December 2023: religioning
Something else must anchor me where I find myself now, exposed.
I'm surrounded. I write these words in the company of a newish friend. I'll leave LA in a few hours to continue work on an exciting long-term project. Much attention has accrued to me and my practice these past few months. Here, at year's end, I'm feeling newly public. The performer part of me relishes this energy. Other parts of me clamor for smaller, darker, more familiar spaces. Suspended in a continuum of sense, I loop between emergence and disappearance — much like this newsletter. Movement, however vexed or ambivalent, is inevitable.
Currently, I describe my practice as "a repertoire of movements toward liberation." If choreography is, as so many folks say, the organization of movement in space and time, then I choreograph by assembling parts of self, other people, other beings; by making and holding space for assembly; by ushering the assembly toward a given end. Of course, there's only so much guiding anyone can do, under any conditions. Each time my work writhes with life — each time it slips my grip — I wonder: this discomfort, is this something like liberation? The instances come faster, more closely together, and they test my commitment.
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I tend to side-eye the 'year-in-review,' bound as it is to an interval too large or vague for me to choreograph meaningfully. Nevertheless, time and space, we begin by swimming in them; perceptions and pathways must be crafted. I turn my head and a look backward becomes a look ahead, both becoming one smooth motion, looking around. I've been doing a lot of looking, especially as I revisit my own papers and books as part of my latest project, YARD SHOW. I scour these archives for traces of bygone movement, admiring my sketched fancies of strange new configurations. Yet, with all these maps, where do I find myself on the landscape of livingness?
This year, I've contended with the demands, difficulties, and affordances of public visibility. TROUBLE (March 2023) renewed my contact with four good artist/educator friends, all of whom taught me the magic of vulnerability in collaboration. That energy buoyed me through They're Not Corrections, They're Changes (June 2023), a vexing 'solo' that bolstered my capacity for self-trust, even as I thought shamefully on what I shared. As it happened, I could be audacious. And so I was, as I brought the wasp project (August 2023) to a concert dance festival - with lots of words, and no apparent dancing, in tow. By the end of this project, my public self rang with aggravated soreness.
These works coaxed me from the comforts of bitterness, stinginess, and sanctimony. In withdrawing from concert dance — my not-so-secret proxy for exploitation and erasure — I've ventured into the depths of screens and notebooks, my voicebox, my viscera. And it's really true, what kids believe: if you tunnel deep enough into the earth, you'll come out the other side. Beyond my own rich recesses, genocidal campaigns (like Israel and the US’ joint effort against Palestine) disturb my efforts at self-regulation. In themselves, they've been deeply necessary; by themselves, they prove untenable. Something else must anchor me where I find myself now, exposed.
Reader, you know: I'm devoted to discovering what I already know.1 I'm held to this profoundly confounding engagement with 'parts of self.' I wreck on my own shore, especially when I encounter sides of me I've all but disavowed. In fact, it's not just the well-mannered performer part of self that relishes attention, that bottomless locus of power and control. It's also the bossy parts, the commandeering parts, the parts that suffer no compromise when it comes to the execution of a vision. These parts feel even more self-absorbed than my ego, if that were possible. They’re coming online more quickly than I’d imagined. They sense nurturance at the surface. Ravenous, they are not to be managed, but fed.
I worry about my work. I scrutinize my motivations for investing in such categories as selfhood, relationality, and (scariest of all) spirituality. Often, I ask myself whether I'm really just a cult leader seeking a following. But the work offers a test, and I accept it, this trial of its integrity. I've been inviting these scary self-parts into conversation. They've demanded I actually face them - that I learn something about cults, specifically, and the vagaries of 'belief' and 'doctrine' more broadly. My work on ritual and folklore plunges into shadow, and therein finds a new vitality. I am, for the first time in my life, able to reclaim a major space of personal disavowal: religion reveals itself as a core aspect of my practice.
What does that mean? The word "religion" rings with this question. It's a wedge splitting many relations. It asks to be moved with or away-from, embraced or disavowed. And Lord knows, what we need — what we have, as the languaging of Enlightenment fully implodes — is movement. What stirs in the ruins of these forms (and their appellations)? We must each answer the question for ourselves, if we hope to know together, beyond coercion. I want to move with the notion of religion-beyond-belief, a notion recent religious studies scholars and anthropologists describe as religioning.2 At root, this both is and isn't about the patterns of meaning-making called ritual, myth, culture. What they, what I seek to learn, lay in the doing.
We can organize movement in time and space without even trying. As YARD SHOW reminds me, I've spent a year sketching fanciful registrations of what's present. Returning to them, they make shockingly handy maps, not least because they can never explain away the territory. I'm excited to pursue my practice as an exploration of religioning, even as I bring a new frame to this year's work. As time unfolds, I hope to speak more clearly about these things, so that the work can find ever greater alignment in the world. This, after all, is what religioning does for me: it asks how we can move together, even if separately. Out here, we're surrounded. May we live into it all, even when the light dims.
Visit my website to learn more about YARD SHOW, and to browse the accompanying capsule collection. Until soon, be well!
I borrow this formulation from JJ Valberg’s Dream, Death, and the Self, which describes philosophical inquiry in these reflexive terms. Valberg’s thinking about the “personal horizon” is informing my interest in religioning in many exciting ways…!
Malory Nye’s “Religion is Religioning?” is a wonderfully informative introduction to this notion.