michael j. morris


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. 



From “Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality”

When I was in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to meet Madison Young, the owner/founder of Femina Potens Art Gallery, a porn star, award winning director, published writer, and sexual educator. She is something of a super-hero. She is iconic to me of a sex-positive social/cultural/political figure. After returning home, I began to explore the range of some of her work. I came across a docu-porn she directed entitled “Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality.” I think it a a fascinating blending of individual interviews, cultural reflection/commentary, and queer porn. I recommend it.

But this is not going to be a porn review. Instead I wanted to share a few quotes from one of the individuals featured in the film. He made several statements that I found striking when I first watched “Fluid,” but recently his words have been haunting me a bit. To be frank, on some small level they seem related to the process being explored in the piece I’ve been working on, “Autumn Quartet.”  This week I left rehearsal a bit beaten up, bruised, with dark red/purple bite marks. I’m sure there is a whole exegesis that might take place surrounding the violent nature of some aspects of this piece, completely woven into what seems essentially to be a dancing exploration of interpersonal intimacy. It’s this conflation of intimacy and violence that brought Midas’ words to mind. I decided to post them here as a way of bringing them into my thinking in this process:

“I definitely identify as queer, I definitely identify as a boy. I hate that, like, ‘man’ word. It’s really gross to me. I feel like there’s a separate, like, gender for, like, ‘boy.’”

“I love getting just as deep and dark in, like, the psyche as I can with all kinds of those different labels, I guess . . . little boy kind of stuff, and, like, ‘momma’s boy’ and ‘daddy’s boy,’ that kind of stuff gets me really hot. And it does feel like some sort of a reclamation, where I’m not forced into this, like, male, masculine role that has all the weight of, you know, destroying the world and bombing and killing and raping humanity, but has more of a fun, playful innocence that I may have grown out of it at some point, in some ways, been over-exposed to, but it’s kind of like a re-kindling of it for me.”

“I’ve had some really explosive relationships that were almost borderline abusive that . . . I actually burned out, and I had my most intense lover, who literally would, you know, drag me into the middle of 24th Street, ripping my clothes off in a wedding dress and fucking the shit out of me in public and throwing fists in every direction, so I was basically trying to run and she’s like . . . I feel like I’m constantly trying to find that again, that just wild, crazy, untouchable, like, no-holds-barred, and wherever it comes from, whether that person is male or female or whatever, just the wildest, craziest, and I find myself falling into those relationships, sexual and otherwise, as often as possible.”

“I’m all about this group thing, it’s super exciting for me. I’ve had a lot of really hot queer, per se,  group experiences that end in, like, everyone’s had all these weird ‘firsts’ and we’re, like, hugging and crying and covered in each other’s blood and it’s just, like, fucking awesome. And those are, like, the ones that I yearn for the most.”

* * * * *

After I went home last night, I thought of further contextualization for sharing these quotes. To be clear: these are not my fantasies. By sharing Tommy Midas’ words, I don’t mean to imply that these are these ways that I think or feel, or even that these are goals of mine for myself/this piece. But I find what he said poignant; the words stayed with me. To be frank, I initially found the last two quotes disturbing, the implication of violence and romance. I don’t aspire to pain, nor to transforming abuse into passion. And yet there is something about this dance (and other dances . . . I’m thinking about “click here for slideshow”),walking around badly bruised the week following a rehearsal . . . doesn’t that imply a fluidity between masochism and passion? Why do we/I do this thing (dance) that leaves us bruised? Are these wounds indicative of harm or are they simply traces of action, even passion? I’m not sure. I still cringe a little when I read those last two quotes, and yet because of that they haunt me.



Sexecology: Making Love With the Earth, Sky and Sea

Ever since I returned from San Francisco a week ago, I have been hesitant to write about my experience of the work that I saw. There is so much to say . . . and yet with plans for writing a formal paper/article about Love Art Lab, the concept of “sexecology” and “ecosexuality,” and the integration of life and art in their work, for whatever reason, I have resisted authoring anything informal here. And yet on some level that is the purpose of this blog, to publish the creative process, the unfinished product, the journey that develops into that which I am making. I also think it would be helpful for me to get some of these ideas moving in a public arena, situate them in a larger context, and see how they grow in this space.

So, what follows are my relatively raw responses to this work.

What brought me to San Francisco was primarily the exhibit “Sexecology: Making Love With the Earth, Sky and Sea” being presented at Femina Potens Art Gallery. I was interested in this potential entry point into Love Art Lab’s work, how this exhibit invites the viewer into the ephemera of their performance work alongside new collaborative art objects (collages, prints, etc.). I also used this trip as an opportunity to meet Beth and Annie and interview them about their work. I left completely overwhelmed and saturated with new ideas, concepts, and considerations. I am currently in the process of transcribing the interview audio footage, so what I’m sharing here is primarily my response to the work itself:

It seems to be a show heavy in relationship to memory. A bulk of what is in the gallery is ephemera from the Green and Blue weddings: costumes, jewelry, photos, videos, paper ephemera, etc., as if walking through their wedding album(s). The large prints of the sea and sky also seem to reference that which previously occurred. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at photography the same again after reading Henry Sayre’s The Object of Performance. These photographs give me the opportunity to look and see with Beth’s eyes, her way of looking, seeing what she saw. They are even some photographs that describe “familiar” sky/sea-scapes (Louisiana clouds, for instance), but look at those scapes with the eyes of a sexecologist. The text in most of the collages references previous occurrences, memories, and descriptions of self in the past. This sense of history/memory is reinforced by the use of vintage images (photos and children’s book images). This is even further reinforced by the interactive element in the show, the visitor survey, asking first to rank one’s perception of the degree of one’s own ecosexuality, then asking for a re-telling of a memory that might be identified as eco-sexual.

It seems to be a large implication of the show that this [Sexecology? Ecosexuality?] is something that has existed for a while, something implemented in the past,  part of the personal histories of the artists, but also perhaps part of the landscape of our country. The retrospective quality of the work has a sense almost like “revisionist history,” retelling a history that went untold thus far.

Of course there is a sense in which any gallery show of objects might be perceived as a testimony of memory, a trace of actions, the implication of previous action. Yet I feel that this quality is fore-grounded by the materials of the show, the text, the images, etc.

I wonder to what degree sexuality might be considered a description of action . . . ways of relating between individuals via sex. Is sex an action or a dynamic or a state of being? What is the relationship between “sex” and “sexuality?” Suddenly Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter seems incredibly relevant to these questions. I may have to make an effort to get through that book, as a way of informing my relationship to this work, to Love Art Lab.

Another major “theme” in the show for me has to do with geography. The foundations for the collages being exhibited are “Geological Survey” maps. The specific states represented are: Kentucky, Indiana (three collages), Arkansas, and Florida. These all strike me as sexually conservative places. Part of the impetus for Love Art Lab was the anti-gay rights movement. To see descriptions and drawings and collages of ecosexuality on these “conservative” landscapes seems to be a political act . . . the relationship between the maps and the added elements seems to say, “It’s there if you look for it. Yes, even here, where sexuality is so narrowly understood/defined.” It’s a nice through-line to recognize in the work, to consider that this political impetus might still be present in this shift into “sexecology.”

Statistics from the Human Rights Campaign relating to the laws addressing sexuality in those states:

Kentucky: no marriage rights (constitutional prohibition), no adoption rights, hate crimes prohibited

Indiana: no marriage rights (restricted by law as man/woman), CAN jointly petition for adoption, no hate crime legislation

Arkansas: no marriage rights (constitutional prohibition), prohibited from adopting, no hate crimes legislation

Florida: no marriage rights (constitutional prohibition), prohibited from adopting, hate crimes prohibited

I think there is also a theme of sex(uality) as exchange: exchanging vows, pollination, bees and flowers and trees and honey and body, exchange from exterior to interior . . . again, exchange is an action. Is sex an action or a state of being? A form? I think in this work sex is all of these things, action of the body, morphology of the bodily, a way of interacting, maybe even a way of knowing? Sex as a way of knowing . . . more on this later.

At the heart of my inquiry into this work is the presence of the body and the implications that this work/perspective holds for perspectives of the body and body cultures. “Where is the body?” In the collages especially, there seems to be the implication that the body is everywhere. Correlations or similarities are drawn between images of the body and the imagistic descriptions of the various landscapes. Maybe there’s something being said about how we represent, and thus think about or recognize, geology or landscape? Or maybe there can be the choice to make these correlations? It seems to say that natural forms are sexy, maybe even that there is an interchangeable/transposisitonal quality to natural forms and the body? Does a delta imply a vagina? Do redwoods suggest phalluses? What might it mean to see the natural world as representations of the human body? When we look for “sexy” in nature, what are we looking for? Sensation? Resemblance to the human form? Fleshiness and wetness and hardness and opening and crevasses, etc.

I’m also thinking about the foundational perspective of my paper on Synchronous Objects, that the body is implicit in ways of understanding that emerge from our embodied condition. If part of how landscape, geology, and the natural world becomes relevant within our experience is its resemblance to the human form, then the body is implicit (perhaps) in the natural world.

What if our bodies extend beyond our skin? What if our understanding of “the body” extends beyond our corporeal forms into the way in which we know and that which we know. This brings to mind again the quote by Abinavagupta, that perception is not separate from the perceiver, thus the perceived world is only the perceiver. Perception, according to Alva Noë, is rooted in sensorimotor experience; it is essentially embodied. Taken together, one might conclude that given the perceiver’s embodiment, perception, an action of the body, is not separate from the body of the perceiver, thus that which is perceived (the perceived world) is not separate from the body of the perceiver.

Is this radical?

It relates to my yoga practice/philosophy as well. In recognizing the universe as created from consciousness and perception and recognizing perception as an action/condition of the body, then the universe that we perceive is not separate from the body. Finding nature sexy is, in a sense, finding the body itself, or one’s understanding of the body, a site of sexual content. This doesn’t seem so huge of a stretch. If we look to the body as the site and source of pleasure in the universe, is it so difficult to look back out into the world and find that [bodily] pleasure there as well?

And what might it have to do with dance?

To what degree is sex or sexuality already a component of our pervasive understanding of situation? And in recognizing the possibility that sex/sexuality is already actively contributing to/shaping/affecting our understanding of the world around us, to what degree is the world around us, the natural world, the Earth already a participant in our sexuality? If we are never simply “subject” but only ever “subject-in-environment,” then perhaps realizing that the environment is never separate from who we are is a step towards recognizing that our environment is always implicit in our sexuality, in sex. Maybe an additional question becomes how we feel about that . . . does it turn us on? Is it erotic to consider that sex includes environment?

So, as I walk around outside, I keep thinking about ecosexuality, looking for the body beyond the prescribed boundaries of the body: the succulent fleshiness of plants, the roughness of tree bark and cold blasting wind, tlong tendrils of leaves and branches, the bush of grass and moss, the wetness of the sea, the way it drips, the oozing of tree sap, the phallic quality of tree trunks and stems and stamens, the soft openness of flower blossoms, the swelling of fruit . . . There’s something about the experience of the body adding morphological meaning to the natural world beyond the prescribed boundaries of the body. It’s like a kind of anthropomorphization . . . but perhaps less directly . . . something like our familiarity with the body offering a kind of legibility to the world around us.

Beth talked about ecosexuality as being more about a pulse of sensation, a pulse between how the Earth/Sky/Sea makes her feel and how she makes the Earth/Sky/Sea feel. This pulse makes me thing of spanda, the creative pulsation, again a strong, perhaps implicit, relationship to yogic philosophy. The pulse between recognizing both one’s individual distinction and Absolute Oneness of the universe in consciousness. If the universe is One (and I think it is), it is so in/as Consciousness, which is situated in/as the body. This pulse sees pleasure in the body, then looks from there to see pleasure in the universe/natural world.

This connection to yogic philosophy or a yogic perspective of the body is a fundamental aspect of the Love Art Lab. The very organization of their project is the chakra system, an energetic network distilled from centuries of bodily experience. I feel that maybe as I try to write about this material, it might be appropriate to bring in a substantial amount of Tantric philosophy and its terms and perspectives as a way of engaging with the work. It feels appropriate.

I realize that my terms are getting muddy, conflated . . . sex, sexuality, the body, pleasure . . . maybe it’s all the same? Or at least maybe it is enough to say that none of these occur apart from [an understanding of?] one another? I suppose it’s a good thing that I’m trudging through Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter right now to problematize and destabilize such assumptions . . .

Another relevant question seems to be “Why?” Why look for sex/sexuality/the body beyond the body in the natural world? I suppose the most practical answer is in order to change the way we treat the Earth, Sky, and Sea. It is somewhat of an anthropomorphilogical metaphor, but one that is constructive in altering behavior.

But in a larger sense, I think it has to do with the kind of world in which one wants to live. It emanates from a “sex-positive” perspective, I think, that sex, pleasure, even love, are HEALTHY and GOOD. By expanding those ideas/perceptions/concepts/boundaries, we create a universe that actively contributes to and participates in that health and goodness. Does it have to invoke “sex?” Perhaps not. I think the yogic philosophy of grace achieves a similar ends, perceiving the role of the universe, its nature, as contributing to and participating in our own goodness. By invoking sex, there is an invocation of a certain promiscuity, a boundless sexuality, perhaps even a boundless sexual generosity. In this boundlessness of sex/the body, what room is there for boundaries? Immediately I think that it has to do with trust. I can trust nature, I can believe in Her goodness. I may not be able to extend that same trust to everyone. Thus, the same sort of generosity that I have, or may have, as an “ecosexual” may not translate into boundless promiscuity with people . . .

This “sex-positive” perspective was prevalent throughout my experience of San Francisco, Femina Potens, Love Art Lab, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, stores like Good Vibrations, etc. Interestingly (and adjacent to this discussion), it has sparked a new interest in exploring how sexuality or sexology might provide relevant terms of analysis and methodologies for quantification and organization for research. In a conversation with my dear friend CoCo, we were discussing what currently constitutes my potential dissertation interests, namely the body as the site of identity, movement material generated by the body as constitutive of an extension of identity, the choreographic process as an intimate exchange by which identity is synthesized/co-constructed, etc. CoCo noted the sexual quality that my language around this project possessed, and it opened my mind to the possibility that what I was describing suggests a kind of “sexual epistemology,” and rather than resist it, embrace what it might bring to or provide for the work. This quality of “sexual epistemology” seems to be at the heart of “sexecology” and “ecosexuality.”

And that’s all the scattered words and ideas that I have as of now. I hope that in the weeks to come that I can begin to formulate these ideas into a more cohesive structure, and over time produce some sort of text that discusses this provocative and relevant work. For now, I invite you to peruse and discuss these ideas, in their raw forms.

Oh, and here are some images to accompany the ideas:

Costumes and ephemera from Green and Blue Weddings

photographs by Elizabeth Stephens

Sexecology 3

collage by Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, with Camille Norton

collage by Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, with Camille Norton

collage by Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, with Camille Norton

finding the sexy, wet and fleshy



The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

on the Solidarity Stroll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Lady Gaga, Ballet, Synchronous Objects, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Annie's Tit Prints

Yves Klein "untitled"

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

There. That’s my little rant for today.

Back to reading/writing about Synchronous Objects.



Current Ideas

Because I have neglected my blog since this Autumn quarter started, I feel the need to offer a quick update on thoughts/ideas/creative activity/etc. It will hardly be comprehensive, but I need to take a break from reading; blogging will be my break.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a Butoh class with Marianne Kim. It was amazing. it was the most pleasure I have taken in movement in years. I’ll confess, directly after the class, I wanted to drop out of grad school and just go do Butoh somewhere. This is of course not what I’ll be doing, but it did reawaken a need for that way of moving in my life. I’m not sure how that will affect my physical practice, my choreography, or my research . . . but Butoh has been essential to my evolution as a dance artist, and it feels like it is time to return to that “movement home.” I’m not yet sure what that will be.

Last week I started working on a new trio (maybe a quartet if I dance in the piece; I haven’t yet decided). It is one of the most ambiguous works of choreography on which I have ever embarked. I don’t yet know what it is going to be or even what I want it to be; I simply have a field of disparate interests, and this piece is forming somewhere in between those interests (it’s always about the in-between). I feel now that Creative Processes with Bebe Miller in the spring affected me more profoundly than I could have been aware of at the time. I have never just gone into a studio with a cast to see what happens; I always have a plan, an idea of what the piece will be, and even if I deviate from that plan, I have the fundamental structure as my anchor; that is not how I am working with this piece. I began by casting the piece; the cast went through several evolutions. As of now it is comprised of: Erik Abbottmain, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt (plus myself). I generated several movement phrases. I listed my interests and shared that list with the cast. it included:
-the cooch dancers in the HBO show Carnivale
-the cultural fascination with vampires, with biting, the sexiness of it, the tension between predator and willing prey, the possible relationship to rape fantasies
-Undressing/Redressing; the actual body v. the socially presentable body (many of these ideas I began to explore in the solo I performed in 60×60)
-How we know one another, how we “get inside” who one another are
-Getting inside one another’s clothes (a metaphorical action)
-KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY)
-My larger research interests concerning the constitution/negotiation of identity as the body, the extension of identity in the generation of movement material, the intimate act of choreography in which the movement material (extension of the choreographer’s identity) is transmitted to the body of the dancer and integrated into her own corporeal/kinesthetic identity

I don’t know where this piece is going yet. For this week, we will likely engage in KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY); we might try biting one another; I may teach more movement material, and we will review the material we learned last week. The existing movement material is dance-y and a little vulgar; there are choreographed facial expressions (this is likely influx from my History, Theory, Literature of the Analysis of Movement course; we’re looking at Delsatean systems of theory and training; more on this below).

This course (HTLAM: The History, Theory, and Literature of the Analysis of Movement) is a core Ph.D. course in the department. More than anything, the meta-inquiry of the course is, “How do we find movement meaningful, and what are we looking at in order to apprehend that meaning?” We began doing readings in phenomenology, then into analysis of movement for meaning (work by Paul Ekman, David Abram, Charles Darwin, John Martin, etc.) Now we are looking at Delsarte and his theories about the meaning of the body (this is what I am reading about tonight). I am already starting to consider my potential final paper topics. I am thinking about something like: the construction of female identity through Delsarte, compared/contrasted with female identity as constructed through contemporary lesbian dance club practices. Both evolved in primarily homo-social settings but exist(ed) in social structures driven mostly by male power/dominance. I’m not sure yet, but that’s the direction I’m considering.

I finally saw a video of the piece I co-choreographed last year (I supplied a libretto that was the interpreted into choreography) with Audrey Lowry called “Observing Solitude.” I am not yet prepared to write a description/analysis of the piece, or even describe my experience of it beyond simple, stunning beauty. I was very pleased.

I am still in rehearsals with CoCo Loupe, preparing for Anthro(pop)ology II, the piece now entitled “click here for slideshow or 6-12 character limit.” Here is CoCo’s blurb about the piece:

“cocoloupedance will be premiering click here for slideshow or 6-12 character limit. Choreographer CoCo Loupe has structurally designed this piece to metaphorically resemble an internet slideshow. Composed of interconnected (still-framed, slideshow-like) solos, duets and trios danced by Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, and Michael J. Morris, this work examines the kind of dehumanizing social fragmentation that results from overwhelming over exposure to current trends in rapidly developing technology and mass mediation. CoCo Loupe will sit “in a cafe” on stage and engage in blogging, texting, emailing, and tweeting activities directly related to the performance. Her real-time computer interactions will be projected on a screen in such a way as to question what it means to interact socially in today’s touch screen (rather than touch each other) world.

For more information about cocoloupedance or CoCo Loupe, visit http://www.cocoloupedance.com/

I am writing a grant right now to hopefully travel to San Francisco in December to view/review a show or prints by Love Art Lab at Femina Potens Gallery, and to interview Annie and Beth about their work. Here is my working “project description”:

“I am requesting funding for travel and lodging in order to interview performance and mutli-media artists Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens—who together make up the artist couple Love Art Laboratory—and have the opportunity to experience an exhibition of their work entitled “Sexecology Solo Exhibition” at Femina Potens Gallery in San Francisco. While Sprinkle and Stephens are not specifically identified as dance artists, I find the work of the Love Art Lab to have profound implications for politics surrounding the body, the emergence of progressive physical cultures, and the body as the site for sexual, ecological, and political activism, all of which are relevant conceptual situations for the evolving field of dance. These ideas are expressed and explored through their performance work, including their annual performance weddings, various gallery and alternative space performance installations, and theatrical stage productions, as well as their photography, paintings, and prints.

In addition to the relevance of their work to issues surrounding the body, I am also interested in interviewing Sprinkle and Stephens about their integrated art-and-life practices and the concept of sustainable practices in arts professions. In my analysis of their work, the Love Art Lab seems to produce work that functions not only as their profession, but also as an expression of their personal relationship, their sexuality and sexual identities, their creative interests, their politics and activism, and their ecological concerns. I am interested in hearing them speak on these subjects, and how integrated life/art practices contribute to personal sustainability. I feel that Sprinkle and Stephens may in fact be authorities on these subjects, and there exists very little critical writing about their work as Love Art Laboratory.

It is my intention to review the show of prints at Femina Potens, potentially for publication, and also generate critical writing surrounding their work and the issues discussed above, also potentially for publication or conference presentation. I feel that I have exhausted the limited literature that has been produced about the work of Love Art Laboratory, and I believe there to be value to expanding critical dialogue surrounding their work by contributing to the existing literature. I have yet to have a first-hand encounter with Love Art Laboratory’s work, basis my understanding and limited analysis on existing literature and web documentation of the work. Having the opportunity to experience Sprinkle, Stephens, and their work first-hand would profoundly enhance my ability to write critically about the work, and its relevance to issues that concern both the field of dance and art practices as a whole.”

It’s a draft. it will probably evolve. But it offers a sense of something I am working on/towards.

And that’s all I have time for. That’s my brief offering about my creative life.