michael j. morris


brainstorming about research/dissertation

It never ceases to amaze me how just a little time and space (in this case, the first day of the Thanksgiving break) can allow so much development of thought.
I’m beginning (continuing?) to map through how some of these ideas, these various research pursuits, might cohere into concepts and theories, and eventually chapters and a possible dissertation.

The frame I’m beginning to construct (which will certainly go through the process of deconstruction and reconstruction, likely again and again and again) looks something like this:

It begins with the deconstruction of the discontinuous bounded individual/body, the body that stops at the flesh, the human subject that is discrete from the environment in which it occurs and the vast nexus of intersubjective forces by which the subject (and thus the body) comes into being. This could have its roots in phenomenology and the implication of the subject in the perceived life-world, reinforced by studies/philosophies of embodied cognition, perception, and maybe even psychology (I still feel like I need to educate myself on “continuum psychology” and “ecological psychology”). With this as a foundation, there is space to begin to incorporate (pun intended) Tantric philosophy (hopefully as a critical theory), queer theories, relationality, and most recently Georges Bataille (as of this week—this is still a very fresh connection), each one contributing to the destabilization of the fixed edges of the individual subject/body along trajectories of desire and the erotic (among other things). I feel like from there I could begin to establish a theory of ecosexuality, the mobilization of (queer) sexual epistemologies in the destabilization/expansion of the individual and the (anti-colonial) in-corporation of the perceived “other.” It might be necessary (I hope not) to address the subversion/mutation of the symbolic register (Lacan, I think?) as the affect of an ecosexual paradigm and performativity (in an effort to establish how/what things are changed by this altered sense of “self”/body).

This might constitute a first section, possibly with multiple chapters?

The second section is where this theoretical framework could begin to find application in dance practices. Right now (today) I’m framing these practices in three large groups:

1. The incorporation of space as the body: I feel like this is where Laban studies can come to bear, the body never functioning as a body in a vacuum, but a body-in-space whereby both the body and space take on (mobile) definition through their unity with one another. Other movement methodologies might also come into play, things like Viewpoints (of which I know almost nothing), architecture-based scoring systems, and space-based movement scoring. This might also include site-specific work and work that engages with the landscape as participant (like the Love Art Laboratory)

2. The incorporation of the “human-other” as the body-self: this is where I might look more directly at “traditional” body-to-body choreographic practices, whereby seemingly discrete bodies become intermingled and blurred in their clarity through their choreographic participation with one another. Here I am most interested in the intimate exchange between bodies, an intimacy that is based on interdependency and intersubjective corporeal construction, the movement exchange demonstrating the porousness, permeability, and mutability of bodies/selves.

3. The incorporation of the more-than-human “other” as the body-self: This could be the biggest section because is includes practices like Butoh (that involves the incorporation of the landscape, the environment, and imagery derived from that which is “other”) and Karl Cronin’s Somatic Natural History Archive, but also movement/dance/performance methodologies that incorporate artifacts/objects, such as the use of written scores, moving with props/objects (here I would love to look more at “object theater” as a practice), among other practices.

When I write things like this out, I begin to see where I need to focus my attention:

1. Fleshing out my foundation in phenomenology (yes, that means finishing Phenomenology of Perception)

2. Tackling “relationality”

3. Taking some time with continuum psychology and ecological ecology

4. Spend more time with Bataille

5. Go back to Laban’s early writings

6. Choreograph more (as research)

7. Write about Butoh; write about Karl Cronin



Projected Research Trajectory
16 September, 2010, 10:11 pm
Filed under: research | Tags: , , , , , ,

So I’m writing a grant right now, and as part of the grant I was required to author a “statement of purpose” describing my projected research trajectory. While it may be a bit too specific to be considered as a general guiding statement for my research, it does articulate (fairly succinctly) many of the areas of inquiry that I am interested in pursuing. I wanted to share it here as a summation of where things are at right now, and maybe a hint at where things are going next (NOTE: this is not exhaustive; the most notable absence for me is any discussion of Butoh as a significant experiential/corporeal methodology for queer ecologies; there just simply wasn’t the space, and there are several other posts of the blog that touch on this subject):

My primary interests for doctoral research in the field of Dance are the exploration of dance and choreographic practices as functional systems of interdependent corporealities (the constructed realities of the body) and subjectivities (the constructed nexus of perception and action of the individual); and the situation of the body as the site for the constitution (and constant re-constitution) of permeable identity within these systems of interdependency. It is my intention to examine choreographic processes, improvisational methodologies, and dance training, both theoretically and in practice, for their potentials to provide knowledge concerning human and more-than-human ecologies and the construction of corporeal identity that can be utilized both within and beyond the field of dance. Too often dance is relegated to the status of autonomous cultural value—relevant within its own history and discipline, or as a cultural product to be studied—but not considered to be a site for useful knowledge that might be incorporated into other fields of study. It is my intention to explore these concerns in such a way that they might operate in truly interdisciplinary discourses surrounding the body and systems of interdependent organization. I am supporting this research through continued study and creative activity in dance practices—such as choreographic practices in movement generation and group organization, improvisational and “score-based” methodologies, movement analysis and notation, and pedagogical practices in dance; in ecology, as a relevant lens for the analysis of systems of human and more-than-human (referring to other-than-human elements within systems of interdependency) participants; and in queer theories, particularly as they relate to the theorization of identity and the body.

Dance practices—including but not exclusive to choreography—are predicated on an assumption of interdependency between multiple subjectivities. Both the immediate participation of teachers, choreographers, and collaborators within choreographic and performance situations, and the aesthetic and training histories in which those individuals are citationally implicit, have been incorporated into the body and the dance experience of every dancer. In this sense, dance practice always already involves the collaborative construction of individual bodies by way of physical practice, training and the exchange between choreographer and dancer in the choreographic setting, and the collaborative construction of choreographies and dances as objects of intrinsic intersubjectivity. Dances do not reside within a single body or space, but function as systems of interdependency (considerable as ecologies) involving the incorporation of multiple bodies/subjectivities, and often include further interdependency with more-than-human elements, such as scoring and documentation systems across a variety of media, specific spaces (as in site-interactive choreographies), and technology. Of particular interest to me are the more-than-human elements of dance scores in the production of bodies and dances. I consider dance scores such as those written in Labanotation (a system for the analysis and notation of movement based on the work of Rudolf von Laban) and other comparable systems of movement analysis/notation to function as artifacts of transhistorical and intersubjective significance. The score simultaneously describes the movement of historical bodies (descriptions in which the corporeal presence of both the historical dancer(s) and the notator of the score are both necessary and implicit) and provides that information as impetus for the construction of the movement of contemporary bodies, and thus the construction of the contemporary bodies themselves. The score’s full meaning and function only exist between these transhistorical subjectivities, and the dance that the score produces exists only with the participation of this nexus of human and more-than-human elements. While my projected research will include a survey and analysis of a variety of dance practices, ranging from body-to-body methodologies (such as the choreographer transmitting movement directly to the dancer by way of demonostration and instruction) to methodologies incorporating additional more-than-human elements (such as scoring systems or the dissemination of movement material through media and technology), Labanotation, as a significant component of my research profile and expertise in the field of dance, holds for me a particular interest in the investigation of the ecologies of dance practices. The Ohio State University is uniquely qualified to host this kind of research: the Dance Notation Bureau Extension for Education and Research—the only extension of its kind maintained by the Dance Notation Bureau in New York City—is housed within the OSU Department of Dance. The resources for Labanotation research made available through the DNB Extension, including dance scores, research libraries, educational materials and opportunities, and certification programs, are truly unique to this institution, and make OSU the ideal setting for doctoral research involving these lines of inquiry.

In addition to my continued work in Labanotation, it is also my intention to maintain my own choreographic practice as a methodology for this research. Adjacent to my studies in indirect movement generation (the construction of movement in processes that incorporate elements beyond a body-to-body/person-to-person choreographic model, such as Labanotation scores), I consider it important that these studies take place within the setting of the choreographic construction of dance and (coextensively) bodies. The importance of making and doing as useful ways of knowing are uniquely emphasized within the field of dance. It is an assumption of my research that these concerns cannot be fully explored remotely, but that they necessitate an active, embodied exploration through the process of making choreography. Maintaining my creative practice as a choreographer will provide an opportunity for this exploration, a type of research and knowledge generation that is truly unique to my field.

The infrastructure of these inquiries is an appreciation of the body as the permeable and transformable site for the perception, negotiation, construction, and performance of identity. Identity is not a new or unproblematic topic in academic research; it has proven to be a complex nexus of intersecting trajectories of power, politics, and participation within many fields of inquiry. My interest is in the corporeal situation of the complexity of identity. This investigation will draw heavily on the work of queer theorists and my own queer understanding of non-normative, subversive, and fluid identities. The perspective of the body as composed from the collaboration and contributions of multiple sources as intrinsic to dance practice suggests a permeable body, one that maintains ability, definition, and morphology as mobile boundaries characterized by a multiplicity of potentials and possibilities. Queer theories support this perspective by offering a wealth of language, perspective and utility for the maintenance of such permeable borders and mobile definitions. Queer theories also provide methodologies for enacting a necessary critique of and resistance to dance practices that function as systems for regulation and “normalization” of bodies, and as systems of oppression that reiterate sexism, racism, homophobia, and economic inequality through physical education. This critical lens will operate in my analytical engagement with contemporary dance practices, as well as with historical materials such as dance notation scores and conventional writing practices.

A meta-concern of this research is the importance of interdisciplinary inquiry, drawing from relevant adjacent fields of study (such as ecology and queer theory) in my dance research, as well as considering dance as a field of productive knowledge for these adjacent fields and others. My interest is in investigating these topics within practices unique to the field of dance, and offering the knowledge produced by those investigations to other fields addressing these same topics. It is my hope that in doing so I might participate in and further similar endeavors within my discipline to recognize the potential for dance to provide unique and invaluable knowledge within and beyond the field of dance.



The bigness of the body
27 August, 2010, 1:26 pm
Filed under: cosmology, creative process, Dance, Grad School, research | Tags: ,

If I’m honest, I feel like I’m in state of some degree of burnout right now. I know I’ll recover, but I just feel unable to read another thing (even as I read an article by Sondra Fraleigh on the correlation between Butoh and nature this morning), and my mind is hardly synthesizing all that I have read/done/researched this summer. I have ideas about dances that I want to make, but in general I am experiencing a persistent near-paralysis in my making. This morning in conversation with my friend/colleague/gaga-guru Maree ReMalia, I think I began to understand why:

This all started (by “this all” I mean to refer to this research journey into Sexecology, Ecosexuality, ecologies, etc. etc. etc.) in the pursuit of a body that extends beyond the constraints of [the assumedly fixed] biological morphology, a body that accounts for its ongoing state of becoming/constructedness/de-and-re-constructedness, a body that not only participates with its environmental surroundings, but blurs its edges into that space, the body being implicit in consciousness and perception and sensation. My earliest articulations of my (then MFA project)n involved “the listening body,” the body constituted in its attention, and its reciprocal participation with that which exists beyond it. When I applied for my PhD, my proposed research interest had to do with understanding the body as the site of identity, and analyzing/understanding dance practices with with a sense of the active formulation of individual identity in our participation in the formation of dancing bodies: dance as a choreography of identity. Since that point, my working understanding of identity has become less fixed: identity is not a stable essence but an ongoing construction, multiple and fluid and unfixed; I would say the same for “the body.” Through my engagement with the work of the Love Art Laboratory and their art/research in the areas of Sexecology and Ecosexuality, I began to consider the functional systems of interdependency as a primary situation by/in/through which we experience (phenomenally) our selves/bodies. This was powerfully echoed in my research in Tantric philosophy and its function as a foundation for the practice of yoga, a dissolving of the distinction of subject and object into a larger whole that is Consciousness (necessarily a body-based consciousness). In my course work, the constructed nature of the body/individual self became implicated in issues of power, production, reproduction, and the compulsive reiteration of normalized identities. The body is not singular but citational. The body is not only physical but also social, cultural, sexual, economic, etc. etc. etc. The body is “both/and”: it is completely itself, non-representational, meaningful is its own kinesthetic experience; and the body is a [part of?] systems that extend infinitely from it, into history, society, culture, the environment, etc. Its form presents its formulation, a formulation that is constant and ongoing and bigger-and-beyond its biological morphological form.
In short, the body is no longer simple. And it is big.

My choreography has always functioned as a kind of physical philosophy. The dances that I have made have more often then not been principally concerned with cultivating a physical experience/understanding of a facet of human experience. But at the same time, they were also crafted of moving bodies in time and space. I know how to choreograph for those bodies: finite, structural, sensing/knowing. But I think at least a portion of my creative paralysis is that I have not yet figured out how to choreograph for these bodies that are indicative of such bigness, that are always already implicated in such a complex nexus of interesting constitutional forces, that are implicit in the expanse of consciousness, functioning in systems and ecologies far beyond my knowledge/comprehension, constantly changing and (re)forming even as I participate in that formation, who experience and know themselves as sensual and sexual, erotic and desiring; to the degree that we are defined (within our own experiences of ourselves, and within the societies in which we function; and understanding definition as unfixed/shifting/potentially fluid) by our desires, the task of making dances for desiring/desirous bodies is daunting. To the degree to which bodies function as sites of the production of power, I don’t yet know how to situate myself in a choreographic relationship of shaping bodies (through the movement which I offer or generate) and assuming that power.

It all converges in this tension of the “bigness,” the [post-modern?] condition of disparity and unity, the individual and the larger “whole”/”organism” of which the “individual” is always already a part . . . this is a tension that is held in yogic philosophy, in astrology (the life of the individual is unique, but it is also an expression of a larger cosmological whole), in ecology, and even in the corps de ballet. Obviously this tension is not a concise research agenda, but it has something to do with where I want to be/am going. And it has to do with Butoh, and yoga maybe, and the Love Art Lab and Karl Cronin, Sexecology/Ecosexuality, queer theory and queer ecologies, queering dance practices, the erotic, phenomenology, etc.

And right now that’s as much as I’ve got. And I’m feeling a little too burned out to do much with any of it today. I know I’ll find the energy/inspiration for this work . . . just maybe not today.



Cloud of Interests

This week I read an article by Alexandra Carter entitled  “Destabilizing the Discipline: Critical debates about History and their Impact on the Study of Dance.” In it she describes history not as neat boxes of knowledge but as clouds of “dispersing interplay” of discourses. My life, art, and interests feel a bit like that right now. I feel as if I have several large foci with small shifting bolts of connective tissue (big ‘ole mixed metaphor) linking them together. Some of these are illustrated in my tag cloud, others are not so concrete as to have a “tag” attached to them. I feel like I am trying to figure out how they all relate, how they inform or reinforce one another, and how the work I am doing might adequately address/serve/interrogate all of these interests.

At the heart of it all is the body. There is the subject of my arching research interests, that of situating the body as the site of the perception, negotiation, and demonstration of identity, and how this state is considered within the choreographic process. Specifically I am interested in considering movement material generated by the body as the extension of personal identity, and examining how the physical practice of movement material constitutes not only the construction of dance but also the construction of personal identity.

From here I am already aware of the paths that connect to other interests. One that seems to be of increasing centrality is the expansion of the notion of the body. This comes up in my yoga teaching, in the paper I wrote about Synchronous Objects, and in the ideas I have surrounding the work of Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology, and Ecosexuality. In yoga I privilege the body as the site of perception. The sage Abhinavagupta wrote: “Nothing perceived is independent of perception, and perception differs not from the perceiver; therefore the [perceived] universe is nothing but the perceiver.” If perception is a physical activity, as Mark Johnson, George Lakoff, and Alva Noë (among others, I am sure) have suggested, and if perception is the unity between the subject and the object (that which is “external” of self, the perceived universe), then the body take on far more importance as the site not only of the subject, but the subjective universe. This is perhaps not a profound recognition, but I think it may have profound implications. Our experience of the world can no longer be entirely considered as a subject moving through an external landscape; instead, the subject (and thus the body) becomes implicated in the “external” world. I think this may be the connection point to Sexecology/Ecosexulaity. The foundation of my understanding of these radical, fabulous, and beautiful notions as they have evolved out of the collaborative work of Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens is that one looks to find sexual (thus bodily) content in the natural environment. I think this recognition of the body as already implicated in environmental situation by virtue of its role as the creative/perceptual site for the subjective universe offers a natural extension to the exploration of sexuality in that environment. For more about my ideas surrounding sexecology/ecosexuality, see my earlier post. Going back to my yoga practice/yoga teaching, part of the way in which I understand yoga is a kind of alchemy of self, the “splendor of recognition,” the recognition being that Self is not separate from the universe in which it occurs, consciousness is the substance by which we create our own universe, Self is not fixed, nor is the universe, nor is the body, and that by cultivating this awareness of the body/Self/universe in our yoga practice, we are substantially transforming not only ourselves, but our consciousness, and thus the universe in which we live.

Adjacent (but connected) to these interest is the piece that I am working on right now, Autumn Quartet, with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt. This piece has been in process since September, and I am still not quite sure I understand it yet. There are so many blog posts writing specifically about this piece, I don’t want to be redundant, but the major ideas that have emerged from this process are: the relationship between intimacy and violence, undressing/redressing the body, shifting power dynamics, indeterminacy/agency (as created by the structure for the piece being an algorithmic score), the integration of life and art . . . those are the main ideas. Recently I’ve become interested in how this piece relates to sex, the presence or implication of sex in the piece even in the absence of actual sexual action. As I listened to Jiz Lee and Tommy Midas discuss sex in a couple of docu-porns by Madison Young, I was reminded of this dance. I’m still not quite sure what the connections are, but I think they are there. Part of how I am interrogating those connections is by bringing that text, that language, into the process, into the studio. I am situating it into my commentary on the work here on my blog, and in the sound score for the piece. [On a side note, I follow both Jiz Lee and Madison Young on Twitter, and it was an exhilarating surprise to have both of them tweet about my using that text in this piece]. I think as I watched footage of a run-through of the piece, I also began to make aesthetic associations with several films, a few that I have been thinking about since the start of the piece, and one that I had not considered. The last couple of scenes in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer have always been iconic moments for me, and as I looked at this dance, I recognized images that directly relate to those scenes, namely the wild flurry of bodies in various states of undress, and the biting, consuming, eating of a person. In case you haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it was a new connection for me.

Other points of interest branch out from this piece. I am in a course looking at the history and theory of post-modern and contemporary dance this quarter, and in considering what it is I would like to research for this class, this piece has suggested several points: the utilization of undressing as choreography, its reasoning, its perception, etc.; the explication of violence in choreography in post-modern dance: this has interested me for a while. Much of dance has an intrinsically masochistic quality to it. It is difficult, demanding, and often damaging to the body, in small, overlooked ways. I am interested in tracing the expansion of explicit physical violence in choreography, and considering how it might be indicative of an explication of the intrinsic violence, masochism, and even sadism  of dance practices. I am also considering writing my paper on Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology/Ecosexuality, as a component of this course, as the destabilization of fixed parameters of the body might be considered essentially post-structuralist, i.e., essentially post-modernist.

I have been feeling hungry for Butoh lately. Butoh has been the most transformative, fulfilling, actualizing physical practice of my life. Studying with Yoshito and Kazuo Ohno in Yokohama in 2006 was a formative experience for my dancing life. And yet ever since I came to grad school, the time and attention I have made available for a Butoh practice has been non-existant. I regret this, and at the same time I’m not sure of the solution. And yet all of these things, the body as the site of identity, the situation of the subjective universe, subliminal and explicit violence, these are all aspects that I find that Butoh can address.

I’m interested in applying notions of queer theory to choreographic practice, subverting the assumed normative roles of choreographer and dancer, without reverting to the post-modern model of dancers generating movement/choreographer structuring that movement. While that suggests the (perhaps illusion?) of a democratic process, I don’t know if it has substantially subverted those roles. Again, I think of statements made by Jiz Lee in “Thin Line Between Art and Sex” about being a “switch,” the fluidity of roles, leading and following, and how that sexual perspective might inform not only dance practices (as reflected in forms such as Contact Improvisation), but also choreographic methodologies. Truly, I am fascinated by Jiz’s ideas. They have addressed a whole spectrum of concepts that I have wanted to explore for a while and to which I have not yet given my attention. Jiz also wrote an article in a publication called ArtXX looking at the relationship between cognitive science and queer porn. I just ordered my issue; can’t wait to read it.

Which leads to the last interest that I might address here, and that has to do with a notion I’ve considered as “Sexual epistemology,” or ways of knowing that emerge from sexuality, sex, sexual identity, etc. This sense of considering choreographic process from the perspective of “switch” as suggested by a kind of sexual identity could be considered a kind of sexual epistemology. I am curious about what modalities or methodologies might be suggested by other sexual topics, like penetration/non-penetration, arousal, auto-erotic behavior, kink, etc. I have been interested in how the “sex-positive movement” might address or inform academia, or even more specifically, dance in academia. There has been some acknowledgement of sexual dynamics as playing a role in dance practices, but I question whether these have been acknowledged through as “sex-positive” lens. Carol Queen defines sex-positive as follows: “It’s the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent” (quoted from her article “The Necessary Revolution: Sex-Positive Feminism in the Post-Barnard Era.”). How might our acknowledgement, treatment, and even utilization of sexual understanding affect dance practices in a positive way? I don’t know, but it is a budding interest of mine.

I’m not sure of all the ways in which these interests relate. Nor am I sure of how to give attention to all or any of these during the difficult and demanding period of grad school, but even just by articulating them and cataloguing them here on my blog I feel that I have served the process in some way.

On to other things.



Sexecology: Making Love With the Earth, Sky and Sea

Ever since I returned from San Francisco a week ago, I have been hesitant to write about my experience of the work that I saw. There is so much to say . . . and yet with plans for writing a formal paper/article about Love Art Lab, the concept of “sexecology” and “ecosexuality,” and the integration of life and art in their work, for whatever reason, I have resisted authoring anything informal here. And yet on some level that is the purpose of this blog, to publish the creative process, the unfinished product, the journey that develops into that which I am making. I also think it would be helpful for me to get some of these ideas moving in a public arena, situate them in a larger context, and see how they grow in this space.

So, what follows are my relatively raw responses to this work.

What brought me to San Francisco was primarily the exhibit “Sexecology: Making Love With the Earth, Sky and Sea” being presented at Femina Potens Art Gallery. I was interested in this potential entry point into Love Art Lab’s work, how this exhibit invites the viewer into the ephemera of their performance work alongside new collaborative art objects (collages, prints, etc.). I also used this trip as an opportunity to meet Beth and Annie and interview them about their work. I left completely overwhelmed and saturated with new ideas, concepts, and considerations. I am currently in the process of transcribing the interview audio footage, so what I’m sharing here is primarily my response to the work itself:

It seems to be a show heavy in relationship to memory. A bulk of what is in the gallery is ephemera from the Green and Blue weddings: costumes, jewelry, photos, videos, paper ephemera, etc., as if walking through their wedding album(s). The large prints of the sea and sky also seem to reference that which previously occurred. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at photography the same again after reading Henry Sayre’s The Object of Performance. These photographs give me the opportunity to look and see with Beth’s eyes, her way of looking, seeing what she saw. They are even some photographs that describe “familiar” sky/sea-scapes (Louisiana clouds, for instance), but look at those scapes with the eyes of a sexecologist. The text in most of the collages references previous occurrences, memories, and descriptions of self in the past. This sense of history/memory is reinforced by the use of vintage images (photos and children’s book images). This is even further reinforced by the interactive element in the show, the visitor survey, asking first to rank one’s perception of the degree of one’s own ecosexuality, then asking for a re-telling of a memory that might be identified as eco-sexual.

It seems to be a large implication of the show that this [Sexecology? Ecosexuality?] is something that has existed for a while, something implemented in the past,  part of the personal histories of the artists, but also perhaps part of the landscape of our country. The retrospective quality of the work has a sense almost like “revisionist history,” retelling a history that went untold thus far.

Of course there is a sense in which any gallery show of objects might be perceived as a testimony of memory, a trace of actions, the implication of previous action. Yet I feel that this quality is fore-grounded by the materials of the show, the text, the images, etc.

I wonder to what degree sexuality might be considered a description of action . . . ways of relating between individuals via sex. Is sex an action or a dynamic or a state of being? What is the relationship between “sex” and “sexuality?” Suddenly Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter seems incredibly relevant to these questions. I may have to make an effort to get through that book, as a way of informing my relationship to this work, to Love Art Lab.

Another major “theme” in the show for me has to do with geography. The foundations for the collages being exhibited are “Geological Survey” maps. The specific states represented are: Kentucky, Indiana (three collages), Arkansas, and Florida. These all strike me as sexually conservative places. Part of the impetus for Love Art Lab was the anti-gay rights movement. To see descriptions and drawings and collages of ecosexuality on these “conservative” landscapes seems to be a political act . . . the relationship between the maps and the added elements seems to say, “It’s there if you look for it. Yes, even here, where sexuality is so narrowly understood/defined.” It’s a nice through-line to recognize in the work, to consider that this political impetus might still be present in this shift into “sexecology.”

Statistics from the Human Rights Campaign relating to the laws addressing sexuality in those states:

Kentucky: no marriage rights (constitutional prohibition), no adoption rights, hate crimes prohibited

Indiana: no marriage rights (restricted by law as man/woman), CAN jointly petition for adoption, no hate crime legislation

Arkansas: no marriage rights (constitutional prohibition), prohibited from adopting, no hate crimes legislation

Florida: no marriage rights (constitutional prohibition), prohibited from adopting, hate crimes prohibited

I think there is also a theme of sex(uality) as exchange: exchanging vows, pollination, bees and flowers and trees and honey and body, exchange from exterior to interior . . . again, exchange is an action. Is sex an action or a state of being? A form? I think in this work sex is all of these things, action of the body, morphology of the bodily, a way of interacting, maybe even a way of knowing? Sex as a way of knowing . . . more on this later.

At the heart of my inquiry into this work is the presence of the body and the implications that this work/perspective holds for perspectives of the body and body cultures. “Where is the body?” In the collages especially, there seems to be the implication that the body is everywhere. Correlations or similarities are drawn between images of the body and the imagistic descriptions of the various landscapes. Maybe there’s something being said about how we represent, and thus think about or recognize, geology or landscape? Or maybe there can be the choice to make these correlations? It seems to say that natural forms are sexy, maybe even that there is an interchangeable/transposisitonal quality to natural forms and the body? Does a delta imply a vagina? Do redwoods suggest phalluses? What might it mean to see the natural world as representations of the human body? When we look for “sexy” in nature, what are we looking for? Sensation? Resemblance to the human form? Fleshiness and wetness and hardness and opening and crevasses, etc.

I’m also thinking about the foundational perspective of my paper on Synchronous Objects, that the body is implicit in ways of understanding that emerge from our embodied condition. If part of how landscape, geology, and the natural world becomes relevant within our experience is its resemblance to the human form, then the body is implicit (perhaps) in the natural world.

What if our bodies extend beyond our skin? What if our understanding of “the body” extends beyond our corporeal forms into the way in which we know and that which we know. This brings to mind again the quote by Abinavagupta, that perception is not separate from the perceiver, thus the perceived world is only the perceiver. Perception, according to Alva Noë, is rooted in sensorimotor experience; it is essentially embodied. Taken together, one might conclude that given the perceiver’s embodiment, perception, an action of the body, is not separate from the body of the perceiver, thus that which is perceived (the perceived world) is not separate from the body of the perceiver.

Is this radical?

It relates to my yoga practice/philosophy as well. In recognizing the universe as created from consciousness and perception and recognizing perception as an action/condition of the body, then the universe that we perceive is not separate from the body. Finding nature sexy is, in a sense, finding the body itself, or one’s understanding of the body, a site of sexual content. This doesn’t seem so huge of a stretch. If we look to the body as the site and source of pleasure in the universe, is it so difficult to look back out into the world and find that [bodily] pleasure there as well?

And what might it have to do with dance?

To what degree is sex or sexuality already a component of our pervasive understanding of situation? And in recognizing the possibility that sex/sexuality is already actively contributing to/shaping/affecting our understanding of the world around us, to what degree is the world around us, the natural world, the Earth already a participant in our sexuality? If we are never simply “subject” but only ever “subject-in-environment,” then perhaps realizing that the environment is never separate from who we are is a step towards recognizing that our environment is always implicit in our sexuality, in sex. Maybe an additional question becomes how we feel about that . . . does it turn us on? Is it erotic to consider that sex includes environment?

So, as I walk around outside, I keep thinking about ecosexuality, looking for the body beyond the prescribed boundaries of the body: the succulent fleshiness of plants, the roughness of tree bark and cold blasting wind, tlong tendrils of leaves and branches, the bush of grass and moss, the wetness of the sea, the way it drips, the oozing of tree sap, the phallic quality of tree trunks and stems and stamens, the soft openness of flower blossoms, the swelling of fruit . . . There’s something about the experience of the body adding morphological meaning to the natural world beyond the prescribed boundaries of the body. It’s like a kind of anthropomorphization . . . but perhaps less directly . . . something like our familiarity with the body offering a kind of legibility to the world around us.

Beth talked about ecosexuality as being more about a pulse of sensation, a pulse between how the Earth/Sky/Sea makes her feel and how she makes the Earth/Sky/Sea feel. This pulse makes me thing of spanda, the creative pulsation, again a strong, perhaps implicit, relationship to yogic philosophy. The pulse between recognizing both one’s individual distinction and Absolute Oneness of the universe in consciousness. If the universe is One (and I think it is), it is so in/as Consciousness, which is situated in/as the body. This pulse sees pleasure in the body, then looks from there to see pleasure in the universe/natural world.

This connection to yogic philosophy or a yogic perspective of the body is a fundamental aspect of the Love Art Lab. The very organization of their project is the chakra system, an energetic network distilled from centuries of bodily experience. I feel that maybe as I try to write about this material, it might be appropriate to bring in a substantial amount of Tantric philosophy and its terms and perspectives as a way of engaging with the work. It feels appropriate.

I realize that my terms are getting muddy, conflated . . . sex, sexuality, the body, pleasure . . . maybe it’s all the same? Or at least maybe it is enough to say that none of these occur apart from [an understanding of?] one another? I suppose it’s a good thing that I’m trudging through Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter right now to problematize and destabilize such assumptions . . .

Another relevant question seems to be “Why?” Why look for sex/sexuality/the body beyond the body in the natural world? I suppose the most practical answer is in order to change the way we treat the Earth, Sky, and Sea. It is somewhat of an anthropomorphilogical metaphor, but one that is constructive in altering behavior.

But in a larger sense, I think it has to do with the kind of world in which one wants to live. It emanates from a “sex-positive” perspective, I think, that sex, pleasure, even love, are HEALTHY and GOOD. By expanding those ideas/perceptions/concepts/boundaries, we create a universe that actively contributes to and participates in that health and goodness. Does it have to invoke “sex?” Perhaps not. I think the yogic philosophy of grace achieves a similar ends, perceiving the role of the universe, its nature, as contributing to and participating in our own goodness. By invoking sex, there is an invocation of a certain promiscuity, a boundless sexuality, perhaps even a boundless sexual generosity. In this boundlessness of sex/the body, what room is there for boundaries? Immediately I think that it has to do with trust. I can trust nature, I can believe in Her goodness. I may not be able to extend that same trust to everyone. Thus, the same sort of generosity that I have, or may have, as an “ecosexual” may not translate into boundless promiscuity with people . . .

This “sex-positive” perspective was prevalent throughout my experience of San Francisco, Femina Potens, Love Art Lab, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, stores like Good Vibrations, etc. Interestingly (and adjacent to this discussion), it has sparked a new interest in exploring how sexuality or sexology might provide relevant terms of analysis and methodologies for quantification and organization for research. In a conversation with my dear friend CoCo, we were discussing what currently constitutes my potential dissertation interests, namely the body as the site of identity, movement material generated by the body as constitutive of an extension of identity, the choreographic process as an intimate exchange by which identity is synthesized/co-constructed, etc. CoCo noted the sexual quality that my language around this project possessed, and it opened my mind to the possibility that what I was describing suggests a kind of “sexual epistemology,” and rather than resist it, embrace what it might bring to or provide for the work. This quality of “sexual epistemology” seems to be at the heart of “sexecology” and “ecosexuality.”

And that’s all the scattered words and ideas that I have as of now. I hope that in the weeks to come that I can begin to formulate these ideas into a more cohesive structure, and over time produce some sort of text that discusses this provocative and relevant work. For now, I invite you to peruse and discuss these ideas, in their raw forms.

Oh, and here are some images to accompany the ideas:

Costumes and ephemera from Green and Blue Weddings

photographs by Elizabeth Stephens

Sexecology 3

collage by Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, with Camille Norton

collage by Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, with Camille Norton

collage by Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, with Camille Norton

finding the sexy, wet and fleshy



Conversation with CoCo

So I tried to blog about seeing my friend/colleague/teacher CoCo Loupe perform Deborah Hay‘s “The Runner” yesterday at the Agora festival at Junctionview Studios here in Columbus, and it just didn’t happen. The experience just did not lend itself to the third person. So I have instead decided to invite you, gentle reader, into my “personal” creative conversation with CoCo. I offer excerpts of our email correspondence as another way of looking into this dancing life, another way of contributing to the “cultural library” of dance literature. Here we go:

Michael wrote to CoCo 9:11am, 17 May 2009:
“I loved watching you dance. I will never tire of your movement quality. And maybe it’s just because we’ve been working on this in class (or maybe it’s part of why we’ve been working on this in class?), but I was transfixed by your ability to move from focus to focus, from extremely inner concentration, to smiling and making eyes and playing with a puppy, etc. I was fascinated how this affected your entire body attitude, or way of carrying yourself, your way of moving through the space, through your joints, in and out of the floor, etc. This plays a huge role in the “big thought” I left with.

I left thinking a lot about context and perception and framing and how dance is a truly physically transgressive medium. It rejects so much of how we’re “supposed to be” in our bodies. And as long as it is removed from us, sanitized by the proscenium or the performance space or even just a demarcated time and space in which it has been stated “this is a dance,” society/the culture of society can palate it. They can recognize their way of looking, their role of coexisting with this moving body. In the opposite “extreme,” when a space has been designated or described for “social dance,” in a club or bar or whatever, there is a kind of clarity in the expected role or way of looking/coexisting with the moving body. In the performance yesterday, all of this become blurred, and it was all related to the shifting of your “body attitude.”

I watched the dance, watched you dancing. But maybe it was the choreographer in me . . . I couldn’t not watch how it existed/negotiated itself in the space, with those others present in the space. And this is where I hit my “descriptive wall” in my blog, so bear with my meager language. There was a process of watching the audience not recognize, then recognize that they had not recognized, but rarely did they ever quite grasp what it is that they had not recognized. This was most palpable when your physical countenance was the most “normal” (fit neatly within the definition of the socially acceptable body), moments of just standing and looking, or meandering. They were brief, and those co-habitants (I’m not sure I can call them “audience members” in this speculation) who came upon you in those moments did not distinguish you/your body as atypical or anomalous in the space. But then your countenance would shift. Sometimes it was as subtle as the pacing of your steps, a shift in focus, or a sudden stop. Sometimes it was more overt, like a sudden battement or rond de jambe en lair. But whatever it was, in that moment, they would realize that there was something present that they had not previously recognized. That body (your body) was not “playing by the rules” and they did not know why. They were in this strange in between space of almost panic? When they had this moment of recognition, still had not oriented themselves in it, recognized that they had very likely walked right “into the middle of something,” and knew that they had been seen doing so. Maybe too much of my creative ideas right now have to do with shame, but I saw these flickering, vibrant moments of shame, when they recognized not only that this body (your body) was not playing by the rule, but by implication, neither was theirs. They suddenly weren’t quite sure of the rules, and they were aware of how public their “misstep” had been. Different individuals handled themselves differently in this suspended space, but it was that moment that I found fascinating.

And what it says about our perceptions of the body, our expectations and rules for it. And how quickly we take cues and prescriptions for ourselves from the other bodies we encounter. I felt like it revealed something so fragile: maybe the choreography of identity? Maybe when you develop a research interest you begin to see it everywhere, but it was something like that. Up until their encounter with you, the others in the space knew the “rules” and they were playing by them! That’s maybe the crux of this connection is that it revealed some layer of awareness or intentionality of the ways in which these other individuals were handling themselves in their bodies, the way they were choreographing their actions to fit within their understanding of the “rules,” and by encountering you/your dancing body, their understanding of the rule, and thus their “choreography,” was called into question. So fragile.

Moving past that moment/observation, I was interested in the moments in which your actions were recognized as a dance. And it seemed really clear. When there were spectacular actions (again, battements, rond de jambes en lair, roles to the floor, jumps, etc.), it was seen as a dance, you as a dancer, and thus both as entertainment. The viewer would stop and offer their attention. And when the “moments of spectacle” (for lack of a better term) had passed, so did the attention of many. I thought to myself, “These people are not ‘people-watchers’. They are not the kinds of people who are drawn into subtlety, who sit on the Oval and simply observe how people are their bodies, and how that works itself out. They don’t find themselves captivated by the gate of a person, or the architecture of the body.” I don’t know if it had to do with the amount of STUFF going on visual/aurally/energetically/etc. but so many people walking around seemed to be doing so like . . . something dense and blank, and gave pause to whatever made a large mark/impact of their perceptual fields. Because of this, it was interesting to watch people come in and out of an encounter with your dancing body as a dance.

It made me think of something Bill Forsythe said about the thought behind “Monster Partitur” and the whole exhibition at the Wex. He talked about how in the art gallery culture, their is a certain “viewer agency” to meander, to wander, to direct attention for whatever duration, to come in, to leave, etc. And in the dance world, we tend to hold our viewers captive. They come in, they sit down, we turn out the lights, and for the most part, they are expected to STAY. He was interested in moving dance into the gallery space to potentially explore this viewer relationship. it raises questions like, “Dance, unlike a static object, literally changes and unfolds over time. How does its meaning or relevance shift if the viewer can come in or exit an encounter with it at any point? How is its value effected if they don’t see the ‘beginning’ or the ‘end’, only some piece in the ‘middle’?” I felt that “The Runner” leant itself to this way of viewing remarkably well. There is something about the piece, how it moves from one thing to the next with very little through-line, how each moment it partially characterized by the total abandonment of the previous moment, that gives immense permission to see/encounter only a part of it. I felt like I was fully engaged with the piece for its duration, but by the end I could not begin to describe the sequence of events, or even recount all of the events that had transpired. Just as it seemed as if you moved from moment to moment, event to event, with a total abandonment of what came before, I felt that I was invited to do the same. Which seems to relate much more to that “gallery, come and go as you please” mentality than to the proscenium “come in, watch from beginning to end, then leave” way of engagement. In that sense, I commend you hugely. I think Agora was a perfect match for the piece. I think I would also love to see it in the Wex, either in a gallery or outside on that quad . . . something about framing it in the manner of engagement associated with gallery/museum spaces that I described above. I think that is a fascinating connection between the context and content of the piece.

And I think that’s all I have right now. I have this other thought, something about interpersonal engagement, the way the socially devious body, or the dancing body, becomes less “personal” or “human” in the way that people relate to it . . . but I haven’t found the words for that yet.

Thank you for an amazing performance, for creating such a thought-provoking experience, for being “benignly socially devious” in your body/environment, and the commentary that offers. Thanks for introducing me to Agora. I would love to experience it again in years to come, maybe even share work there.

-M”

 

CoCo wrote to Michael 9:54am 17 May 2009
“[from reading what you wrote], I immediately heard Deborah saying something to the effect of YOU MUST BE IN LOVE WITH IMPERMANENCE. i will get the exact wording from my notes later and send them to you. but that is one of the foundations of this work. her point being….you can’t take this moment too seriously..it’s gone. the next is here and you’re it and your cells are it and it’s gone. don’t die when that moment dies and goes….just let it go and enjoy the next. this is one of the big things i’ve been trying to share with our class at OSU……maybe i need to dig up Deborah’s exact words and share them with the class…..that’s what i’ll do.”

and at 10:30am 17 May 2009:
“there is great vacillation b/w interacting with people/objects/energy in the space and the same entities that are built into the structure of the work. the inner logic of the practice is constantly melding/threading/weaving with the natural flow and construction of the logic that comes with the environment in which the practice is being …..practiced…..(word weirdness)

anyway….it’s a very strange and lovely state that i’m in when doing The Runner…..i never feel like i’m “being” a particular way towards the environment….like extremely inner concentration, to smiling and making eyes and playing with a puppy….although i am doing those things…..while i’m doing them, i really don’t have an attachment to the connotations of those gestures and actions…..like “oh i’m doing this and it means this or can be read as that so therefore i’m building/having/presenting an experience that must hinge on this/that meaning”……it’s more like, “oh….i’m attending to this right now because it’s in the lab….and i need the lab….but i’m inviting being seen and surrendering the pattern of facing a single direction, while every cell in my body is getting what it needs….and it’s no big deal”…….so while the action seems very specific and makes it appear that i’m “meaning to make a statement by doing something like snarking a dog’s nose”, it is actually very omni-dimensional …..from the sheer physiological/anatomical physicality of the experience to the linguistic/textual interpretive potential of the experience……………….

does this make sense? in a way it means having to let go of accepted notions of dancemaking…..dancedoing…..dance-ness. there is no structural heirarchy….the rules are laid bare in the moment and constantly shift so that no goal or meaning can root itself other than the perpetual attention to the directive.”

 

I hope that offers you some insight into the performance, my perspectives, some of CoCo’s perspectives, and maybe in the larger sense the way we dancing artists think of/talk about what it is we do. Welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 



Thoughts on Embodiment

As mentioned in a previous post, I am currently (slowly) making my way through Mark Johnson’s The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. The progress is slow because of how many ideas each page provokes. Thus, I recommend it.

Here are some thoughts brought up today:

The dualism of “the body” and “the mind” is an abstraction of the reality that these are not separate entities but essential components/qualities of person-hood and experience. “Pure reason” (free from bodily concerns such as emotion, etc.) is an abstraction in that human reason does not in fact exist in processes free from the body. In an age that seems so increasingly “disembodied” by philosophy and technology, it is a refreshing reminder that none of those experiences or thoughts take place apart from the body itself, anchored and driven by its processes. Disembodiment too then is an abstraction, and for me, a threatening illusion. 

An idea that I am sure will be expounded upon is the idea that bodily processes (including emotion) are not separate from thought/reason/logic/concepts/propositions, but are something like the initial playing field in which those things develop. Meaning (or how we make sense of life, ourselves, this world, etc.) is emergent, not hierarchical, growing up out of the physical experiences, bodily reactions, etc. Even when we are not conscious of it, our emotional reactions are intrinsic and basic for our thought processes. They are the stage on which our ideas and reasonings unfold.

With this breakdown of the body/mind dichotomy into a body-mind or mind-body (I also like the term “soma”), there is a breakdown of the abstract classifications of “subject” and “object”, “self” and “environment”, “person” and “object”. Experience is the basis of our understanding or meaning-making, and experience is an active, moving interaction between the self and the environment, the subject and the object. These two things, although perhaps abstractly distinct as ideas, are never truly discrete; they are constantly connected in moving experience.

The centrality of movement in experience is the subject of the first chapter in Johnson’s book, and I am loving it. It gives whole new layers to dance as a field when movement is seen as central to life, experience, and meaning-making. There are two quotations I would like to share. The first is by Maxine Sheets-Johnstone. She says:

“In the beginning, we are simply infused with movement–not merely with a propensity to move, but with the real thing. This primal animateness, this original kinetic spontaneity that infuses our being and defines our aliveness, is our point of departure for living in the world and making sense of it . . . We literally discover ourselves in movement. We grow kinetically into our bodies. In particular, we grow into those distinctive ways of moving that come with our being the bodies we are. In our spontaneity of movement, we discover arms that extend, spines that bend, knees that flex, mouths that shut, and so on. We make sense of ourselves in the course of moving.”

The second quote is by Johnson himself. He says:

“Movement occurs within an environment and necessarily involves ongoing, intimate connection and interaction with aspects of some particular environment . . . From the very beginning of our life, and evermore until we die, movement keeps us in touch with our world in the most intimate and profound way. In our experience of movement, there is no radical separation of self from world.”

This idea of challenging “person and world” and replacing it with “person moving in world” is profound for me. Just as the mind does not exist apart from the body, the person does not exist apart from the environment. And that unity of existence is negotiated in movement, in time, etc.

Curiously, this reflects my present cosmology, in which the unique, discrete, distinct individual is merely a singular expression of a common Oneness that is existence. My current belief system is one in which all things that exist share a common substance (which might be existence, energy, Love, divinity, etc.), and that common substance finds unique expression in the individual (separateness), in order that our truer nature (oneness) might be reveled through action, relationship, and love. Our existence becomes a process of accessing and recognizing our oneness/commonality, beyond the details of our individual person, while also honoring those individualities and personal details as unique expressions of that commonality.
Something about this idea of “person in environment” as constant state of being (rather than “person” and “environment” as discrete states of being) seems to relate to this cosmology.

I am full of thoughts. I hope you are too.