michael j. morris


warming up
Image

warming up: a queer porn screening and conversation

warming up: a queer porn screening and conversation at FEVERHEAD
saturday, february 25, 2012
5:00pm-7:00pm
18+ age limit
suggested donation $2-5

Join us for a queer porn screening presenting work by directors Shine Louise Houston, Courtney Trouble, and Madison Young, introduced and facilitated by Michael J. Morris. If we consider pornography to be an archive of human sexual behavior, queer porn makes important social contributions by giving representation to bodies, sexualities, and sex that go otherwise unacknowledged and often disavowed within our society’s mainstream cultural productions. In a society in which bodies/people are identified by markers such as gender, sex, and sexuality; in which rights and value are mediated on the bases of these identifications; and in which media—including pornography—plays significant roles in shaping our perceptions of both ourselves and of others: the production and screening of this material takes on substantial social and political dimensions. We invite you to come enjoy a sampling of sexy scenes by award-winning filmmakers and performers, to take part in dialogue about the social and cultural relevance of this work, and to consider pornography as a productive site of knowledge in addition to its erotic functions.

We will be screening scenes from Shine Louise Houston’s HeavenlySpire.com, Courtney Trouble’s Roulette: Toronto, and Madison Young’s Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality; with performances by James Darling, Quinn Valentine, Jiz Lee, Drew Deveaux, River Turner, Tommy Midas, Rose, and Devi Lynne.

For more information, contact Michael at morris.787@osu.edu
Michael J. Morris is a PhD student and Graduate Teaching Associate in the Department of Dance at the Ohio State University, doing research in the areas of performance, sexuality, and queer theories of the body.

This event is made possible through the support of CoCo Loupe, FEVERHEAD, and Queer Behavior; and the generous permissions of Shine Louis Houston and Pink and White Productions, Courtney Trouble, Madison Young, and Good Releasing.

RSVP on the facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/210505295702709/

Trailers/More Info:
HeavenlySpire.com with James Darling and Quinn Valentine: http://www.heavenlyspire.com/wordpress/james-darling-and-quinn-valentine/
Courtney Trouble’s Roulette: Toronto: http://courtneytrouble.com/dvds/roulette-toronto/
Fluid: Men Redefining Sexualityhttp://goodreleasing.com/fluid-men-redefining-sexuality/

http://feverhead.com/
http://queerbehavior.com/wordpress/
http://pinkwhite.biz/
http://courtneytrouble.com/
http://madisonbound.com/
http://goodreleasing.com/



Chalk Boundaries

Today I had the opportunity to see Dante Brown‘s new work in progress Chalk Boundaries, presented as part of the Wexner Center for the Arts “Super Sunday” event. The piece was presented as a response to, or illustration of, the images and expressions of masculine identity being shown in the Wexner’s new exhibition, Hard Targets, including work by artists such as Catherine Opie, Paul Pfeiffer, Matthew Barney, Jeff Koons, and many others.

To begin with, I have had overarching concerns surrounding this term “masculinity.” It is a term that implies qualities that are typical or characteristic of men, or maleness. Because I question the essentialization of ideas like “man” or “male,” I am immediately wary of demonstrations of typicalities or characteristics of these broad categories. While I don’t have time to author or recount a treatise of the complexities of gendered identity (although I recommend Judith Butler, among others), I wanted to offer that as my disclaimer: from the start, the stated subject matter of this exhibition provokes questions concerning the viability/discursive limitations of such language/ideas.

In looking at Brown’s piece, my immediate reaction was how well developed and well rehearsed it is for a work in progress that has only been in process for approximately five weeks. I found its vocabulary to be intriguing and well developed, its overall movement qualities pervasive amongst the cast of five men, and its structural qualities (such as its use of space, groupings of individuals, the interplay between unison and partnering, all very contrapuntal) rewarding to my attention.

Thematically, I appreciated the nuanced demonstration of several facets of “masculine” identity. It is not exhaustive in its exploration of the nature of “masculine” identity, the nature of maleness, or what it is that makes this a cast of five men (besides their presumable identification as such; if I did not know these dancers, I would be less prone to make this presumption). Yet the facets of “masculinity” that it does demonstrate are articulated with a mix of subtlety and referentiality that bordered on caricature: aggression/domination, weakness/softness, and mediation between these. These qualities are demonstrated abstractly throughout the eight-to-nine minute piece in its forms and movement qualities, but are offered rather literally in an brief “scene” partway through the piece: one dancer, Chafin Seymor, turns and advances aggressively towards another dancer, Quentin Burley, who retreats across the space with lightness and softness. Seymor’s aggressive gestures, looming over Burley, eventually pressures Burley to the floor. At the point, another dancer, Eric Nordstrom, intervenes, grasping Seymor from behind while making gentle “Shhh” sounds, as if persuading Seymor to calm down and control his agression. There may be potential for reading symbolic references to power dynamics derived from who is on top and who is on bottom throughout this exchange, however, it reads most readily as a fairly literal demonstration of what I perceived as the aspects of “masculinity” being considered throughout the piece. On first viewing, after digesting my awe at the choreographic development of the work, I felt resistant to this limited consideration. I think that I felt narrowness in the spectrum of “masculinity” being demonstrated. I questioned the absence of sensuality, sexuality, and fluidity in what I was seeing. I wanted to also be presented with “masculinity” that might be classed as “femininity,” and be forced to reconcile the “uncharacteristically masculine” as the male body. So much of the vocabulary of the piece, while absolutely stunning to watch, stays in the polar spaces of strong, heavy, and direct, with punctuations of lightness, softness, and indirectness. The power of most of the movement, the strength of its execution, and the profound contrast between it and the softer moments was all captivating, a pleasure to witness. And yet I felt a desire to see more along this spectrum, demonstrations that were not so immediate in their contrast, so specifically recognizable in their qualities or potential references/meanings. I wanted to see attraction, investigation, and discovery between these bodies, not only camaraderie, aggression, and conflict.  And yet, by the third time I saw the piece, I began to appreciate the somewhat reductive, limited depictions of “masculinity” as part of the provocation of the work. The piece was shown twice today, and I had the privilege of seeing a rehearsal of the piece last week. Between today’s showings, I took time to peruse the Hard Targets exhibit. While that exhibit deserves a response all its own, I felt that there is an education in ways of looking offered through the collection of work. I was specifically moved by photographs by Catherine Opie and Collier Schorr, both offering portraits and action shots of young male athletes engaged in game play or standing in uniform. I was struck by the near life-size-ness of the photographs, and the extremely reflectiveness of the glass behind which they were displayed. I saw the silhouette of my person superimposed in their work, juxtaposed with their subjects. Just as I was being shown a forthright portrait of these young male athletes, I was being reminded of myself, my own presence before the image, and I felt the draw towards comparison. How did I see or know myself in situation with the image being presented to me? How was my stance different from the stance of the boy depicted, or perhaps more interestingly, how was it the same? What parts of myself/how I know or consider myself did I not see reflected in the figure I was being shown? These kind of questions were recurrent for me throughout Hard Targets. I identify as male, and yet I find very little of my “maleness” depicted in the work being exhibited. Yet because of that exclusion/omission, I became even more aware of those qualities. This was the way of looking that I brought to Brown’s piece on my third viewing: despite the fact that the ways of being male being demonstrated in the piece felt incomplete and not representative of my own maleness, or perhaps even because of this disparity, those qualities or attributes within myself were brought more profoundly into my awareness. I felt my softness respond to the hardness of the action, I felt my attraction to the male dancing bodies in the absence of attraction being demonstrated between them. I cannot help but feeling that this self-reflexivity becomes implicit in the piece itself. In a post-modern age in which authorship, authority, and meaning are being questioned, reconsidered, and redefined by post-structuralism, it seems even more evident that the experience provoked within the viewer, the meaning that I then in turn attribute to my experience of the work, becomes a part of the work itself.

I think it is important to acknowledge the specificity of the language I am using to discuss this piece. I saw it very much as a demonstration of aspects of “masculine” identity. I did not experience it as a definition or redefinition of “masculinity,” nor an exploration or investigation of the validity and viability of these aspects. This demonstrative quality, which I think is pervasive in the Hard Targets exhibit itself, insists on reflexivity. Just as I stood before a Catherine Opie photograph and came to examine or understand myself in the context of that image, I was provoked to examine myself and bring forward my own expressions/understanding/experience of “masculinity” in the context of Chalk Boundaries. This, I think, was a strength in the work.

I feel it is necessary to destabilize the potentially simplistic re-presentation of Brown’s piece that I seem to be establishing. To be clear, the piece is not without nuance or subtlety. While it has moments of literality, it is primarily an abstract piece with room for interpretation and ambiguity. I think the brief theatricality of the “aggressor scene” between Seymor, Burley, and Nordstrom serves to anchor the abstraction and ambiguity to those more literal references, but it is still a choice to consider it in such a way. There are nuanced exchanges between bodies, hands and chests reaching towards, moving away, avoiding, and circling back towards. While the overall qualities of “masculinity” depicted in the piece seem very recognizable and relatively fixed, it seems clear that the relationships or connections between these “fixed” bodily identities are characterized by hesitation, uncertainty, and brevity. There are deliciously subtle moments, such as a trio of men sitting together loosely slumping into one another, each one being caught and supported by the others. This is not the central action of that moment, but adds depth and counterpoint to the more spectacular partnering taking place at the center of the space (being danced beautifully by Brown and Mike Abbatiello). There is a wonderful shift in tone when all five dancers move from rebounding standing-forward-folds into sniffing the air attentively and moving abruptly, animalistically, as if on the scent of prey. This moment dovetails smoothly into an extremely literal and somewhat surreal reference to sports (football, I believe), with one dancer, Nordstrom, calling out “Down! Set! Go!” “Go!” seems to morph into “Goal!” or “Girl!” This was rewardingly ambiguous enunciation, calling into question the difference or sameness between going, goal, and girl. When I heard “Girl!” the men were immediately recontextualized, especially if “Girl!” might be confused with “Goal!” In naming that which is apparently absent, the female in the crowd of male, that which inscribes “maleness” becomes situated outside of the male himself, outside of the male individual, and at least partially with the object or Other, potentially even the object of desire (if one is to relate the sniffing to to “Goal!/Girl!”). Suddenly “male” is so at least in part because it is distinct from “female.” This is not the only moment in which “masculine” definition seems at least partially arbitrated by an “other.” Throughout the piece there are moments of looking, watching, gazing, men looking at men, and in doing so raising a question of that which is established, reinforced, or problematized by the gaze. What does one man see as he looks at another? Just as I found my perception of myself and my own “masculinity” brought up by watching this dance, how does each of these men come to recognize and define themselves as men through their looking?

The piece as it now ends seems to offer a glimpse of its own resistance to these somewhat simplistic reductions of “masculinity.” After collapsing before other four dancers, Burley springs up into a position I read as definitively “Peter Pan”-esque. By introducing this image, the boy who adamantly refused to grow up to be a man, this maleness seems to be challenged. It reminds me of a quote I have used in the sound score for the piece I am currently making, taken from Tommy Midas in “Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality.” He says:

“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.’”

The “Peter Pan” pose seems to echo this sentiment. Subsequently, each of the dancers move into postures or poses that seem synonymous with “posturing” and “posing,” a kind of pretense of “masculinity.” The stability of these forms decay as legs appear to become weak or unable to support the weight of the form. The dancers make their way off of the stage in a sequence of posing and collapsing, offering what I perceive to be one hint at questioning the viability of these “masculine” forms. The final moment of the piece leaves Brown alone on stage, walking slowly and carefully, bouncing in each step as if to question its stability. It is a moment of concern and uncertainty, and while it may not immediately offer alternative expressions of “masculine” identity, it definitely calls into question the stability of the preceding depictions.

Being a work in progress, it feels appropriate to have questions for the piece, for how it might develop or evolve. When discussing any work, especially finished work, I hesitate to discuss choices or possibilities beyond that which has been crafted by the choreographer/artist. Too often I think the critical responses to dance/art orbit what else it could have been rather than giving critical attention to what it is. However, having address my experience of the work as it is, I have several lingering questions: To what degree does body type determine role? In the literal moment between Seymor and Burley, why is the long, slender, elegant man the one retreating? Why is he not the aggressor? How might this situation be reinvestigated/subverted if the expected roles (based on body type, etc.) were subverted? While I found a fulfilling experience in echoing within myself the aspects of “masculinity” absent in this demonstration, what are ways in which other less predictable, less archetypal, aspects of male identity might be shown? Perhaps these are not only questions to this piece itself, but more broadly to dance works that address gender (and, in a sense, all dance works address gender), and to the experience of perceiving, negotiating, and demonstrating oneself as gendered. What are our assumptions, how might those assumptions be subverted, and what new, perhaps ambiguous or unfamiliar, perceptions might we discover in subverting our own assumptions?

Overall, I find Chalk Boundaries to be extremely successful. It is provocative, well developed, well executed, and a beautiful accompaniment to the Hard Targets exhibition.

You can see footage of Brown’s rehearsal process on his blog or here:



Making Explicit

I think I am finally coming to a greater understanding of what the meaning or reason of this piece might be. I have been working for a few days on a new soundscore with which to experiment in our rehearsal this week. It is the basic mash-up that I have described before (Marie Antoinette soundtrack, ISAN, Lady Gaga, Aphex Twins) with new text and sound loops woven into it. The new text/sound is taken from two films by Madison Young, “Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality” and “Thin Line Between Art and Sex.” I have transcribed the text in earlier posts, statements made by Tommy Midas and Jiz Lee. I have also lifted sound from the sex portions of these films, weaving sounds of fucking, sucking, moaning, groaning, slapping, sighing, orgasming, etc. into the soundscore. It’s pretty hot, a little kitschy, borders between overstimulation and potential humor. I recognize that. There is a sense of both poignancy and humor to hear Lady Gaga sing: “Russian roulette is not the same without a gun, and baby when it’s love if it’s not rough it isn’t fun,” while at the same time hearing a woman begging “choke me, please, choke me, please,” while someone else is moaning while getting slapped around. Several of my peers have asked why I’m creating this soundscore, and here in lies my new understanding: I think I am trying to make aspects of dance that exist implicitly in our practices explicit in this piece/practice. Often in the dance world, especially in Western theatrical dance and dance training, sexuality is significantly downplayed, as if to suggest that sex plays no part in what we are doing. I do not mean to imply that dance is all about sex, not at all. But dance is a physical practice, essentially embodied, and sexuality is persistently a part of our embodied existence. We may not be conscious of it, we may not even acknowledge it, but it is always present. I am interested in acknowledging this, bringing it from its implicit, unacknowledged place into the foreground, explicitly acknowledged as a dynamic in what it is we are doing. I don’t think that this piece/we as a cast/this academic institution are quite ready to literally have sex as part of a dance, especially in front of spectators (although I have to say that this intrigues me), so I am exploring other ways to make the sex/sexuality explicit. This soundscore is one strategy. I think the stripping and biting and rolling around on the floor in our underwear also foreground a space in which sexuality occurs. Similarly, I think the component of the biting is a strategy for making explicit the implicit violence of dance. Dancing is difficult, demanding, and often destructive to our bodies. There is an inherent masochism and sometimes sadism to much of dancing. By creating a dance in which masochism and sadism are made explicit in these “biting scenes,” mixing it up with intimacy, friendship, dancing, and the implication of sex, I am foregrounding aspects of what we do that generally go unacknowledged/unexplored.

I don’t think this is the only reason or meaning behind this work. I think equally as important are the themes of integrating art and life, shifting power dynamics, and agency/indeterminacy as I detailed in my previous post. I was discussing some of these ideas with a colleague of mine this afternoon, and she commented that maybe all of this, the dancing, the sex, the violence, Lady Gaga, maybe it’s all the same thing. Then she refined that statements: maybe it isn’t that it is all the same, but that it is all always a part, always at play. There is sex in dancing even if the dancing is not about sex. There is agency and indeterminacy and improvisation in sex, even if the sex is not about exploring these ideas. There is violence in dance practices, and in sex, and it is sometimes tangled up with intimacy, pleasure, fulfillment, excitement, etc. In a truly post-modern turn, this dance is perhaps less about isolating and examining each of these aspects of human existence and more about blurring the lines between them, layering them in all of there complexity and contradiction, just as they occur in life. Because the dance is our live, our lives are the dance, etc.



Autumn Quartet: Bite images, etc.

These were taken last week after our rehearsal. I wasn’t certain whether I would post them, but as I read back through the various posts describing this process, it feels very removed from the bodies themselves. Something about these images brings the process back to a very physical place. I think of them as art integrating with life. Lingering bite mark after rehearsal.

I have also been working on integrating various text into what we’ve been working with as our soundscape. First were the previously shared quotes from Tommy Midas in Madison Young‘s “Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality.” Now I have made connections to quotes by Jiz Lee in another of Madison Young’s docu-porns, “Thin Line Between Art and Sex.” I’ll transcribe those below:

“I think that there are a lot of similarities between art and sex, particularly with dance.”

[referencing Contact Improvisation]: “It’s about inter-relating with another person, or more than one person, in such a way that it’s improvisational, you’re taking cues from them and what they’re doing, and what they’re going to do next. You know, anticipating what they might do next, or what they might want next. There’s also a level of, like, a follower and a leader sometimes, so sometimes there’ll be, like, someone kind of, like, following, and the other person takes cues off of that, or visa versa, and they switch at any moment . . . I feel like it relates to sex because you can start off in one way and then decide, oh, actually, I’ll let you lead for a second, and I’ll take that cue.”

“It was called the Undress Project, and so I was dancing naked on stage, and it wasn’t sexualized, and actually they found out that wearing a little bit amount of clothing, like even rehearsing in bras and underwear, was more tantalizing and titillating than just being completely naked. And there was a real beauty and zen-like quality to performing completely bare and being exposed, and seeing that our bodies were this kind of functioning machine, where they eat and piss and shit and eat again, and they age and they sag and they live and die . . .”

“I found myself being kind of upset being on stage and being naked and people seeing, like, ‘Oh, that’s a woman,’ and you know, like, the size of my hips and you can see my boobs and to be . . . by a lot of reviewers being, like, ‘She this, and she that,’ and actually I identify as gender queer, so . . . and I had been packing, binding, and identifying as trans for a while, so it was an interesting transition to be okay with my body and be okay with what other people thought about my body.”

“So I got very comfortable with myself naked, moving naked, being seen by others and however they wanted to see me.”

I have also been considering the format in which this piece might be seen by outside observers. I have been questioning the necessity of having any sort of formal or informal performance/presentation since the start of the process, and I still have questions about the implications of presentation for this work. In so many ways, this piece really is about and for the four of us as a practice in which we engage, a dance intended more for the kinesthetic, spatial, and interpersonal experience of being inside of it rather than the visual experience of seeing the piece. And yet there is a sense in which the piece might . . . want to be shared? So I have been considering the possibility of personal invitations, inviting specific individuals to witness our practice, week by week rather than any sort of epitomizing performance experience. I haven’t quite figured out the details or viability of this approach, but it does seem like a way to continue to maintain a sense of intimacy in the process, emphasizing the interpersonal rather than the spectacle. I think.

That is my creative update on the Autumn Quartet. There are so many other thing about which I feel compelled to write . . . how the this piece is beginning to feel implicated in the post-modern period through its inclusion of undressing (I’m thinking again of David Gordon’s Random Breakfast, and Anna Halprin’s Parades and Changes). Maybe that will be the paper I write for “The History and Theory of Postmodern/Contemporary Dance” this quarter. In any event, the work of reading and writing and teaching now requires my attention.



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.