michael j. morris


Critical Dialogues Around Ecosexuality

I was so thrilled when Kim TallBear posted her piece of writing, “What’s in Ecosexuality for an Indigenous Scholar of ‘Nature’?” on 29 June 2012. I am so excited to see other academic scholars taking an interest in what I consider to be a significant opportunity for generating new ways of thinking and making our world, bringing ecosexuality into contact with a range of disciplinary perspectives, and allowing for what Donna Haraway and Karen Barad might call “diffractive” readings between them. TallBear does an excellent job in opening up this topic of conversation, and I hope you take a moment to read what she’s written, as well her addendum, and the comment thread that is developing.

This afternoon, I finally took a few minutes to make my own meager contribution to this discussion, which I am posting below. Besides my scattered musings on ecosexuality on this blog, a few conference presentations, a few papers, and a chapter for an anthology that is currently in the editing process, I haven’t had very much opportunity to share my work on ecosexuality with a broader audience. Eventually, ecosexuality in performance will be the project of my disseration, which I’ll start sometime in the spring. Until then, here are some glimpses of what I’ve been thinking:

I want to first say THANK YOU to Kim for authoring what I think is one of the most sophisticated academic accounts of ecosexuality that I’ve yet encountered. I had the honor of presenting my research alongside Praba Pilar, Jennifer Reed, and Sha LaBare on the “Theories of Ecosex” panel at the EcoSex Symposium II in June 2011, and I was excited by the ways in which each of their work rigorously considered the social, political, and personal implications of ecosexuality. The movement around ecosexuality includes a broad spectrum of voices, perspectives, practices, and personal histories. I’ve met artists, activists, academics, and allies, each with subtle and dramatically different inflections in their articulation of what ecosexuality can be, and I think it is great that this movement holds a space for so much difference. At the same time, I have felt discontent at times—a discontentment tempered with an excitement towards the work to be done—with the lack of critical rigor within these discussions, at the symposium, at the weddings (I performed in the Purple Wedding to the Appalachian Mountains and the White Wedding to the Sun), and on the Ecosex, Sexecology, and Sustainable Love facebook group. Far too often, I’ve felt that unquestioned assumptions are being reinscribed and invested with cultural currency through the use of terms like “nature,” “sex,” gender categories, specific (or ambiguous) spiritual traditions, and so on. To be clear, I’m not opposed to these terms themselves; rather, I’ve been resistant to some of the uncritical patterns of their use in discussions around ecosexuality. In this piece of writing, Kim has opened up many of these terms and invited critical attention to both how they are operating within ecosexuality, as well as the potential within ecosexuality to significantly reconfigure how we understand the world in and through such terms.

I also sympathized a lot with Kim’s statement, “…encounters with ecosexuality this past year, it turns out, constitute a pivotal intellectual moment of growth for me.” I remember when I first encountered ecosexuality in Beth and Annie’s work in SF in 2009, interviewing them at their Sexecology exhibit at Femina Potens. I had been awarded a grant to see their work and to interview them about more general themes relating to the intersection of life and art practices. However, when I arrived at the gallery, when I encountered their work—the ephemera from the 2008 Green Wedding and the 2009 Blue Weddings, as well as new ecosexual collages and photographs and videos—and listened to them speak, something began to shift. I could sense that there was something important about this term/idea/identity/practice of “ecosexuality.” And I’ve spent the last three years continuing to articulate that importance to myself and to others in various writings, conferences presentations, performances, and formal and informal discussions.

While reading Kim’s piece, I felt a response to the suggestion that, “On the other hand, some of my UC Berkeley students probably do get turned on by trees if they open up their minds to think about it that way.” This “opening up their minds” is something I address more below, but here is raises the questions: What constitutes getting turned on? Where and how are we drawing the lines between various forms of contact and encounter, states of excitation and attraction? If the parameters of what counts as sex and sexuality blossom out into new variations and possibilities for contact between bodies, flows, and all sorts of material-semiotic actants that participate in the proliferation of life and livability within our world, how might we find ourselves reoriented towards that world—bees and trees and seas and flowers and rocks and all sorts of animals and so on and so on and so on—in ways that generate new possibilities for action? I feel that Beth and Annie’s work, among others, is explicitly reconfiguring the potential for what sex and sexuality can be within a whole spectrum of encounters between bodies (see their ecosexual herstories, among other work).

Most of all, I appreciate Kim’s direction of attention towards “pervasive boundaries and hardened [binary] categories that structure our minds … and our world today.” In my ongoing exploration of what ecosexuality is and can be, where it occurs, and what it accomplishes in through its enactment, I come again and again to the ways in which it restructures the very grounds from which we think and (reiteratively) produce our world. In addition to the structural boundaries between nature/culture, animal/human, female/male, queer/straight, nonwhite/white, and so on, I am aware of the ways in which these categories get deployed towards social/political ends. For instance, the complex alignments of “nature” or “the natural” with purity and “the unnatural” with contamination and/or “culture,” in tension perhaps with alignments of the animal with the savage, the unevolved, or hedonistic, and the human with the rational pinnacle of evolution and culture. Or the centrality of sex and sexuality with psychoanalytic accounts of the formation of the subject, or within legal discourses around rights and representations as they relate to identity. Or even the model within discourses like environmental management that figures the human as somehow outside of environmental conditions which then must be controlled and/or engineered, as if from the outside. The point I am trying to make is that what I find exciting about ecosexuality, specifically Beth and Annie’s performances of ecosexuality, but others as well, is that it does not/cannot operate within these pervasive normative categories that structure who we are, how we think, and what actions are available to us from such perspectival positions. I believe that ecosexuality—or, as I’ve come to prefer in my own work, ecosexualities—operate from new ontological grounds, new ways of conceptualizing the living material world, new forms of sex and sexuality that have profound implications for the understanding of “the human subject”—implications that might even include abandoning this model for articulating life and activity—and thus new routes along which to consider life, livability, and ethical responsibility as a participant in the production of the world.

Regarding the issue of “new age” in ecosexuality: In my own writing and presentations about ecosexuality, one place that I’ve encountered accusations or observations of what has been called “new age” in the Love Art Lab work specifically is in the projects’ use of the chakra system (which stems from various branches of yogic/tantric philosophy and practice) as its organizational logic. This format was in homage to Linda Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art, which has itself been called new age. I have little interest in determining whether something “is” or “is not” “new age”; that term is slippery. Rather, I think there could be value in interrogating the effects of that term in relation to this work, or to ecosexuality more generally. What does it DO to call this work new age? What does it DO to deny that category? Where is appropriation at play, and what are the effects of those appropriation? What discursive traditions are being invoked/incorporated into the work through such appropriations/citations/iterations/etc.? And so on. Certainly whenever appropriation comes up, there is the potential for ethical dilemma or even injury. Yet appropriation itself cannot become demonized; it is a well-worn practice in the development of innumerable species of human and nonhuman naturecultures. I appreciate Kim’s advocacy for “caution” around appropriation in her original post. I think caution and care are more productive modes of approach than moralizing accusations of right and wrong. I think a productive orientation towards the places at which ecosexuality and ecosexual practices incorporates disciplinary/cultural traditions is to ask, “What are the effects of such incorporations, and what are our responsibilities towards those effects and those affected by them?”

Lastly, I wanted to mention a few authors/texts that have profoundly influenced my thinking on ecosexuality, just to invoke them in the dialogic developing here:
-Donna J. Haraway (almost all of her work)
-Elizabeth Grosz (specifically her books Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics and Art; and Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth)
-Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things
-Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning
-David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous
-Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: Objects, Orientations, Others
-Judith Butler’s “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street”

Kim, thank you again for such a thoughtful piece of writing and for opening up this conversation in such critical ways, and thank you Beth and Annie for pioneering this road down which each of us have turned.
Be well.



Visiting the Love Art Laboratory

I found out this morning that I have received funding for a research trip to San Francisco in December, to view work by and interview Love Art Lab (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens). The hope is that I will write something for publication or conference presentation based on the research I do on this trip. I can hardly wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be there meeting them/talking to them about their work/seeing their work in less than a month. I have thrived on their work remotely for so long . . . I can hardly imagine preparing myself for first-hand engagement.

These are the (unfiltered) ideas I am interested in talking to them about:

-The implications for perspectives of the body in their work, both their larger project of Love Art Laboratory, the projects they have done year by year, and their recent evolution into “Sexecology” (the intersection of sexology and ecology). What does it mean that the whole Love Art Lab project is centered around the chakra system, which is a distillation of energy centers within the body (the body as the starting place for this project, via the work of artist Linda Montano)? What does it mean that these projects are predominantly performative (or artifacts of the performative), which situates the body at the (intersecting) center of political activism, environmentalism, interpersonal relationship, sexual identity, etc.?

-What does intersecting “sexology” (the study of sexual behavior, predominantly in humans) and “ecology” (the branch of biology dealing with the relations of interactions between organisms and their environment; environmental science) say about how we view the body, organizations/relationships of bodies (people), etc.?

-What kind of progressive “body cultures” or cultures for progressive perspectives of the body are furthered in their work (this might address anything from clothing trends, body modification such as tattoos or piercings, exploring the boundaries between the private and the public as it relates to revelation of the body and bodily (even sexual) acts, etc.)?

-How does their work illustrate a conflation of art, life, and love? How has that functioned, the art seeming to be so entangled with the personal relationship between the artists (collaborators and wives)? How does that affect/direct the content of the work? How does the relationship serve as material in the art, and how does the art serve as a component of the personal relationship? Where is the line between public and private? What gets put into the art, and what stays out of it? What comes into the relationship, and what has to stay “in the studio,” as it were? To whatever degree the art functions as a profession, how does that affect the art or the relationship? I am fascinated by artist relationships, specifically in which both the relationship and the art are collaborative. I am fascinated by relationships emerging from the creative process (re: “click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit“; “Autumn Quartet“), how art furthers relationships, how relationships function as material for art, etc.

-On some (utopian, idealistic) level, I think I am looking to Annie and Beth as gurus of sustainable integration. That isn’t fair and I know it, but their work integrates so much: personal, public, professional, creative, political, sexual, ecological, etc. etc. etc. And somehow, from the remote observer, it seems to be working. I need this to be answered . . . disillusioned, nuanced, confirmed, whatever. The most difficult part of the creative life (for me) is the integration. I am interested in Fluxus artists. I am interested in early post-modernism, and how they worked so hard to dissolve the boundary between art and life, and at the same time I am interested in maintaining my connection to the art form, to the history of dance, the technique and craft and practice of it. I don’t want to integrate dance and life simply by considering my daily mundane life (the walking to and from school, drinking coffee, reading and writing papers, washing dishes, folding clothes, seeing friends, etc.) dancing (which it is); I want to maintain a dancing practice, a connection to dancing history and technique without those things feeling remote from the rest of life . . . by which I think I mean (predominantly) relationships. I mean cooking and cleaning and other life experiences as well, but I think the conflict I find most of all is the amount of time that the “dancing life” demands infringing on the quality and quantity of time I can spend nurturing and fostering human connection. The irony is that my art form is predominantly social; we do it in groups of people.

I should say that between the project I just completed with CoCo Loupe, Eric Falck, and Jeff Fouch (“click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit”) and the project I am working on with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt, I feel nearer to this “integrated living” than I have (in quite some time)(ever). And yet I feel like (I hope) Annie and Beth can say something to this.

 

That’s all I have time for. Ecstatic to have funding. Can’t wait to be in San Francisco.



Inspiration and Connections

It’s been a “heady” week working in the Labanotation Teacher Certification Course. I feel tired, a little tired of trying to figure out “integrated living/art making,” rather than just doing something like that. My friend CoCo did a series of posts last year about inspiration. I do them sometimes. I need one today:

An ongoing inspiration is the Love Art Lab. It’s huge with me right now. It’s full of love and politics and color and chakra energy and integrated life/art. Annie and Beth just had another wedding, #5 the Blue Wedding, in Oxford, England. I can’t wait to see pictures/video. I did a whole post about the Love Art Lab a little bit ago, so I’ll just give you an image or two to share my inspiration:

05_40180035

I’m also having a great conversation of memory and experience between the brilliant color and energy of Annie and Beth’s Love Art Lab, and the company I danced for when I lived in Baton Rouge, Of Moving Colors Productions. I think I’ll created a “visual conversation” between the two . . .

RED

 

OMC "Red"

OMC "Red"

OMC "Sienna: Transformed by Fire"

OMC "Sienna: Transformed by Fire"

OMC "Sienna: Transformed by Fire"

OMC "Sienna: Transformed by Fire"

Love Art Lab "Red Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Red Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Red Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Red Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Cuddle"

Love Art Lab "Cuddle"

ORANGE

OMC "Paradise Orange"

OMC "Paradise Orange"

OMC "Paradise Orange"

OMC "Paradise Orange"

Susie Chaney in OMC's "Paradise Orange"

Susie Chaney in OMC's "Paradise Orange"

OMC "Paradise Orange"

OMC "Paradise Orange"

Love Art Lab "Orange Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Orange Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Orange Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Orange Wedding"

YELLOW

OMC "Yellow Orchid Blue"

OMC "Yellow Orchid Blue"

Love Art Lab "Yellow Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Yellow Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Yellow Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Yellow Wedding"

GREEN

OMC "Green"

OMC "Green"

00018 

Love Art Lab "Green Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Green Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Green Wedding"

Love Art Lab "Green Wedding"

BLUE:

OMC "Peacock Blue"

OMC "Peacock Blue"

OMC "Peacock Blue"

OMC "Peacock Blue"

OMC "Peacock Blue"

OMC "Peacock Blue"

OMC "Peacock Blue"

OMC "Peacock Blue"

Love Art Lab "Zen for the Head"

Love Art Lab "Zen for the Head"

Love Art Lab costume designs

Love Art Lab costume designs

Love Art Lab costume designs

Love Art Lab costume designs

 

 Whew! That’s a lot of pictures! Such a glide through memories and inspirations . . . 

NOTE: It should go without saying, but all photos of OMC are the property of Of Moving Colors Productions, and all photos of Love Art Lab are the property of Love Art Lab. I offer both here to honor and share these inspirations in my life.

If you still need more inspiration, check out this site that documents Linda Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art. I am so inspired by this work!

And I finally finished reading the first installment of a series of articles concerned with art in public spaces written by my brother Matt Morris for Aeqai. It is excellent and definitely offers points of interest as an art, a mover, and a public figure. You can read it here.
And here is an exceptionally thought-provoking quote by Rickey:
“I think it’s very important to make art that you have to wait for. I’m very concerned that movement be slow enough so you have to wait and you have to wonder what happens next.” I think that relates to my aesthetics in all kinds of ways . . .

George Rickeys Two Rectangles Vertical Gyratory II, Variation IV

George Rickey's Two Rectangles Vertical Gyratory II, Variation IV

 

Other inspirations tonight:

gentle rain outside
incense
fresh raw produce
indian fabrics all over my house
my friend Mara and her thoughtfulness
 Antony and The Johnsons “The Crying Light” (dedicated to Kazuo Ohno)

Looking forward to Columbus PRIDE 2009 this week/this weekend. Hope to see you there.