michael j. morris


documentation of TOWARD BELONGING

On April 29 and 30, I premiered a new dance work entitled TOWARD BELONGING, featuring performers Phil Brown Dupont, Justin Fitch, Eve Hermann, and Counterfeit Madison. Over the last several years, while working on my PhD, my choreographic practice has been almost entirely focused on developing solo queer burlesque pieces, dances that I choreographed for me to perform on burlesque stages in and around Columbus, Ohio. TOWARD BELONGING was a step back into the studio, working with people I care about on making something meaningful and critical together. If you were not able to see the performances, I have finally gotten documentation posted.

April 29 in the Barnett Theatre in Sullivant Hall in the Department of Dance at the Ohio State University, videoed by s lumbert:

April 30 in Studio 290 in Sullivant Hall in the Department of Dance at the Ohio State University:

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an impossible trace: coco loupe in columbus

I want to write about CoCo Loupe in Columbus, Ohio. Or maybe it’s more like: I want to write about CoCo Loupe and me in Columbus, Ohio.
I recognize the impossibility of this endeavor before I even begin, but the impossibility of an endeavor must not diminish the possibility of attempting it, because the attempt will surely produce something other and more than that which is impossible.
Impossible because it will never be a complete account; any trace that I can write will only thread together fragments and gaps to offer an incomplete view, a partial perspective, woven from memory and forgetting.
My life with CoCo begins long before Columbus.
CoCo’s life with Columbus begins before I arrived here.
My life with Columbus will continue once CoCo moves back to Baton Rouge—where we first met—although her having been here will always continue to be how I know this place.
This trace will not offer an account of everything. I doubt it will be entirely linear. But here it is:

I first met CoCo when I was in high school. She was my first modern dance teacher, at The Dancer’s Workshop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we are both from. My memories of CoCo from that period: her shaved head, the intensity of her classes, the Run Lola Run soundtrack, something called “acid jazz,” learning to do “illusions” and something she called “shnorkles,” and lots of pushups and crunches—a series she called G. I. Jane.
She was teaching at LSU at the time, and sometimes her students from the university would come and take class with us.
I would often see her getting coffee at the CC’s around the corner before class. I knew of her before I took her class at Dancer’s Workshop; she had done a show called Loupe’d with the modern dance company with whom I would eventually dance, Of Moving Colors Productions (OMC), and I remember seeing the posters for the show at my high school. Later when I worked for OMC, I filed lots of flyers with her bio on them, and saw this photo all the time:

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Amiti Perry and CoCo Loupe on a rooftop in New York

This was how I saw CoCo for many, many years.
When working for OMC, I saw a video of Loupe’d, and I watched it obsessively for years; she did not know this at the time. What I saw in CoCo’s choreography, and her collaborative work with Amiti Perry, was unlike any dancing I had seen in Baton Rouge. It was so strong and connected; I could hardly keep up with how one action became another and led into something else. I knew I wanted to dance like that someday.
Years later, I would create a solo based on a solo that CoCo presented in Loupe’d; I didn’t know this at the time.
Then she moved to Columbus, Ohio, for grad school, and I went to college in Jackson, Mississippi. We saw each other several times at American College Dance Festivals during those years, and I felt like our lives were being braided together somehow, from this starting point in Baton Rouge to somewhere I did not yet know. I took her technique classes a these festivals, and I remember being disoriented by how familiar it was, and also how much her dancing had evolved, the mix of the unfamiliar within what was already intimately incorporated into my body from years earlier. When I graduated from college, I chose to apply to the Ohio State University for my MFA in Dance because this was where CoCo went and because the work that I had seen her present at ACDF year after year was the kind of work I aspired to make. I was accepted to the program.

During those years, I devoured CoCo’s blog, From One Foot To The Other. The things that she wrote and thought about were the things I wanted to write and think about, and we left long traces of comments back and forth discussing things I can no longer recall but which gave me the first taste of what it would be like to think about and write about dance. I felt like my world was expanding line by line, post by post, thread by thread, comment by comment. Her blog gave me a connection to somewhere else, both literally her life and practice in Columbus (and then Oregon), and also a dancing life where dance and choreography functioned as research, where bodies were sites for critical inquiry, and dancing could ask questions about time and space and memory and cognition.
Year later, her blog would disappear—deceased—and it would be transformed into a zine and live on as a dance. We didn’t know this yet.
Years later, I would be teaching a course called Writing About Dance at the Ohio State University, and CoCo would come perform for my students so that they would have live dance to write about. We didn’t know this yet either.

When I first came for a visit to Columbus to find a place to live, CoCo met me for lunch at a place called Bodega. We ate salad and drank coffee, and she showed me a video of her dancing a solo called The Runner choreographed by Deborah Hay. Years later, words from Deborah Hay would become part of the structure and score for a dance CoCo would make called from one foot to the other, and I would see some of the words from Hay scribbled on the walls of a place called Feverhead, but we didn’t know this at the time.
In the years since then, I’ve seen CoCo perform The Runner several times. I saw it at least once at AGORA when Junctionview Studios was still in operation. And this is the dance that she would eventually perform live for my students, an updated version of the solo, formerly The Runner, now entitled 1976: a bicentennial death at the disco. we ran for our livesI saw this dance for the first time on CoCo’s laptop on a hot June afternoon sitting in the front of Bodega in 2008.

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CoCo practicing The Runner in what was formerly Studio 2 in Sullivant Hall at OSU

At the end of my first year of grad school, CoCo asked me to dance in a new piece, originally to be titled 3 boys and an old prophetess, with Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, CoCo, and myself, to be performed in a concert called Anthro(pop)ology II at the Columbus Dance Theater. I didn’t know Eric before this project, and I hardly knew Jeff. During the process of creating that piece, the four of us rehearsed in CoCo’s attic and a dance studio called Floorspace that no longer exists. During the process, it became unclear who were the three boys and who was the old prophetess; we all had prophetess solos, we all made solos to pop songs, we all danced together and with one another. And then CoCo got injured. Her role changed, and she became a figure who watched us, witnessed us, recorded us, and shared us. In the final version of the piece, she sat at a desk on the front edge of the stage with her computer and camera, watching us dance; on the opposite side of the stage was a large screen onto which was projected her computer’s desktop, and the audience watched as she watched us and uploaded comments and photos live to her Facebook. In the final version of the piece, we took turns dancing with one another and dancing for one another, watching each other and being watched by each other. The succession of solos was suffused with anticipation, I remember, charged with aggression and eroticism and tenderness, and each time we danced it, I think I fell in love with everyone involved again and again. The piece was entitled click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, and we danced it all summer and throughout the autumn until it premiered in the fall of 2009.

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click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, photo by Dr. G

That same fall, I began choreographing a new dance temporarily then permanently entitled Autumn Quartet, with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, Amanda Platt, and myself. It was an experiment with explicit violence and sexuality, with more pop music, with conventional vocabularies of erotic performance—pre-figuring my work in burlesque, but I didn’t know this at the time—and systems of determinate and indeterminate algorithmic choreography. More aggression, more eroticism, more pop music, more tenderness, more falling in love. We danced set phrase material, made choices within an algorithmic score, stripped for one another, rolled around on the floor biting each other, leaving our marks on each other, being naked with each other, getting dressed in each other’s clothes. I asked CoCo to come see the piece and give me feedback. This is not the only dance of mine to which I would ask her to watch and respond; it was not the first nor was it the last. She was my guide, my other eyes; I could trust her to see what I could not see and to show my own dance(s) to me. I was so lost in that lovely, unpredictable, structured mess of a dance, and the dance CoCo described back to me was perhaps the first time I realized that we are always doing so much more than what it is that we think we are doing, in our choreography and in our lives. It’s an intimate act, to ask someone to give you their view of your own work, to invite that view into the creative process, to let their words affect the choices that you make in the dance that you are creating. In life—by which I mean something like life beyond the dance studio, although admittedly the boundaries get blurry—I think we call this something like love. CoCo is one of the few people who I have welcomed again and again into that position.

Autumn Quarter rehearsal in what was formerly Studio 2 of Sullivant Hall at OSU

Autumn Quarter rehearsal in what was formerly Studio 2 in Sullivant Hall at OSU

Over the next year, we danced together sometimes, as CoCo healed from her injury. She played golf. And sometimes we danced.

improv jam at Travonna Coffee House

improv jam at Travonna Coffee House

improv jam at Columbus Dance Theater

improv jam at Columbus Dance Theater

One time we danced at a food festival in the Gateway.

gateway food fest

gateway food fest

[I’m forgetting all kinds of things, and leaving things out. Each memory unravels into all kinds of other stories, other histories, other connections. Why don’t I remember enough to write about BACKSPACE or the times I saw CoCo perform with them, all the different settings and situations in which we were together at Columbus Dance Theater? Why not explain that at the Gateway food festival, in the middle of an improvisation with whatever band was playing, I met Heidi Kambitsch who would eventually host the Queer Yoga classes that I teach at a space called It Looks Like It’s Open? How can I not tie together all the strings of relationships with other people and faces in these photographs? Isn’t it amazing that in trying to write one impossible trace, I can feel the pull of so many intersecting histories and how we’ve all made a life together here in this place called Columbus?]

That year—2010, the year I was accepted into the PhD program in the Department of Dance at OSU—CoCo did several performances/practices with the idea of “the other woman” (I think that’s what she was called). It was a version of CoCo, a video of her dancing, sped up and digitized, and the flesh-and-blood CoCo tried to learn this digitized, sped up version of herself, tried to dance like this other woman. Those were really important works for me to witness; I felt like she was dealing so directly with the impossibility of ideals, the intense labor of our bodies struggling to live up to standards that have been manufactured as digital images of ourselves, while also fully accepting our own cyborg statuses, how we are already actualized in conjunction with all kinds of digital software/hardware, and how our flesh-and-blood bodies have already become something other than they might have been because we have looked at ourselves in the mirror of technology and (mis?)recognized ourselves as our digital avatars. This is grown-up, cyborg “mirror phase” shit, and I was enthralled. She danced around this hybrid other woman for a while, at Wild Goose Creative, in the window of Wholly Craft, other places.

dancing with the other woman at Wild Goose Creative

dancing with the other woman at Wild Goose Creative

dancing as the other woman at Wholly Craft

dancing as the other woman at Wholly Craft

I didn’t know that soon thereafter CoCo and collaborators would stage an interactive dance/projected chat room spectacle at Wild Goose where I would be invited to be an “expert commentator,” to write about the dance that was happening live, to have that writing projected on the walls of the gallery for the spectators and performers to see, to have that text absorbed back into the dance. She has been dancing around our lives with technology for a while. I didn’t know that years later I would be dating someone that CoCo introduced to me who performs at Wild Goose month after month. There’s a lot we didn’t know all along.

A lot happened the following summer—2011. We did a performance with a lot of dancers at Comfest, and many friends I have since come to know and adore reference that performance as the first time they saw me (dancing with CoCo).

Comfest performance 2011

Comfest performance 2011

That same summer, Feverhead came into existence.
How do I even begin to write about Feverhead? It has been the setting for so many important moments in my life and in the lives of dancing and not-dancing people in this city. In July 2011, CoCo had the opening and tour of the Feverhead space, a space for making dances and for dancing, for performances and classes, the home of a collective of dancers called They Might Be Dancers and their collaborators. I showed up late after teaching yoga across town. I stretched out in the space for the first time that night.

Feverhead opening 2011

Feverhead opening 2011

I had no idea how many times I would stretch in that space, dance in that space, rehearse in that space, watch performances in that space, teach in that space, read my own writing in that space, teach and take Queer Yoga classes in that space, watch myself in a dance film projected on the walls of that space, cuddle in a bed with friends and lovers and strangers in that space, screen queer pornography on the walls of that space, cry on the floor of that space, pose for photos for a Valentine’s article about Columbus couples in that space, listen to music composed and performed by friends and loved ones in that space, discover new ways of thinking and moving and loving and performing all in this crazy little space called Feverhead. We simply had no idea at the time.

That fall, CoCo asked me to perform with her at TRAUMA, an annual kink/fetish Halloween event that has been happening in Columbus for over a decade. We learned choreography and rehearsed at Feverhead. This would be the first time I would perform in six-inch heels on stage. This would be the first time I would be flogged in front of hundreds of people. We danced for almost five hours on two different nights, on the main stage, on the dance floor, and again on the main stage. We left with welts and bruises from COREROC/Ashley Voss whipping us with floggers dipped in paint, marks on our bodies that would linger for days/weeks. It continues to be one of the most intense performances I have ever done, and I did it with/for CoCo. I have continued to perform in TRAUMA every year since then. Performing together was surreal and a total genderfuck: CoCo is this intensely muscular body wearing combat boots and I am next to her, long and lean, in six-inch heels; we were both wearing gas masks. I like to think that we brought something queer/genderqueer to the TRAUMA stage, that together/alongside one another, we brought contemporary dance to a non-traditional space, and performed bodies that do not readily conform with the normative expectations for what gendered bodies should be. I know I felt visible because I was dancing next to her.

TRAUMA 2011

us at TRAUMA 2011

me at TRAUMA 2011

me at TRAUMA 2011

A month later, CoCo had an event at Feverhead called “Afternoon Delight,” a kind of mixed-media casual art event, with live music and visual art and dancing. She asked me to read an essay that I had written called “Who/How I?” We didn’t know at the time that two years later, this essay would be published on NPR’s This I Believe web archive. I thought this one public reading constituted the life and impact of that writing, and sharing it in public was a gift that CoCo gave me. We ended up dancing together that afternoon; it seems like we always end up dancing together.

Afternoon Delight November 2011

Afternoon Delight November 2011

In 2012, CoCo decided to create an event modeled on events that she used to produce in Texas (I think?) called STUPID CUPID, an alternative Valentine’s party. She asked me to contribute a performance, and I staged a piece called cuddle which I had first performed in U.Turn Art Space in Cincinnati as an homage to the piece by the same title originally performed by artists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens. This piece involved installing a full sized mattress in what was then the gallery space at Feverhead. Over the course of the evening, I cuddled with partygoers for seven minute intervals, in solos, pairs, and trios. We may have had one quartet? I think I cuddled with around forty people that night. But one of the first people was CoCo. We were very quiet. Some people talk when they cuddle. Some want to chat or share intimate details or ask questions; we just rested together, for seven minutes, before the party really got going.

Cuddle at STUPID CUPID 2011

Cuddle at STUPID CUPID 2011

Shortly there after (maybe a week?), I hosted my first queer porn screening at Feverhead. I had attempted to have a queer porn screening in multiple other venues in the city, and it had never come together. CoCo offered me the space. It was an opportunity to bring more visibility to work that is already being done in pornography to bring visibility to more bodies, sexes, sexualities, and genders. We screened the work of Shine Louise Houston, Madison Young, and Courtney Trouble, all queer/feminist pornographers committed to ethical productions and ethical representations of bodies, people, and their sexualities. This was the first of two porn screenings that I have had at Feverhead.

15_warming_up_feb2012
The screenings were both followed by conversations in which a room full of people talked about their perceptions of pornography, sex, sexualities, what it means to be queer, what it means to be trans, how to stimulate the g-spot, what it means to produce ethical representations of sex and bodies, and the sheer excitement of seeing other people have sex in ways that you perhaps have never imagined. Feverhead has been an incredible space for many people and for may purposes, but hosting those queer porn screenings/conversations were pivotal for me: through those events, Columbus became more of the city where I wanted to live. I know I’m not the only one who feels like Columbus is a better place to live because Feverhead is here.

Sometime that spring, CoCo was training for a 24-hour or multi-day performance. She had a (I think) four hour performance in which people were invited to drop by for any amount of time throughout the afternoon. I stopped by for a bit. I ended up dancing with CoCo while DJ Moxy made sound with us live in the space. It was not the first time I had danced to Moxy’s music, but it was maybe the first time I had danced with CoCo to Moxy’s music. It would not be the last. I have lost track of how many times and the different places where we have danced so hard while Moxy dj’ed that we sweated through all of our clothes and closed down the bar, soaking wet and completely alight. We had no way of knowing that over a year later, the three of us and others would be grooving through a yoga practice that might be one of the most transformative physical experiences of my life thus far (also at Feverhead), or that we would be standing together on Gay Street watching Way Yes at the Independents Day Festival, or dancing into another sweaty mess together at the Columbus RED Party.

CoCo, Moxy, Michael

CoCo, Moxy, Michael

That autumn—2012—CoCo premiered a new dance called FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance with They Might Be Dancers Too (Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann), with appearances by They Might Be Dancers (Noelle Chun, Nicole Garlando, Lindsay Caddle LaPointe, Noah Demland, Leigh Lotocki, CoCo Loupe) and Karen Mozingo, with original music by Counterfeit Madison and Noah Demland. This was the dance that her blog became, the blog that I read before coming to grad school. It became a zine and it became a dance, made with and for three adult dancers—Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann—who had only begun dancing months earlier. I have written at length about that piece here, and if you have time, I hope you follow the tangent to read about that piece and come back here.

FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance

FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance

[There’s so much I’m leaving out. There’s so much I’m forgetting. There was the time that I desperately wanted to present my research at the Ecosex Symposium II in San Francisco and I did not get the travel grant I applied for and CoCo sponsored my travel so that I could present my research, where I continued to collaborate with Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, about whom I am writing part of my dissertation, who first performed the cuddle piece to which I performed in homage, where I met Jiz Lee who performed in the queer porn that I would eventually screen in Feverhead, where I stayed with Karl Cronin who CoCo introduced to me years earlier and about whom I am also now writing in my dissertation. And the quarter that CoCo taught technique at OSU and I took her dance class again, six or seven or eight years after I had first taken her classes in Baton Rouge. And that CoCo performed with the Velvet Hearts before I did, and I watched her performing with this burlesque company on the stage of Wall Street years before I would perform with them on that same stage. And dancing into a sweaty mess at HEATWAVE. And the time we were both part of the Noble Peach Awards, and I gave Eileen Galvin the award for Biggest Genderfuck, and CoCo called the two of us goddesses, and she was given an award for—I think—most likely to dance into exhaustion, and I was so excited to be part of a community of people who would show up and celebrate and honor these kinds of people and accomplishments. And watching one another perform more times than either one of us could possibly count. And more.]

In the spring of 2013, I created a dance for the first FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival based on a solo that CoCo had choreographed that I had watched again and again on an old VHS tape of a concert called Loupe’d in Baton Rouge. CoCo let me use/adapt her choreography for this solo, choreography that was too difficult for my body to dance, choreography that had to be slowed down and altered to fit my body and to function as burlesque. Somewhere in what the choreography became, our bodies met (again). I made a video from footage that CoCo shot so that there could be a video component that approximated an idea that CoCo had for the original piece that had never been realized. She met me in a warehouse in Franklinton, and videoed me dancing this solo that I had made from her solo; in the final performance, the video was projected on five screens surrounding the audience at Wall Street Night Club while I performed the solo live on stage. This is the video that was projected, CoCo videoing me dancing the solo made from her solo:

CoCo photographing me outside 400 West Rich after videoing my/our solo

CoCo photographing me outside 400 West Rich after videoing my/our solo

me performing the solo alongside the video projected at the FIERCE Festival

me performing the solo alongside the video projected at the FIERCE Festival

There’s so much more to tell, about sitting on a couch at Impero and exchanging mantras to mend our broken hearts while clutching mala beads as spring became summer. About all the dances and classes and collaborations through which CoCo has made Columbus what it is, for which I was not present, for which I cannot account. This is, after all, an impossible trace. It’s all fragments and gaps and memories and forgettings. There are people who maybe should have appeared in these traces that have not, and tangents that I maybe should have followed. There are so many other accounts that could be written.

This autumn—2013—we knew CoCo would be moving back to Baton Rouge.
She also started this Friday night class called Grooveasana, a yoga/movement improvisation hybrid class the danced in and out of asana, that found asana and transitions between asana as we danced around them. I can’t completely explain why this practice has been one of the most fulfilling/generative practices in my life…it has something to do with my long-time yoga practice providing a trusted preparation and container for wherever else my curiosity might take me/my body. For many weeks, we were still trying to figure out exactly what it was we were doing, how to go about a loosely structure yoga asana practice that could dissolve into grooving and dancing and exploration and then easily transition back into savasana/relaxation. Sometimes Moxy dj’ed. And we found our groove, again and again and again, in different ways, along different paths.
But I don’t want to diminish the significance that it was CoCo leading the way, and my earliest experiences in dancing were following CoCo’s lead, as a teenager taking dance classes in Baton Rouge, following her lead to OSU and Columbus, OH, following her throughout this community, in and out of Feverhead in so many ways, and through this groovy familiar/unfamiliar yoga/dancing space.

Grooveasana, photo by Kate Sweeny

Grooveasana, photo by Kate Sweeny

It is no exaggeration to say that I don’t know where I would be if I had not followed CoCo, all the traces she left for me and in my dancing body/life; I know that I would not be here. I don’t know how my body would move; I would have never considered moving to Columbus or going to OSU; I’m not sure if I would have made the dances that I’ve made; I know I would not have danced the dances that I’ve danced. When and where would I have ever had queer porn screenings or cuddling performance art or watched my loved ones new and old performing together for the very first time or grooved my way in and out of yoga?
I have never lived in this city without CoCo, and Columbus will always be what it is to me because of CoCo having lived here with me.
But this is really just a concrete metaphor for something vastly more true: I have never lived the life I am living—and dancing and writing and teaching and loving—without CoCo, and it will always be what it is to me because CoCo has been braided in and through it for so long.

This is an insufficient trace. I can’t seem to put words to what it felt like, all these years, the ebbs and flows of inspiration and elation and hesitation and contemplation and perplexity and frustration and grief and laughter and seeing each other again after longer periods of time and the overwhelming sense of recognition, of having been seen by another for so long, and so much delight and so much relief and so much love… There is so much I can feel slipping just beyond the edges of the screen, and what I’ve written cannot begin to do justice to this person I love. But I needed to try to record what I could fathom of these years, pieced together from memory and Facebook. There’s a part of me—the part of me who is a writer, the part of me who writes in order to show appreciation, in order to extend the duration of that which I appreciate—that is already grieving the loss of being able to write about CoCo and her work, at least for the foreseeable future. And here I’ve found myself writing a trace of her/our dancing life/lives perhaps as a way of holding in the present—and into the future—the tangle of that dancing and writing that I will miss so very much.

Our lives will continue to braid, in Baton Rouge, beyond; the trace certainly does not stop here.

[Friday, December 13, CoCo is offering a gratitude and farewell concert at Feverhead: https://www.facebook.com/events/391730200961595/
On the program:
Noah Demland’s “Timelines”
Obstinate Robinson AKA Counterfeit Madison AKA Sharona Sharona Sha-ro-na
Corbezzolo – Marie Corbo, Philip Kim, and Noah Demland
“Very, Very, Very”: A new trio by CoCo Loupe with music by Noah Demland for Nicole Garlando, Leigh Lotocki, and Amanda Platt
New video work by Nicole Garlando w/ photography by Eve Hermann
“re: addressing”: A solo (CoCo) bon-voyage-dancing-gift
Friday, December 13, 2013
8pm
Feverhead: 1199 Goodale Blvd, Columbus, OH, 43212
Tea and BYOB party follows performance.
Free admission but donations happily accepted.]



scarlette fall fashion preview

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Scarlette Fall Fashion Preview on the Wexner Center for the Arts Plaza.

77943_562033073832880_1915034202_o

Scarlette Magazine is the Ohio State University’s first fashion magazine, released twice a year. Friday’s runway show previewed looks from the magazine’s upcoming Fall Issue.

Taking place on the Wexner Plaza, Sullivant Hall, currently under renovation, served as the backdrop for the event. As I sat in the overbearing sunlight waiting for the show to start, the DJ blasting sounds across the plaza, I thought about how the context and setting were already coloring my experience of what was yet to unfold. I came to graduate school in 2008 for my MFA in Choreography. Sullivant Hall was my second home for three years. To date, I have probably spent more hours in that building than anywhere else in Columbus. I have danced, choreographed, studied, taught, and shared so much inside those walls. But over the last two years, the Department of Dance has been displaced, spread throughout a handful of buildings across campus while Sullivant was gutted and rebuilt from the inside out. This fall the Department will gradually begin to move back into our spaces, along with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, the Department of Arts Administration, Education, and Policy, the Advanced Center for Computer Art and Design, the Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise and the Barnett Theatre; the new building will no doubt hold wonders untold. As I sat in the sun anticipating this fashion preview on the OSU campus, I felt suspended before renovation, somewhere between a manifold of memories of what once was and all the promise that is suggested by what is yet to come.

Then the show began. Photographers, maybe five or six, hovered around the crowd and at either end of the runway. The first model was one of my former students, wearing a palette of golds, khakis, and beiges, a kind of sarong wrap skirt, a lace midriff camisole, and golden lips. Gold was a theme throughout a number of looks (nineteen in all?), a kind of anchor that shimmered across the surface. I am not a fashion writer, and I cannot pretend to be; what has lingered with me days later was the event as a performance, how the event enacted a version of fashion within a particular choreography, within a particular context, and with particular bodies. The choreography, with minimal deviation, involved a long single pass down the cement runway at one side of the plaza, a pose, another pose, and a second long pass back up the runway, affording the audience the opportunity to apprehend, accumulate, and appreciate the bold and subtle details of each look. The pace of the steps was driven mostly by the music of the DJ, with only one or two models experimenting with different layers of tempo, differing the rhythms of their steps. Throughout a show that seemed run through with individuality and personal expression, the rhythm of the runway had an odd regulatory effect, these bodies falling into step with tempos being given to them by the DJ. This is of course not uncommon for runways, but perhaps that is something to be considered: the runway as ambivalently given over to both individual expression and a—can I call it disciplinary?—regulation of bodies. Fashion [shows] as a form of corporeal discipline? This all collapsed momentarily when the sound system overheated and shut off, leaving the models to walk the runway to no given beat, only the busy sounds of the Friday campus outdoors. After the initial flurry of, “What happened? Is something wrong?” settled in the crowd, there was an almost John Cage-ian quality to watching these models walk with whatever sounds there were, as if they were simply walking through daily life.

And this is an important part of how the show has lived with me over the last few days: what it had to do with daily life. These were students’ bodies on display in an outdoor public space on the campus where we live our daily lives. That we were all sweating together in the intense sunlight—the audience and the models alike—made this liveliness tangible. Behind the models was Sullivant Hall. Pedestrians—possibly their professors and classmates—stopped throughout the show to take a look at what was happening. I myself have walked across the Wexner Plaza more times than I can imagine, on my way to teach or take class; I’ve danced with those trees, walked that cement runway, noticed the bodies of other people moving around and alongside one another in loose choreographies, and in ways that are likely both similar and distinct, I’m sure most people sitting there or walking that runway have lived portions of their lives on that plaza. But it wasn’t just the context the gestured to everyday life; it was the fashion itself. I can’t go into detail about every look—there was a black dress with what seemed to be white metallic paint on the front side, worn by a model with severe black eyebrows penciled in and carrying a candle; there was a beige open back halter shirt draped with a loose harness made from ropes and tassels, a kind of baroque suggestion of a BDSM aesthetic—but what I noted was that most of the garments were what I would call found and/or altered pieces. This was not haute couture, and it was not big budget. Most of the models wore their hair in ways that likely isn’t that dissimilar to how they wear it any other day, and most of the shoes were what I would think of as a “best fit,” the shoes that worked best given what people had to work with. In short, this was a student fashion show. And herein was its brilliance: it was not a display of the unattainable, garments fabricated from far-off fantasies and aspirations. It was a parade of looks cohering around several tangible themes—gold, black and white, the juxtaposition of athletic wear and formal wear, among others—all of which were imaginable and realizable by and on the bodies of students, in some ways that echoed currents trends and aesthetics in RTW and couture fashion lines, and in other ways that seemed to emerge from the possibilities suggested by these found pieces themselves. For me, this was a glimpse of what a campus like ours could look like, with students experimenting with what they have in order to make something new and different and exciting. By the end of the show, the backdrop of Sullivant, in the process of renovation, somewhere between what it was and what it could be, felt very appropriate.

Scarlette Magazine makes its mission “to showcase campus individuality and beauty, presenting new ideas and exciting photography both to the Ohio State University campus and to the world.” If the presentation of both new ideas and the potential for beauty and individuality on campus within their Fall Fashion Preview is anything to go by, I would say that they are serving that mission. And I look forward to seeing the forthcoming Fall Issue.

For more information about Scarlette Magazine, its staff, past and current issues, and writings about fashion, visit:
http://www.scarlette.osu.edu/index.html
and
https://www.facebook.com/scarlettemagazine
and
http://scarlettemagazine.tumblr.com



We Were When They Started, and We Were After They Had Gone

This morning, Westboro Baptist Church picketed on the campus of the Ohio State University. I have chosen not to offer any hyperlinks to WBC’s sites, or to offer any photos of their protests or transcriptions of their rhetoric; I have chosen to not reproduce or proliferate what I categorize as hate speech/rhetoric. I think it is enough for the purposes of this post to summarize that WBC considers homosexuality to be “soul-damning” and asserts that the “sanction” of homosexuality in the United States (and around the world) has exposed our country to wrath of god. The Ohio State University is apparently also complicit in this “sanction,” making it a target for these radical protests.

Last week, a colleague of mine named Owen David told me that WBC would be on our campus again. He suggested that we stage some sort of performance response to their presence at OSU. I agreed; while I rarely engage overtly in public protests, it felt important to me to oppose the presence and sanction of these voices in the place I call home. Over the past week, the idea for the performance evolved and developed, settling into its final form this morning. We decided to engage in a walking meditation on intersecting pathways, converging nearby where WBC would be protesting. WBC was set up on the corner of High Street and 12th Avenue. Owen started approximately 100 feet west of the intersection on 12th, and I started approximately 100 feet south on High. Our plan was to take twenty-five minutes to walk from our starting positions to our convergence point only a few feet from where WBC were positioned, hopefully finishing our walks around the time that the protest dissipated. Instead, our walks took over an hour. We started when they started, and long after they had gone, we were still progressing. This transformed the situation of the performance, and in doing so provided me with unforeseen significance for what it was we were doing.
This performance/performative protest was intended as a quiet assertion of the visibility and mobility of bodies that would be prohibited under the politics of WBC. It was important that we were not responding in the same social registers as those deployed by WBC (signs, loud music, etc.). Our response was articulated through silence, sustained mobility, concentration, and contemplation. By the end of our walks, several other themes had emerged for me: endurance was significant, not only in the sense of the bodily endurance necessary to take over an hour to walk close to 100 feet, but also in the sense that our presence/action endured/persisted far beyond the presence/action of those to whom we were responding. I was also deeply aware of how my understanding of visibility had shifted by the end of the performance.

It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the overall context in which we enacted this performance/practice. WBC protesters were not the only bodies present on the corner of 12th and High. In fact, the crowd of counter-protesters dramatically outnumbered the small but vocal WBC crowd. There was also a large police presence on the scene, some officers spread around the periphery of what felt like a rally, but most establishing a line of protection around the protesters from WBC. The crowd that had gathered in opposition was exemplary of the productive force of power, and the unforeseeable/uncontrollable effects of political action. The hate rhetoric of WBC became a foundation for unlikely alliances: those who showed up to oppose the homophobic rhetoric occupied space alongside thus who showed up out of a sense of school spirit, opposing the anti-OSU rhetoric deployed by WBC, as well as those who showed up out of a sense of national patriotism, to defend the country and the military against the attacks issued by WBC. This church opposes the nation and the university, claiming that both institutions enable homosexuality, and that this enabling marks this nation for destruction. However, these attacks produced unlikely results, namely, provoking a response that allied bodies/individuals alongside homosexuals who might not otherwise occupy such a position. Witnessing this was a great reward.

When we started, I immediately felt as if I had conjured myself as invisible. My quiet, slow progression down the sidewalk seemed to vanish alongside the noise and commotion of the protesters on the corner. This was a difficult place to begin: I had come to this place this morning to assert my visibility, my mobility, and at the start it seemed as if my action had effectively erased my presence from the situation. However, the longer I walked, the more those who passed by me in either direction took notice of my presence. Several people spoke to me. One person asked my permission to photograph my walk for his photography course. Others simply stared or observed from a distance or became aware of me as an unexpected obstacle in their path. In this sense, what I had conceived of as an assertion of visibility became something more akin to a journey from invisibility into the very visibility I had intended to assert.

However, this experience of visibility became most important—and significantly reoriented—towards the end of the walk. The crowd had dissipated. WBC had left the corner, and it was once again a seemingly neutral thoroughfare. That was when I became aware of my awareness of Owen. He had been at the periphery of my vision throughout the walk, and although he was far off and through the crowd, I recognized him. As we approached one another in the last few minutes of our walk, I realized that this sustained recognition may have in fact been the vital practice of this performance. I kept thinking of this passage from a lecture by Judith Butler:
“So what I accept is the following: Freedom does not come from me or from you; it can and does happen as a relation between us or, indeed, among us. So this is not a matter of finding the human dignity within each person, but rather of understanding the human as a relational and social being, one whose action depends upon equality and articulates the principle of equality … No human can be human alone. And no human can be human without acting in concert with others and on conditions of equality … The claim of equality is not only spoken or written, but is made precisely when bodies appear together or, rather, when, through their action, they bring the space of appearance into being.”
I had shown up to assert my visibility; what I came to realize over the hour of our walk was that it was actually through this performance/practice that I truly “showed up,” came to appear, came to be visible, to recognize and be recognized. It was through our performance together that we conferred visibility and recognition on one another, and it was in part through the walk itself that we created the conditions for that mutual recognition. As we got closer, I noticed that our steps fell into unison. Neither was fully leading or following; rather, we were moving together. We acted “in concert” with one another, and in doing so, established our own experience and possibility for recognition. Afterwards, Owen commented that as we approached one another, he actually smelled by scent before he saw me directly. As we met, we turned towards one another, made eye contact, and then embraced. Seeing and touch became further iterations of recognizing and being recognized. It seems now that the true significance of this performance lies in this conference of recognition, specifically in the presence and aftermath of those who would erase our existences.

It seems important to me after the fact that so much of this mutual recognition was practiced at the periphery of our vision. We did not look at one another directly until we converged at the finish. This seems to me a very queer experience indeed, to not only see someone, but to recognize him, not straight-on, but obliquely, from the side, at the edge. This indirectness that might be read as a form of queerness seems to also have been implicit in our spatial pathways. We didn’t come from opposing points (a rigid binary), but neither did we presume to come from the same place (alongside one another). These variable experiences of seeing, recognizing, and approaching seem essential (if I may hazard that word choice) to what it means to move through the world queerly, and it seems important that these elements made up the primary materials of this performance.

It also seems important to recognize the inherent connection between recognition and desire, between desire and discourses of sexuality, between recognition/visibility and the political projects of civil rights, specifically those that mobilize around issues of sex, sexuality, and gender identity. I’m afraid I don’t have the time or space to fully address those connections, but my hope is that by suggesting them, I might also suggest possible extensions for today’s performance/practice.

I do not know if we were recognized as other-than-heterosexual, as queers or homosexuals moving, but what I do know is that we presented ourselves as moving through the world differently, as moving out of step with those around us. The very thing that differentiated us from those moving around us—being out of step, our slow and sustained progress, etc.—was also what established our commonality, our visibility to one another, visibility that eventually led to a synchronization of our steps.
How significant that what makes us recognized as different is not necessarily something that we are, but rather a way that we do, and that this doing is simultaneously what set us apart and brought us together . . .