michael j. morris


Constellations of Thought

I am so overwhelmed at the prospect of sitting down to write this post, and I can hardly even justify the time, knowing that it will be insufficient and incomplete (as are most things) for all that I am interested in exploring/expressing. And I have not even expanded on my “tag cloud reflection” in my last post. But I also feel that in three days of this new quarter, with new and important classes, as well as the density of inspiration coming from all of the Forsythe work in and around OSU/the Wexner, I am adrift amongst veritable constellations of thought. I am sure that I will only be able to address a few specific ideas, and even then, from light years away (as opposed to the microscopic examination I would prefer), but here we go. In no particular order.

Yesterday I attended a lecture by Alva Noë. His primary research concerns are philosophy and cognitive sciences, specifically exploring the nature of consciousness. He posits that consciousness in action, it is something we do, not some internal phenomenon that exists somewhere in our brains. He is questioning a somewhat established assumption that consciousness takes place specifically in the brain, and that thus on some level we are our brains. He asserts that the brain is only a part of the larger structure of consciousness.

And all of this is fascinating to me, especially in the context of dance.

But more of what I would like to address in these brief lines, in this brief time, is his comparison or art and philosophy. I commonly reference my choreography as being specifically concerned with the exploration of aspects of the human condition through the moving body. In a sense, it is an action of philosophy (and research). The piece I just premiered in March, “About,” was previously entitled, “Phenomena to Noumenon: This Simple Thing,” which is essentially a philosophical discourse concerning the nature of reality and perception, objectivity and subjectivity. Noë began by saying that art has been a problem for philosophy for a long time (in the same sense, philosophy is the central problem for my art), asking what is art, what is its value, can it produce knowledge, etc. He asserted three points:
1. Both philosophy and art either have neutral or no subject, or their subject is the whole or time and space, anything about which there can be thought, consciousness itself. Unlike other fields, they are not subject specific but more a way of approaching or addressing subject, which might be anything, and certainly arises out experience and thus consciousness.
2. Both philosophy and art find themselves problematic. Both raise the question for themselves, “How can a dialectic that does not need to produce results be a thing of value?” Both are in a constant state of reevaluating, recontextualizing, reenvisioning and questioning the nature of themselves, what they are and what they do. This relates to a subject Bill Forsythe has spoken on several times this week, that of doubt. We as artists/dancers/choreographers/philosophers are problems to ourselves because we have the ability to doubt or question what we know of ourselves, what has been previously established in our fields.
3. There is a blurring distinction between method and result, process and product. There is a sense in which the results of both philosophy and art only have value in the context of their methods/processes, and thus where on ends and the other begins because a difficult edge to find.

Noë also spoke about the nature of understanding, of understanding or recognition as the essential way in which the world reveals itself to us, and that this understanding is one of context. We recognize a thing in that way in which it fits within our frame of reference, our particular continuum of experience. A thing is unrecognizable, unseeable, when it completely unexpected, when you don’t even know what to look for. This is perhaps one of the values or interests of art, that it cultivates an ability to truly see, to recognize and understand, a microcosmic experience reflecting the macrocosm of all of life. All human experience is a process of bringing the world into focus through understanding and consciousness. Engaging with art gives us the opportunity to cultivate this process of understanding; it is the domain of investigating the process of perception and understanding.

And this is the work of “Synchronous Object for One Flat Thing, Reproduced” (NOW LIVE! CHECK IT OUT!). It is the process of cultivating the experience of understanding. If understanding is truly a phenomenon rooted in a context for perception, than understanding is the problem addressed by “Synchronous Objects.” It the exposition of choreographic work and information in the form of choreographic objects, or visual or pictorial expressions or representations. 

Today, in conjunction with the launch of “Synchronous Objects,” the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Department of Dance at OSU hosted the Choreographic Objects Symposium, bringing together a panel of collaborators and experts in the fields of dance, computer programming, animation, geography, architecture, philosophy and beyond to discuss the work of this project. I cannot possibly address all that was said by which I was inspired, but I will throw out a few key moments.

Maria Palazzi, the director for the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, commented of the process of understanding through the process of making, the creative process as an act of recognition or understanding. This ties directly into the lecture Noë, and adds another layer, taking consciousness as action into an area in which context for understanding is constructed through the process of making. This was a consensus across the panel, many of whom had very little experience with dance previous to this project, that is doing this work, in creating about this choreography, the choreography became legible for them. The hope is that these points of entry that emerged during their creative work are then transmitted into the objects offered on the new site. It raises new ideas (or new to me) concerning the development of audience literacy in our field. Beyond the incredible work that has been done on this project, what is the potential for making dance legible through creative activities? An obvious application is that once people take dance classes, they understand dance further, but what are other creative (by which I mean generative, making) activities in which might audiences in order to make this art form more accessible? In order to establish a context in which understanding might thrive?

This relates to ideas that are coming up in my graduate teaching seminar with Susan Hadley about the relationship between content, the organization of material, and methods of communicating. What are the ways in which we transmit information?

Which connects to ideas I have been pondering surrounding the application of Labanotation to adjacent dance studies. I am finding my research profile situating itself somewhere between choreography/composition and history/theory; notation serves as a ready link between the two. In Labanotation, choreography becomes a written history, and a written history becomes choreography. I am becoming more and more interested in how this system might lend itself to embodying what is essential an embodied history. Far too often I find that we read, write, view and listen to our dancing history. It is transmitted textually, orally, and visually, but rarely corporeally. I am curious about the potential for notation to lend itself to the study of history, giving students the opportunity to embody seminal dance works that have previously only ever existed for them in disembodied translations. I am considering taking a Labanotation Teacher Certification Course this summer to these ends, to fuel this inquiry. 

Amidst much of this other thought there is the constellation of Somatics. I am taking a course this quarter with Abby Yager that surveys various somatic forms and methods. It may reveal itself to be one of the most significant (to my own interests and research) courses that I have taken thus far at OSU (and I have taken some incredible courses). Among its goals are:
-to cultivate deep listening
-to awaken awareness and clarify a sense of Self 

These are essentially my primary research interests in dance. I am fascinated by how awareness comes from movement of the body and how awareness then affects the way in which the body moves. Ever since I experienced the work of Pauline Oliveros (who has developed a musical/meditation technique described as “Deep Listening”) I have been interested in what a “listening body” might be, and more specifically, how it might move, and how choreography might arise out of that movement. I have felt a resonance of this idea in the somatic fields, but having it so explicitly stated in the syllabus excites me to know end (I am also in a course with Bebe Miller entitled “Creative Processes” exploring the process by which we make dances; I am interested to see how this research interest might be addressed in this composition course, supported by the work I am doing in Somatics with Yager).

My larger research interest has been evolving into something like “the choreography of identity,” the ways in which we come to recognize ourselves and others through the ways in which we move, and how we participate in the formation of who we are through these same processes. Clearly this relates to awareness. It also relates to issues of gender representation, queer theory, gaze theory, relational politics, social conditioning, etc. And it addresses another larger issue, that of the individuals connection to their body. I am interested in resisting the dualistic Cartesian model in which the body is merely the vehicle for the mind, the mind being the essence of the individual. The individual is composed of a mind-body, a body-mind, a cohesive, holistic, inseparable unit. A person is as much their body as they are their mind, and in honoring this fact, we discover that part of knowing ourselves and knowing one another is through an awareness and investigation of the body. This was illustrated in a piece that I designed in my seminar with Ann Hamilton and Michael Mercil last quarter but have yet to enact entitled KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY) in which participants engage in a physical conversation with one another, directing one another in a dialogue of physically exploring one another’s bodies.

And perhaps here is where this post comes full orbit and finds its pause: beginning with cognition/consciousness as more than the brain and ending with the person as more than the mind. The essence is that it is through the body that we come to know. Through dancing, through making, through embodying history through a practice of Labanotation, through somatic study, etc. we come to know ourselves and the context that makes up that concept of Self.

Other subjects that deserve attention but must wait for some other time: seeing the performance of “Monster Partitur.” Twice. The process of continuing work of this new piece “Red Monster,” and how it relates to the subject of identity and a sense of Self. The potential for “Synchronous Objects” to inspire further investigations into the representation and exposition of dance and choreographic knowledge. Briefly, this relates to a conversation I had with a friend this evening after the symposium. He raised the question of how this work might be continued. Forsythe has expressed interest in developing a Motion Bank, a library of these sorts of investigations, and while he is currently pursuing funding for the next addition to this “library,” one wonders how else this continuum of information my evolve. Partly, I see it as present in endeavors such as this blog (in the most basic and fundamental of ways): by this blog serving as a public creative platform, I am contributing to the exposition of the internal information of my dancing/choreographing life. I think the more interesting potential evolution of this “library” is one that emerges from public culture, embedded in public culture, rather than continuing to develop out of the work of a single (admittedly remarkable) choreographer. That is yet one more potential development for “Synchronous Objects,” how it my inspire and provoke additional investigations of a similar nature . . . 

And finally an announcement for my readership:
For those of you at OSU or in Columbus:

This Sunday, 5 April, I am restaging “About.” The cast and I had a particular interest is re-contextualizing the work site-specifically. We were interested is how it might be experienced in a circular space, and also how its choreographic structures might be further revealed when seen from above. So this Sunday we are going to explore the piece in these contexts by performing it in both Sullivant Hall rotundas, first in the one next to Studio 6 (the entrance faces Mershon Auditorium) around 5pm, followed by the High Street rotunda (the entrance faces High Street, between Sullivant Library and the Music and Dance Library). The first rotunda offers a circular, domed space with seating in the round, the second has a full mezzanine, from which the piece can be viewed in the round and from above.

I am not particularly advertising this event; it is less about a public performance and more about exploring the nature of this choreography in a different space. It will be informal, and there is no pressure to be in attendance. I simply wanted you to know that this was happening in the event that you had an interest in experiencing the work in this context. 

 

 



Upcoming events

Just a reminder for my (local) readership:

 

 I am premiering a new piece this week entitled “About.” It is being included the the OSU Dance Winter Concert. Here are the details:

Thursday, 12 March-Saturday, 14 March
8pm
Sullivant Theater
Tickets are $10 general admission, $5 for senior citizens, students, and anyone with a Buck ID

This concert is a presentation of student work, ranging from undergrad to grad, coming out of the OSU Department of Dance.

This new piece of mine is for seven dancers and includes sounds by Pauline Oliveros and Steven Halpern.

winter_concert_blue

 

Also coming up this week is an LGBT film festival at the Wexner. It is the same nights of the Winter Concert, so I will not be able to attend, but if you come to the concert one night and have one or two more evenings free next weekend, I highly recommend this event. I see this sort of programming as an important step in developing a broader awareness of and respect for the LGBT community. By supporting these events, we communicate that sense of value to the Wexner. During a time in our country in which equality is still a question waiting to be answered, it seems increasingly relevant when highly respected, public institutions such as the Wexner issue statements regarding LGBT individuals, couples, artists, and rights in this country.

You can find out the details here.

19love600

from Love Songs being shown Friday, 13 February

 

Other events in which I will be involved a bit farther off are also at the Wexner and revolve around the work of William Forsythe. I have not discussed very much here, but this quarter I am participating in a workshop exploring the studio techniques, ideas, and technologies of William Forsythe, partially through the instruction of Nik Haffner, a former dancer with Forsythe’s company, and an important collaborator on Forsythe’s “Improvisational Technologies.” (“Improvisational Technologies” is a CD-ROM that was developed to illustrate Forsythes methods for improvisation, movement generation, and choreographic devices being employed in his company. Originally for use within the company as a way of educating new company members, the CD-ROM was published in the 1990s and now has become a public resource for informing improvisational and choreographic processes) This workshop, offered through the OSU Department of Dance, is culminating with these Wexner events.

The first is the performance of Monster Partitur delivered by dancer Alessio Silverstrin. Our role in this piece is the construction of sculptural objects and drawings that then serve as the “score” for the piece. You can read more about the piece and details for the performances here. This piece originated from Forsythe’s experience of the illness and death of his wife. In a meeting yesterday, even just hearing the story of how the piece came about became an overwhelming emotional experience. The piece is accompanied by an installation which includes a text written by Forsythe himself describing his wife’s illness. He spoke of her bleeding and of her becoming more and more bent, to the point at which she could no longer dance, set in painful contrast to her remarkable abilities before her illness. This loss of ability,loss of who she once was, and eventually the loss of her entirely, became the source of this piece. After her death, he unwrapped a Christmas present that had been given to her. It was a life-size cardboard skeleton kit. It is from kits such as those that we will create bent, irregular sculptures. It is the shadows of these sculptures that we will trace onto panels. And it will be these traces that will become the “score” for the piece.

monster_partitur

from Monster Partitur. In the image you can see a version of the sort of sculptural objects we will be creating.

This performance is part of a larger exhibition entitled “William Forsythe: Transfigurations” that will be on display at the Wexner. Without writing a paper on Forsythian methodologies, I will offer that much of Forsythe’s research has been in the area of the “choreographic object,” (this article is written by Forsythe and offers a brief explanation of how he thinks of “choreographic objects”) and how the intrinsic information/knowledge in choreography might be explored or translated into other forms (apart from but not excluding the dancing body). This exhibition brings a collection of these “objects” into the gallery spaces of the Wexner. It is the first presentation of this significant body of work in the United States. You can read more about the exhibition here.

Finally, on April 1, in conjunction with both of these components relating to Forsythe’s work, the Wexner is holding a symposium entitled, “William Forsythe Symposium: Choreographic Objects.” This symposium is also coordinated with the launch of a long-term collaborative research project between Forsythe, the OSU Department of Dance, and ACCAD at OSU entitled “Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, reproduced.” This research is going live online on April 1, and is the demonstration and explication work exploring this concept of “choreographic objects” and how they open new access points into the knowledge/information of choreography. More about the Wexner Symposium can be found here

 

Many things coming up. I wish I could offer more critical or analytical analyses of each of these events, but for the moment, simply offering the information is all that time allows. Mark your calendars, and I hope to see you there.



Listening

Tonight I am thinking about listening. This is a recurring concept in my creative outlook, one that arises from my experiences with Butoh, various somatic forms, and an aesthetic that is continually fixated with subtlety. It finds resonance with the work and words of Pauline Oliveros and her practice of “deep listening”, an almost meditative practice of heightening sensory awareness as a method for creating, where creating (in her case music, in my case dance) comes out of absorbing, processing, responding, approaching an environment with an open mode of consciousness and letting the creative act arise from that form of engagement. This concept of listening is finding new echoes in subjects I am experiencing here in grad school: the concept of “emergent taxonomy” from Applied Technologies in Dance, the idea of an organization of material (which is what creating is all about) arising out of what is there rather than imposing an organizational structure hierarchically; also, the practice of “post-positivist research”, a way of looking as a subject without defining absolutely what it is you are observing, without deciding what form your findings will take, allowing the direction of the research to evolve from the practice of observation; in reading/reporting an article on Pauline Oliveros and the construction of gendered identity in her music. The author (Timothy D. Taylor) writes about Oliveros’ invocation of “feminine” characteristics in music such as intuition and sensitivity, as opposed to the “masculine” qualities of notation, prescription, and order. Gender politics aside, reading about the investigation of these approaches (intuition, sensitivity, listening) in the creative process was invigorating.

So, what I’m curious about is what this looks like in dance. There is certainly precedence, especially in areas such as improvisation, contact improvisation, Butoh, etc. Even in other choreographers’ creative process, the idea of a choreography emerging from the process/experience of dancing (such as appropriating/structuring improv experiences into choreography) is not unheard of. That is not typical of my choreographic approach. Typically, find myself fixated with a subject. I steep myself in that subject matter, then generate movement material as a metaphorical exploration of the subject. This material is given to dancers, structured, rehearsed, and eventually performed.

I am wondering what would happen if I deepen my research/understanding of these “listening”/awareness based practices (Butoh, somatic techniques, Oliveros’ “deep listening”, etc.), then direct dancers through experiences in these processes of listening with the body, and eventually allow choreography to surface from this practice of listening, even through to the point of performance, maintain a constant approach of dance and movement as listening rather than expressing. What would that experience look like? How would it feel for the dancers? For the audience?

More and more my aesthetic is drawn towards details/subtlety/nuance. I connect these propensities to this quality of awareness, or listening.

I have a sense that this might be the starting point of what might evolve into my MFA research project. I am interested in exploring other ways of listening. . . even this blog is an experiment in both speaking/authoring, but also listening, paying attention to what is emerging, what responses there are, and allowing that awareness to shape the content. That is part of how this blog is a creative activity for me, and how it is playing a role in the way I am thinking right now, especially in how I am thinking about my art. It’s very circular: something is set into motion, that motion is observed/listened to, that awareness loops back into the creative process to shape the direction of that which is being set into motion, more feedback, more response in the way in which information (movement, writing, graphic, etc.) is generated, etc.

What do you think?
How do you listen with your body, or in your own creative media? How can the act of creating also be an act of listening?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

-M



New Links
1 November, 2008, 8:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

I just added a smattering of new links to my sidebar. These are mostly various sources of inspiration for me and my work- mostly artists and arts organizations, as well as complimentary physical practices.

I hope you take a look.

 

-M