michael j. morris


thinking about training dancing

dancing_jan2015

I’ve recently made some time to get back into a studio and dance. I am choreographing a new dance with four dancers—Phil Brown Dupont, Justin Fitch, Eve Hermann, and Sharon Udo. I am also returning to dance training: when I first came to grad school, I taught yoga, ballet, and modern dance. However, while I continue to teach a weekly yoga class, it has been several years since I have taught ballet or modern/contemporary dance; in 2013, I had the opportunity to teach Butoh as a visiting artist at Virginia Commonwealth University, but even that feels like ages ago. Since then, my teaching has primarily been in the areas of writing about dance and dance history. This year, I was awarded a Presidential Fellowship, which has given me a leave from teaching in the university in order to focus more on my research. Alongside my scholarly research and finishing my dissertation, I have prioritized returning to the studio, reinvesting in choreography—which has and always will be my first love—and re-discovering what it means for me to teach technique.

Before getting into the studio, I wrote a bit about what I considered to be my priorities for teaching technique:

-Training bodies: I am very interested in the ways that a technique class can be distinct from a repertory experience. I am interested in how a technique class is primarily invested in developing and expanding the capacities of a dancer’s body—hopefully in ways that are translatable across different dances and contexts—rather than providing more repertory for the dancer to have danced. These two functions overlap of course: learning a dance often requires developing new skills, and there is always so kind of choreography to any exercise. However, I am interested in how developing/cultivating particular capacities of bodies can be prioritized rather than technique class functioning as a space for proliferating my own choreography.

-Sustained movement dynamics: my investment in sustainment is multi-layered. First, in a global sense, the 21st century—in both daily life and on the concert dance stage—increasingly demands acceleration and rapidity as the pace of attention, thinking, moving, and responding. I am interested in my technique class challenging the totality of this norm towards speed, cultivating corporeal potentialities that might otherwise remain underdeveloped. I am interested in how deceleration and sustainment require modes of durable engagement that are both physical and mental. Second, coming from my experiences training in Butoh, I believe that sustainment provides opportunities for expansive awareness and care—of the body as a whole, all of its parts, and each moment—that can be neglected at a more rapid pace of moving and living. In this sense, I believe there is an ethics to practicing moving slowly: what else might we notice? For what else might we become responsible? How might an increased capacity for sustainment translate into greater sustainability for bodies and dancers, and how might that sense of kinesthetic sustainability become a resource towards what is and is not sustainable in our world today? Further, drawing from my research on ecological relations with the nonhuman and the inhuman forces and factors that move in and through human bodies, how might slowness and sustainment provide opportunities for accessing some degree of sensitivity to “deep time,” the duration of the world that exceeds human life before our advent and after our inevitable departure? While my technique class moves across multiple movement dynamics, it is with an emphasis on developing a capacity for sustainment, and the ability to find and return to this state in the midst of other dynamic intensities.

-Coordination: whether movement in sustained or quick frequencies, I prioritize coordination—of movement with the breath, of one part of the body with another, and of multiple bodies within an ensemble. Coordination is ultimately a practice balancing multiple concerns, taking responsibility for multiple parts within a larger aggregate or milieu. I consider this skill to be necessary for precise dancing and applicable to how we might approach the world beyond the dance studio.

-Balance: I define balance as the ability to respond effectively to/within a multiplicity of changing dynamic forces. Practically, we refine balance by practicing precarity—dancing and moving through physical configurations in which stability is more challenging.
While prioritizing balance and the responsivity it requires, I also recognize that there is immense potential in being off-balance, in being disoriented. Disorientation and imbalance are generative experiences; they require invention and perhaps reinvention. There is also something potentially queer about imbalance and disorientation. To the degree that orientation can be shaped by normative forces that make it easier to be oriented in specific ways, and to the degree that being balanced might result from a world that conditions particular responses to the range of force in which we live, to be disoriented or imbalanced perhaps requires us to develop abilities to respond that the dominant norms of our world have not taught/trained us.

-Horizontality: I am invested in training bodies to increase their movement potential off of the vertical axis. Verticality is not only the dominant orientation of our bodies to the world in our daily lives: as such, it is implicated in any number of other norms that traverse our bodies while they occupy that dimension of space. Verticality also has a strong legacy within the history of Western concert dance, as well as my own training in ballet and modern dance. By emphasizing floorwork in and out of the horizontal plane, we increase the capacity of our bodies to occupy less familiar circumstances, ask parts of our bodies to take on supportive/weight-bearing roles that they may not in daily life—reterritorializing our bodies and their parts to take on new potential functions and meanings—and develop the strength and flexibility necessary to support those horizontal functions. In a developmental movement perspective, horizontality might be seen as a space of potential, the space we occupy before our bodies learned to move and function as they do. By working in that space, it is possible that we access the generative potential for how else our bodies might become.

-Modes of consciousness: Moving in any particular style or dynamic range directly affects how we perceive and how we respond to perceptions. Moving and perceiving are intimately tied to the nervous system, the overall state of the body, and thus to modes of consciousness. In turn, I believe that inasmuch as moving constitutes modes of consciousness, such modes also condition how we move and how we are prepared to move. Sustainment, coordination, balance, imbalance, horizontality, and so on, all generate specific ways of experiencing the body, time, and space, and the terrain of those shifting experiences create various modes of performance.

Alongside these training priorities, I have also developed precise language around my teaching philosophies and pedagogy. As they relate to teaching technique, this includes:

“At the core of my pedagogical approach is the fervent belief that to live in this world is to live fully entangled with others who are invariably different from ourselves, and that to live well in this world of difference requires that we strive to see our world from the perspective of such differences. Sharing this world—and it must indeed be shared—requires striving to see from innumerable points of view, and from such views, working together to create a world that is more livable for more forms of life. I believe that in the university—through our research, in our classrooms, within our distinct disciplines, and between and beyond our disciplinary boundaries—we have the responsibility to inspire and guide our students towards such ethical engagements with a world that emerges from our differences. In whatever courses I teach, I emphasize the importance of engaging and examining perspectives other than our own through the study of critical theories and artistic productions in various media, and through privileging discussion as a practice of listening, distributing authority, and co-creating knowledge. My hope, to quote Judith Butler, is that through these processes of engaging with others we might all ‘become dislocated from our own cultural and historical perspectives only to return to them enriched by an understanding of other lives.’[1] Through such departures and returns, we make the familiar strange, practice seeing from other points of view from which we might recognize even ourselves as more and other than that for which we could previously account. In doing so, we expand the possibilities for who and how we might become, for how we can understand or imagine this world we share, and thus for how we might take action in order to care for our world and the multitude of others with whom we share it.

My experiences teaching physical practice courses—such as yoga, modern dance, ballet, and Butoh—have given me opportunities to develop strategies for facilitating encounters with difference as central to learning. First, in whatever technique I am teaching, I emphasize that each and every body is unique. We all come to study these techniques with different strengths and weaknesses, different backgrounds in training and injury, different proportions, shapes, and sizes. In my teaching, I honor these fundamental differences, emphasizing the kinesthetic and aesthetic principles of each technique and helping students discover how such principles work for their individual bodies rather than imposing singular ideals to which all students must conform.

At another scale, when teaching studio courses, I am introducing students to physical practices that originated in other parts of the world, other historical periods, other ways of thinking, and other systems of value. These techniques have disseminated from body to body—teacher to student, teacher to student—up until the present when students are learning these practices from me. Through these genealogies, these techniques have accumulated rich and complicated histories of aesthetic tendencies, social and cultural conventions, political circumstances, and personal kinesthetic knowledge. In learning any of these techniques, students are encountering this collective of others with whom these practices originated and through which they have been developed, preserved, and passed along. Importantly, this learning takes place in and through their own bodies, which is one of the profound opportunities that studying dance provides: students engage with a collective history of other times, places, and bodies in their own bodies, coming to know this world of others in themselves, and in turn coming to know and develop themselves—their own bodies—through this world of others.

It is not only the origins and histories of these techniques through which difference becomes appreciable: as these techniques become familiar to students, they begin to experience themselves as unfamiliar. Literally, physically, at the levels of muscle development, flexibility, coordination, and cognition, students actualize their own potential, embodying different versions of themselves. As they grow in their abilities, I encourage them to recognize that there is never only one body or self that they always are or will be. I often say in my yoga classes: we are all always already so much more than that for which we can consciously account. Rather than a fixed, static perspective of oneself—or, in turn, of others—these practices offer physical experiences of the mutability and conditionality of who we are. Students can come to appreciate that difference is not only an experience of others but also an experience of who we once were, who we are now, and who we might become. I believe that as students learn to embrace and cultivate such differences within themselves through these physical practices, they are learning to value and appreciate the diversity of others as well and to affirm and contribute to practices in which difference might flourish.”

[1] McGill University, “Judith Butler, DLitt – McGill 2013 Honorary Doctorate Address,” May 31, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFlGS56iOAg.

These were my thoughts going into the studio. Alongside these priorities, other foci have emerged from my work developing phrases. These thoughts/realizations are less verbally articulate, more kinesthetic, but worth attempting to include here:

-Bartenieff Fundamentals and the techniques of José Limón and Doris Humphrey are deeply embedded in my body, and these seem to be the primary methodologies available to me for investigating/pursuing coordination, balance, off-balance, and moving between vertical and horizontal.

-While I never choreograph dances to music/counts anymore, there is something deeply gratifying about figuring out how specific movements translate across different meters and rhythms. Timing, or at least various physical approaches to time, seems to be important to me.

-I have a strong instinct towards simplicity and repetition, as opposed to complex phrases that go on endlessly. This is both an aesthetic value—indicative of my strong inclination towards minimalism—but also a tendency towards an efficient pedagogy: I am interested in carefully training bodies/muscles/thinking to be able to execute particular movements and particular kinds of movement that are then translatable across different choreographies. I do not want technique class to be a repertory experience. [I am indebted to Susan Hadley for this realization.]

-The spine seems to be central to all the movement I create.

-I seem to be extremely interested in the relationship between stability and mobility, specifically: what are the fixed points or parts around which movement orbits? What must remain still or held or placed in order to enable the movement of other parts of the body? How might shifting what parts are fixed and what parts are mobile not only cultivate a greater awareness of the body but also a flexibility/fluidity in how the body’s mutability/conditionality might be perceived?

-The ways in which the limbs move between “parallel” and “rotation” fascinates me. As much as I want to train dancers to have access to mobility and stability in both, I am most interested in how bodies move between these degrees of rotation, and developing control/sensitivity within those transitions.

-As I move around in the studio and imagine teaching this material to a group of students, I am reminded that we are always teaching and learning more than just course/class content. In any class, we are also teaching/training power dynamics, social relations, ideologies about bodies and how we think and talk about them, attentiveness to difference, and so on. Here is where critical pedagogy—from the perspective of bell hooks—always shapes how I am considering what I am teaching. Inasmuch as the body organizes one’s experience of the world, training how we organize the body has the potential to re-invent possibilities for experiencing the world. And inasmuch as teaching and learning are social experiences, as in the dance studio, whatever else we are training, we are always teaching ways of approaching others, modeling modes of sociality in how we teach.

These are still mostly starting points. I’ve developed a full class of phrase work that trains these various priorities (I think), but I will be continuing to investigate both the material I’ve developed and what other ways of moving can accomplish my pedagogical interests.

Advertisements


trans day of remembrance and other reflections

I am attempting to collect my thoughts on this week, and my thoughts seem to be resisting collection. I’m thinking about the vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance last night at King Avenue United Methodist Church. I’m thinking about my students and our discussion yesterday about gender as a performance that is performative. I’m thinking about a storytelling event in which I participated Wednesday night; I shared a piece of writing about my own gender and listened to the stories of a group of other people, all discussing their experiences with gender. I’m thinking about Beauties, a book of drawings by Micah Jones published by GODDESS Press, with a dazzling foreword Mehron Abdollmohammadi. I am thinking about grief and rage—and by saying that I am “thinking about” all of these things, of course I also mean feeling them.

1.
At Tea Time: A Queer Storytelling Event, the theme is “Gender Inflexibility,” and anyone who wants to tell a story puts their name on a slip of paper in a fishbowl. Harry draws the first name and it’s mine. I tell my story, and I realize that I don’t usually stand in front of a room full of people talking about myself. I teach, I present my research at conferences—once I gave a presentation about being a conjoined twin at a queer studies conference, but that was an exceptional moment of self-disclosure. I perform, I dance, I get naked on stage. But this feels vulnerable: talking about myself, my experiences of gender, in front of many people I don’t even know, and quite a few I do. I hardly look up from the page. I talk about playing dress-up with my grandmother’s clothes growing up, coming out to my parents and my mother calling me “gender confused,” spaces in which I have felt invisible and spaces in which I have felt recognized. I talk about love and relationships and fucking. I talk about Judith Butler.
I say that biological sex is itself an effect of gender.
I say that I worry that no one will be proud to be with me, that dissenting from the gender binary makes me unlovable and undesirable.
I say that sometimes where you feel the most loved becomes the place where you face the most jeopardy.
I say that maybe my body doesn’t mean what you think it means.
I listen to story after story; some make me smile, and during others I feel rage curling in my fingers. Almost every single person talks about religion. Sexuality and relationships and love come up in almost every story. It seems that all of us are describing processes, journeys, migrations of gender and bodies and feelings and perceptions, no fixed points. I feel very honored to share this space and to hear these stories.

2.
Once a semester in the writing course I teach, I have a class meeting specifically focused on gender. Gender is part of our conversations throughout the semester, but on this day we watch Joe Goode’s 29 Effeminate Gestures and read David Gere’s “29 Effeminate Gestures: Choreographer Joe Goode and the Heroism of Effeminacy.” I ask questions, offer provocations, but mostly let the students’ comments and contributions direct the flow of the conversation. There’s never enough time during this class meeting. Yesterday, the students talk about what it means for Gere to suggest that gender is a choreography: it is stylized, it is repeated and repeatable, it is received from elsewhere, it is about bodies. They talk about hierarchies and the unequal distribution of power. They talk about how threatening it is for men to wear women’s clothing when it’s “cute” or “fashionable” for a girl to wear her boyfriend’s clothes (and I note that we’re somehow talking about “men” and “girls,” and how curious that discrepancy is, not to mention how heterosexuality has worked its way into the conversation by way of the “boyfriend”). We talk about the fear that we might fail at performing our genders correctly, an anxiety that we all have or have had, and that if gender is something that we can fail, then it isn’t automatic, intrinsic, or natural, and that all of us—even my twenty-four self-identified cis-gendered undergraduate students—live with-and-in-and-as a system under duress. We all face the threat of failure. I ask what is at stake; what are we afraid will happen if we fail? The students talk about rejection—social, romantic, sexual; they talk about risks of unemployment; they talk about the threat of feeling called into question, unrecognizable to oneself; they talk about bullying and harassment; they talk about threats of violence, abuse, and murder. I remind them that today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, that while we all live under this threat, that there are people who suffer more exposure to violence. I remind us that this has always been a question of life and death.

3.
I’m sitting in a pew in a church for the vigil, and I am deeply uncomfortable. I don’t go to churches; I have a long, complicated, abusive history with churches, from childhood through college, and when I sit in a pew with a giant cross hanging above a stage and hymnals and bibles level with my knees on the back of the pew in front of me, that history becomes more present and potent. And yet this feels transgressive: this bold church is hosting a vigil for transgender people who have suffered violence, some who have survived and many others who have not, and so my abusive history with churches and the function of this event stand for me in radical juxtaposition.
The service is difficult for all kinds of reasons. It is both difficult and necessary to sit and listen to the reading of names, how old these people were, how they were murdered, and where they died. It is a violent litany for an ugly world. I feel sorrow and rage that this continues to be the world that we are living, in which people are murdered because they fail to conform to or approximate gender categories, in which gender polices life and death, propelling some people to kill and others to be killable. I am grateful to be sitting with Eileen and Noah and S. And I’m critical: why are vivid descriptions of violent murders more important for me to know than anything else beyond a name, age, and country? While we remember and commemorate, why do these violent acts receive more of our words and attention than anything these people did or gave to our world? Most of the names are trans women. Four were in Ohio; a staggering majority were in Brazil. What the fuck is happening in Brazil? Why aren’t we talking about this?
I take a deep breath and return to grief and rage and gratitude: I am grateful for this vigil, for the communal act of public memory, for creating a space to sit and recognize and feel together, and I decide that this event is doing something important even if there are other important things to be done.
As the crowd files past the table set up at the front of the sanctuary to light candles in remembrance, I am struck by what a beautiful crowd this is. There is so much difference here, different ages, different skin colors, more gender expressions than I can count, and I start to tear up because I think: the world could look like this. It doesn’t, but here we are and here, in this moment and place, it does. Whatever else this vigil is doing, it is also an opportunity to practice this kind of community, this kind of society, embracing this swell of difference. Trans people and genderqueer people and gender-non-conforming people and people who look very much like women and other who look very much like men and older people and younger people and people of many different colors: most meaningful to me is being able to sit here, a part of this, and see this glimpse of this world.

4.
GODDESS Press recently published a small book of drawings by Micah Jones entitled Beauties, with a foreword by Mehron Abdollmohammadi.
beauties
Every time I type “foreword,” I almost type “forward,” and Mehron’s text is both forward and backward, twisting to the side, bending over, and standing tall.
Writing with Narcissus and tarot and Jones’ drawing, Mehron’s text is both poetic and critical. It makes a splash, an exuberant cascade of sparkling droplets, each one a tiny curving mirror, each line glittering like a search light, somehow suspended in midair: where they will land and what they will show us when they do has not yet been determined.
I keep thinking about terms that Mehron introduces:
“Generous narcissism as I’ve terms it is a practice of mutual and excessive attention that worries the very notion of excess: an emotional carry, a carrying community. Extra, but never enough. Generous narcissism is what happens when Narcissus, reaching out to touch his image, soft and impossible, feels something, someone, touching back. Generous narcissism is what happens when one insists on finding substance in what we’re told is only shadow … Generous narcissism is a resistance to scrutiny, a reorientation of obsessive attention, from the Other that would threaten the full expression of one’s intuitive self, to the self toward the Self.”
“Intuitive self: she may not even be here now, but she is me and that is all you need to know. This is very important.”
“Backlove: the love I have for what you see of me, for what of me there is in you. ‘Me, in you, in me.’”

5.
“Mourning has to do with yielding to an unwanted transformation, when neither the full shape nor the full import of that alteration can be known in advance. This transformative effect of losing always risks becoming a deformative effect. Whatever it is, it cannot be willed; it is a kind of undoing. One is hit by waves in the middle of the day, in the midst of a task, and everything stops. One falters, even falls. What is that wave that suddenly withdraws your gravity and your forward motion, that something that takes hold of you and makes you stops and takes you down? Where does it come from? Does it have a name? What claims us at such moments when we are most emphatically not masters of ourselves and our motion, when we lose certain people or we are dispossessed from a place or a community? It may be that something about who we are suddenly flashes up, something that delineates the ties we have to others that shows us that we are bound to one another and that the bonds that compose us also do strand us, leave us uncomposed.
“If I lose you under the conditions in which who I am is bound up with you, then I not only mourn the loss but I become inscrutable to myself, and this life unbearable. Who am I without you? I was not just over here and you over there, but the ‘I’ was in the crossing, there with ‘you’ but also here. So, I was already decentered, one might say, and that was precious, and yet, when we lose, we lose our ground. We are suddenly at risk of taking our own lives or the lives of others. Perhaps what I have lost on those occasions is precisely that sense that I can live without you, even if it turns out that I can live without that specific ‘you’ that you happened to be. Even if I was surprised to find that I survived when survival was unthinkable. If I can and do live without you, it is only because I have not as it were lost the place of the ‘you,’ the one to whom I address myself, the generalized addressee with whom I am already bound up in language, in the scene of address that is the linguistic condition of our survivability. This apostrophic ‘you’ might be this you or that other one with another name, but maybe also some you I do not yet know at all, maybe even vast set of you’s largely nameless, who nevertheless support both my gravity and my motion. And without you—that indefinite, promiscuous and expansive pronoun—we are wrecked and we fall.
“If the life that is mine is not originally or finally separable from yours, then the we who we are is not just a composite of you and me and all the others, but a set of relations of interdependency and passion. And these we cannot deny or destroy without refuting something fundamental about the social conditions of our living. What follows is an ethical injunction to preserve those bonds—even the wretched ones—which means precisely guarding against those forms of destructiveness that take away our lives and those of other living beings and the ecological conditions of life. In other words, before ever losing, we are lost in the other, lost without the other, but we never knew it as well as we do when we do actually lose … we are already in the hands of the other, a thrilling and terrifying way to begin. We are from the start both done and undone by the other, and if we refuse this, we refuse passion, life, and loss. The lived form of that refusal is destruction. The lived form of its affirmation is nonviolence. Perhaps nonviolence is the difficult practice of letting rage collapse into grief, since then we stand the chance of knowing that we are bound up with others such that who I am or who you are is this living relation that we sometimes lose. With great speed we do sometimes drive away from the unbearable, or drive precisely into its clutches, or do both at once, not knowing how we move or with what consequence. It seems unbearable to be patient with unbearable loss, and yet that slowness, that impediment, can be the condition for showing what we value, and even perhaps what steps to take to preserve what is left of what we love.”
Judith Butler, “Speaking of Rage and Grief”

6.
“You know, in Judaism, there is this prayer, the Kaddish, which is said over the dead, and it’s actually an interesting prayer. It’s partly Aramaic, partly Hebrew…and I always thought that the Kaddish is the moment at which you remember the person who is gone, or you focus on who that person was to you, and you recover what that bond was. But actually, what the Kaddish does is celebrate—praise—celebrate and affirm the world. And I thought, ‘Well, why is that the mourner’s prayer?’ And it is the mourner’s prayer because there is an understanding that radical loss can take us with it. Right? So that the most important thing you can do for the person who is in grief is to affirm the world with them. And it’s a collective prayer. And the point is to sew the person back into community, to relationality, and affirmation. Now, it’s part of grieving, that affirmation, and that collectivity.”
-Judith Butler, “On This Occasion,” response to an audience question

 

 



TAKING PLACE

1537915_1438594586391102_3980314489252473859_o

photo by Emma Frankart, from Peter Kyle's Yet even in that silence

photo by Emma Frankart, from Peter Kyle’s Yet even in that silence

Tonight I had the opportunity to see the opening night performance of Taking PLace at the Garden Theater in Columbus, Ohio. Taking PLace is “a choreographic residency and experiment in creative process that brings inter/national choreographers to Columbus for the creation of new work with local dancers and a world-premiere concert event at the Garden Theatre.” Tonight’s concert marks the culmination of this residency and festival, conceived and directed by Nicole Garlando. Featuring the work of choreographers K.J. Holmes (NYC), Peter Kyle (NYC), CoCo Loupe (Baton Rouge), Bebe Miller (Columbus), and Claire Porter (NYC), and local choreographers Shannon Drake, Nicole Garlando, and Kent de Spain, the almost two-hour concert offered and invited any number of views on dance and dance making.

Before the show, I was contemplating what it means to “take place,” both in the sense of “to occur,” but also in the sense of occupying a space, taking a place. I was thinking about Judith Butler’s essay “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street” (http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1011/butler/en), where she thinks along with the writing of Hannah Arendt about what it means for bodies to gather together, about the efficacy of politics in public spaces. She writes: “For politics to take place, the body must appear. I appear to others, and they appear to me, which means that some space between us allows each to appear. We are not simply visual phenomena for each other – our voices must be registered, and so we must be heard; rather, who we are, bodily, is already a way of being ‘for’ the other, appearing in ways that we cannot see, being a body for another in a way that I cannot be for myself, and so dispossessed, perspectivally, by our very sociality. I must appear to others in ways for which I cannot give an account, and in this way my body establishes a perspective that I cannot inhabit … No one body establishes the space of appearance, but this action, this performative exercise happens only ‘between’ bodies, in a space that constitutes the gap between my own body and another’s. In this way, my body does not act alone, when it acts politically. Indeed, the action emerged from the ‘between'” (italics added). The situation of the concert dance stage is one space in which we practice and exercise appearance, showing up for one another, seeing and hearing one another, providing a view of one another that no one can provide themselves. When bodies appear for others in public spaces, they establish perspectives from elsewhere that they cannot inhabit, for which they cannot give an account. As I write about this performance, I do so with the awareness of giving such an account of bodies that they could not give themselves—in the same way that as I sat watching, I was seen and apprehended and recognized is ways that I do not know, that I cannot control, for which I cannot give an account. Certainly, as Butler notes, there is a politics to all of this, but that is not the focus of what I write here; I write here to take part in what it means to take place, to offer one, partial account of what has taken place in Taking PLace.

Brief recollections:

1. :r//end/l//ent/e/r/ing//less by K.J. Holmes in collaboration with the dancers
As the piece begins, I see two grids: the prominent white backdrop superimposed with heavy black lines, and a grid extruding into space from the facings of the six dancers. Facing stage left and stage right, up stage and downstage, each one seems positioned along longitudes and latitudes running across the surface of the stage. The lines come into and out of their bodies: reaching and stepping and leaning and rolling along this spatial grid, conforming in any number of ways to these invisible but nonetheless forceful lines—a conforming that is also an enacting, a producing. The grid that I perceive between these bodies does not precede their actions; I see it because of what they do. And yet it does seem to organize their movements from the start, from before they begin, both coming into being and already having been there. Then the grid begins to unravel: in small ways, dancers start to align with one another, matching the lines of arms and legs and spines and gestures, walking and running alongside one another along parallel pathways; even when there is distance between their bodies, they establish connections with one another through shared lines, facings, directions, and momentum, swinging their arms together, reaching along the same trajectories, and eventually spiraling into a larger, running circle. If what held them together at the beginning was the suggestion of a shared grid, what holds them together at the end is the ongoing question of how they might find, follow, and feel each other, through touch and alignments, through what they share.

2. when we are not sinking or swimming by CoCo Loupe in collaboration with the performers
This is a duet, with Eric Falck and Scott Aaron Kaltenbaugh. They face each other, then relocate, then face each other again. Falck dances, all swoopy and sequential gestures, arms and legs like sinewy tassels sweeping around torso and hips; Kaltenbaugh watches, then Kaltenbaugh dances—moving through bits and pieces and textures that resemble Falck’s dancing—while Falck watches. This establishes the overall structure of this piece: one dances while the other watches, then they trade roles; the second one mimics the first, but only ever partially, then the exchange starts over, taking turns. Dance, watch, stop, see one another, dance, watch, see. I wonder to myself: what does it mean to see, to be seen, to show that you have seen, to see that you’ve been seen. Later they lean into one another, off balance, both supporting and being supported as they move through space; it reminds me of Trisha Brown’s Leaning Duetsbut leaning towards rather than away. Music begins, and they groove together, away from each other, back towards the other, then suddenly cling to one another. I think Loupe’s piece is a hypothesis about how we move with one another, for one another, near or towards one another, and how we show that other that we have seen them and what we have seen.

3. Yet even in that silence by Peter Kyle in collaboration with the dancers
Six dancers, some who begin on stage, others who enter from the back of the audience. In the center of the stage, Nicole Garlando carries two towering shoots of what looks like bamboo. The stage is basically still except for the fragile motion of the trembling bamboo leaves, so small and so constant that it shifts the scale of both activity and time throughout the piece. There is a lot of standing, slow walking, pausing, reclining, leaning: waiting. The pacing of the piece, accompanied by a minimal percussion score composed and performed live by Noah Demland, has an intermittency: activity, pause, waiting, another activity, another pause, more waiting, and throughout it all, the trembling of the bamboo leaves, the delicate reverberations of Demland’s terra cotta pots and chimes. Across and throughout the almost-stillness and almost-silence, there are these tiny motions and tiny sounds—which, of course, are also motions—and alongside these delicate reverberations, human activities take on considerable proportions. There is no possibility of stillness here, no possibility of silence, and the incorporation of such minute motion makes even a step seem momentous.

4. to never establish heavy-balance by/performed by Shannon Drake
This is a solo. The lights come up, and I think: glamour. Her face is made up, and she is wearing a sparkly black-gold mini-dress. Accompanied by music by The Knife, she reaches and pulls and flings and steps, constantly off balance or sequencing away from her own center, until she is suddenly on her balance, weight firmly planted on both feet. When she stands steadily or walks along diagonals towards the audience—walking like a model, but more hyperbolic—she is impossibly, uncannily strong. Rolling across the floor, rolling through her hips and shoulders and ribs, her elbows and knees, she is grinding through her own insides. And even when her fingers beckon, as if to say, “Come here,” it is strikingly evident that she is more than capable of getting the job done all on her own.

5. Beside Myself Deciding by Claire Porter in collaboration with the dancers
The piece begins with five dancers seated at the front edge of the stage, all wearing black and white dresses. They start talking, to the audience, to each other, to themselves.
“So what do you want? What do you want?”
“Me?”
“I want to drive somewhere…”
“…should we stop for coffee?”
“…the MFA or the PhD?”
This is what Susan Foster calls a talking dance: talking while dancing, dancing while talking, a dance with a lot of talking. The talking and the dancing occur alongside one another, intersect, sometimes seeming to inform or illustrate one another, sometimes merely simultaneous. They talk and move through things as if they are figuring them out: each gesture has an indirect, not-quite-hesitant-but-not-quite-certain quality to it, an undecidability, we might call it. They come together in gossipy little clumps, they touch one another—everyone touching someone, no one touching everyone—they lead one another, maneuver each other’s faces and bodies like puppets.
“Who will decide where to go?” is a question that stalls, confounding them, again undecidable.
The text turns towards engagement parties, dinners for two, breakups, marriages, divorces, arguments. Unions and separations and conflict are on the table here. Often the dancers are pointing, often in the same direction, and often they then move in a different direction. Pushing, pulling, directing, and redirecting themselves and each other, the piece ends with them moving downstage as a group, each one manipulating the face and focus of another; if they’ve decided where to go, it’s only between the incessant push and pull.

6. ()()()()()()()()() by Nicole Garlando in collaboration with the dancers (multiple casts)
The dancers are dispersed, all wearing white or beige or gray, moving through small gestures, sometimes quick and sometimes gradual. They form impermanent duets, small alignments with one another, mimicking each other, them moving on. The soundscore is a collage of people talking, but it isn’t until later in the piece that I begin to make sense of what they are saying. It offers a kind of explanation: it isn’t about coming together as a unified group; it’s more about their differences and making connections. In ways, this piece echoes the first by K.J. Holmes (although I believe it was choreographed before the other), with dancers along different facings and trajectories finding connections and relationships—spatial, temporal, touching, etc. But the connections here feel fleeting, a matter of moments. One moment something becomes shared between one or more dancers, and the next it’s gone. They are on to something else.

7. Intervention for Two by Kent De Spain, with Leslie Dworkin
Two people seated in chairs facing in opposite directions on opposite sides of the stage. He wears a suit, and she wears a sexy red dress. They are accompanied by scattered sound bytes—music and dialogue—from “classic Hollywood films.” Gestures and interactions are timed—with the slightest sense of delay—with the text as if they are together both the jokes and the punchlines.

8. Watching the Watching by Bebe Miller assisted by Rashana Smith
A single dancer is on stage facing a laptop computer on a stool. She makes faces and small head/body movements while watching the screen. She gets close to the screen, and a larger group of dancers enter. They are accompanied by recorded text by Ain Gordon. He speaks about six people gathered together; something happens, and they each tell their own story of what happened. There is no one story; the stories proliferate, and with each telling, there are more and more versions of what happened that circulate.
“It happened, it was thought about, it was told and retold, until it gets lost.”
All of the dancers are watching the screen, moving along together: circling shoulders, small head movements, circling through the torso, their foci anchoring them in the direction of the screen. Suddenly, most of the dancers exit, and six remain. They are dancing together, all watching the computer that one dancer is carrying, and when she turns, I see that they are following a video on the computer screen. They are watching the screen and following along; I am watching them dancing, and their dancing is their following, the telling of their own watching. The other dancers re-enter with a second computer, and they are all dancing while watching the screens, following along with what I cannot see. As the piece progresses, the dancers divide up: there are those watching the screen and moving along with what they see, then there are other who are only watching them, following those dancers who are watching the screen, then others following the dancers following the dancers following the video on the screen. The stage is full of stages of translation of the same movement as it migrates across bodies, across intervals of time and space. They are all doing some version of the same movement, but as the stages of translation increase, so also do their differences. There are slight delays, subtle canons now, and more variations on how the movement lives out differently in and across different bodies. There is not just one version; there are many. I am watching them watching them watching what I cannot see…

And now here I am, at my own screen, watching myself writing what I saw, what they could not see.
And here is how something takes place, how it can be said to have taken place: the stories that we tell, the accounts that we give, and how they do and do not add up to a total view of what it was that took place. Like Loupe’s when we are not sinking or swimming, Miller’s piece stages the experience of watching, seeing, being seen, and showing what was seen. Not everything carries over; there is no single, total, authoritative view. Every event, every occurrence, every performance, every dance—every person even—always occurs between any number of partial positions, any number of limited views. No one of us can give the full account of a dance, of another, of ourselves, of what has taken place.
These brief recollections of these eight dances are a view from somewhere, from only one position/place. There are more recollections, views, somewheres, positions, and places; there must be. And such multiple views together—what we see together, alongside one another, what we can see of one another that no one of us can see for ourselves—is how we go about taking place.

You have two more opportunities to see this show: Saturday, July 12th at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets are $15 at the door. For more information, visit:
https://www.facebook.com/events/870036403013345/
http://takingplacecolumbus.com



this I believe

I have been neglecting my blog lately. I’ve gone over a month without posting anything.
Life right now is a montage of:
-Teaching “Writing About Dance,” a second-level writing class for undergrads at OSU–a sort of introduction to dance criticism–which involves hours and hours of grading papers. It is time consuming, but full of rewards, not the least of which is the opportunity to share dance/dances with students who have only experienced dance in limited settings, if at all.
-Reading Judith Butler. I am taking a seminar in the “Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies” department focused that is entirely focused on the works of Judith Butler. It’s being taught by Mary Thomas. I’m thinking a lot about subjectivity, psychoanalytic frameworks, speech act, and the constraints of epistemology on ontology. This week I’m reading Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death.
-Writing. I’m taking a writing course called “Aesthetics and Criticism” from M.Candace Feck, and it is giving me an opportunity to delve deeply into the intensive project of my own writing. I will share some of those writings here.
-Dancing. I did a video shoot two weeks ago for Lindsay Caddle LaPointe, in which I danced with a giant sculpture of a praying mantis. The next two weekends I’ll be performing with cocoloupedance at TRAUMA.
-Teaching yoga. I teach a yoga class every Wednesday night. It’s called “Queer Yoga” and is sponsored by “Queer Behavior.” Currently, the class meets at 83 Gallery in the Short North, Wednesdays, 7:30-8:30, $5 for students, $8 for the general public.

In an effort to share a bit of this with some range of readership, I’m posting a piece of writing I did earlier this quarter. It follows the format for “This I Believe” on NPR. You can read the essay guidelines here. Below is my statement of belief, specifically my belief about dance. I’m considering submitting it to “This I Believe,” but either way, I wanted to publish it here:

Who/How I?

I believe that dancing is an act of forming, deforming, and reforming the body/self, a belief that turns back on itself, calling into question this very “I” whose belief is professed. Dancing has taught me that “I” am my body, even if “I” exceed my body and even if my body exceeds “me.”

Language is limited—and limiting—in this way: to articulate myself in speech is always to simplify and to reduce myself within the term “I,” an anonymous first-person that accounts for myself only in ways that are presumed to be shared with all others who have described themselves with this term. Indifferent to whatever words might surround this “I” in a given context, it is the perpetual declaration of a self that remains the same with each repetition; each time this term is deployed, “I” represent myself as unchanged. This is not the only limitation of language: to speak of “my body” is always to figure it as separate from myself, as property—“mine”—which, in order to be possessed, must necessarily be distinct from the “I” who claims it. From within the boundaries of what is speakable then, “I” feel myself questioning, “What of myself is excluded from this term ‘I?’” and protesting, “No! This body is not ‘mine,’ it is me!

Dancing cannot be limited within these constraints of language. In dancing, “I” am never separate from this body that moves, nor is this body unchanged by its motion. Dancing reveals myself as more fluid than solid, more transient than persistent, continually mutating with each gesture, often in ways uncertain and unforeseen. Through these bendings and flingings and fallings and collidings and tumblings and sinkings; through fleshy places become firm then flaccid, finding firmness once again to only again inevitably become flaccid; through the touch of skin against skin, the calm and sudden disorientation of giving and taking weight that confuses “you” and “I”; through encountering another’s movement as my own, taking in choreography that becomes yet another version of myself; through focus that transforms cells into galaxies and becomes a prayer in the gaps of body-becoming-universe; through calluses and tears, surfaces pushing and opening outward, clarifying the uncertainty of my boundaries; through sweating and bleeding and crying, flowing beyond myself: through dancing, “I” am made as this body, a making that is always both unmaking and remaking.

Dancing reveals myself as a matter of repetition with difference, each moment of movement becoming both this body again and for the first time, each “again” not quite the same as it emerges from the cellular and neural residue of actions that came before. Regardless of whether the movement is thought of as rehearsed or improvised, it is always both, a reiteration of how “I” have been before and an enunciation of how (thus who) “I” am now. As this body moves in so many ways through so many forms, its dancing displaces and replaces this “I”—and this nearly ineffable fluctuation becomes my most fervent belief.



Daily Writing Practice, Heavenly Spire, James Darling and Quinn Valentine

I was recently inspired/challenged by one of my faculty (Dr. Harmony Bench) to begin a daily writing practice as a method for not only developing as a writer, but also in preparation for the intensive writing I will be doing for my candidacy exams and dissertation. I will not post everything I write from this daily writing practice here on the blog, but what I wrote today is something I want to share:

I am enamored with Shine Louise Houston’s work, on both her Crash Pad Series project and on her more recent endeavor, HeavenlySpire.

“HeavenlySpire is a Shine Louise Houston creation for the purpose of masculine appreciation. HeavenlySpire focuses on masculine beauty and sexuality and how it manifests on different bodies. Following the same vision as Houston’s previous projects HeavelySpire focuses on capturing genuine pleasure with a unique cinematic style.” This work is personal and intimate in ways that is traditionally considered to be antithetical to pornography. The performers are introduced as people: they discuss themselves, their sexual predilections, their appreciations of their own bodies. They set a context of individual and aesthetic appreciation in which they then display their own bodies and sexual behaviors. In a sense, it functions as portraiture. This work functions as a kind of “docu-porn” (other work with which I am familiar that would fit into this category includes Madison Young’s Fluid series and Annie Sprinkle’s Linda/Les and Annie, the first FTM trans love story/sex film, in which the re-presentations of bodies/sex/sexuality/sexual behaviors operate within the framework of personal identities), and emphasizes what I consistently consider to be one of pornography’s potential virtues: a public archive of human sexual behavior, responsible for both the documentation, preservation, and re-presentation of bodies, sex acts, and sexual (inter)subjectivities, and for the production of sexual subjectivities in the virtual and actual experiences of the spectator of pornography. Porn records and produces the ways in which people perform and understand sex, and thus themselves as sexual subjects.

HeavenlySpire as an archive does something more: in the interview segments, the performers call attention to erogenous and erotogenic zones and surfaces that exceed genital sexuality. They call attention to their forearms, their eyes, their chests, their legs, their asses, their nipples, etc. They introduce themselves in their own languages, and we are then given access to some sense of how they consider themselves as sexual beings as we encounter their displays of their own sexuality. Heavenly Spire is also radical in its treatment of gender/sex (the two being perhaps not as discrete as they may seem): in these videos, we are introduced to cis-men and trans-men, those who identify outside of the gender/sex binary of man/male/woman/female. We are asked to consider bodies both within and outside of these binaries.

Last night I watched a video featuring James Darling and Quinn Valentine. It blew my mind. It is elegant and a little campy, and one of the most illuminating artifacts of human sexuality that I have encountered in a while (although I would say that the illumination of the range of human sexuality is a mission furthered actively by Shine Louise Houston, Madison Young, Courtney Trouble, and the plethora of directors, performers, and producers in the “queer porn” genre).

In the video, the boys introduce themselves, and James confesses that he’s been checking Quinn out for a while, online. Quinn says, “You had a picture of yourself in sparkle unicorn drag, and I couldn’t resist.” They laugh. James say, “Yeah, you were the most sparkly, femme cis-boy I’d ever met, and I was just enamored immediately.” They talk about the first time they hung out (a “really fun time” in James’ shower) as “the beginning of something amazing.” They talk about what they love doing to one another: James says that he loves fucking Quinn, that he’s really into Quinn’s cock, but that he really enjoys fucking Quinn in the ass, and the sounds Quinn makes when he’s cumming; Quinn talks about going down on James—“I could get lost in your junk for days …”—and holding James while he fucks him, feeling the movement of James’ muscles; James’ facial expression; his chest. The way they look at one another while they’re talking is the way that I look at someone when I am so moved by their beauty that I can no longer contain my desire to touch them.

The scene starts in black and white, both wearing bowties, Quinn wearing fairy wings, with white feathers falling and floating in the air around them. An old time-y piano song in playing in the background, and there’s something tender and nostalgic about the romance being staged.
The music fades out as the scene saturates to color.
These boys kiss long and hard, and the way that their lips press and linger is both calm and electric, a stillness full of activity.
I won’t go into a detailed description of the video (Buy a membership to HeavenlySpire to see the video. Support queer porn.). But I do want to give attention to one moment in their scene, the moment when James penetrates Quinn. A cis-guy being penetrated by a trans-guy is something that I have never seen re-presented in a pornographic archive. Having spent my week reading Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (for the third time), I can’t encounter this scene without recalling Butler’s discussion of “the phallus” as the imaginary position characterized by its own uninhabitability. The phallus is a position of privilege and power, considered to be the ultimate signifier, the form by which the intelligibility of objects and subjects are understood. It would be easy to read the phallus as symbol of the penis, and in doing so attribute this privileged position of power (and its form) to the position of male bodies in social economies. And yet the male position is characterized (for Freud and Lacan) by the fear of castration, the anxiety of losing the phallus, an anxiety that exposes the reality of the phallus having never been fully possessed to begin with. The phallus, then, is never fully attainable, always transferable. Butler even suggests that the phallus is the very principle of erotogenic transferability, the capacity for other bodies and other organs to take on the erotogenic potential ascribed to the phallus. When James Darling dons (what looks like) the Feeldoe dildo, taking it into himself as [part of] himself, and penetrating/fucking Quinn with it, my morphological registers are disrupted. I see both of their cocks, and both organs are taken out of this penetrative configuration. The dildo functions in a way that recalls some of what I’ve read of Beatriz Preciado’s philosophy of “dildonics” which substitutes the “dildo” for the “phallus,” casting this privileged signifier not only as a commodity, but one which can be exchanged, taken in/taken on, a prosthetic device in the construction (and deconstruction) of cyborg bodies (and in our post-human era, all bodies are cyborg bodies, always already composed of [biological, psychical, cultural, social, etc.] pieces and parts in machinic systems that we stabilize/treat as stable in our reference to their corporeal coherence. Cyborg is not a secondary/compromised position of bodies that are somehow less than whole; instead, it is a position that seeks to expose the never-whole/always-open-to-completion condition of all bodies, whether they be trans or cis, whatever their range of ability, etc. Elizabeth Grosz has also written intelligently about the inherent openness of biology to cultural inter-constitution). The significance of the penis (an idealized significance that might be considered consistent with the notion of the “phallus”) is here displaced from organic material and transferred into the synthetic. Bodies become denatured in a way they liberates them from the sexed specificity. Organs lose the clarity of their significance, and in becomes free to become more ambiguous surfaces of intensities (I’m here reaching towards an understanding and application of Deleuze, a theoretical frame to which I am attracted but with which I am only familiar in a fleeting way). This sex act reconfigures bodies, giving them significance that exceeds their normative boundaries, borders that it simultaneously displaces/disrupts.

When Quinn cums, I am drawn to the noises that he makes, having been told that those noises are part of what is hot to James. As Quinn cums on James’ chest, Quinn’s appreciation of that chest is part of what makes it hot. These bodies (bodies in general?) are not only remade by re-presentation of their sexual behavior; their sexual behavior is given [part of] its significance by the exposure of its personal meaning for the performers. Through this docu-porn format, I am offered new personal experiences and understandings of sex and bodies to inhabit in my spectatorship, and in my willingness to do so, I allow this information to participate in the materialization bodies, especially as they materialize in/as sex.

This is a rough first draft, but ideas that I wanted to share.



Purple Cuddle and the construction of self

Two ideas have been steeping for the last few weeks. It’s about time to get them down somewhere.

The first is a piece that I am performing next weekend at U·turn Art Space in Cincinnati. I participating in a group show entitled “Breakups R Tough.”

This is the gallery’s description of the show:

“Cincinnati, OH—About now, many of those relationships that were flourishing at Valentine’s Day aren’t looking so good. U·turn Art Space is pleased to announce a group exhibition that generates a wry discourse to deflate the melodrama of failed relationships. The exhibition includes Shawnee Barton, Stephanie Brooks, Alex Da Corte, Craig Damrauer, Erica Eyres, Lynne Harlow, Peter Huttinger, Eric Lebofsky, Joetta Maue, Casey Riordan Millard and Michael J. Morris.

Artists using embroidery, drawing, installation, performance, photography, sculpture and video offer different perspectives on crisis points in the human experience. Not strictly focused on just the ‘breakup’ between romantic partners, Breakups R Tough considers how interpersonal interactions cease or mutate into something more chaotic. Grafted into the dialogue are slanted looks at other stages in the quest for love, companionship and sex, such as propositions, courtship and self-pleasure. The assembled artists will address the topic with humor, wit, sexuality, physical comfort, and suggestions for remodeling our culture’s structure for types of relationships and categories of love and conflict.”

You can read more about the show here as well.

This is the published blurb about my piece:

“During the opening reception of Breakups R Tough, Morris will be creating a performance piece in homage to a 2005 artwork by the Love Art Laboratory, which is comprised of the famed sex artist Annie M. Sprinkle and her wife, artist and activist Elizabeth M. Stephens. LAL is a seven-year long undertaking in which the two women facilitate annual performance-based projects and rituals, including wedding ceremonies. In their first year, 2005’s Red year, Sprinkle and Stephens created the work entitled “Cuddle” in the Femina Potens Gallery. Once a week, during the exhibition the artists would put on cuddle outfits and spend several hours cuddling gallery visitors who had made advance appointments. They invited the participants to take off their shoes and socks and cuddle with them for seven minutes. This piece has been recreated by LAL in multiple locations, both nationally and abroad. After receiving a grant to travel to California and interview Sprinkle and Stephens in December 2009, Michael J. Morris will conceive a version of this piece as a performance in the U.turn exhibition. His piece is intended as a subversion of popular cultural perceptions of interpersonal acquaintance and intimacy, physical promiscuity, and socially authorized physical behaviors, while also serving as a celebration of the body as central to identity and expressions of love in non-traditional forms. For more about the Love Art Laboratory, please visit the website here.”

You can read about and view documentation of LAL’s original piece here.

There are marked differences between Annie and Beth’s (and their dog Bob’s) original piece and my re-created homage to their work. Aspects that immediately spring to mind are the differences between cuddling with a lesbian couple and cuddling with a single gay man, the difference between this piece being staged in an alternative arts space in San Francisco (or Glasgow or Austin, where it has subsequently been restaged) and staging this piece in a gallery in the midwest, in Cincinnati. Another difference is that I am attempting to partially contextualize the piece in Love Art Lab’s current work. As simple an alteration as it may be, I am making a purple bed/space: purple sheets on the bed, purple curtains (hopefully), and maybe even a purple cuddling costume. Love Art Lab is currently in their Purple year, the year of the Third Eye Chakra (Ajna), centered on intuition and wisdom. My hope is that the recontextualization of the piece goes deeper than just a shift in color but also in intention. In the original piece in 2005, the emphasis came out of the Red Year (Root Chakra, Muladhara), Security and Survival. Here cuddling seemed to be a kind of reassurance, a cultivation not only of love (part of the mission of LAL) but also a kind of interpersonal security, the safety offered by holding or being held. I think these aspects can’t help but carry over into my re-creation of the piece, but there is also the potential for a shift in intention to be one of knowledge and knowing. The act of cuddling, this temporal physical engagement being an act of both knowing and being known. As I’ve stated, my interests for the piece are “intended as a subversion of popular cultural perceptions of interpersonal acquaintance and intimacy, physical promiscuity, and socially authorized physical behaviors, while also serving as a celebration of the body as central to identity and expressions of love in non-traditional forms.” These notions harken back to the piece I created last year (and enacted this year in the process of Autumn Quartet), “KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY)“. Because my research and current perspective situate the body itself as the site for the perpetual perception, negotiation, and performance of identity, I often find it troubling that our culture privileges visual and verbal modalities for the acquaintance of individuals. We get to know one another predominantly  by what we see of one another and what we say. I am interested in subverting this, privileging the body not only as the site of identity, but a potential site of acquaintance. The Cuddle piece serves this, and I think there is something of this physical “getting to know you” that echoes the knowing intuition of the Purple Year of LAL. I’m also thinking about the extension of the body/self into the environment (this is essential to my understanding of “Sexecology” and “Eco-Sexuality,” ideas that have emerged from LAL and their performance work), and how the construction of this “cuddling space,” the bed and the curtains and the (hopefully) soft lamp light, may also serve as an extension of myself, the implication of myself into the space, and the subsequent implications for inviting gallery patrons into that space. I am also fascinated by the relationship between this work, Love Art Lab, the chakra system (and thus Tantric philosophy out of which it emerged) and my own yoga practice and teaching of yoga. How does my teaching inform this work, and how might it is turn inform my teaching?

I’ll let you know how it goes.

In a seemingly completely unrelated speculation (but of course it is all related), I am thinking about a practice or a course (or book?), something like “Scoring: The Constitution of the Moving Self.” This thinking started while writing my recent paper on the process of reading and dancing Trio A from Labanotated score (see previous post), but has evolved into a constellation of thought, touching on my predicted dissertation research and additional systems of “scoring” that I have explored. I am thinking about the lived “here-and-now” experience of the dance and the dancer as inseparable, that in the moment of dancing, both are mutually defined by one another (or, perhaps more accurately, as one). I am thinking about how dances or movement are generated and created, and how the individual is constituted through those generative processes. Because I think of movement as an extension of self (and a force by which the self is invented in the present here-and-now), I am interested in how scoring systems are used to generate movement and in doing so generate individuals. I am thinking about scoring systems like Labanotation and Motif Description, but also verbal/imagistic scores used to produce movement, as in Butoh (the language used to generate movement are called “Butoh-fu” which literally translates to “Butoh notation”) and Gaga, and the various systems of scoring that I experienced in the Forsythe project here at OSU last year, things like “room writing” or inscribing in space (tracing imagined forms in space), and the production of the wall score for Monster Partitur (line tracings of shadows produced by paper sculptures from skeleton models that emerged from a personal history). I am also thinking of Fluxus scores and scores used in choreographic practices by artists such as Pina Bausch. What comes to mind is the question of “what is a score?” Right now I am thinking of it as a persisting physical, linguistic or conceptual artifact by which movement is produced. The nature of the scoring system determines that nature of the movement and the nature of the method by which it is produced. I am not thinking of scores so much as documentation of what was (a record of movement that existed) as much as I am considering it as a generative source. It is, of course, situated somewhere in between these moments/movements: the means by which the score was generated (this may be a documentation of movement as in Labanotation or an idea, as in Butoh) and the movement that the score then produces.
Central to these ideas are the fact that the movement produced (by the score) is intrinsically unique and definitive of the individual. While the score itself is persistent, the movement it produces is not. It is unique to the individual, as the individual body, emerging from and simultaneously contributing to the identity of the individual.

There is a relationship between scores and the regulatory normalities by which persons are constructed/produced. I’m reading Judith Butler right now, and I am thinking about the pervasive culturally constructed systems by which individuals are regulated and produced. Gender, according to Butler, does not precede the acts by which gender is signified, but is in fact constituted by those acts by which it is perceived to be persistent. I am thinking of the engagement of the individual with the score as an active co-creation/participation in the generative structures by which the individual is produced. By enacting the score, the individual practices agency in the formulation of action and the methods/structures by which they are produced. If identity (and gender) are not that from which performative acts emerge but are in fact constructed through the sequence/repetition of performative acts, what then is the implication of the persistent score in the generation of acts? What is there to analyze in the relationship between the score and repetition?

And so, in a sense, it all relates. “Cuddle,” as formulated and enacted by Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens in 2005 now serves as the score by which my own actions are produced. I engaged with the documentation of that work as a score and in doing so select the structure by which my self, my situation, and my contribution to culture and society are produced.

I would love for this to be a course at some point, examining the nature of scores and scoring, how it may reflect, co-create or interrupt the pervasive social “scores” by which we are produced (I love the idea of situating Butler in the context of movement scores/scoring), and exploring various systems of scoring in the conscious production of self. If I apply for jobs at some point, I could imagine this being a course that I would propose to teach.

Those are my thoughts today. I hope to have time to continue to serve these ideas as weeks go by. I hope to continue to read and dance Trio A as a means of constructing myself, and to engage with additional scores in the production of movement/self.

Onto the spring quarter . . .



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