michael j. morris

Monster Partitur and Memory

I have had an overwhelming day, following an already overwhelming week. Today we began work at the Wexner on the sculptures and drawings that will serve as the score for William Forsythe’s “Monster Partitur” that will be presented at the Wexner in April. I don’t know everyone else’s experience with this process, but it has brought me into a deeply contemplative, introspective, internal place. And yet I also feel like my thoughts are drowning in one another, in need of some sort of organization. That is what I will attempt to do here.

I think my foremost awareness after today is how much choice and arbitration is a part of art making, living, recording, memory, etc. This process of constructing sculptures from cardboard “human skeleton” kits was an elaborate exercise in choice making. These choices were a negotiation of personal aesthetics, group collaboration, restrictions that had been put on the choice making (such as each piece needs to become three-dimensional, but can only be folded along the originally implied ‘fold lines’), informed by gravity and the shadows cast by the sculptures, with the foreknowledge that the primary purpose of these constructions is to serve as shadow casters, shadows that will then be traced and serve as the “score” for the dance. In each moment we were asked to make a decision: how to fold the cardboard units, how to assemble them, how to suspend them in order to cast light through them, how to orient them in the light, which shadows to privilege in the drawing, etc. I became keenly aware of the infinite field of potentialities within every moment, and I felt a bit overwhelmed by that awareness, and by my mantra, that to do any thing is to do so to the exclusion of all else in that moment. That can be sometimes too heavy, and starts raising questions concerning the importance (or lack there of) of every moment. More on that later perhaps . . .

My second large existential issue in today’s experience concerns . . . what remains of something that is impermanent. What is left behind, and in what form. Such as these shadows that are in themselves impermanent traces of these sculptural forms, traces that vanish as soon as the light changes. I began to think of what remains of the impermanent, primarily in the form of memory or representation. I am very aware that the medium in which I operate (dance) is extremely transitory in both time and space. It exists only briefly and then is gone. Part of the research that Forsythe is doing with OSU on the “Synchronous Objects” project is how those impermanent experiences leave traces that are then translated into other remaining forms. I’ve done some work cataloguing images of “movement traces” of my own work, in an attempt to see what occurs over time, what is energetically ‘left behind.’ There is a sense in which I have made my peace with this transitory nature of dance, with the consolation that it continues in a new form, the form of memory, within the bodies of the dancers, and within the cognitive memory of both the dancers and the viewers. Today this came into question . . . as I drew the shadows of these sculptures, the question of accuracy came to mind. I was companioned by the awareness that the marks I was making were the only record of that moment, that shadow, that impermanent situation and its orientation, and with that awareness came an incredible concern that what I leave behind was as accurate as possible. I recognize that the subject of accuracy itself is complex. What is the most accurate, the most correct? All knowledge of a thing is filtered through subjective experience, and so my drawings, reacting to these shadows, are obviously “accurate” to my experience within each moment. But what of the thing itself, the inaccessible objective sculpture, the shadow it casts? It seems a bit insignificant, the accuracy of a shadow, but the pressure is a familiar one. It occurs in the performance of choreography, attempting to honor the original intentions of the choreographer as accurately as possible. It occurs in the record of history, attempting to leave behind precisely that which occurred, as objectively as possible. It occurred today with the memory of the dead.

Here is where today’s experience became incredibly personal and emotional. I was very aware of the fact that this piece, “Monster Partitur,” exists in response to the death of Forsythe’s wife to cancer, and his grief surrounding the experience of losing her. I made a choice to hold that awareness in mind as I made these sculptures and tracings, recognizing and referencing the origin of what it was I was doing, and allowing it to become personal. I began to think of my grandmother, Marion Dorice Rogers. She died of cancer in January 2006. My brother and I spoke just yesterday about the length of time in which we grieve/mourn. It is long, and various in its approaches and expressions. Today became a part of my grieving, allowing these drawings to not only be tracing shadows, but an act of grief, allowing that grief to inform the way in which I was drawing, and offering that experience to this larger work. I began to think further about memory and accuracy and that which is left behind, that which we record. And I began to become anxious, that my memory is too imperfect, that already, only three years later, things are missing. The lines are less clear than they were in life. The traces of the impermanent are so much less accurate than the life that was lived.
There are other traces, the unconscious traces that live on in me, the way I do things or think of things that are a direct result of the life of my grandmother. But it is the conscious trace that troubles me, the one for which I feel responsibility and inadequacy and loss.  

This sense of responsibility segued into a speculation concerning the way in which we know a person or a thing. I watched as we cast light on the sculpture from one direction and traced its shadow, made a record of it, then cast a different light from a different direction, leaving behind an entirely different shadow. The traces we left are a negotiation of these two shadows, and neither are the thing itself. This makes me think of the removal of experience, the relationship of the subjective to the objective (hint: this is the subject of my piece “About” which some of you may have seen this week). It also made me aware of the arbitrary nature of memory and record, how in remembering, we are selecting what to remember (consciously or unconsciously), and there is the inevitable omission. Just as in knowing a person, we only ever know them in parts, in certain ways, in specific situations; who we think of when we think of that person is a construction/negotiation of these (sometimes conflicting, sometimes intersecting) perspectives. For a little more existential anxiety, this is not only the way in which we know, but it is also the way in which we are known.

Finally (and this hardly concludes all that I have dwelt upon today, just the major themes), I began to question the density of experience. It should come as no shock to those who know me or my work that I appreciate, almost more than anything, taking time with a thing. Thus slow movement. Thus long rehearsal processes and conversations. It is an effort to fully understand (which is an impossible ideal that I find to be worth reaching towards) or fully appreciate (which we so rarely do). I spend time with a thing, with a dance, with a person, with myself, in order to recognize and appreciate the nuance, the complexity, the uniqueness, and here discover true beauty. This was extremely important at the beginning of the day today. But I confess, as the day wore on, the uniqueness of each line, of each shadow, of each moment, became less important, less rare in a field of the similar. And yet it was still full of its own uniqueness and nuance . . . but in the dense experience of these moments, these lines, these shadows, the distinction became less clear, lost in the speed at which we were moving and the amount of experiences. I have to say I regret that. I regret even more that life can become that way as well.


That’s all the decompression for which I have time. Last performance of “This Season” tonight at Sullivant Hall Theatre at 8pm. I hope you can make it.


I just wanted to offer a few images from our process to hopefully illuminate what I am sure seems a little esoteric. These photos are courtesy of Lindsay: