michael j. morris


partial alignments and degrees of difference

Several different areas or dimensions of life have recently pushed me to articulate what I consider to be one of the most fundamental tenets of my ethics: I want to live in a world of difference. I do not want to live in a world in which everyone is the same as me, in which we all aspire to agree fully, in which we presume that everyone’s needs and values totally align; I want to live in a world of partial alignments, a world full of not only different perspectives but different ways of life and modes of living that create the conditions for different perspectives. I want to live in a world in which we struggle to find commonalities, and in which we strive to coexist when no single commonality can be reached.

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This week there were a number of important presidential primaries, including Ohio. In the weeks and months leading up to these primaries, I have found myself in heightened states of disagreement with people in my community, on Facebook, and in conversations which sometimes unexpectedly turn political. I have continued to consider and reconsider my position—which I won’t lay out fully here, but which continues to find the existing political system dysfunctional, a position from which I struggle to trust or believe in any political candidate, from which I have admired the idealism and passion of Bernie Sanders, and from which I have consistently found myself more aligned with the practicality of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. This writing is actually not about expounding on or defending that position. Rather, as I continue to navigate this campaign, I find myself faced again and again with extreme, superficial representations of candidates who I do not know personally, but who are undoubtedly much more complex—and in some ways similar—than what is presented to me by the media, friends, and loved ones. bell hooks very usefully reminded us yesterday: “As a firm believer in the importance of free speech, I consider it vital to feminist democratic process that all women be free to choose who they want to support—whether I agree with them or not. As a challenge to dominant thinking and practice, it is crucial to not construct images of individuals that are one dimensional and binary. No one is all good or all bad. Importantly, our focus should be on critical issues, standpoints and political perspective, not on personalities.” hooks addresses several points that I consider to be vital: first, that we simply must be able to affirm one another’s choices and perspectives, even when we do not agree, and that we must not continue to construct one-dimensional and binary depictions of political personalities. Again and again, we are presented with totalizing binaries—Clinton or Sanders, democrat or republican, us or them—binaries that depend on reductive, one-dimensional representations, binaries to which we subscribe and which we then proceed to reproduce and circulate. Not only does such thinking do a disservice to the world in which we live—the complexity of which rarely if ever simply complies fully with such reductive, binary logics—it distracts from the actually more difficult but important work of critical analysis and dialogue between perspectives and positions that are different in many ways, but also in some ways partially and contingently align. As Kate Bornstein taught me in Gender Outlaw: “The choice between two of something is not a choice at all, but rather the opportunity to subscribe to the value system which holds the two presented choices as mutually exclusive alternatives.” And as Brené Brown asks provocatively in Rising Strong: “…when faced with either-or dilemmas, the first question we should ask is, Who benefits by forcing people to choose?” Both Bornstein and Brown remind me that binary thinking is a tactic of power, of regulation, and both suggest that there must be other ways of examining situations that are forced into such binaries.

Form Flow Alignments

Still from annotated video illustrating allignments, the way in which Forsythe designs relationships in space and time Credit: Synchronous Objects Project, The Ohio State University and The Forsythe Company

One approach that has been life-changing for me is to look for partial alignments within degrees of difference. This is an approach that emerged from a choreographic research project called Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced, which investigates systems of organization in choreographer William Forysthe’s dance One Flat Thing, reproduced. [You can read all about the project on the website for Synchronous Objects.] In this project, the research team—directed by William Forsythe, Norah Zuniga Shaw, and Maria Palazzi—studied the ways in which this dance “examines and reconfigures classical choreographic principles of counterpoint,” which they define as “a field of action in which the intermittent and irregular coincidence of attributes between organizational elements produces an ordered interplay” (see the Introduction essay “The Dance” in the SynchObj site). In other words, counterpoint emerges from an ongoing activities across which emerge moments of shared qualities or similarities, moments that appear briefly, intermittently, and irregularly. They describe these moments as alignments: “Alignments are short instances of synchronization between dancers in which their actions share some, but not necessarily all, attributes.” These shared attributes might refer to multiple actions executed with the same timing, or multiple dancers doing different things but all moving in the same direction, or different dancers that pass through similar shapes with their bodies, even if they are performing different actions, for example. Alignments often emerge in situations in which the “top structure”—or what we notice most prominently—is difference: dancers doing different actions in different ways coming from and going towards different places, etc. Within these heightened states of difference, at the deeper level of organization, partial and fleeting alignments occur, qualities or attributes are shared, briefly, incompletely, and even circumstantially. This dance and the Synchronous Objects researchers prioritize the importance of these moments, these partial alignments, as developing a mode of organization that relies not on unison or uniformity, but actually depends on difference, on the lack of total unison or uniformity.

This occurs in the dance itself, but Zuniga Shaw suggests that it might offer ways of thinking about other parts of our lives as well: “I think this is significant not only as a concrete phenomenon in dance, but also as a larger metaphor that’s applicable to how we look at and analyze ecosystems, to how we maybe notice the play of light on the water, or the interaction of branches in the canopies of the trees above us, and to how we interact with the complex realities of our daily lives. So what if in those situations when there is conflict in your lives, in those situations where we’re encountering maybe just a lot of difference, in our classrooms, in the downtown streets, in our workplaces: what if we approached those situations contrapuntally? And we didn’t try to squeeze these things into marching bands of unity, but instead we get pretty excited about that disagreement and difference, and heighten our attention to the deep structures, the deep sets of relationships, degrees of alignment, quirky little agreements, that are percolating under the surfaces of our lives all the time.” What if when we encounter difference—different values, different perspectives, different actions and activisms—what if even when we encounter conflict, we allow ourselves to become curious? Rather than first attempting to convince one another of our own perspectives, rather than trying to make you more like me, what if we started to ask questions: can you tell me more about what you think? What are the values and priorities that brought you to this perspective? What is it you desire? What is it you need? What are you afraid of? What might we be able to do together?

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Another event in my life that has prompted this line of thinking is Caitlyn Jenner’s reality docu-series, I Am Cait, which is now in its second season. I have a lot of opinions about Jenner’s presentation in the media, the way in which our culture has elevated someone of her racial and economic privilege—white, wealthy—to the status of “icon” so rapidly, the significance of her very public transition given her history as an Olympic athlete and hero for American masculinity, and the particular priorities of her show, none of which I’ll go into here. I think I Am Cait has done some things really effectively; I also think it has handled some people and their stories reprehensibly. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing Angelica Ross—founder of TransTech Social Enterprises and actress on the hit new show Her Storyspeak at Denison University; she discussed the ways in which her appearance in the first season of the show had been cut down considerably, eliminating the successes and activism of her life, and reducing her to a familiar sound-byte regarding the struggles that many trans women face. I am sure that this is not the only instance of the stories of trans women—particularly trans women of color—being edited and simplified to fit the particular agenda of the show and Jenner’s image. That being said, the show is also introducing issues that I find important: one of the big themes that is emerging this season is difference. The premise of the season is a road trip on which Jenner is joined by a group of other trans people—mostly trans women—and several people who are not trans. On the bus and on the road, conflicts have already arisen—no doubt providing the kind of drama that make a reality tv show successful. Arguments have developed around politics—Jenner is an adamant conservative republican, everyone else on the trip seem to be democrats—and around different experiences with language. Jenny Boylan and Kate Bornstein have already had multiple conversations about the controversial term “tranny,” which Boylan and others find offensive and hurtful, and with which Bornstein identifies, as her “name,” her community, her family. The group has had conversations about what it means to be a woman, in which perspectives differ and in some ways partially align. Throughout the television drama of what is unfolding, what I appreciate is that the show is offering a representation of difference, conflict, and partial alignments. While it continues to show a somewhat narrow and extremely limited segment of trans communities, it is showing that not all trans people are the same, nor should they be. I appreciate that the show is not only giving visibility to [a few] trans people, but that within this community, there are a wide range of identities, perspectives, values, and feelings. We are not all the same, and if we were, that would be cause for concern. As Jenny Boylan tweeted yesterday, “‘Unity’ for the Trans movement, I think, means accepting broad range of identities. Not making us all agree on one.” And why not? As a culture, we have long been comfortable with a range of perspectives, values, positions, identities, and personalities with our cisgender celebrities; besides embracing a range of identities in trans communities, I would hope that we could also accept that kind of range for trans celebrities as well, even when we don’t agree with their perspectives and choices.

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Candis Cayne, Hillary Clinton, Caitlyn Jenner, [I think second from the right is Mimi Marks], and Zackary Drucker

Zackary Drucker, who also appears on the show, wrote earlier this week, “Friends can disagree. And in this historic primary season—fraught with anger, fear, and resentment—friends WILL disagree, LOUDLY … So let’s all take a deep breath. Let’s not feed into the fierce rhetoric that is destructive to the greater cause. Let’s have these conversations with respect. Let’s appreciate what we’ve achieved and retain the righteous willpower to achieve more.” Boylan and Drucker, in their writing and on the show, continue to hold space for conversation, for listening, for finding connections across disagreements. They have openly criticized Jenner for her unwillingness to listen and discuss other perspectives—an unwillingness that seems to be shifting as the season progresses—and they continue to engage one another at the places they align across their pronounced differences. Particularly moving for me was the way that the show handled the conflict between Boylan and Bornstein in the second episode of season two: at a dinner with the whole group, Bornstein describes how she and Boylan share values for the livability of trans people (which she jokingly describes as “trans supremacy”), but that their personal strategies and ideologies conflict. After having a long talk, the two came to the point where they could say: “Some of your stuff is hard to hear, and I know some of what I say is hard to hear, and I’m trying to throttle it back in your presence. But I know you listen to me, and I promise I’ll listen to you.” Boylan describes their friendship as disagreeing on so much but loving each other so much, and in that, I hear counterpoint; I hear partial alignments—here, love—within heightened states of difference, and the presentation of that as a mode of relationship and coexistence is something for which I am very grateful.

[This post has already gotten quite long, but I also want to acknowledge that I see this kind of relationship modeled expertly and beautifully by bell hooks and Laverne Cox in their public dialogue at The New School, which you can view online. On many points, Cox and hooks disagree, and then keep talking. They stay in the conversation. They maintain and investigate the places they align and agree, however small or temporary, within the context of other ways in which they disagree irresolvably.]

I want to be very clear: I am not advocating for difference and an appreciation of partial alignments merely out of some kind of liberal/PC fetishization of “diversity.” I am committed to these perspectives because of the very material reality that none of us live in a world of our own on our own; we live in a world with others, and we are making a world together in which we will all continue to live. That world cannot be formed from a single perspective, from any single set of values that manages to overwhelm, overturn, or eradicate all others. The world that we share must constantly be grown out of not only our differences in perspective, but also our different values, our different priorities, our different needs. It has to emerge not only from the irresolvable differences and partial alignments between people who consider themselves democrats and people who consider themselves republicans, but also between people who have different racial histories, who have different gender identities, who have different modes of ability, who have lived for different periods of time; and also between different species with whom we share this planet, different modes of life at a multitude of scales, living creatures who are so different from me that sometimes it seems the only way that they might survive is if we do not. I believe the question we must ask again and again is: how might we live together without eliminating our differences? Where and how do we align partially while maintaining our vast differences? The alternative is totalitarianism. The alternative is fascism. The alternative is the cisnormative heteronormative imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy—to borrow a term from bell hooks.

I want to live in a world in which we can hold different—even contradictory—perspectives without abandoning the pursuit of collective world making and coexistence, without resorting to violence. To be clear, I consider an insistence on sameness, an insistence on unity that eliminates difference, to be the ideological starting point for countless forms of violence; any desires for conformity, for sameness, for unity that does not allow for difference should be extremely suspect. As we continue in the year of this presidential election, I hope that we might shift the conversation towards curiosity, towards listening, towards examining partial alignments rather than trying to convince the other to fall in line with one’s own views. To be sure, I have no illusions that the current political system that we practice in the United States is not broken; however, within the broken system, I want to believe that intelligent, critically thinking people can and will come to different conclusions as to what might be the most effective direction for our nation. When the people I love unabashedly support a candidate that is not the person I have chosen to support, I want to believe that we can survive those differences of perspective. I want to believe that we can not only peacefully accept that our loved ones, colleagues, and community can intelligently reach different perspectives/conclusions, but also recognize those differences as opportunities to get really curious about one another, learn about these other people with whom we are sharing and making our world, and hope to understand something about the values, feelings, priorities and thought processes that shape their perspectives and desires. Within trans communities, within larger communities in which trans people live, I want to believe that we can hold space for our differences, and in doing so, also attend to the small, partial, potentially temporary ways in which we align, in which we can experience something shared, with which we can pursue a world that emerges from no single view or ideology, but from the rambling complexities and contradictions between the countless modes of living together on this planet.

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John Jasperse’s Canyon: at the precipice of chaos

Photo by Tony Orrico

My experience of John Jasperse‘s Canyon, performed at the Wexner Center for the Arts on 28 April 2012, is a play of territories at the precipice of chaos, a shifting superimposition of structures and organizations—of bodies, of time, of space—that enact opportunities for disruption, deterritorialization, and disorganization, and a gesturing towards a fullness of that provides the very grounds from which organizations like “bodies,” “time,” and “space” emerge. My vocabulary here is particular, and it is worth clarifying at the front end. In watching Canyon, I am immediately struck by the multiple dimensions that are at play within the work, not simply “space,” “time,” “bodies,” etc.—fundamental elements of dance/choreography—but the particular structures through which these elements take on definition. I think of these structures as territories, following Deleuze and Guattari. Elizabeth Grosz, discussing Deleuze, writes, “… the constitution of territory is the fabrication of the space in which sensations may emerge, from which a rhythm, a tone, coloring, weight, texture may be extracted and moved elsewhere, may function for its own sake, may resonate for the sake of intensity alone. And, equally, insofar as its primordial impulse is the creation of territory in both the natural and human worlds, art is also capable of that destruction and deformation that destroys territories and enables them to revert to the chaos from which they were temporarily wrenched. Framing and deframing become art’s modes of territorialization and deterritorialization through sensation; framing becomes the means by which the plane of composition composes, deframing its modes of upheaval and transformation” (Grosz 12-13). Sitting in the audience in the Wexner Performance Space, I am met with a collection of such framings, mappings, and organizations: a white Marley floor set askew (not parallel to the walls); a line of bright orange flags—themselves reminiscent of staking claim to land as a new “territory”—dividing the floor into two halves; structuring of the space accomplished through lighting (lighting design by James Clotfelter), inscribing blurry delineations of brightness and shadow; and perhaps most overtly of all, sprawling linear compositions in fluorescent tape traversing the walls and floor (visual design by Tony Orrico). Each of these materials suggests a mode in which the space has been organized or territorialized, a system through which structures have framed (and in doing so, produced) “space.” These various territories do not describe the same space; rather, they function as divergent structures superimposed on one another offering multiple accounts of space, each organization a route for disorganization when considered through a different logic. The lights do not territorialize spaces that reside within the bounds of the lines of tape; the lines of tape do not align with the rectangular Marley floor nor the rectangular architecture of the space; the line of flags cuts through these various other territories; and so on. In this sense, the superimposition of territories effects a series of deterritorializations, each structure producing a rupture in the others, each exceeding the logic of the others. This dense layering of territories/organizations/structures produces the opportunities for their own undoing. Grosz goes on to write, “… art is not only the movement of territorialization … it is also the converse movement, that of deterritorialization, of cutting through territories, breaking up systems of enclosure and performance, traversing territory in order to retouch chaos, enabling something mad, asystematic, something of the chaotic outside to reassert and restore itself in and through the body, through works and events that impact the body” (Grosz 18). At these sites of rupture, where these various territories cut through one another, I am brought close to something, what Grosz calls “chaos”: it is that full potential that provides the very conditions for extracting experiences and concepts such as “space.” It is at the collision between these territories where I glimpse their undoing, where I brush up against chaos and “the beyond.”

And the performance has not even started yet.

As the sound score begins, dancers come running through the audience into the space. The dancing feels familiar. It is exquisitely precise; it springs lightly and circles and swings, almost entirely vertical, and always with a particularity that feels both powerful and measured. At first I think that the familiarity of these vocabularies feels generic, then something happens: I notice the spatial pathways of these dancers, juxtaposed over and against the lines drawn on the floor and walls. They move with precision, yet it is precisely not the paths traced out along these lines. Between the “territory” of these highly organized bodies—organized both in the clarity of the choreography, but also in the evident regulation of their training—and the tape, the lights, the demarcation of the Marley floor space, the architecture, I falter. These frameworks or systems of organization (or, again, territories) each provide a way to see and structure the space, and they do not align. They do not operate through the same logic, and thus they continually cleave through one another. Bodies fall into temporary lines with one another, but they are lines that intersect and extend through other lines (light, tape, Marley, cement, flags) in the space.  In this sense, what seems familiar or even generic takes on new, unexpected properties. The movement—however familiar it might feel—enacts an unfamiliar operation in the disruption/deterritorialization of other versions of the space, and in doing so, makes the movement itself no longer what it might have seemed to be.

Space is not the only element that is produced through these various forms of organization: these bodies, as bodies do, are moving in/through time. Their movements repeat, and the rhythms of their repetitions segment time, as does the music, and the time produced through the movement of bodies and the repetition of those movements is not always the same as the time that is produced through the complex rhythmic structures of the sound score (composed by Hahn Rowe). These temporal territories deterritorialize one another (or, at the very least, suggest routes—”lines of flight”—along which deterritorialization might be accomplished), and in doing so, I brush up once again with that from which time becomes.

Somewhere between time and space, I encounter the alignments of bodies: dancers coming into synch with one another, sometimes in brief or extended unison, sometime in shared timing of different gestures, sometimes in shared or similar vocabulary that is not in synch with one another. [William Forsythe and Norah Zuniga Shaw define “alignments” usefully in their introduction to the Synchronous Objects project: “Alignments are short instances of synchronization between dancers in which their actions share some, but not necessarily all, attributes. Manifested as analogous shapes, related timings, or corresponding directional flows, alignments occur in every moment of the dance and are constantly shifting throughout the group.”] In these moments of alignment between bodies, fleeting territories emerge, briefly establishing logics capable of holding these dancing bodies together, traversing other configurations of time and space, while also interrupting the clear/stable individuation of bodies on stage.

At a pivotal moment in the piece, the performers distribute themselves across the stage, pulling up the fluorescent orange tape that has traversed the white Marley throughout the performance. This is the first time that these bodies have moved along these lines, taking on the organization of these marks, but they do so only within the very moment that they become unmarked. This is breathtaking, the mundane task of pulling up tape demonstrating something of becoming unmarked/disorganized/smooth in the very moment of reiterating/retracing the given marks. I think of Judith Butler’s suggestion that the opportunity for the subversion of performative regimes is in the repetition of those very performatives. The repetition is the site of agency, the point at which the doing can become undone. The strips of tape peel and snap off the floor, into the air, and are rolled into great balls. So much happens in these moments: following these lines, the lines become undone; the two-dimensional moves suddenly through the air, three-dimensionally, and coheres as haphazard clumps. The linear formations are made to break with their own logic, rapidly transitioning into new states, themselves becoming the tools for their own deterritorialization. Something similar happens with the standing flags throughout the piece: at various points, dancers reconfigure these flags, and in doing so, simultaneously produce new [organizations of] spaces while undoing the spaces that had been described by the flags only moments earlier.

These are the mechanisms of the piece, these various structures intersecting and undoing one another and themselves. But throughout it all, there is the suggestion of something more, something beyond, what Grosz calls “chaos”: “Chaos is not the absence of order but rather the fullness or plethora that, depending on its uneven speed, force, and intensity, is the condition both for any model or activity and for the undoing and transformation of such models or activities. This concept of chaos is also known or invoked through the concepts of: the outside, the real, the virtual, the world, materiality, nature, totality, the cosmos, each of which is a narrowing and specification of chaos from a particular point of view. Chaos cannot be identified with any one of these terms, but is the very condition under which such terms are capable of being confused, the point of their overlap and intensification” (Grosz 26-27). In Canyon, this chaos is most articulate to me in that which is beyond, that which is out of bounds, out of reach, out of sight, off balance, just beyond what is accounted for within the available logics of time and space and bodies, just beyond what is demarcated by the choreography, the lights, the floor, the visual designs, etc. The beyond/chaos operates constantly at the edges of the territories, and I catch glimpses of it in their mutual disruption, but it is perhaps physicalized most overtly in the ridge on the floor at the edge of the performance space: the Marley floor takes on a kind of topographical elevation, inclining upward into a short roll near the far “upstage” edge (see photos). Throughout the performance, dancers and objects move over this ridge to disappear behind it. Quite literally, we were shown where visibility ends and unseeable/unforeseeable possibilities exceed both the visible as well as the floor space. Similarly, dancers frequently enter and exit the space through the audience seating, simultaneously extending the “performance space” and—depending on where one was sitting—crossing out of sight. In these moments, I became keenly aware of what was beyond this organization—“the performance”—and the liminal space at the margins of what is included within the time/space of the performance. This was for me the ongoing brush with chaos between and beyond the intense proliferation of organization(s) within the work.

Photo by Tony Orrico

Finally, this sense of “the beyond” is articulated throughout the dancing bodies of the work. Time and again, dancers (Lindsay Clark, Kennis Hawkins, John Jasperse, Burr Johnson, and John Sorenson Jolink) perform at the edges of their balance (there is a lot of stumbling in this piece), at the edges of unison, at the edges of alignment, at the edges of clear geometric spatial formations, at the edges of stability; frequently, they fall or spill or are thrown or slide into this “beyond,” into excess, off balance, no longer fully in control, not quite in unison, no longer in a straight line. I love the moments of the dance in which the dancers seem to to drift and wander, with drifting foci and limp bodies, somewhere between intoxication and a dream stake, a kind of a wandering about wonder that does not clearly define its trajectory, that does not rigidly contain these bodies. The limits of clear organizations/structures/territories—again, of balance, of unison, of alignment, of spatial formations, of stability, etc.—are explicated through these excesses. This is what lingers with me as the night wears on: the sense of what exists just beyond how this moment is structured, the specter of chaos as the rich, full ground from which territories—those various ways in which my body, this space, this time, my sense of self, my geographical situation, etc. etc. etc.—take on precarious constitution. This is not to disparage organization or structure or territory; these are the strategies through which we navigate our experience and our worlds; these are the strategies with which dances—all art, in fact—are made. Rather, there is a quiet hopefulness in the lingering effect of Canyon, an awareness of the conditionality, contingency, and precarity of such structures, a persistent sense of what exceeds these frames, of hovering at the edge of what else (and how else) might be possible, between and beyond.

Cited: Grosz, Elizabeth. Chaos, Territory, Art: deleuze and the framing of the earth. New York: Columbia U P, 2008.



Analytical Excavation of Autumn Quartet
11 April, 2010, 1:36 pm
Filed under: creative process, research | Tags: , , ,

As part of a course I am taking this quarter with Norah Zuniga-Shaw and Bebe Miller, I am working through an analytical excavation of the creative process of Autumn Quartet. There is such a density of material to consider. There is video documentation of the piece itself, the months and months of blogging here throughout the process, and two Labanotation scores that I wrote last quarter documenting the set movement phrases in the piece. A central consideration of this analysis is the identification of an “implied hero,” an ideal or perspective of “utopia” that is “worshipped/pursued” through the process of the piece. As of now I think what comes out most clearly are fundamental assumptions that if the body is the site of identity (I believe it is), and the body/identity is constantly participating in the performative reinscription of social normalities, and if physical practices/disciplines are methods in which this participation takes place, then dance and choreographic practices carry significant possibilities for the interruption/intervention/re-enforcement/reiteration/deconstruction/reconstruction/rethinking/etc. of those socially(bodily) regulated normalities. The investigation of this piece centered around issues of relational power, intimacy, trust, indeterminacy, and operating(moving) within/transgressing imposed regulatory systems (such as the algorithmic score for the piece).

In this post I wanted to share some of the collected materials through which I have been sorting.

First, there are the blog posts (anything tagged under “autumn quartet”). These posts serve as a chronological history of the lineage/evolution of ideas and my perceptions/understanding of the work. There is a sense in which this collection of writing in itself functions as an “analytical investigation.” My work with these writings have been seeking the meta-narratives in which the piece was participating. How does the language with which I discuss the piece (as a microcosm) reflect potential understandings (rooted in the performative bodily practice of the piece) for the macrocosm of societal regulatory structures, relationships, power(political) dynamics, and physical etiquette?

There are the hours and hours of video footage. Which I will not offer here. But what I can offer is a five minute “montage” video in which I identified “key” moments in the last few months of practice. It may or may not be definitive of the whole process, but it does create an interesting exchange between moments/choices/acts that occurred over months of time:

There are the Labanotation scores. These are the source materials that I have taken the least amount of time to analyze, but there is something in how they may reveal structures, implications for bodily deportment, assumptions concerning space/body, etc.:

As part of my analysis/thought process, I constructed a “mind map” for conceptual lineages within the process. I organized these in a Presi site that you can explore. Interesting to me are the networks of meaning, the paths that can be followed from one idea to the next, the relationship between “initial interests” and “emergent interests” and how they create circuits of meaning. The Presi interface is fairly simple. You can zoom in and out using the controls, move around the map by clicking-and-dragging, and move through an example of tracing a conceptual lineage on the map by clicking the forward arrow:

I also wanted to offer the original algorithm for the piece. Typed it is about a page and a half (originally three pages hand written). It is the regulatory structure for the piece, describing the situation in which we made choices and formulated each iteration of the piece.

Autumn Quartet Algorithm

This project will likely continue to evolve throughout the quarter, but these were my initial sources/findings. As they constitute both an evolution of a creative process and a new creative research model, it felt appropriate to share them here.



The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Yesterday evening I was honored to have the opportunity to participate in a vigil for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers at Femina Potens Art Gallery in San Francisco. In addition to being present for the vigil itself, I was honored to be included in a press conference preceding the event on behalf of my blog. I came to San Francisco to experience and write about Love Art Laboratory‘s current exhibit “Sexecology: Making Love With The Earth, Sky + Sea” (currently on display at Femina Potens). Although this vigil was not an official event of the Love Art Lab, I timed my trip in order to be present for this important cause. I am pleased to be able to contribute to the “press” surrounding the event.

I have considered and reconsidered how I might want to document this event, while still pertaining to what I consider to be the mission or creative platform of this blog. What makes the most sense to me is to relay what I found striking, what will stay with me, what I found to be of importance. This relates mostly to ideas, perspectives, and theories surrounding culture, violence, and sex work(ers). Statements or ideas may not always be credited to specific speakers; that was not the way in which I was engaging with the event. I won’t be detailing the rich history of this event or its spread and international implications (more can be read about the history and founding of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers here). Instead, I will offer ideas, quotes, and paraphrases that emanated from the community in attendance, while recognizing that any community is constructed from a complexity of intersubjectivity, a collection of individuals, and that any one of these ideas that have stayed with me originated in a specific individual even as it became expressive within and of the community.

I will briefly offer context. The gallery is a beautiful space, currently filled to the brim with work by Elizabeth M. Stephens and Annie M. Sprinkle (Love Art Lab) addressing sexecology (or ecosexuality). Chairs were set up facing the back corner of the gallery where there had been erected a simple altar for victims of violence against sex workers. Signs with provocative statistics surrounding violence in this industry/community, red prayer candles in memorial to specific victims, red umbrellas that would fulfill a further function later in the evening, and a collection of flowers comprised the altar. In attendance (introduced at the press conference) were Annie Sprinkle and co-hostess of the evening Kimberlee Cline, Madison Young, executive director of Femina Potens, and Carol Queen, noted sexologist, co-founder of the Center for Sex and Culture.

The press conference gave us the opportunity to hear and discuss issues surrounding sex work, violence against sex workers, the implications of violence throughout our cultural infrastructure, the complexities of the community which is identified as “sex workers,” and the relationship between the the movement for sex workers rights and the LGBT rights movement.

from left: Madison Young, Annie Sprinkle, Kimberlee Cline, Robyn Few, and Carol Queen

The vigil itself took the form of an informal ritual. Carol Queen opened the ritual with a stunning invocation honoring the Goddess, Her sexual power, creative potential, and presence. This invocation was followed by the reading of names of sex workers who have been murdered in 2009, read by hostesses Kimberlee Cline and Madison Young. This was a list of women, men, transgendered, and unidentified bodies, of all ages, from around the globe. After reading and honoring those who have been lost, the ritual shifted to an open mic for anyone who wanted to share or express. Some told stories, some offered poems, others shared their personal histories in sex work. Annie Sprinkle closed the ritual with guided breathing experience, breathing in the love and connectivity and support of this community and taking that into ourselves to bring back into the world. Having this vigil opened and closed in such sacred yet open and inclusive “liturgies” added a specific tone to the event, alluding to a kind of community practice that spans bodies and spirit, that contains space for our differences and diversity rather than being formulated on a sacredness that abjects/rejects an other as “profane.” This was to me significant in understanding both the extent of violence in our culture and the(a) form of resistance to this violence. The next phase of the vigil was a “solidarity stroll” from Femina Potens to St. James Infirmary, which provides “compassionate and non-judgemental healthcare and social services for all sex workers while preventing occupational illnesses and injuries through a comprehensive continuum of services.” Those of us participating carried the signs, candles and umbrellas that previously adorned the altar in the gallery. It had a sacred feel as we became the bearers of these implements, a mobile “altar” of human beings. It was also a time for community, people talking with one another, hearing one another’s stories, making connections with people who had previously been strangers. This was the conclusion to the vigil.

on the Solidarity Stroll

Emerging from this structure and community were so many profoundly relevant ideas and perspectives surrounding sex work and the culture in which it operates. To begin, there is the breadth of what sex work includes, and the complexity that such diversity entails. “Sex work,” as discussed throughout the evening, signifies professions including street prostitution, indoor prostitution and escort services, work in the porn industry, strippers, exotic dancing, erotic massage, etc. It includes professions in which sex, whatever its form, is, at least in part, that for which one is being paid. This diversity presents its own difficulties. During the press conference, Madison Young and Carol Queen discussed the tensions and divisions that can exist between these professional subsets held tenuously together under the umbrella of “sex work,” making a unified and cohesive politically activist community even more difficult. Rather than recognizing the similarities and affinities that may unite these professionals as the foundation of a coalitional political identity, emphasis is lost on distinctions. As Queen put it, the strippers can always say, “Well, at least I don’t fuck them.” I describe these infrastructural tensions and divisions because conceptually I think they are expressive of one of the fundamental issues surrounding violence, both against sex workers and within our culture at large.

Similar to the expansive nature of the designation “sex work,” another function of the evening was exposing the expansive and pervasive nature of what constitutes “violence.” This was a profound realization for me, considering that which serves as the foundation for violence as implicit in the violence itself. Addressed were the perhaps obvious forms of violence: murder, rape, assault, abuse, battery, physical and emotional trauma. But also addressed were what might be seen as the more subtle aspects of violence: porn companies that prohibit the use of condoms, the lack of sexual education for those entering the sex work industry, the lack of compassionate medical and psychological care for sex workers, without judgement or assumption, the defamation of character suffered by those in sex work, the laws in this country the prohibit sex work, making reporting violence effectively impossible (this double-bind of the illegality of sex work is perhaps one of the most profound contributing factors to violence against these individuals, discussed further below). One speaker specifically addressed the “violence of shame, the violence of having to hide.” This was striking to me. Shame has been a recurring subject in my creative work for some time. For my purposes, shame is an interpersonal experience in which one’s experience of oneself is compromised or contaminated by one’s perception of the Other’s perception. A culture of shame is familiar territory within the LGBT community (one of many similarities between these two sometimes overlapping communities), but what was a substantial shift for me was the recognition that the society or culture that propagates shame might be considered a culture of violence. The foundation of shame is judgement, or at the very least the perception of judgment. Put simply, that it is not okay to be who you are, either in whole or in part. A culture of shame emerges when the social assumption is that in difference and diversity there are correct and incorrect ways of being. A culture of shame emerges when diversity and difference are not celebrated, when their distinctions are used to separate and divide rather than unite. This makes me think of a presentation that Norah Zuniga Shaw gave concerning “Synchronous Object for One Flat Thing, reproduced” in which she emphasized counterpoint as a system of recognizing diversity and difference as the superficial organizational structure, supported by a deeper unity of purpose and intention. She presented this not only as a potential way for looking at dance, but also for considering society, culture, and community. My thought is that a society which looks for sameness and uniformity, in which diversity is potentially unacceptable, which proliferates shame surrounding difference, is a society in which violence is implicit.

I question that occurs to me is “To what degree do we celebrate difference? How ‘different’ is still acceptable?” I think the answer is perhaps simple: to the degree that the difference itself does not produce violence.

One of the commonalities or deeper unifying organizational structures within the “sex worker” community that was discussed was the “sex-positive” movement. It is perhaps here, from perspectives of sex and sexuality, that this culture of shame and violence emerges. “Sex-positive” is a loosely defined term, but what it hopes to promote is the perspective that sexual expression is good and healthy, an essential aspect of our humanity and being. It is in response to cultures that cloak sexuality in secrecy, shame, restriction, repression and suppression [there is certainly space here for an intertexutal discourse involving Michel Foucault’s rejection/genealogical reformulation of the “repression mythology” surrounding contemporary sexuality, responses to Foucault’s work by authors such as Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (among others), and the vast literary history of “sex-positivity” emerging from the feminist “sex wars” of the 1980s (including such texts as Pleasure and Danger: exploring female sexuality edited by Carole S. Vance from the papers presented at the 1982 conference “Towards a Politics of Sexuality” held at Barnard College. This discourse is, of course, beyond the scope of this reflection on a specific event, but it is worth acknowledging that these issues are complex; they have not only been discussed by many great thinkers, but there is still space for yet more discussion and discourse.] I dare say that while there has certainly been progress, American society and culture continues to be less than “sex positive.” Sex is addressed in the public and political arenas as a moral issue, a religious issue even. Once sex is considered in these terms, diversity and difference are less likely to be celebrated. These are the arenas in which homosexuals are considered deviants, whores are considered criminals, in which sex carries a narrow definition and in which expressions of sex and sexuality that extend beyond this narrow definition are deemed inappropriate. They become targets of condemnation, shame, and thus violence. I believe that this is the predominant, mainstream culture within our country, a site of struggle for any individual or community that exists outside of the mainstream, or predominantly accepted, definition of sex and sexuality.
This was not the culture represented at last nights vigil.
Sex work was discussed as an expression of giftings, “undervalued gifts of robust sexuality,” overwhelming compassion and generosity, a deep capacity for creativity, healing, and love. Sex workers were described as heroes, super-heroes, priestesses of the Goddess, who make their living opening themselves, completely, becoming vulnerable and sharing love and energy through what they do. These giftings, this openness, this generosity and sharing is part of what makes this community susceptible to violence.

With this honoring of sexual difference, sex as positive, and diverse sexual expression came an emphasis (or re-emphasis) of the source and site of violence, not in these professions themselves, but in the conditions of these professions that are produced by our culture of shame and violence. For instance, because prostitution is illegal, prostitutes become susceptible targets to violence; the violence cannot be reported without the targets themselves becoming implicated in the crime. Medical care is compromised due to cultural mindsets that there is shame or indecency in these professions. Stigma is attached to the persons of these professionals, potentially compromising their social standing and personal relationships. Because the difference and diversity that this community represents is not celebrated, the conditions this community faces become compromised and compromising. The violence emerges not from these individuals, not from what they are doing, but from the society and perspectives in which they are operating. And, no, it isn’t as simple as changing the laws, although this would/will be a profound shift in our culture. Amsterdam and New Zealand both have regulation for legalized prostitution, and violence still persists in these countries. The shift must be deeper, a shift of perception, and a value for the diversity of sexuality, sexual activity, sexual identity, and sexual expression.

One speaker made a statement that I found to be a striking summation of this plight: “Human rights are human rights; they don’t stop at sex work.” This could be said about so many communities and individuals that face violence based on actual or perceived difference. Human rights do not stop at our differences. They are pervasive. The right to own, honor and express one’s own person, one’s own body. The right to happiness. The right to love and have that love recognized. The right to explore and express the uniqueness of individual identity without fear or shame. Too often difference and diversity are denounced as destructive; this is fear, and eventually hate. Those who are perceived as different or deviating from the regulatory norms of culture are dehumanized, deemed less than human, by effectively denying them these fundamental human rights based on their differences. What I suppose I am proposing or supporting is a shift of consciousness as the “end to violence,” recognizing diversity and difference, and celebrating them as not only essential to the fabric of culture, but as a fundamental human right.

The vigil last night was both solemn and celebratory. Solemn in memory of those who have suffered the effects of violence in our culture, and angry at a society that, if not condones, does nothing to prevent such violence. Celebratory of difference and diversity, because it is in this celebration, in this shift to recognizing a deeper pervasive unity in the uniqueness of human and sexual expression, that the potential to end violence resides.



So much happening

As I look out over the calendar for the next few weeks, it’s more of the same: art event after art event, with so much to see. I hope I get a chance to see it all. I hope you do too.

This week, 1 April, is the long anticipated launch of “Synchronous Objects for One Flat Things, Reproduced” (you can read more about it in the New York Times, featured in my previous post). This is in conjunction with many other exciting events related to Forsythe’s work.

forsythe_suspense

william forsythe

The Wexner Center for the Arts and the Department of Dance at OSU is hosting the “William Forsythe Symposium: Choreographic Objects.” Here is the official description of this event:

“You’ll hear about how this idea takes form in the works on view in the exhibition William Forsythe: Transfigurations and inSynchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced by William Forsythe, an ambitious new web project created by Forsythe with Ohio State’s Maria Palazzi (Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design and Department of Design) and Norah Zuniga Shaw (Department of Dance) and an interdisciplinary team of collaborators from across the arts and sciences. To celebrate the launch of the web project, invited outside experts contextualize the project in terms of its relevance to current trends in the philosophy of cognition and architecture.

A celebrated roster of special guests joins Forsythe for these talks: Mark Goulthorpe of MIT’s School of Architecture; Alva Noë, professor of philosophy at the University of California Berkeley; Synchronous Objects creative directors Maria Palazzi, director of ACCAD and associate professor in the Department of Industrial, Interior, and Visual Communication Design, and Norah Zuniga Shaw, the director of the dance and technology program and assistant professor in the Department of Dance; and Charles Helm, the Wexner Center’s director of performing arts and curator for the Forsythe exhibition.”

If you are not in the Columbus area, or if you are and are unable to be in attendance, follow the link above to watch a live stream of the symposium on Wednesday.

 

The previous day, 31 March, Alva Noë, professor of philosophy at the University of California Berkeley, will be giving a lecture and book signing at OSU in the Sullivant Theater from 12pm-1pm. He is a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the author of Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain and Other Lessons From The Biology of Consciousness and Action in Perception, both of which explore the idea that “consciousness is not something that happens inside of us–not in our brains, or anywhere else; it is something we do.” It sounds like a riveting lecture, and extremely relevant to dance as well as human existence.

 

This week will also host the performances of “Monster Partitur.” Here is the official statement from the Wexner concerning this event:

“Dancer Alessio Silvestrin delivers a mesmerizing performance against a backdrop of sculptural elements created from life-size models of human skeletons and line drawings traced from these gnarled forms, which also serve as cues in the performer’s score (the word “partitur” in the title is a reference to the musical scores utilized by orchestra conductors).Monster Partitur is a condensation of and companion to Forsythe’s Bessie Award–winning You made me a monster

Show Times
Wed, Apr 1 | 2:30, 5:30, 6:30, & 7:30 PM
Thu, Apr 2 | 12, 12:30, & 7 PM
Fri, Apr 3 | 11:30 AM; 12, 12:30, & 7 PM
Sat, Apr 4 | 12, 12:30, 1, & 7 PM
Sun, Apr 5 | 12, 12:30, 2:30, & 3 PM

Please arrive early to see the performance. Performances are free, but audience size is limited to approximately 50-60 viewers per performance, who will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. The performance is approximately 20-25 mins. in length (and seating is not provided).”

You can read more about my experience in contributing to the production of this piece here.

 

Hixon Dance is presenting “Airs and Dances: An Evening of Live Music and Dance” starting next week.  Here is their official description:

“In our upcoming concert, Hixon Dance will present 4 new works, all accompanied by live music!

Featured music includes Claude Debussy’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano,”
Francis Poulenc’s “Sonata for Clarinet and Paino,” and two works by local composer Jacob Reed.”

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Images of “This Simple Thing”

As part of my final project for Applied Technologies in Dance, I am using various applications to visually process the choreographic material I am generating/rehearsing for my choreography project “This Simple Thing.”

These images represent the traces of movement accumulated over time throughout the piece. What they depicts and allow me to see is the movement density of the work, where it travels in space, how far it travels and returns to it’s point of origin over time. The piece I am creating is intended to be extremely subtle, punctuated by more expansive “solo” movement. These images were generated from the solo material, and hopefully give me a sense of what traces/resonance/impact those punctuations leave/imbue/have in the overall piece.

I must mention that I have been incredibly inspired by the work of Norah Zuniga-Shaw, Maria Palazzi, and William Foresythe for their work on the “Synchronous Objects” project. More information about this project can be found at:
http://accad.osu.edu/oneflatthing/