michael j. morris


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.

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60×60 in Review

60×60 is now over. I hope you were able to make it. It was an amazing show full of diverse talent and good energy. I felt that both of my pieces were successful in executing their intentions. The first was an improvisation intending to utilize Forsythian Improvisational technologies to which I was introduced last year, as well as ways of moving that I associate with those technologies. It was one minute long and explored material both standing and on the floor.

The second was dual purposed and highly conceptual. It was an homage to “The Strip” section of David Gordon and Valda Setterfield’s Random Breakfast. It was also intended to deconstruct the relationship between the socially presentable body and the actual body (or corporeal morphology) of the individual. It was something of a temporal palindrome, starting upstage, walking directly downstage while undressing, then moving back upstage while re-dressing. All in one minute. A friend said to me afterwards that the piece could have gone on for much, much longer. I agree. I have a sense that I will re-stage the piece at some point. I am interested in how the fully clothed body that is viewed at the end of the piece is different from the fully clothed body at the beginning because of what has transpired in-between. It is always all about the in-between. The piece also commented a bit on gender and sexuality: I wore heels, women’s slacks, and a large black lambs wool coat. During the performance (the images below are from the dress rehearsal) I wore a t-shirt that says “Legalize Gay: repeal prop. 8 now!” It also had an oddly intimate feeling beyond just the exposed body; there was something about the action of undressing and re-dressing, the clumsiness, the un-sexy-ness.

CoCo Loupe graciously photographed the dress rehearsal. I share those photos now with you as documentation of the piece. Video footage may be posted in the next few weeks or so. Additional footage/images/commentary may appear at http://60×60.blogspot.com/ in the weeks to come so stay tuned there.

Also, I just received this by email today from the directors of 60×60:
“Mark your calendars now. We will be coming back to Columbus to
do this again during the first weekend in October, 2010. Tell your
friends and colleagues. Let’s make the next one bigger and better. More
details will come as things are confirmed…. stay tuned.” Very exciting.

Here are the images from the two pieces:
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Upcoming events

Just a reminder for my (local) readership:

 

 I am premiering a new piece this week entitled “About.” It is being included the the OSU Dance Winter Concert. Here are the details:

Thursday, 12 March-Saturday, 14 March
8pm
Sullivant Theater
Tickets are $10 general admission, $5 for senior citizens, students, and anyone with a Buck ID

This concert is a presentation of student work, ranging from undergrad to grad, coming out of the OSU Department of Dance.

This new piece of mine is for seven dancers and includes sounds by Pauline Oliveros and Steven Halpern.

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Also coming up this week is an LGBT film festival at the Wexner. It is the same nights of the Winter Concert, so I will not be able to attend, but if you come to the concert one night and have one or two more evenings free next weekend, I highly recommend this event. I see this sort of programming as an important step in developing a broader awareness of and respect for the LGBT community. By supporting these events, we communicate that sense of value to the Wexner. During a time in our country in which equality is still a question waiting to be answered, it seems increasingly relevant when highly respected, public institutions such as the Wexner issue statements regarding LGBT individuals, couples, artists, and rights in this country.

You can find out the details here.

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from Love Songs being shown Friday, 13 February

 

Other events in which I will be involved a bit farther off are also at the Wexner and revolve around the work of William Forsythe. I have not discussed very much here, but this quarter I am participating in a workshop exploring the studio techniques, ideas, and technologies of William Forsythe, partially through the instruction of Nik Haffner, a former dancer with Forsythe’s company, and an important collaborator on Forsythe’s “Improvisational Technologies.” (“Improvisational Technologies” is a CD-ROM that was developed to illustrate Forsythes methods for improvisation, movement generation, and choreographic devices being employed in his company. Originally for use within the company as a way of educating new company members, the CD-ROM was published in the 1990s and now has become a public resource for informing improvisational and choreographic processes) This workshop, offered through the OSU Department of Dance, is culminating with these Wexner events.

The first is the performance of Monster Partitur delivered by dancer Alessio Silverstrin. Our role in this piece is the construction of sculptural objects and drawings that then serve as the “score” for the piece. You can read more about the piece and details for the performances here. This piece originated from Forsythe’s experience of the illness and death of his wife. In a meeting yesterday, even just hearing the story of how the piece came about became an overwhelming emotional experience. The piece is accompanied by an installation which includes a text written by Forsythe himself describing his wife’s illness. He spoke of her bleeding and of her becoming more and more bent, to the point at which she could no longer dance, set in painful contrast to her remarkable abilities before her illness. This loss of ability,loss of who she once was, and eventually the loss of her entirely, became the source of this piece. After her death, he unwrapped a Christmas present that had been given to her. It was a life-size cardboard skeleton kit. It is from kits such as those that we will create bent, irregular sculptures. It is the shadows of these sculptures that we will trace onto panels. And it will be these traces that will become the “score” for the piece.

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from Monster Partitur. In the image you can see a version of the sort of sculptural objects we will be creating.

This performance is part of a larger exhibition entitled “William Forsythe: Transfigurations” that will be on display at the Wexner. Without writing a paper on Forsythian methodologies, I will offer that much of Forsythe’s research has been in the area of the “choreographic object,” (this article is written by Forsythe and offers a brief explanation of how he thinks of “choreographic objects”) and how the intrinsic information/knowledge in choreography might be explored or translated into other forms (apart from but not excluding the dancing body). This exhibition brings a collection of these “objects” into the gallery spaces of the Wexner. It is the first presentation of this significant body of work in the United States. You can read more about the exhibition here.

Finally, on April 1, in conjunction with both of these components relating to Forsythe’s work, the Wexner is holding a symposium entitled, “William Forsythe Symposium: Choreographic Objects.” This symposium is also coordinated with the launch of a long-term collaborative research project between Forsythe, the OSU Department of Dance, and ACCAD at OSU entitled “Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced.” This research is going live online on April 1, and is the demonstration and explication work exploring this concept of “choreographic objects” and how they open new access points into the knowledge/information of choreography. More about the Wexner Symposium can be found here

 

Many things coming up. I wish I could offer more critical or analytical analyses of each of these events, but for the moment, simply offering the information is all that time allows. Mark your calendars, and I hope to see you there.