michael j. morris


Recent and forthcoming work

Where to begin? My dear friend Mara commented to me the other day how long it has been since I’ve posted things here. Partly, if I’m honest, it’s that I have a difficult time right now spending any more time in front of a computer than I have to. But there’s also something to do with the scope of ideas. I feel like my ideas of too big at the moment, and the bundle of threads knotting them together feels just out of reach. I wrote another term paper this autumn quarter exploring/theorizing ecosexuality, this time drawing correlations between my previous explorations of a theory of ecosexuality, Tantric philosophy, eroticism (as discussed by Georges Bataille), and Butoh. It was a culminating point in one sense, in that I finally articulated how these ideas/lines of inquiry live in and alongside one another in my thinking/understanding. But it was also a big start of something, of finally putting these various paradigms in the context of one another to really see what it is I’m getting at. I don’t know if the paper itself is entirely successful, but I do want to share it here:

pulsing through and between, I am that

I’m not sure what the next steps for these ideas will be. I do know that the next quarter is going to be intense in its creative/research output, and I feel certain that those projects will be related to these ideas.

I am performing my solo “Re-Membering the Mountains” twice more in the months to come: In February, I have submitted this piece to the Annual Battleground States Conference at Bowling Green University. The conference is entitled “Collapsing Cultures and Darkened Dreamscapes: Societies and Imaginations in a State of Disorder,” February 25-26, 2011. I am presenting the piece as part of a panel address the Purple Wedding to the Mountains and performative ecosexuality. I was invited to present on this panel by two colleagues who also performed as part of the Purple Wedding, Erin Paun and Jp Staszel:

Erin and Jp at the Purple Wedding to the Mountains

I  will also be performing that solo as part of OSU’s Winter Concert (details forthcoming).

Another performance project with which I am involved is a solo entitled “Marriage,” originally choreographed and performed by Mair Culbreth in 2005. Mair Culbreth and Nicole Bauguss are having a month-long exhibit at the Urban Arts Space entitled “domestic matters: a performing installation.”

domestic matters: a performing installation

More details for this project will come later (I hope to write a bit about the process from the inside of the choreographic/rehearsal practice). The dates for the show are March 1-31, with performances throughout. Already I find the process fascinating: Mair and I spent time discussing the original context and content of the solo, then together devised a score for the piece based on the original. From this score, I choreographed movement to function within it. We will begin to rehearse/revise/edit/etc. in the new year. I’ll keep you posted.

I am also rehearsing my own reconstruction during the winter quarter, a piece entitled “Sketches of Shame” that I choreographed in 2007 with myself and Clara Underwood. The new version will retain the intention and some vocabulary from the original, reworked and recontextualized in my current situation  and research. You can see the original vocabulary from which I’ll be working here:

I will be working with Daniel Holt, reconstructing this original material, and developing additional material exploring the corporeal situation of shame within a context of sexuality and sexual expression. Again, more details will be forthcoming, but that will hopefully offer a sense of the spectrum of what I’ll be working on.

I have also submitted a paper I wrote last year entitled “The Phenomenal Conflation of Dance/Dancer/Author/Reader/Text/Trio A/and Me” to the 27th Biennial International Council of Kinetography Laban/Labanotation Conference being held at the Institute for Musicology, Budapest, Hungary August 1-6, 2011. I will hopefully find out in January or February if the proposal is accepted.

That is a sampling of work that is both recently completed and forthcoming. I think I might make a separate post sharing some other ideas/inspirations that I am considering right now.

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Blue Wedding: Venice

I apologize for my recent absence from my blog. For those of you who do not know, my computer crashed two weeks ago. It was under warranty and so the repairs will be covered, but going through the proper channels always takes time. For now I am borrowing friends’ computers wherever I can. Today I finally feel as if I have time to update my blog.

Last weekend was the Love Art Laboratory (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens) Blue Wedding in Venice. I so desperately wanted to be in attendence, but financially that was impossible at this time. Today I finally came across images from the wedding, and I wanted to share those images with you. They are my joy today, and I hope they are joy for you as well.

I feel as if there is so much I can say about my perception of this work, and my evolving perspectives on the work of Love Art Lab. As I have written before, I think that their work represents something about inegrated living/loving/making, a conflation of creative practice, politics, ecology, sexology, sex and personal partnership, individual and communal identity, ritual and performance, and so many other elements of what it means to be human. As I experience this wedding vicariously, all of these things come to mind. But more than ever before, either because of the specific perspective of this documentation or because of my own artistic/scholarly concerns at present, I am aware of the politics of body morphologyand performanceand the unique subculture of body identities that I see represented in the documentation.

The images include a series of photos of Natalie Loveless doing a performance piece as part of the celebration that involves microfilament, dye, etc. I find it stunning, and so I have dedicated quite a few photos to it. This specific piece is might be central to the subculture of body morphology that I read through these images. The piece literally uses the body as the site for transformation, literally reshapes and recolors the body of the artist. I find that fascinating.

I think there is also an interesting question of costume . . . and suddenly I feel as if I am touching a new idea (for me). I have a perspective surrounding the body, that of the tension between the “social body” (the body as we present it and as it is perceived interpersonally in society) and the “actual body” (the unique morphology of the individual body). This is only one potential taxonomy for ways of looking at the body, and I think identity is situated somewhere in the midst of these. I am wondering as I look at these images where the concept of “costume” or even “role playing” might enter into this taxonomy. I am thinking of costume or role playing as a chosen social body that deviates from our regular social body, wearing clothes that are different than our regular clothes, make-up or paint that we do not usually don. How might costume enter the discussion of the politics of bodily identity? And what  significance/implications (for the individual and the community) might there be in the space created by the Love Art Lab wedding celebrations for diverse body expressions, including costumes and role-playing?

These are scattered speculations that are sparked by these images.

I want to post a bit from the “Artists’ Statement” for this event:

“For our seventh wedding, and in our Blue Year, we will marry the Sea. We are passionately in love with her and desire to take care of her in order to help save her. We are eco-sexuals, meaning that we find nature incredibly romantic, extraordinarily sensual, and an exquisite lover. Additionally, we are “sexecologists,” who combine sexology and ecology, and we intend to make the environmental movement a little sexier.

 

Why marry the sea in Venice? During the Renaissance, the Doge (chief magistrate) de-

creed that, “Venice must marry the sea as a man marries a women and thus become her Lord.” So each year the Doge would go out on a boat and drop a ring into the water. But can people really Lord over the Sea? What is perfectly clear is that people do have the power to destroy her, and are rapidly doing so. We will follow the tradition of marrying the Sea in Venice — as two women who have moved beyond the dominant-male and submissive-female dynamic, as seductive eco-sexual artists, and as global citizens who care deeply about the welfare of our planet.”

All images are by Mark Snyder via facebook.

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Prop. 8 Upheld

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/us/27marriage.html?_r=1&hp

Today the California Supreme Court ruled to uphold Proposition 8 in the state of California. From the New York Times (link above):

“Chief Justice Ronald M. George for a 6-to-1 majority, said that same-sex couples still have the right to civil unions, which gives them the ability to “choose one’s life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized, and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.” But the justices said that the voters had clearly expressed their will to limit the formality of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

“Justice George wrote that Proposition 8 did not “entirely repeal or abrogate” the right to such a protected relationship, but argued that it “carves out a narrow and limited exception to these state constitutional rights, reserving the official designation of the term ‘marriage’ for the union of opposite-sex couples as a matter of state constitutional law.””

This makes me crazy. It offends me that this is the perspective of the law being upheld in the country in which I live. While it is true that the state of California does allow same-sex civil unions that offer equal legal protection under the law (along with four other states and the District of Columbia; see HRC’s website for the full info on same-sex marriage rights in the United States), civil unions are issued by and recognized BY THE STATE, whereas the legal status of “marriage”, while issued by the state, is recognized by the Federal Government, a recognition that is accompanied by more than 1,100 federal rights, benefits, and privileges. What I cannot wrap my head around is how a state supreme court can offer “equal state rights by another name” as the illusion of true equality. Nor can I understand to any degree how a federal government that currently supports this inequality is doing nothing in this or similar situations.

Then I recall that there are powerful voices in our nation advocating against equality. I hate that I came across this commentary on Anderson Cooper 360 today. I hate that things like this are being said.

Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council. Here is the Family Research Council’s official press release on today supreme court ruling in California:

 “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 26, 2009

CONTACT: J.P. Duffy or Maria Donovan, (866) FRC-NEWS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Family Research Council President Tony Perkins today praised the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold democracy and reject efforts to strip the right of the people to amend the state’s Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. 

“Over one million Californians signed petitions to place Proposition 8 on the ballot and over seven million voters approved the measure on Election Day. California’s Constitution gives its citizens the right of self-governance and we are pleased that the court resisted demands to strip the right of the people to amend the state constitution. Even this widely-recognized liberal court understands that overturning Proposition 8 would represent a repudiation of the state Constitution it is sworn to uphold. 

“Unfortunately, the Court chose to ignore the plain meaning of Proposition 8 and will force state recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ licenses issued last year. The Court’s recognition of these ‘marriages’ clearly seeds the ground for a possible legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“At every opportunity, the people of California have voted to protect marriage because they recognize the far reaching consequences that redefining marriage will have for children, the family, religious liberties, businesses and every facet of American society. Today’s decision should encourage pro-family activists not only in California but across the country. Marriage redefinition is not inevitable unless advocates of the family stand aside and allow it to happen.”

– 30 –

 

I am offended to read praise for empowering a population to impose inequality in a nation that was supposedly founded on equal rights for all citizens. I am offended that this issue is touted as an issue of faith, family values, or semantics rather than one of civil rights. I am offended that heterosexual marriage is elevated as somehow sacred simply on the basis of it being between a man and a woman, no matter its content, no matter its foundation or integrity. I am offended that the re-definition of the legal status of marriage to recognize same-sex marriages is discussed as anti-family and the end of civilization as we know it, as if marriage has not been understood and re-defined culturally throughout history. The Family Research Council made similar statements in April after Iowa moved to recognize same-sex marriage under the law. 

 

 

The court decision is discussed with language such as “forcing same-sex marriage on an unwilling populous,” as if the decision to recognize equal rights for same-sex couples means that the population of Iowa at large will be subjected to non-consensual homosexual unions. It offends me that same-sex marriage is discussed as the gateway to polygamy and marriages between adults and minors, as if the one logically leads to the next. It offends me that the contemporary American definition of marriage is touted as the icon of “5000 years of human behavior,” as if past centuries in cultures around the globe have not recognized all sorts of variations not only on the formal composition of a marriage, but also the meaning which the culture gave to it. 

Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to the FRC responding line by line to their official statement on homosexuality. At the time I did not feel it necessary to make my statement/response public, but today as events such as the California Supreme Court decision continue to unfold, and as organizations such as FRC continue to proliferate statements of their views into arenas of public discourse, I felt the need to make my statements more public as well. It can be viewed here.

At the same time, I am encouraged that their are public advocates for equality to continue to be just as vocal as the FRC. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released the following statement today:

5/26/2009

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, responded to the California Supreme Court’s split 6-1 decision today ruling that Proposition 8, the narrowly approved measure which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, is valid.  As a result of the court’s decision in Strauss v. Horton, California becomes the first state in the nation to strip away marriage rights for same-sex couples.  As same-sex couples and allies from across the country react to the news, HRC is releasing an online, YouTube video set to the song “I Won’t Back Down”: www.HRC.org/California
 
“Today’s ruling is a huge blow to Americans everywhere who care about equality.  The court has allowed a bare majority of voters to write same-sex couples out of basic constitutional protections,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  “This ruling is painful, but it represents a temporary setback.  There will be a groundswell to restore marriage equality in our nation’s largest state, and HRC will not give up until marriage equality is restored in California.” 

One significant effort already underway is a strategic partnership between HRC and California Faith for Equality (CFE), a statewide group established to educate, support and mobilize faith communities on LGBT equality.  The partnership joins CFE and its 6,000 supporting faith leaders with both HRC’s Religion and Faith Program expertise as well as HRC’s National Field Department to broaden, diversify and deepen religious support for marriage equality in California.

“This ruling couldn’t be more out of step with what’s happening across the country,” said Solmonese, pointing to recent marriage victories in Iowa, Vermont and Maine. “We have no choice but to return this basic question of fairness for the estimated 1 million LGBT Californians back to the voters.”
  
“While we are relieved that the 18,000 couples who married before the Prop 8 vote will still have valid marriages, it does not in any way remove the sting of this ruling,” added Solmonese.
 
Over the past decade, public acceptance of marriage equality for same-sex couples has changed dramatically.  For the first time, more Americans say they support marriage for same-sex couples (49%) than oppose it (46%), according to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll released in late April.”

 

Below is the video referenced in the body of HRC’s statement. If nothing else, it inspires me to hope.

 

I am sure there are some who might read this and wonder what relevance it has to me creative activity or work as a dance artist/scholar. The shortest answer is that it is all connected. As I make work, as I consider the body and its social relevance, I am brought face to face with the society in which I am creating, in which I am living. As I consider the subjects of my research, I consider the research and analysis and writing that has not been done, that has not been explored by dance scholars. This was the fuel for my recent presentation on the negotiation of gender in the work of Bronislava Nijinska. I am currently exploring the potential for analyzing the work of Frederick Ashton through a queer lens. Ashton was a homosexual choreographer, and yet his work has rarely been considered for its potential as a contributor to queer culture or a queer contribution to dance culture. It all relates, it all synthesizes, and part of the purpose of this blog is for these ideas and interests from seemingly disparate parts of living and making to co-exist in this space, to find relationships and offer new points of interest in the process. If this particular post seems too political or too removed from art/dance/creative activity, I encourage you to reconsider it as a component of the making, of the thinking that leads to the making, of the living which fuels and influences and shapes the making. I encourage you to follow a trail of “tags” and see how ideas start to relate, maybe in ways that they didn’t before.



Les Noces
4 December, 2008, 5:05 pm
Filed under: research | Tags: , , , , ,

I am presently concluding research and authoring a paper on the effects of Vaslav Nijinsky and Bronislava Nijinska on the presentation and perception of gender in early 20th ballet. In the work that the two produced (Nijinsky’s first three of four ballets, L’Après-midi d’un Faune, Jeux, and Le Sacre du Printemps; two of Nijinska’s ballets, Les Noces and Les Biches), the roles of gender in society and in the ballet were radically challenged, disregarded, or overthrown. 

I will resist the urge to compose an abstract of the paper here and now, but I did want to give a sense of another aspect of my current research. I thought I would offer you links to video footage of Bronislava Nijinska’s first significant ballet. It was produced in 1923, presented first in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. Nancy Van Norman Baer says of the ballet: it was “a primitive ritual where both the bride and the groom are trapped by fate and repressive social custom.”

Nijinska herself wrote of her ballet: “I saw a dramatic quality in such wedding ceremonies of those times in the fate of the bride and groom, since the choice is made by parents to whom they owe complete obedience–there is no question of mutuality of feelings. The young girl knows nothing at all about her future family nor what lies in store for her. Not only will she be subject to her husband, but also to his parents. It is possible that after being loved and cherished by her own kind, she may be nothing more, in her new, rough family, than a useful extra worker, just another pair of hands. the soul of the innocent is in disarray–she is bidding goodbye to her carefree youth and to her loving mother . . .”

So here are videos of Nijnska’s Les Noces. It is one of the most powerful historical ballets I have seen in quite some time. It is in three parts on youtube, but well worth the watch. Remember that this were performed in 1923, and is a commentary on the role of marriage in Russian peasant traditions. Enjoy:

part one:

part two:

part three: