obstinate Robinson AKA Counterfeit Madison AKA Sharona Sharona Sha-ro-na
Corbezzolo – Marie Corbo, Philip Kim, and Noah Demland
“Very, Very, Very”: A new trio by CoCo Loupe with music by Noah Demland for Nicole Garlando, Leigh Lotocki, and Amanda Platt
New video work by Nicole Garlando w/ photography by Eve Hermann
“re: addressing”: A solo (CoCo) bon-voyage-dancing-gift
Friday, December 13, 2013
8pm
Feverhead: 1199 Goodale Blvd, Columbus, OH, 43212
Tea and BYOB party follows performance.
Free admission but donations happily accepted.]



Critical Dialogues Around Ecosexuality

I was so thrilled when Kim TallBear posted her piece of writing, “What’s in Ecosexuality for an Indigenous Scholar of ‘Nature’?” on 29 June 2012. I am so excited to see other academic scholars taking an interest in what I consider to be a significant opportunity for generating new ways of thinking and making our world, bringing ecosexuality into contact with a range of disciplinary perspectives, and allowing for what Donna Haraway and Karen Barad might call “diffractive” readings between them. TallBear does an excellent job in opening up this topic of conversation, and I hope you take a moment to read what she’s written, as well her addendum, and the comment thread that is developing.

This afternoon, I finally took a few minutes to make my own meager contribution to this discussion, which I am posting below. Besides my scattered musings on ecosexuality on this blog, a few conference presentations, a few papers, and a chapter for an anthology that is currently in the editing process, I haven’t had very much opportunity to share my work on ecosexuality with a broader audience. Eventually, ecosexuality in performance will be the project of my disseration, which I’ll start sometime in the spring. Until then, here are some glimpses of what I’ve been thinking:

I want to first say THANK YOU to Kim for authoring what I think is one of the most sophisticated academic accounts of ecosexuality that I’ve yet encountered. I had the honor of presenting my research alongside Praba Pilar, Jennifer Reed, and Sha LaBare on the “Theories of Ecosex” panel at the EcoSex Symposium II in June 2011, and I was excited by the ways in which each of their work rigorously considered the social, political, and personal implications of ecosexuality. The movement around ecosexuality includes a broad spectrum of voices, perspectives, practices, and personal histories. I’ve met artists, activists, academics, and allies, each with subtle and dramatically different inflections in their articulation of what ecosexuality can be, and I think it is great that this movement holds a space for so much difference. At the same time, I have felt discontent at times—a discontentment tempered with an excitement towards the work to be done—with the lack of critical rigor within these discussions, at the symposium, at the weddings (I performed in the Purple Wedding to the Appalachian Mountains and the White Wedding to the Sun), and on the Ecosex, Sexecology, and Sustainable Love facebook group. Far too often, I’ve felt that unquestioned assumptions are being reinscribed and invested with cultural currency through the use of terms like “nature,” “sex,” gender categories, specific (or ambiguous) spiritual traditions, and so on. To be clear, I’m not opposed to these terms themselves; rather, I’ve been resistant to some of the uncritical patterns of their use in discussions around ecosexuality. In this piece of writing, Kim has opened up many of these terms and invited critical attention to both how they are operating within ecosexuality, as well as the potential within ecosexuality to significantly reconfigure how we understand the world in and through such terms.

I also sympathized a lot with Kim’s statement, “…encounters with ecosexuality this past year, it turns out, constitute a pivotal intellectual moment of growth for me.” I remember when I first encountered ecosexuality in Beth and Annie’s work in SF in 2009, interviewing them at their Sexecology exhibit at Femina Potens. I had been awarded a grant to see their work and to interview them about more general themes relating to the intersection of life and art practices. However, when I arrived at the gallery, when I encountered their work—the ephemera from the 2008 Green Wedding and the 2009 Blue Weddings, as well as new ecosexual collages and photographs and videos—and listened to them speak, something began to shift. I could sense that there was something important about this term/idea/identity/practice of “ecosexuality.” And I’ve spent the last three years continuing to articulate that importance to myself and to others in various writings, conferences presentations, performances, and formal and informal discussions.

While reading Kim’s piece, I felt a response to the suggestion that, “On the other hand, some of my UC Berkeley students probably do get turned on by trees if they open up their minds to think about it that way.” This “opening up their minds” is something I address more below, but here is raises the questions: What constitutes getting turned on? Where and how are we drawing the lines between various forms of contact and encounter, states of excitation and attraction? If the parameters of what counts as sex and sexuality blossom out into new variations and possibilities for contact between bodies, flows, and all sorts of material-semiotic actants that participate in the proliferation of life and livability within our world, how might we find ourselves reoriented towards that world—bees and trees and seas and flowers and rocks and all sorts of animals and so on and so on and so on—in ways that generate new possibilities for action? I feel that Beth and Annie’s work, among others, is explicitly reconfiguring the potential for what sex and sexuality can be within a whole spectrum of encounters between bodies (see their ecosexual herstories, among other work).

Most of all, I appreciate Kim’s direction of attention towards “pervasive boundaries and hardened [binary] categories that structure our minds … and our world today.” In my ongoing exploration of what ecosexuality is and can be, where it occurs, and what it accomplishes in through its enactment, I come again and again to the ways in which it restructures the very grounds from which we think and (reiteratively) produce our world. In addition to the structural boundaries between nature/culture, animal/human, female/male, queer/straight, nonwhite/white, and so on, I am aware of the ways in which these categories get deployed towards social/political ends. For instance, the complex alignments of “nature” or “the natural” with purity and “the unnatural” with contamination and/or “culture,” in tension perhaps with alignments of the animal with the savage, the unevolved, or hedonistic, and the human with the rational pinnacle of evolution and culture. Or the centrality of sex and sexuality with psychoanalytic accounts of the formation of the subject, or within legal discourses around rights and representations as they relate to identity. Or even the model within discourses like environmental management that figures the human as somehow outside of environmental conditions which then must be controlled and/or engineered, as if from the outside. The point I am trying to make is that what I find exciting about ecosexuality, specifically Beth and Annie’s performances of ecosexuality, but others as well, is that it does not/cannot operate within these pervasive normative categories that structure who we are, how we think, and what actions are available to us from such perspectival positions. I believe that ecosexuality—or, as I’ve come to prefer in my own work, ecosexualities—operate from new ontological grounds, new ways of conceptualizing the living material world, new forms of sex and sexuality that have profound implications for the understanding of “the human subject”—implications that might even include abandoning this model for articulating life and activity—and thus new routes along which to consider life, livability, and ethical responsibility as a participant in the production of the world.

Regarding the issue of “new age” in ecosexuality: In my own writing and presentations about ecosexuality, one place that I’ve encountered accusations or observations of what has been called “new age” in the Love Art Lab work specifically is in the projects’ use of the chakra system (which stems from various branches of yogic/tantric philosophy and practice) as its organizational logic. This format was in homage to Linda Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art, which has itself been called new age. I have little interest in determining whether something “is” or “is not” “new age”; that term is slippery. Rather, I think there could be value in interrogating the effects of that term in relation to this work, or to ecosexuality more generally. What does it DO to call this work new age? What does it DO to deny that category? Where is appropriation at play, and what are the effects of those appropriation? What discursive traditions are being invoked/incorporated into the work through such appropriations/citations/iterations/etc.? And so on. Certainly whenever appropriation comes up, there is the potential for ethical dilemma or even injury. Yet appropriation itself cannot become demonized; it is a well-worn practice in the development of innumerable species of human and nonhuman naturecultures. I appreciate Kim’s advocacy for “caution” around appropriation in her original post. I think caution and care are more productive modes of approach than moralizing accusations of right and wrong. I think a productive orientation towards the places at which ecosexuality and ecosexual practices incorporates disciplinary/cultural traditions is to ask, “What are the effects of such incorporations, and what are our responsibilities towards those effects and those affected by them?”

Lastly, I wanted to mention a few authors/texts that have profoundly influenced my thinking on ecosexuality, just to invoke them in the dialogic developing here:
-Donna J. Haraway (almost all of her work)
-Elizabeth Grosz (specifically her books Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics and Art; and Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth)
-Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things
-Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning
-David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous
-Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: Objects, Orientations, Others
-Judith Butler’s “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street”

Kim, thank you again for such a thoughtful piece of writing and for opening up this conversation in such critical ways, and thank you Beth and Annie for pioneering this road down which each of us have turned.
Be well.



contribution to a field

the last few months I have been bothered by an important question. actually, I will say that I have perhaps been plagued by this question in all my years of making and thinking and writing. it is a concern: how does my work contribute to the field/culture/world? for years, this quotation taken from May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude was a significant guiding force in my work:

“Millions of boys face these problems and solve them in some way or another–they live, as Captain Ahab says, with half of their heart and only one of their lungs, and the world is worst for it. Now and again, however, an individual is called upon (called by whom, only the theologians claim to know, and by what, only bad psychologists) to lift his individual patienthood to the level of a universal one and to try to solve for all what he could not solve for himself alone . . . not everyone can or will do that–give his specific fears and desires a chance to be of universal significance . . . one must believe that private dilemmas are, if examined, universal, and so, if expressed, have a human value beyond the private . . .
-Erik Erikson, Robert Cole, May Sarton

times have changed, my work has changed, and my [shifting, mobile, fluid] beliefs about the world have changed as well. I no longer believe in universals, and producing work of universal value is no longer my intention. however, I still concern myself with producing work that has value beyond–however much it might be grounded in–my own interests and dilemmas. with each dance I make, each paper I write, each interest towards which I direct my attention and efforts, the question of, “how does this contribute?” arises. especially, as of late, with my primary research, that of ecosexuality as a framework for performance analysis.

one thing that I think is of value in the work I hope to accomplish is writing artists and art works that have not been given critical academic attention into the literature of performance scholarship. the work that interests me–Love Art Lab, Karl Cronin, queer porn, butoh, etc.–is work that has in some cases not been written into scholarship at all, and in most (if not all) cases, not been considered for their potential interventions in the formation/production of sexualities and environmental ecologies. this seems to be an accomplishment worth pursuing in/through my work.

but over the last couple of days, something more/larger has occurred to me. it might even seem obvious, but it has become central to how I understand the potential importance of what I am doing, beyond my own dilemmas or interests (and I am indebted to Maree ReMalia and Deder Gordon for talking through these ideas with me). the fundamental assumption/assertion of the work that I am doing seems to be: through performance we are given access to other possible worlds, other possibilities in/of our world, in ways that reconfigure the sedimented registers of meaning within our cultures and societies. performance is not [only] an act of representation or re-presentation, but is as act of doing the world differently, and that doing has radical potential on the physical level at which bodies are formed/deformed/reformed through the actions that they take (the potential for the performer), and on the level of perception, of the visual display (the potential for the spectator). performance (perhaps all arts, in their own ways), has the potential to operate within recognizable symbolic registers and systems of meaning attached to the body (such as gender, sex, sexuality, race, age, ability, nationality, etc. etc. etc.), but to do so in ways that go against the grain, reconfiguring familiar codes in ways that function in new/unfamiliar ways. this is what I mean by performance giving access to other possible worlds, or ways of world-becoming (yes, there are hints of deleuze and guattari here).
this may be obvious. my friend Deder actually responded by saying, “well, of course. isn’t that what we always do?” and my answer is yes, it is, on some level, but performance is not always considered in this way. too often performance (dance, theatre, performance art, porn, etc.) is approached with the expectation of representation, that the work is showing us something of or about the world, or (perhaps even worse) telling us something about the world. and it might be. but I am interested in what else the work might do, how it might provide as space in which we can both imagine and enact other worlds, other meanings, other bodies and beings and becomings. and I’m not opposed to representation/re-presentation, but rather than looking for representations of the [affirmed] actual, I’m interested in how performance works might actualize virtual landscapes of possibilities. that is (perhaps) the radical potential of performance, that is actualizes/physicalizes the virtual. it is never fully artificial; it is embodies and thus always to some degree actual.

this is how my work with ecosexuality began (I now realize/articulate). ecosexuality is a configuration of sexual and environmental subjectivity that emerged from performance work, specifically the work of the Love Art Laboratory (Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens). their performance work offers another possible world, a reconfiguration of the world in which we live and the way in which we live in/as/with it. it performs new possible sexualities that are not constrained by human organ-ization or global territorializations, and it has done so through reconfigured performatives such as the wedding, the vows, and the roles associated with the wedding ritual. it’s from this set of reconfigurations, this performance work that raises the very possibility of an ecosexuality, that I turn my attention to other performances to ascertain how they too might contribute to the expansion of what can be understood as sexuality, ecology, and the environment–shifting notions of humanity, personhood, ethics, and even love.

so I suppose how I answer myself today when I raise the question, “how does my work contribute to the field/culture/world?”, these are my answers. I am looking to performance works for the ways in which they configure other possible worlds, other possible sexualities as ways of relating not only to one another, but to the world in which we live. this shift in what “sexuality” and “environment” can mean carried with it a shift in possible ethics, the extent of which I cannot even begin to articulate (except to say that it is significant). in a larger sense, I hope I am modeling a way of attending to performance, not for its capacity to represent the world as it is, or to express some hidden feeling or belief about such a world, but for its capacity to enact different possible worlds. performance can never be fully artificial; it is embodied, and as such it is always fundamentally real. it is, in itself and in its display, a movement towards doing/perceiving/doing the world differently.



Ecosex Symposium II

Today I am flying to San Francisco for an exciting week of events that relate intimately to my research. The primary purpose for the trip is the Ecosex Symposium II and Ecosexual Manifesto Art Exhibit (see flyer and press release below):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For all the information about the Symposium go to SexEcology.org

Contact: Center for Sex & Culture—415-902-2071

Love Art Lab 415-847-1323

Femina Potens Press: Malia Schaefer  HYPERLINK “mailto:feminapotenspress@gmail.com” feminapotenspress@gmail.com

Annie Sprinkle  HYPERLINK “mailto:annie@anniesprinkle.org” annie@anniesprinkle.org

Elizabeth Stephens: bethstephens@me.com

San Francisco, CA

ECOSEXUALS UNITE FOR AN ECOSEX SYMPOSIUM & ART EXHIBIT

The Ecosex Symposium II– a public forum where art meets theory meets practice meets activism—will take place June 17-19 at the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco, CA. What’s an ecosexual? Why are skinny-dipping, tree-hugging and mysophila so pleasurable? Where is the e-spot? Can the budding ecosexual movement help save the world? What is this new sexual identity and environmental activist strategy all about? These are some of the questions that will be explored. Femina Potens Gallery is producing the event in collaboration with Center for Sex & Culture.

Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D., a feminist-porn-star and artist turned “SexEcologist,” and Elizabeth Stephens, a UCSC art professor and environmental activist are organizing this event. The two women explain, “as a strategy to create a more mutual and sustainable relationship with our abused and exploited planet, we are changing the metaphor from the Earth as mother, to Earth as lover.”

Sprinkle and Stephens kick off the weekend with their “Ecosex Manifesto,” an art exhibit with new collages, wedding ephemera (they married the snow in Ottawa, the moon in Los Angeles and the mountains in West Virginia), and a manifesto. They have also invited a dozen other artists to display their related works.

Ecosexual author of the seminal text, Gaia and the New Politics of Love, Serena Anderlini, Ph.D., from the University of Puerto Rico will present the keynote address. What is Ecosexual Love?:A Guide to the Arts and Joys of Amorous Inclusiveness. Good Vibration’s sexologist, Carol Queen, Ph.D., will explore The Sexology of Ecosexuality. Dr. Robert Lawrence, Ph.D. will cover ecosex fetishes. Also presenting is Madison Young, the award winning queer porn movie director and the Femina Potens Gallery director. She will cover the Greening of the Sex Industry. Artist Tania Hammidi will perform a dance piece about conflict, genocide and olive trees in the Middle East. Other presenters are artists Dylan Bolles & Sasha Hom, Amy Champ, and the legendary porn actress, Sharon Mitchell, Ph.D., who will talk about The Sensual Pleasures of Gardening. The author of the book Ecosex; Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable, Stephanie Iris Weiss will be Skyping in from New York. Erospirit Institute director, Joseph Kramer, Ph.D. will guide the group in some somatic ecosex practices. Michael J. Morris will discuss theories of ecosexuality. Amy Marsh shares how toxins ate her sex life, and performance artist Tessa Wills offers an Anal Ecology performance piece. There are twenty five scheduled presenters, and there will also be an open mic forum for attendees to share their work and ideas. Becka Shertzer’s Brazennectar and Mister Cream team up to create and serve a gourmet, “ecosexi-love-a-licious” vegan lunch.

Expected to attend the conference are artists, activists, theoreticians, nature fetishists, environmentalists, ecosex community movers and shakers and people from many other walks of life. These events are sponsored by Femina Potens Gallery in collaboration with the Center for Sex & Culture. Stephens and Sprinkle received a cultural equity grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission to help make it all possible.

All the details and advanced tickets are available at SexEcology.org  The producers of these events say that their aim is to “make the environmental movement a little more sexy, fun and diverse.” They’d also like to see an “E” added to GLBTQI.

Friday, June 17

7:00-9:30 ECOSEX MANIFESTO ART EXHIBIT OPENING RECEPTION &

ECOSEX SYMPOSIUM RECEPTION  (Everyone is invited. Free.)

All three days of events will be held at the new Center For Sex & Culture, 1349 Mission Street.  (Between 9th and 10th)

Saturday, June 18. 

ECOSEX SYMPOSIUM 11 ($35. for the whole symposium.)

10:30 AM to 10:45 PM

Sunday, June 19

10:00-1:30

ECOSEX MANIFESTO ART EXHIBIT

The Ecosex Manifesto Art Exhibit will be open for public viewing for a month through July 24th. Check SexEcology.org for gallery hours.

HIGH QUALITY PRESS PHOTOS ARE AVAILABLE FREE AT:  HYPERLINK “http://loveartlab.org/press-gallery.php” http://loveartlab.org/press-gallery.php

RELATED EVENTS 

June 16, 8:00 Femina Poten’s ECOSEXUAL QUEER PORN NIGHT—Tall Tree Tambo, 776 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA

June 19 5:00-7:00  DIRTSTAR PERFORMANCES at the Tenderloin National Forest/Luggage Store, 1000 Market St., San Francisco, CA. 



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.



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 . . .