michael j. morris

contribution to a field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thoughts towards post-human intersubjective ecosexuality…

It’s been far too long since I’ve written anything productive here. As I’ve moved into my work this summer, starting with the Ecosex Symposium in June and into my summer reading in July (working through various texts by or about Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari), there has been very little time/space in which to generate thoughtful material for my blog. Between the symposium, my studies, and inspiration from a spectrum of different artists, I have been saturated/overflowing with ideas, just not the time to translate them meaningfully or articulately to this blog space. And I don’t really have time to enact that translation now. But in addition to this site functioning as a platform for (more) transparency in my creative and scholarly work, it also functions as a holding space for ideas, for snippets and scribbles of ideas and thoughts that may eventually evolve into something more developed and cohesive (or intentionally in-cohesive, as the case may be), and that is what I need today. The following is a series of scribbles that amount to mere hints at what I might develop further:

Intersections of landscape and body
Mapping (cartography) of bodies/spaces (need to read Henri Lefebvre on space)
Where are the overlaps of experiential anatomy and experiential geography, somatic physical practices and environmental sustainability projects, body politics and global/environmental politics? These intersections seem rich and worth exploring. I was profoundly inspired by a piece presented by Tessa Wills at the Ecosex Symposium II entitled Anal Ecology, which took as its premise the potential for queer bodies to provide information for sustainability projects (my understanding was that this piece was specifically concerned with issues of sustainability surrounded radioactive waste, waste deposits as places that are forbidden/toxic, and queer bodies as bodies of knowledge practiced in venturing into the “forbidden” within our own bodies). I’m also interested in the occurrences of experiential geography and experiential anatomy in Karl Cronin’s work, and how those two [fundamentally phenomenological] approached to experience might inform one another.

In my presentation at the Ecosex Sympsosium II, I suggested that a  central project in my theorization of ecosexuality has been towards disindividuation, or the deconstruction of the discontinuous autonomous/self-sufficient individual subject. If there is a larger project or concept in which I think disindividuation might function, it is that of deterritorialization (this is a concept that is addressed by Deleuze, and I am interested in how his work with this concept might inform/enrich my own understanding). In my understanding, the territorialization of bodies is a process of organ-ization, the fragmentation of the body into a collection of organs, organs (especially where genitalia are concerned) that function as the foundation for oppressive regimes such as gender and sex. This organ-ization [territorialization] of bodies resembles the territorialization of the globe, and it is from this correlation of something like organs and nation-states, and the fundamental logic of territories that underlies both, that I see the possibility of a productive inquiry into the intersection of body and global/environmental politics.

Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio: she gave a truly inspired keynote address at the symposium discussing polyamory alongside ecosexuality, a discussion of love not as a need (a concept developed with notions of scarcity and lack), not as a resource that is non-renewable, but as something expansive and inclusive, this being inherent in polyamory, and this offering a model for relationships, human, more-than-human, and otherwise. Intersections of polyamory, ecology, and sustainability…

I am more convinced than ever before that post-humanism is central to ecosexuality. The category of “human” seems to me another act of territorialization, the production of an inside (human) and outside (non-human) that is necessarily binary and hierarchical. Post-humanism does the important work of deconstructing this category, and I think such a deconstruction is a necessary foundation for ecosexuality. I am interested in what performative productions of a post-human sexuality might look like. I curious about the ways in which various performance works move us beyond the human. And I wonder how sex/sexuality might provide avenues for movement into the post-human. It means changing how we understand sex (especially as it is entrenched in the Oedipal narratives of psychoanalysis . . .). In various discourses–especially psychoanalysis–sex operates as a central organizing principle in the development of subjectivity; I suggest that ecosexuality might provide a necessary intervention in how we understand sex that could in turn shift “human subjectivity” towards a “post-human intersubjectivity.”

The radical thoughts towards new choreographic/performance work:
Partially inspired by Karl Cronin’s Somatic Natural History Archive. I see Karl’s practice of learning/imitating the movement patterns of various plants and animals as a method for shifting the human towards the post-human. Movement/action are productive in that our bodies are literally formed, informed, deformed, and reformed by that actions we carry out (this is part of what is profound about dance, its role in the production of bodies). I see choreography as a profoundly intimate encounter: for the dancer to incorporate the choreographer’s movement is to literally allow the choreographer to participate in the formation of the dancer’s body. To the degree that the body is central to who we are, this constitutes a profoundly intimate exchange. When Karl looks to other-than-human sources for movement, I believe that the distance between the territories “human” and “non-human”  are collapsed in the production of his body through other-than-human movement forms.
What I am inspired to consider  is sourcing the sexual behaviors of other-than-human sources as choreographies for human bodies (I immediately think of Isabella Rosselini’s Green Porno). How might bodies be produced towards a post-human sexuality through the imitation of other-than-human sexual behaviors? An important question would be how to assess “sexual behavior” other than reproductive sexuality. For instance, what would constitute non-reproductive sexual behavior for plant life, and how might such behavior function as choreographies or scores for movement/behavior of “human” bodies? I don’t have an answer to that question, but it suggests itself as a site of investigation, and I feel like the possibilities of the piece(s) such an investigation might produce could be transformative.

those are the scribbles and jots towards new ideas/concepts.
we’ll see where they go . . .

Inspirations: queer porn, ecosexuality, etc.

I wanted to take the time to leave the trace of another constellation of ideas that are forming frames for me right now. In the midst of everything else I’m doing, I have also been lucky to find some intense inspirations. One of the most notable is work happening in and around queer porn.

I have written around some of these ideas on the blog for the Laboratory for Independent Scholars (the collaborative research project with Karl Cronin, Christopher Kennedy and myself). You can check out those posts here.

On that blog, I listed lots of the individuals involved with and responsible for queer porn that have quickly become heroes in my life. I don’t want to be redundant, but I do want to leave a trace, so briefly (with hyperlinks, which are anything but brief when blogging), they are:

Jiz Lee (genderqueer porn star, blogger, activist, artist, etc.)

jiz lee

Madison Young (porn star/director, gallerist, educator, etc.)

madison young

Shine Louise Houston (porn director/producer, etc.)

shine louise houston

Courtney Trouble (porn star/director/producer/etc.)

courtney trouble

Syd Blakovich (porn star, artist, activist, etc.)

syd blakovich

Drew DeVeaux (porn star, model, etc.)

drew deveaux, photo by rae threat

Dylan Ryan (porn star, academic, etc.)

dylan ryan

Billy Castro (porn star, etc.)

billy castro

Annie Sprinkle (one of the the original queer porn performers/directors/dreamers; artist, activist, sexecologist)

annie sprinkle

Travis Mathews (filmmaker, activist, artist, etc.)

These people are some of my many heroes.

I wish I could write a whole essay right here about why I think queer porn is a radically progressive force in our world, culture, society, etc. (I’ve dabbled with some of these ideas on the LIS blog), but the short version is that queer porn, among much else, demonstrates and performs bodies and sexualities in a way that substantially disrupts and subverts normalized heterosexist configurations of bodies, identities, sex, sexualities, and gender. By giving representation to bodies and acts that live at or beyond the edges of normativity, queer porn offers legitimacy and recognition of those lives to others who are living them . . . that’s not clear . . . what I mean is that one of the things queer porn does is offers a site of identification for those who live and perform their bodies and sexualities outside of the socially sanctioned and normative. But it also functions as a activism towards a public archive of such lives/bodies/sexualitites that authors our culture beyond the edges of the normative. It leaves a trace of some for all, an archive that subverts the notion that all bodies and people are a particular way (this is most notably a heteronormativity, but I would venture to argue that much of gay sexual practices, identities and representations have configured themselves as imitations and emulations–thus representations and reiterations . . . maybe even simulacra–of heterosexuality, thus constituting a homonormativity that continues to abject some lives/bodies/sexualities and sexual expressions/acts as unlivable; I think the efforts of queer porn disrupt these normativities as well). In this way, queer porn accomplishes in representations of sexual encounters, relationships, pleasures, etc., what I tend to strive for in my dancing life–a practice, experience and perhaps even representation of bodies of vast possibilities, bodies that know and become more rather than less, that form and reform within mobile, fluid edges, never stable and always in transition.

I have some ideas of how my work will begin to dialogue with practices in queer porn. Some of this will be explored in the forthcoming reconstruction of “Sketches of Shame” (discussed in my previous post), although I’m not yet certain how.

I also have become interested in how this work and work by these individuals beyond the scope of “porn” might become topics of my research (alongside arts practices by the Love Art Laboratory, Karl Cronin, and various Butoh artists). One such example is a project with which I have recently become completely enamored called Twincest:

Described on their site:
“twincest was a multimedia collaboration between two lovers, Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich. They spent 4 years together documenting their interpersonal dynamics and intimacies through sound, movement, video, photography, body fluids, pain, aggression, meat, sex, and love. Founded in 2004, their art and performances not only strengthened their budding relationship, but also provided a playground for the more complex elements that manifests in love’s shadows.”

their manifesto:
“My blood brother/sister,
Bonded by bloodpissshitcumspitpussweat-andassjuice, we share a body/canvas/culture for projections of disjunctured identities. With you, I expose and archive the physicalities of the sorid, you are my twin conjoined through the technological extentions of the body, a desire for the same…
wrpt in soild shts
fckd dry
Anx us
and dstrctd”

Traces of their work.

Syd Blakovich says on her website (which is distinct from the twincest project that she conducted in collaboration with jiz lee from 2004-2009): “My interest in movement based performance is similar to my interest in body fluids. It’s a dialog between bodies and the spaces they occupy.”
Which is completely ecosexual, as far as I’ve theorized it.

I want to write about this work. I need to study it more. I need to be in contact with Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich at some point. I need to draw together supporting theoretical materials needed to discuss this work. I already think Bataille’s Erotism, Death & Sensuality has a lot to offer. I think Catriona Sandilands “Eco Homo” article has a lot to offer.

I’m thinking about flesh and fluids, permeability and that which permeates, transmission and that which is transmitted (this has to do with performance, performativity, writing, choreography, etc., in the metaphorical sense), but also the levels of the body which we (in dance, in society) don’t address. I remember reading Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s writings about Body-Mind Centering, and those writings referring to movement on a level of fluids and tissues and bones. I didn’t find it to be very precise, although I have heard from colleagues who are more familiar with that work that those who understand it intimately, it is incredibly precise.

As I talk about fluid bodies, how can I not talk about body fluids? The morphability/malleability/instability of bodies is at the skin, in the seeping and sloshing and squirting, the sweating, the threat of leakage, the “necessity of management” (or of an aesthetics of flesh, re: Sandilands) in an age of latex. As I write about sexual epistemologies (see the paper posted in previous post), how do I not discuss latex and liquids, the edge between safety and danger that is inseparable from how we must know/understand sex in this era, and how does that affect how we live/understand the world, bodies, identities, dancing, etc.?

And what does a dissertation begin to look like if these are (potential) figures to be considered: the Love Art Laboratory (Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens), Karl Cronin and the Somatic Natural History Archive, twincest (Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich), and Butoh artists such as Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata, and Yoko Ashikawa?

I’m not sure where any of these ideas/inspirations are going, but I knew I wanted to begin to leave their traces here.
I’ll keep you informed as to how they develop.

brainstorming about research/dissertation

It never ceases to amaze me how just a little time and space (in this case, the first day of the Thanksgiving break) can allow so much development of thought.
I’m beginning (continuing?) to map through how some of these ideas, these various research pursuits, might cohere into concepts and theories, and eventually chapters and a possible dissertation.

The frame I’m beginning to construct (which will certainly go through the process of deconstruction and reconstruction, likely again and again and again) looks something like this:

It begins with the deconstruction of the discontinuous bounded individual/body, the body that stops at the flesh, the human subject that is discrete from the environment in which it occurs and the vast nexus of intersubjective forces by which the subject (and thus the body) comes into being. This could have its roots in phenomenology and the implication of the subject in the perceived life-world, reinforced by studies/philosophies of embodied cognition, perception, and maybe even psychology (I still feel like I need to educate myself on “continuum psychology” and “ecological psychology”). With this as a foundation, there is space to begin to incorporate (pun intended) Tantric philosophy (hopefully as a critical theory), queer theories, relationality, and most recently Georges Bataille (as of this week—this is still a very fresh connection), each one contributing to the destabilization of the fixed edges of the individual subject/body along trajectories of desire and the erotic (among other things). I feel like from there I could begin to establish a theory of ecosexuality, the mobilization of (queer) sexual epistemologies in the destabilization/expansion of the individual and the (anti-colonial) in-corporation of the perceived “other.” It might be necessary (I hope not) to address the subversion/mutation of the symbolic register (Lacan, I think?) as the affect of an ecosexual paradigm and performativity (in an effort to establish how/what things are changed by this altered sense of “self”/body).

This might constitute a first section, possibly with multiple chapters?

The second section is where this theoretical framework could begin to find application in dance practices. Right now (today) I’m framing these practices in three large groups:

1. The incorporation of space as the body: I feel like this is where Laban studies can come to bear, the body never functioning as a body in a vacuum, but a body-in-space whereby both the body and space take on (mobile) definition through their unity with one another. Other movement methodologies might also come into play, things like Viewpoints (of which I know almost nothing), architecture-based scoring systems, and space-based movement scoring. This might also include site-specific work and work that engages with the landscape as participant (like the Love Art Laboratory)

2. The incorporation of the “human-other” as the body-self: this is where I might look more directly at “traditional” body-to-body choreographic practices, whereby seemingly discrete bodies become intermingled and blurred in their clarity through their choreographic participation with one another. Here I am most interested in the intimate exchange between bodies, an intimacy that is based on interdependency and intersubjective corporeal construction, the movement exchange demonstrating the porousness, permeability, and mutability of bodies/selves.

3. The incorporation of the more-than-human “other” as the body-self: This could be the biggest section because is includes practices like Butoh (that involves the incorporation of the landscape, the environment, and imagery derived from that which is “other”) and Karl Cronin’s Somatic Natural History Archive, but also movement/dance/performance methodologies that incorporate artifacts/objects, such as the use of written scores, moving with props/objects (here I would love to look more at “object theater” as a practice), among other practices.

When I write things like this out, I begin to see where I need to focus my attention:

1. Fleshing out my foundation in phenomenology (yes, that means finishing Phenomenology of Perception)

2. Tackling “relationality”

3. Taking some time with continuum psychology and ecological ecology

4. Spend more time with Bataille

5. Go back to Laban’s early writings

6. Choreograph more (as research)

7. Write about Butoh; write about Karl Cronin

Queer Explorer’s Club

On of the many projects that I currently have in the works is a collaborative endeavor with two amazing individuals, Karl Cronin and Christopher Kennedy (who does amazing work like this). We will be working together on a project sponsored by Culture Push (NYC, NY) called The Laboratory for Independent Scholars. As our work together unfolds in the months to come, I am sure that I will be sharing perspectives of it here. However, a great project in which I have already been invited to be a part is the Queer Explorer’s Club. Christopher Kennedy introduced me to this project with the following description:

“Queer Explorers Club is a group of people.
People who are queer identifying.
We are only 4-5 most of the time.
We like to make stuff together. Sometimes we have dinner and read to each other.
Sometimes we knit. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we play outside and ride bikes.

For our first project we’ve been sharing stories.
About vulnerability and harassment.
In response I developed this screenprint and we’ve been wheatpasting them around Brooklyn and NYC as a gesture to reclaim places of vulnerability – or perhaps where boundaries have been crossed or formed.

So I’d love to send you one. Then you can wheatpaste it where you’d like. Or just have it for another space.”

This week I received my copy of the screenprint. I’ve been reflecting on places I’ve felt vulnerable that might function as an appropriate space to receive such a marker.

From the Queer Explorer’s Club website:
“You’re Just a Fucking Faggot
Where have you felt the most vulnerable with your gender
in public spaces
in private places.
In the exchange of a walk.
In the look of an eye, that turns into a shove.
Language; maybe more.
Please demarcate where and when your vulnerability has been.
And where it may be with geography and technology.

Download Template (PDF)
Please download the template, and mark where in real time
and in real space.
and in virtual space where your vulnerabilities may lie.
a history, or the present; always the future.”

The current list of places that might be appropriate:

14th Ave, Columbus, OH: this is the street from which I just moved. I walked to and from school/work everyday on this street. In the two years that I have lived here in Columbus, I have had things thrown at me (glass bottle, rock) and been shouted at (mainly “faggot”) more times than I care to count. I was mostly harassed by large groups of people in the front yards of apartment buildings, on game days more than any other time (I have a strong conviction that this is one of the many, many examples of how competitive athletic events cultivate the potential for degenerative, destructive, and aggressive social cultures . . . but maybe that’s another blog post). I never directly confronted those who had harassed me because I was always outnumbered, and while I was sober, mostly those harassing were not. I felt vulnerable and endangered.

Wells Hall, Belhaven College (now University), Jackson, Mississippi: This was the dormitory in which I lived during the first two years of my undergraduate experience. My harassment in Jackson was pervasive; I could not possibly mark all of the places and spaces in which I was harassed, felt vulnerable, or compromised. But this was the most persistent. It was an ongoing experience to come home to where I lived and be met by a group of athletes (again, I am not sure this is coincidental; not that all athletes are aggressors or oppressors, but that there does seem to be a common denominator in my experience). I was constantly called “faggot” and pushed on more than one occasion. I was always outnumbered. This was the main reason I eventually moved off campus, because I was no longer content or satisfied with feeling endangered in the place that I lived/my home. If I could journey back to Mississippi to mark that building, I would.

Belhaven was a place of vulnerability for other reasons as well. Because of the college’s [discriminatory] policies, there is generally an intense amount of secrecy surrounding homosexuality on campus. Queer identities are not only unwelcome, but are oppressed. During my sophomore year, there was a “documentary” on “former-homosexuals” (those who had been “cured” of their homosexuality through various religious-based “therapies”) that played on the college’s television station for a month. I was made to watch this documentary in two different settings. It was not unusual for me to be approached by faculty intent on “saving” me from my sexuality. There is a sense in which Belhaven as a whole functioned as a vulnerable/violating space.

More subtle though no less profound spaces might also include:
churches that I formerly attended
my bedroom
the house in which I grew up
various performance spaces
studio 2 in sullivant hall (where Autumn Quartet was made and practiced)
this blog (blogging for me is almost always a vulnerable experience)

Putting the print here is one virtual space that I am marking. It will also allow me to mark facebook. Once I have selected a “real” space, I plan on documenting that installation/inscription/marking.

Where are the places you might mark, and why?

Permeability, “chorecography,” In-corporation, etc.

I don’t really have time to be blogging. But the last few weeks have presented several opportunities for collaboration with some of the artist/scholars I admire most in the world. This has been a significant catalyst for coalescing some of my own ideas about my work, the direction of my research, and the germinating ideas that might form the connective tissue between dance practices, queer theories, ecology, Tantric philosophy, and my interests (specifically) in yoga, Butoh, the Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology, Ecosexuality, and the work of Karl Cronin. This is fairly raw brainstorming, but I think some ideas are finally beginning to mesh in such a way that they might then be interrogated, deconstructed, and applied to creative (and) scholarly practices.

The central issue (at the moment) seem to be permeability, specifically the permeability of the body. An interest of mine in the field of dance is how dance practices, especially choreographic practices by which the formulation of the body is a collaborative endeavor necessarily incorporating the participation of (a)other(s) beyond the seemingly persistent “individual,” is a practice in/of/as permeability, transformability, interdependent functionality, and the erotic.

The assumption on which many dance practices are predicated is that the body is not “fixed” but is necessarily not fixed (even as many dance techniques can assume the form of “fixing”–correcting, but more importantly, constraining, consolidating) in order to formulate a new, specific dancing body, fully contextual within the practiced and performed dance work. It is a practice that in the history of the body, but does not view that history as fully constrictive or deterministic–it is a malleable set of constraints, and dance practices in which additional, intentional information is provided the body in order to facilitate its (re)formulation become practices by which that malleability is engaged. Because the body (an admittedly complex and somewhat elusive term, both material and discursive) is the site/nexus for the assumption of identity/identification, sex, gender, sexuality, and subject-hood in the process of performative reiteration, the permeable, transformability/malleability of the body assumed in (some) dance/choreographic practices has potentially radical implications.

Dance (especially choreographic) practices are often necessarily interdependent, practicing the meaning or significance of the body to be (formulated) beyond the individual or morphological boundaries. These practices emphasize a systemic functionality/”definition,” reorienting the experience of the body/self and its situation into the inclusion/incorporation of other necessary participants (even the solo dancing choreographer is the demonstration of the sedimentation of a nexus of citations that reference the participation of others through which the (present) body takes on its form). This interdependency is where I identify a ready correlation with ecologies and ecological analysis, giving attention to the ways in which dance practices (and perhaps even the cultural and social constructions surrounding dance practices) function as systems of interdependency, and dancing bodies and that which is produced by and simultaneously formulates those practices. There is room here as well for the consideration of the movement of power within these potentially imbalanced systems, how interdependency does not necessary (and does rarely) suggest egalitarianism, but instead suggests the mobility of power across relations of imbalance and dependence.

This word may become significant. It is in direct dialogue with my Tantric understanding of “recognition.” This can be potentially deconstructed, the similarity/difference between the incorporation into the self and the recognition of the “other” as not separate from the self.

Dance, choreography, chore(c)ography (love this–suggested to me in a recent email from Catriona Sandilands . . . chorecography . . . there may be something there) is a perpetual practice of incorporation, not in the sense of colonization, but in the sense of synthetic exchange and the interdependent formulation of bodies.

This is what I might (presently) identify as the eroticism of dance practice/chorecography: the space of lack/desire that compels the practice, the necessary interdependency and the mobility towards that interdependency. To be clear, lack does not necessarily denote desire (eros), but desire is necessarily predicated on lack. The eroticism of dance practice is what I might identify as “generative lack” or “constructive lack,” as opposed to a lack that functions as the definitive outside for non-lack.

Returning to the “central issue,” this permeability might also be identifiable as the “queer(ing)” element of dance (choreographic/chorecographic) practices. The assumed non-fixity of the body, the permeable pursuit of new corporeal possibilities, perhaps the ambiguity of the exchanges within these practices, seem inherently non-normative or even anti-normative (even, as I mentioned above, when dance practices function simultaneously as normalizing utilities, such as the ballet lessons potentially contributing to the “docile female body,” or competitive athletic dance forms potentially becoming yet another site for the defensive reiteration of (impermeable) masculine identity). I am not sure that “queer” itself suggests a concern with interdependent systemic functionality (ecology) (although it may . . . the permeable, while not intrinsically “erotic,” does lend itself to it; and “queer” and “erotic” may share a coalitional affinity of abjection; ecology may be intrinsically erotic; thus . . .), but “queer” definitely offers a manner of approaching the examination and consideration of ecological relations, and this approach may be qualitatively similar the the approaches of many dance practices.

Other thoughts:

This week in conversation with Karl Cronin, Karl discussed the difference between the big “I” and the little “i”; the big “I” suggests the individual is not so bounded and discrete as we might think, but instead is an active participant in a larger “organism” in which the subject is always implicit. This immediately connected to my background in Tantric philosophy, and the affirmation of diverse expressions of a common unity. This is further situated in David Abram’s writings about the situation of the human subject in constant sensorial reciprocity with the more-than-human world. In Tantric philosophy, especially in Kashmir Saivism, all differentiation and diversity emerges from the common source of Consciousness. In dialogue with contemporary philosophies of embodied cognition and the embodiment of perception, it lends itself to the body as far more expansive and inclusive than it neatly demarcated by our presumed physical morphology or even our normative discursive description of “the body.”

In preparation for my second comprehensive exam, I am also re-thinking the work of the Love Art Laboratory, specifically their ecosexual performance weddings. In addition to the themes of ecosexuality, and the engagement of the Earth, Sky, and Sea as Lover, I am beginning to contemplate the formal structure of these performances, their intensely collaborative structure/infrastructure, and the formal suggestion of union/unity and diversity/disparity. The wedding itself is a ritual of unification, and its performance in the work of LAL is a non-normative performance of a normative regulatory device. The wedding ritual itself is queered by the manner in which it is carried out. While Annie, Beth, and their Earth/Sky/Sea lovers function as a focal point for the event, the production and performance of the weddings are intrinsically plural(istic). They take the form of performance art variety shows in which many, many artists are showcased, all for a shared purpose. Individuals cycle through the roles of performer and audience. The unification that is enacted (recognized? formulated? in-corporated?) in these wedding rituals is accomplished through shared political, social, cultural, artistic, environmental (etc.) intentions, and is enacted through the community of attention and appreciation, in which viewers become viewed and viewed become viewers. There is a cyclical exchange between the foreground and the background (that which is seen and that which is “unseen” that allows the “seen” to become visible), between subject and object, and it is in the cycle of this exchange (I may go so far as to relate this to spanda) that distinction becomes blurred and the fundamental unity across disparity is enacted/recognized. There is also something in the act of offering . . . I haven’t figured out the implications of this yet, but I feel like there is something to be theorized in the act of giving performances and attention to one another, the erotic spaciousness in a generous observation/attention/gaze.

Need to get back to reading. Going to see Pandora Boxx perform at Union tonight; seeing the show with family.
Happy Sunday.

Queer Theorists, Ecology, and Labanotation software

I have been negligent of my blog for too long. This summer swept me away in several new (and some unexpected) jobs, and lots of reading for my second comprehensive exam (most of the reading will likely also be useful towards whatever my dissertations shapes up to be). Getting close to a month without writing, I decided that it was time for an update.

My work situation for the summer is spread across three sources: I have a part-time GA in the Department of Dance teaching Modern I for non-majors and continuing work on a digital video archive for the dance documentation materials within the department. The teaching has been an unexpected challenge and delight. There is a beauty to bodies that (for the most part) have not been trained in dance techniques. I’m having lots of thoughts about dance technique as a form of discipline for the docile body (re: Foucault), but in contrast I am also taking delight in entertaining the perspective of the early modern dance pioneers (Duncan, Humphrey, Graham, etc.), that modern dance has the potential to function as a liberatory project, a resistance to the normative physicality of daily social existence. I think this beginning level course is an ideal demonstration of this perspective: these are bodies that are not going to become “disciplined” through this technique (we meet twice per week for five weeks; ten classes total). My hope/intention for the course is to provide a range of physical experience through which to develop heightened awareness of possibilities through the establishment of an array of sensorimotor schemas. The material that we are exploring is predominantly on the floor, exploring alternative supports and methods of locomotion through a dynamic experience of exchange with the earth; it does not require a significant development of strength or flexibility (impossible in the given time) but does provide the opportunity for the students to become aware of physical possibilities, especially those absent from normative physicality in our culture (horizontal axis of movement, supporting/exchanging weight with the earth predominantly through supports other than the feet legs, etc.). I hope in the next few weeks to also explore systems of timing, cueing, and awareness that depend primarily on group attention rather than counts; I think there is something valuable in a system of organization that emerges from mutual/communal attention (as opposed to an external regulatory system like counts or following me).

My second employment position is also in the Department of Dance, a Research Assistant position funded through the Dance Preservation Fund. I am assisting Dr. Sheila Marion and David Ralley with the initial phase research for developing a Movement Interchange File Format, a file format capable of encoding/recording the complex information of a Labanotation score in such a way that it might be useful for future software developments in writing software, animation, and translation between systems of notation (others most notably including Benesh and Eshkol-Wachmann). My work this summer is attempting to systematically describe the interdependent assumptions and “defaults” of the notation system, and construct a kind of comprehensive “script” that might then be used to formulae the first layer of programming for the file format/associated software. It’s an entirely different way for me to be thinking, and has involved going deeply into the notation system, primarily the Advanced Labanotation series by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Joukje Kolff, alongside Sheila Marion’s dissertation, and a thesis by Kolff proposing a “formal movement structure” that amounts to a computational representation of Labanotation in order to develop computer-based writing software.

I am also working part-time with Laurel Hodory, a local yoga teacher and trainer of teachers. I am assisting primarily with marketing and video work. Some of the footage that I have shot and edited is live on Laurel’s Vimeo account.

My reading for the summer is a survey of several seminal queer theorists (Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, Jeffrey Weeks), some phenomenology (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sara Ahmed), continued readings in ecology, ecofeminism and other feminist writings (most notably Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands, Karen Warren, Greta Gaard, Carole Vance, Elisa Glick), and dance/art scholars/philosophers (Valerie Briginshaw, Judith Hanna, Erin Manning). I have also been reading Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder, a collection of the writings of Harry Hay, the founder of the Radical Faerie “movement” (edited by Will Roscoe), because of its potential relationship to my Sexecological/Ecosexual research, but also in preparation for revising a paper on Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream,” using Hay’s writings and the Radical Faeries as a lens for a contemporary queer choreographic analysis of the ballet. I am only a few weeks in, but already themes are beginning to emerge around notions of fluidity, permeability, a recognition of the constructed nature of many of our borders, boundaries, and systems of description, and the genealogies of those edges that divide and distinguish. For this exam, I am going to continue my examination of the work of the Love Art Laboratory, situating their Sexecological weddings and exhibitions in a larger frame of queer(ing) projects, looking mostly at the Green Wedding in Santa Cruz (2008), the Blue Wedding to marry the Sky in Oxford (2009), the Blue Wedding to marry the Sea in Venice (2009), and the 2009-2010 gallery exhibition “Sexecology: Making Love With the Earth, Sky+Sea” at Femina Potens in December-January.

One of the most exciting readings I have done thus far has been an article by Catriona Sandilands entitled “Eco Homo: Queering the Ecological Body Politic.” In addition to its direct address of tissues that of becoming central to my line of inquiry (contemporary ecological practices, queering ecologies, the implications of these for the body, etc.), Sandilands anchored this article in a personal account of her experience in a series of Butoh classes. Within a matter of pages, she had linked for me what superficially have functioned as disparate areas of interest in my work, ecology, queer theories, and Butoh/dance practices. I was in tears at the end of the article . . . which might be strange for reading academic prose. But it was partially because of the punctuation of the article with passages of personal accounts. And not just any accounts, but writing about the meaningful experience of practicing Butoh, and its potential to function as a physical practice that embodies the concerns of a queer ecology, and fluidity across the borders of presumably bounded bodies through the “taking in and taking on” of the environment as the butoh-fu (the imagistic score informing/forming the dance).

I wish I could post the entire article here, but I am certain there would be copyright issues with that. Instead, I will offer the bibliographic information and quote/cite specific passages that I found to be extremely relevant to bridging these areas of interest.

Sandilands, Catriona. “Eco homo: Queering the ecological body politic.” Environmental Philosophy As Social Philosophy. Editors Cheryl Hughes and Andrew Light. Charlottesville: Philosophy Documentation Center, 2004.

“To conclude this paper, however, I would like to offer a brief, and perhaps unusual, conjecture. Specifically, I would like to suggest the possibility of practices of embodiment that performatively render the boundaries of the body negotiable by engaging in representations and rituals that open the skin to the somatic presence of the abject. This project is, I think, an ecological aesthetics of the body that recognizes the perpetual dancer of the outside but that orients, nonetheless, toward the (self-) creativity imanent in the dynamics of skin transgression. In so doing, I would like to suggest, following Diprose, that a performative politics might include both a transgressive element and a committed desire to re-habitate, re-familiarize, and re-materialize the body in relation to others.

“In this performative re-embodiment, I would like to point to the skin, both as a metonymic focus for an altered politics of corporeal representation and as a physical site to which to pay ritual corporeal attention in alternative enactments. Skin is a porous, changing and active organ that is at once crucial to our lives as organisms and, is, significantly, not thematized as our internal core. Skin is, precisely, a surface, but it is also an active participant in our corporeal renegotiation of the world. Skin is part of the appearance of the world, an aesthetic referent in self/other relations; all organisms are en-skinned, but we all have different qualities of skin and inhabit them differently. Focusing ecological attention on the skin, I think, forces us to pay bodily attention to the complex physiology and social relations by which our bodies bleed into the world, and the world into us. And skin shows us our porous vulnerability to the world always, not just in moments of crisis, and suggests that we learn to live, in non-apocalyptic ways, with that openness” (32-33).

“Rather than skin vigilance, then, skin aesthetics: How to live the body on and in this dynamically porous skin? How to practice a body-on-the-skin in a way that does not aim to coherence and closure, nor to infinite fluidity, but to an active, sensual and contextual semi-permeability? How to think of the skin as a site for the art of the body, for coporeal practices drawn from a range of traditions but without the strong orientation to self-govenance and order? How to think of the skin as a site of a specifically ecological aesthetic, an art form not dependent on infinite consumption and management of body parts and appearances? How to democratize the skin? How to create, on the skin, an ars erotica rather than scientia sexualis?” (33)

She brings this all to her description of Butoh:
“One way I have thoughts about Butoh is that the dance is the animated tension of the body held between external and internal influences. the dancer doesn’t perform an image, say, as an act of willful mimesis; he practices taking it in and taking it on, embodying and performing the interaction between the image and the body’s response. Memory is vital, here: by animating corporeal memory, the dancer opens the skin to the materialization of the image . . . From a more explicitly ecological viewpoint, I understand the idea of a body moving with the carefully ‘installed’ figures of nature–cranes flying in the shoulders–as an aesthetic practice of ecological incorporation. To dance with an orientation and openness to the fact of one’s own materialized body is to dance, not only with the awareness that the other is in your skin, but with the varied embodiments of others as part of one’s corporeal vocabulary. In Butoh, dancing a leaf in the wind is not about representing the leaf to an audience, nor is it about claiming to know the essence of that leaf’s being; it is about performatively re-membering the leaf’s wind-tossed body in one’s own, about losing one’s ‘self’ to the memory of the leaf’s body” (34).

She finishes with a moving description of a Butoh class:
“Thursday, June 20: I carry a landscape in my body. There are trees growing out of my head; my left arm is a waterfall, my right hand a rotting cabbage; old women are playing cards in the sun in my torso; my shins are brittle sticks, breaking and snapping with the tiniest movement. I must walk to the other side of the studio; I am all of these elements but I am also responsible for carrying them and keeping them safe in the crossing. I bear my trees, my cabbage, my old women, my precious sticks, through elemental changes–a windstorm from the west, electrified cattle guards under my feet–and I fall from the effort, damaging my precious cargo, my precious landscape, my own body in the process. But I do arrive. And even as I deposit my little body-world, tenderly, on the floor, I feel the presence of trees, cabbage, women, and waterfall, sticking to my skin, tiny flecks of memory mingling with sweat. I am the history of the presences, and my body is not really mine” (35-36).

Simply stunning. The article also traces/formulates relationships between the governing of bodies and the governing of the environments, the relationship between sexuality and wilderness, the establishment of borders around bodies, borders around landscapes, all in an attempt to “preserve” the “integrity” of each, resisting permeability, resisting fluidity and “pollution.” It is extremely provocative, and I think that it will constitute a sea-change in the direction of my research.

Perhaps lastly for today, and in perfect concert with Sandilands article, is the work of Karl Cronin. My dear friend CoCo Loupe has referenced Karl’s work to me for literally years and this spring I finally got around to taking a look at it. I cannot even begin to write all that I want to write about this work (I am currently entertaining the possibility of it as a chapter in a dissertation; maybe an article). Cronin is doing precisely what Sandiland describes, almost eerily so. He is constructing a Somatic Natural History Archive. Cronin’s description of the project is as follows:

“The Somatic Natural History Archive is a work of conceptual art and experiential geography research. Following direct physical encounters with plants and animals, Karl Cronin creates movement portraits that capture key features of each particular organism.”

“The Somatic Natural History Archive (SNHA) is a research project and public resource developed and hosted by Karl Cronin.

The SNHA will begin with Series 1, the embodied histories of 10,000 plants and animals. Series 1 will take roughly 50 years to complete.

The number 10,000 was chosen because it is large enough to reveal some of the breadth of our planet’s biodiversity, and because the number has been used historically to refer to the “phenomenal world” (all that is), particularly by early Zen Buddhists.

The SNHA is being built in the regions surrounding three research hubs: San Francisco, Santa Fe, and New York City.”

I am in awe of this work. I think it is saturated with theoretical inquiries surrounding the collapse of a hierarchical bio-diversity, the merging of the subject with the “other” (other more-than-human subjects), and echoes/enacts much of what my research around ecologies in performance has been orbiting. I know that this work will have some role to play in my own as time goes by. It is more than simply the exposition of bio-diversity; it formulates the (human) body as the site of this exposition, for this archive. That is perhaps the most exciting part for me . . . I have been working on a digital video archive for two quarters and in the fall I will take up a position managing the Dance Notation Bureau’s collection at the Theater Research Institute in Special Collections at OSU. Archives have been on my mind, and the notion of the body functioning as an archive, materializing the (human) body as an archive of that which is more-than-human . . . it is such a profoundly reverential service. It recognizes and enacts the body as permeable, malleable; it disrupts normative physicality through the adoption of the “other.” By taking the “other” inside/on/as oneself, there is a performative collapse of the distance between self/other. This relates for me to much of Sandiland’s writings, and also Harry Hay’s perspective of a “subject=SUBJECT” consciousness. I have commenting before that with different motives, there could be a sense of colonization and appropriation attached to this work. But there isn’t; it has something to do with the space between owning and becoming, occupation and surrender, taking and receiving . . . I have yet to fully deconstruct these nuances, and I know that there will be much to write and say about this work for a long time to come. For now I will simply offer a video of the work:

There is also an amazing video for Cronin’s “The Dancing Ecologist” fundraiser at Kickstarter here (it doesn’t embed, but PLEASE go view it; it’s short but stunning).

And that’s the short version of where things are at right now. Pride was a few weeks ago, I’m going to be spending the next two months housesitting in three different locations, I am dreaming up projects and choreographies for the fall, over the moon that Dr. Harmony Bench is going to be joining our faculty in the fall, working on papers for two different conferences in the fall (Doing Queer Studies Now at Michigan Ann-Arbor, and CORD in Seattle), etc. I’m not sure what is going to emerge from all of the intersecting projects (How does Labanotation software and sexecology co-exist? What comes from the cohabitation of a digital video archive and queer theories? Etc.), but that’s the lay of the land.

Hope you are well.