Book Chapter

Orientations as Materializations: The Love Art Laboratory’s Eco-Sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea

by Michael J. Morris

This in a excerpt from Michael J. Morris’ “Orientations as Materializations: The Love Art Laboratory’s Eco-Sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea”

Matter Participating in Performance

I first encountered the work of the Love Art Laboratory (2005–2011) when I was an undergraduate dance major living in Jackson, Mississippi. I do not recall how I first came to the online archive of their work, only that I visited their site constantly. On difficult days, I would navigate to the homepage where I would be greeted by voices repeating over and over, “We love you! We love you! We LOVE you! We love you!”[1] I would peruse the site, re-viewing each of their projects, each one so vibrant and colorful, each one seeming to be so full of loving and living and community. The project impressed me, not only because it enacted and gave visibility to big, bright, beautiful queer love—of which there was a dearth in Jackson, Mississippi—but because it operated as a positivity. Although the project is framed as a collaborative “response to the violence of war, the anti-gay marriage movement, and our prevailing culture of greed,” it does so by “doing projects that explore, generate, and celebrate love.”[2] Each year, these artists staged elaborate performance art weddings, each one themed around a specific chakra and the color associated with that chakra.[3] I remember feeling deep, twenty-something-year-old rage in the face of the politics to which the Love Art Laboratory (LAL) was responding, but from the LAL—Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens—I began to learn a form of response that channeled rage into something other than conflict, violence, or even protest. Instead, Sprinkle and Stephens were making something: they were making a life of love together, they were making art that performed that love in ostentatiously public ways, and they were making that art with other people, creating collaborative communities around and through the work that they made together. The project responded to war, hate, and greed by becoming performative proponents of a different kind of world rather than responding as antagonists against the world in which we were living.

By the time I went to graduate school, I had become obsessed with one particular facet of the LAL project. True to their Fluxus roots, the LAL project seemed to be a dynamic integration of art and life. Sprinkle and Stephens lived out their love in and through their art; their art was about their love, but it was not merely a representation of their life together. As performance, it was a way in which they enacted their life together and love for one another. This integration of life and art, as well as the kind of life that this art enacted—a life that was all about love, a love that was persistent, marrying one another again and again and again, a love that was oriented toward inclusivity and bringing more people together into creative endeavors and the formation of community, rather than being oriented toward the exclusivity of a unilateral exchange between only two bodies—was something that I wanted to understand, and undoubtedly something that I wanted for myself as an art maker.

In 2009, I secured a small grant to travel to San Francisco to meet Sprinkle and Stephens, to interview them about their work, and to see a new exhibit of their work entitled “SEXECOLOGY: Making Love with the Earth, Sky + Sea,” on display at Femina Potens Gallery.[4] The exhibit included ephemera from their Green Wedding Four (2008) and their Blue Weddings (2009), photographs by Sprinkle and Stephens, a series of “ecosexual” collages that they made in collaboration with Camille Norton, Adam Harms, and Tessa Wills, and a video that documented Sprinkle and Stephens’s “ecosexual coming out” narratives titled When I Knew... (2009). The first day I went to the exhibit, I felt my interests in the work beginning to expand. I had come to San Francisco on a kind of research pilgrimage, to try to understand how Sprinkle and Stephens created work through which they lived their love, but as I spent time with the work in this exhibit, I was seduced by other possibilities being opened by the LAL. Sexecology. Ecosexuality. These were the themes of the exhibit, and had become central to the LAL project since 2008.

Beginning in 2008 with Green Wedding Four, Sprinkle and Stephens declared themselves “ecosexual” and began to make ecological vows in addition to annually reiterating their love and commitment to one another through their weddings.[5] In 2008, they made their vows to take the Earth as their lover in Santa Cruz, California. They made similar vows in the year that followed, marrying the Sky in Oxford, England, and the Sea in Venice, Italy (2009). “Ecosexuality” was bigger than the integration of life and art that I had come to San Francisco seeking. In these ecosexual artworks—the ephemera from the weddings as well as the collages and photographs—I still saw the enactment of inclusive love and the formation of communities through collaborative arts practice, but there was more: this work turned toward the material world—a world that might be called “nature,” a world of organic and inorganic, nonhuman and human matter—in ways that refigured both the position of the human and the nature of “nature” toward which these bodies turned. The performances of ecosexuality in the work of the LAL engaged the material world—the Earth, the Sky, and the Sea—not as passive or inert “natural resources” for human use or as an “environment” in which human action takes place; rather, these performances figured erotic entanglements with a material world of which we are always already a part, a material world that includes of a spectrum of nonhuman and human participants that together enact the materialization of that world.

Since the time of that exhibit, the LAL—a seven-year project inspired by Linda Montana’s 14 Years of Living Art—has come to a close. Sprinkle and Stephens have continued to stage ecosexual weddings and adjacent projects for the duration of the LAL: They married the Moon in Los Angeles, California, and the Appalachian Mountains in Athens, Ohio (2010); the Snow in Ottawa, Canada; the Rocks in Barcelona, Spain; and Coal in Gijon, Spain (2011). Their final LAL wedding project was The White Wedding to the Sun: Pleasuring the Planetary Clitoris in San Francisco, California, in December 2011. Additionally, they have led Ecosexual Walking Tours all over the world; premiered and toured a stage work entitled Dirty Sexecology: 25 Ways to Make Love to the Earth; have become actively involved in the fight against mountain top removal in the Appalachian Mountains, activism that includes the filming and producing of a film entitled Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story (2013); organized multiple EcoSex Symposiums in both the United States and abroad that brought together artists, scholars, and activists to discuss the development of ecosexuality in a range of cultural arenas; offered free Sidewalk Ecosex Education Clinics; and have continued to tour, teach, lecture, and exhibit their work with sexecology and ecosexuality around the world.[6] Having completed their seven-year LAL project, Sprinkle and Stephens have devoted their focus to the ongoing development of “sexecology,” their term for a field of research “exploring the places where sexology and ecology intersect in our culture—in art, theory, practice and activism.”[7]

In this chapter, I will discuss ways in which the performance of ecosexuality in the work of the LAL suggests ontologies of both performance and the material world that consider performances as materializing phenomena in which material entities—such as “the human” and “the environment”—do not merely interact, but are intra-actively produced. I will focus my articulation of these themes through an analysis of the Eco-Sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea (2009), although I believe that this “ecosexual intervention” is accomplished in Sprinkle and Stephens’s work more generally, and that each project and performance offers a different inflection to ecosexuality and how we might understand its elaboration.[8]

Matter Participating in Performance

We welcome you all, humans and animals, bio and trans, men and women, transgender bodies, mutants and survivors. You’ve been invited by Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens to celebrate the blue year of their love and together, forming a liquid community in order to marry the Sea.[9]

Figure 23.1 Participants in the Love Art Laboratory’s Eco-Sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea at the Fear Society Pavillion, Venice, Italy

Photo by Gigi Gatewood, used with permission from Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle

Figure 23.2 Beatriz Preciado leads the assembly in a chant written by Linda Montano at the Love Art Laboratory’​s Eco-Sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea

Photo by Gigi Gatewood, used with permission from Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle

This passage is taken from the homily offered by Beatriz Preciado as part of the Love Art Laboratory’s Eco-Sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea in Venice, Italy, in 2009.[10] The Blue Wedding to the Sea is one installment in the seven-year LAL project and is intended as a “symbolic gesture” aiming to “instill hope, to be an antidote to fear, and act as a call to action.”[11] Specifically, this wedding is between the artist-brides Sprinkle and Stephens and the Sea, a gesture of “loving the Sea erotically” and being taken deep inside their “primordial selves.”[12] The artist-brides extend an invitation to the community of artists, performers, scholars, educators, activists, sex workers, and supporters who gather to participate in this event to also take vows to “love and protect Sea” along with them, acknowledging that “our bodies are made largely of water so in fact we are the Sea.”[13] The wedding takes place at the Fear Society Pavilion (Arsenale Novissimo, Tese di San Cristoforo, Tesa 92) during the 53rd Venice Biennale International Art Exhibit. For several hours, participants gather at the edge of the waters of the Laguna Veneta to perform with and for one another before processing through the city, eventually starting their vows in an open air café and completing them on a flight of stairs leading down into the water near the Grand Canal at Arsenale.[14]

This wedding ceremony includes a diverse range of performers and disciplines.[15] The ceremony begins with a procession from the interior of the Fear Society Pavilion out to the water’s edge. The performers and participants form a rough circle where the stone of the city meets the sea, sitting and standing alongside one another, facing toward the central space where performances will take place. Throughout the ceremony, off to one side, Natalie Loveless kneels in front of a bucket of water, gradually and carefully wrapping her head tightly in clear filament, disfiguring her face. Beatriz Preciado, the “Anti-Priest,” leads the assembly in a chant written by Linda Montano. Carol Queen offers a pagan invocation, calling the quarters in each of the cardinal directions. Lian Amaris and Sadie Lune, dressed in metallic blue Lycra mermaid costumes, roll on the ground with one another, removing objects from zippered pockets at their crotch and sucking a double-headed dildo. Sarah Stolar and Jeff Medinas—performing as “Starlight” and “Neptune”—contribute a hoop and staff partnered “wave dance.” There is a group meditation in which participants are asked to contemplatively caress erogenous parts of their body. There are several pieces in which clothes are removed, and several readings including poetry, storytelling, and spoken word. Tim Stüttgen performs a piece he refers to as “the final castration” that involves being wrapped in tin foil and smeared with whipped cream, and ends with the artist flinging himself into the canal, resurfacing having removed the dildo he had been sporting. Lady Monster performs a burlesque dance, spinning and twirling seductively before the gathered participant-spectators. Diana Pornoterrorista, covered in blue body paint, pulls a scarf out of her vagina and performs a blue anal fountain on a platform in the center of those gathered for the ceremony, with assistance from Beatriz Preciado. There is a scene of butch-femme seduction that finishes with strands of blue beads being hooked into the skin of one performer’s back. Finally, wailing, Loveless dunks her bound head into a bucket of deep violet water. She proceeds to cut herself free of the filament that she had wrapped meticulously throughout the ceremony. Her face bears deep marks from the twine.[16] Each of these performances enacts a series of intra-actions between human and nonhuman materials, in ways that are far too numerous to describe.[17] While each of these various acts deserves its own analysis, what I would like to emphasize is that this event is distinctly collaborative and interdisciplinary, comprising a diverse range of actions that are motivated by participation in this event and particularly enabled by the interdependency—or, to use a term that will become more significant below, intra-activity—of this particular collaborative community. In addition to the performers and participants in the wedding ceremony itself, Sprinkle and Stephens consistently recognize the community of collaborators that contribute to the production of the LAL weddings, including costume designers, makeup artists, wedding planners, graphic designers, web designers, photographers, videographers, caterers, funding bodies, exhibition spaces, producers, spiritual advisors, and so on. Whether in conversation, in archival materials, or in exhibitions, these weddings are never presented as only the work of Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, nor are Sprinkle and Stephens situated at the center of the work. Rather, credit for the work is distributed across the whole community of participants, displacing any clear, singular, lead artists, and emphasizing the collaborative nature of these projects. I would like to suggest that these collaborative interdisciplinary endeavors do not merely bring together a collection of preexisting art works and artists that are curated into these events, like a variety show that leaves the participants and their contributions unchanged. Rather, the operation of these LAL performances—of which the Blue Wedding to the Sea is only one to which attention might be given—is such that the collaborative endeavor produces both a community of action as well as its constituent parts. To be clear, I am suggesting that the performers and performances that constitute the Blue Wedding to the Sea do not preexist the event as such, but rather come to exist as they do in and through the particular material-discursive arrangements enacted as this ceremony.[18]

In order to articulate this claim, I will suggest that this performance is a material-discursive apparatus, a phenomenon comprised of ontologically inseparable intra-acting participants that include both nonhuman and human actants.[19] This apparatus relies on particular material supports that function as participants in the intra-active production of the ceremony. It involves spatial and ideological orientations through which ecosexual subjects and communities of action are produced, orientations that do not merely arrange preexisting subjects and communities toward or within a preexisting material world, but are themselves the intra-active production of such worlds, communities, and subjects. The orientations and relations that constitute this apparatus and through which its constituent actants emerge are accomplished in part through the redeployment of the wedding performative, specifically the wedding performative as it has been entangled in the material-discursive history of Venice and the Sea.

My understanding and description of the Blue Wedding to the Sea in these terms has been made possible by the significant influence of several theorists. Most notably, Karen Barad’s articulation of agential realism and posthumanist performativity in her diffractive reading between science studies and performative approaches in critical social theories has provided new materialist epistemological, ontological, and ethical understandings of how the world comes to matter. Drawing primarily from the work of quantum physicist Niels Bohr, Barad articulates a relational ontology that takes phenomena to be the primary ontological unit rather than preexisting independent objects. She writes:

[T]he primary ontological unit is not independent objects with inherent boundaries and properties but rather phenomena. In my agential realist elaboration, phenomena do not merely mark the epistemological inseparability of observer and observed, or the results of measurements; rather, phenomena are the ontological inseparability/entanglement of intra-acting “agencies.” That is, phenomena are ontologically primitive relations—relations without preexisting relata. The notion of intra-action (in contrast to the usual “interaction,” which presumes the prior existence of independent entities or relata) represents a profound conceptual shift. It is through specific agential intra-actions that the boundaries and properties of the components of phenomena become determinate and that particular concepts (that is, particular material articulations of the world) become meaningful.[20]

Barad’s agential realist account of phenomena as the fundamental unit of ontology enacts a significant intervention in how we understand and represent the ongoing materialization of the world. The world is not simply an iterative interaction between subjects and objects, between the activities of human culture and passive nature as a resource; rather, these relata or agencies are themselves produced through their intra-activity. Barad writes that “intra-action” is a neologism intended to signify “the mutual constitution of entangled agencies.[21] I will not summarize here the detailed account of specific experimental procedures within quantum physics and technoscience that Barad uses to provide empirical evidence of this relational ontology that takes phenomena as the fundamental unit through which intra-active relata become differentially produced; rather, I refer to Barad’s work as a useful framework and vocabulary through which to account for the performative roles of both the nonhuman and the human, the material and the discursive, in performance, in ways that figure these actants as mutually constitutive rather than preexisting.

Two other terms that Barad elaborates are useful to this discussion: performative and apparatus. Of performativity, Barad writes:

Performative approaches call into question representationalism’s claim that there are representations, on the one hand, and ontologically separate entities awaiting representation, on the other, and focus inquiry on the practices or performances of representing, as well as the productive effects of those practices and the conditions for their efficacy. A performative understanding of scientific practices, for example, takes account of the fact that knowing does not come from standing at a distance and representing but rather from a direct material engagement with the world. Importantly, what is at issue is precisely the nature of these enactments. Not any arbitrary conception of doings or performances qualifies as performative. And humans are not the only ones engaged in performative enactments (which are not the same as theatrical performances). A performative account makes an abrupt break from representationalism that requires a rethinking of the nature of a host of fundamental notions such as being, identity, matter, discourse, causality, dynamics, and agency, to name a few.[22]

For Barad, “performative” is not co-extensive with “performance,” but is instead concerned with the productive effects of practices of knowledge and representation. A performative account is concerned with the material engagements with the world—engagements that are themselves intra-active phenomena—through which the world is not merely measured and represented, but is iteratively produced through specific reconfigurations enacted through specific material-discursive arrangements, or “apparatuses.” Barad defines apparatuses as “specific material configurations, or rather, dynamic (re)configurations of the world through which bodies are intra-actively materialized.[23] They are “the practices of mattering through which intelligibility and materiality are constituted,” or “material-discursive practices—causal intra-actions through which matter is iteratively and differentially articulated, reconfiguring the material discursive field of possibilities and impossibilities in the ongoing dynamics of intra-activity that is agency.”[24] In this sense, apparatuses are practices or performances through which materialization is enacted. They are choreographies that do not merely organize but also produce the relations through which agential bodies—both nonhuman and human—emerge. Although Barad suggests that such performative enactments are not the same as theatrical performances, neither can performances in the theatrical sense be excluded from this ontological framework. Rather, theatrical performances—which I take to include those performances germane to the disciplines of theater, dance, performance art, and so on—are themselves material-discursive practices, entanglements of a spectrum of actants that are intra-actively produced through the particular arrangements of the given apparatus. If we are to take “discursive practices” to be “specific material (re)configurings of the world through which the determination of boundaries, properties, and meanings is differentially enacted,”[25] it would be short-sighted to suggest that these theatrical disciplines do not deploy material-discursive apparatuses. In examining our disciplines/events of performance—whether dance, theater, or performance art, let alone the endless list of events that are not the domain of theater-proper but might be considered nonetheless theatrical, such as public protests, athletic events, beauty pageants, political campaigns, funerals, military spectacles, and so on—our concern must be to consider not whether such events materialize the world through agential intra-actions but how these material-discursive practices produce boundaries, properties, meanings, and possibilities through differential becomings. How does each of these disciplines produce particular relations through which its constituent relata emerge? For instance, how do the practices associated with a particular dance technique or choreography shape what a body is and what it can do?[26] What objects—props, sets, costumes, puppets, pointe shoes, theaters, etc.—are produced in and through their use within a particular performance discipline? How are roles such as “spectator” and “performer” materialized as bodies through the particular relational activities ascribed to each role within situated settings? In short, how might matter come to matter differently if we were to consider dance, theater, performance art, and so on, as apparatuses through which relations and relata come to materialize? Departing from Barad, I consider the Blue Wedding to the Sea to function as such an apparatus, a set of material-discursive practices constituting a phenomenon of intra-active performers—including both human and nonhuman participants—through which those performers are differentially produced.

What then are the particularities of this apparatus? What are its material-discursive practices? And who or what are the intra-active performers produced in and through this apparatus? I will suggest that the Eco-Sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea is primarily an apparatus of orientation, a turning toward objects that enact the differential production of ecosexual subjects and the material world—here, the Sea—toward which they turn. These practices of orientation are accomplished through actions—collective intra-actions of performers, spectators, and the material supports for those acts—that produce a community of action which includes the Sea at Venice itself as a participant.

Sara Ahmed usefully expands the discourse on sexuality in ways that assist in this articulation of ecosexuality when she attends to sexuality as it is figured as an orientation. She writes of orientation, “Orientations involve directions toward objects that affect what we do, and how we inhabit space. We move toward and away from objects depending on how we are moved by them.”[27] Orientations, then, are not merely about object choice; to turn toward an object produces a direction, a way of moving and taking action.[28] If we consider such an orientation to then produce or enact a particular material arrangement, it follows that to become oriented is an intra-activity through which both the oriented subject and the object toward which the subject turns are produced. This is consistent with Ahmed’s discussion of objects. She writes, “The object is not reducible to the commodity, even when it is bought and sold: indeed, the object is not reducible to itself, which means it does not ‘have’ an ‘itself’ that is apart from its contact with others. The actions performed on the object (as well as with the object) shape the object. The object in turn affects what we do.”[29] Orientations for Ahmed are directions for actions, and those actions shape the object toward which one orients; in turn, the affected object—notably here produced through the intra-action of orientation—affects what we do, reconfiguring the action that we take or can take, and in doing so, participating in the production of the orientation itself as well as the body that becomes through that orientation. If we take orientation to be an apparatus for intra-activity that differentially produces objects and subjects, we can here also see how this apparatus is an ongoing (re)configuration in which both objects and subjects participate. The turn toward the object produces an orientation from which the desiring subject emerges, bringing the subject into proximity with the object, and enabling particular actions (or intra-actions) to take place. The object is itself shaped and produced through these intra-actions—how it is engaged or handled or used—and in its (re)materialization, the object enables different possibilities and impossibilities, participating agentially in what actions [can] take place and thus how the world unfolds in and through the intra-actions made possible.

Within the Blue Wedding to the Sea, bodies turn toward the Sea, taking the Sea as the object toward which they orient. They gather together on the banks of the Venetian lagune, their orientation bringing them into proximity to the Sea toward which they turn. These bodies gather from all over the world—the United States, Canada, South America, Italy, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and England, among others—drawn together to the waters of Venice by their orientation, an orientation pronounced “ecosexual” in the name of the event itself. Following Ahmed and Barad, the Sea—and the city built on and around it—must here be considered to be participating in this gathering, the object that enables particular intra-actions within the apparatus of this event. What is the effect of this gathering? What does it matter that these bodies—including the bodies of Sea and of Venice—are brought together by this ecosexual orientation? Ahmed writes:

To direct one’s gaze and attention toward the other, as an object of desire, is not indifferent, neutral, or casual: we can redescribe “towardness” as energetic. In being directed toward others, one acts, or is committed to specific actions, which point toward the future. When bodies share an object of desire, one could say they have an “affinity” or they are going in “the same direction.” Furthermore, the affinity of such bodies involves identification: in being directed toward a shared object, as a direction that is repeated over time, they are also oriented around a shared object.[30]

The shared orientation of bodies turning toward the Sea produces both a gathering on the banks of Venice, where stone meets water, and also a gathering around this shared object. A collective is formed through this gathering on and around a shared object, a collective that does not preexist the gathering but is produced as an effect of this apparatus. In this sense, while the orientation toward the Sea produces subjects turning toward an object with which they take action, it also brings bodies together around a shared orientation toward this object, enabling a diversity of actions that are performed with and for one another. Bodies do not merely turn toward the Sea, but they turn toward the Sea together.

Judith Butler addresses the necessity of collectivity for political action and the production of public space in her lecture “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street,” presented in Venice as part of “The State of Things” lecture series sponsored by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway in conjunction with the 54th Venice Biennale—two years after the LAL married the Sea during the 53rd Venice Biennale. She argues that “for politics to take place, the body must appear,” a space of appearance that is always established through sociality, a being for the other in forms of appearance for which we cannot individually give an account. She goes on to say:

No one body establishes the space of appearance, but this action, this performative exercise happens only “between” bodies, in a space that constitutes the gap between my own body and another’s. In this way, my body does not act alone, when it acts politically. Indeed, the action emerged from the “between.”[31]

Butler figures the gathering of bodies together as a necessary condition for political action. The Blue Wedding to the Sea takes this condition as an organizational practice within the event. In addition to bodies turning toward the Sea and the production of a community of action around this shared orientation, bodies also turn toward one another, performing with and for one another in turn. The unfolding of the performance over time does not maintain a stable unilateral orientation of spectators toward performers; rather, the performers are the spectators for one another in turn, distributing the “center” of the community in a shifting, mobile direction of attention. In some cases, the spectators are recruited as participants in the performances, creating a situation reminiscent of Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed, in which the community as a whole is active, performing with and for itself as a whole.[32] The space of appearance that Butler suggests is a necessary condition for political action emerges in the Blue Wedding again and again amid the shifting positions of performers and spectators as bodies appear with and for one another.

Significantly, within this same talk in which Butler claims collectivity and plurality as a necessary condition for political action, she includes the material environment as a participant in the action that takes place. In her discussion of political protests such as those taking place in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011, she states, “the square and the street are not only the material supports for action, but they themselves are part of any theory of public and corporeal action that we might propose. Human action depends upon all sorts of supports—it is always supported action.”[33] For Butler, this material support is not only a stage for action, but the material environment is configured as a part of the action. “So when we think about what it means to assemble in a crowd . . . we see some way that bodies in their plurality lay claim to the public, find and produce the public through seizing and reconfiguring the matter of material environments; at the same time, those material environments are part of the action, and they themselves act when they become the support for action.”[34] While it seems as if Butler’s account of material agency continues to rely on human action as the means through which the agency of material environments becomes articulate—primarily as a support for human action—this inclusion of material environments as participants in political action and the production of publics is a significant step in developing ontologies of performance that take account of the role of nonhuman material actants with which we intra-act in our various disciplines.

Jane Bennett, in her development of a vital materialism, pursues a politics that engages intentionally with the vibrancy and liveliness of matter itself. She writes:

How would political responses to public problems change were we to take seriously the vitality of (nonhuman) bodies? By “vitality,” I mean the capacity of things—edibles, commodities, storms, metals—not only to impede or block the will and designs of humans but also to act as quasi agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own. My aspiration is to articulate a vibrant materiality that runs alongside and inside humans to see how analyses of political events might change if we gave the force of things more due.[35]

She goes on to suggest that there is an ethics to how we imagine matter. She suspects that “the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption.”[36] Her book pursues a range of places at which we might consider the agency of materiality, in ways that displace agency as primarily a human property and distribute it across a field of nonhuman and human actants, and that take the “ontologically heterogeneous ‘public’ coalescing around a problem” as the appropriate unit for analysis in any democratic theory.[37] Following Butler and Bennett, it becomes useful to consider the ways in which the Blue Wedding to the Sea, which is figured explicitly within the “Artists’ Statement” and the Anti-Priest Beatriz Preciado’s homily as a political act, operates as an “ontologically heterogeneous public” comprised of human and nonhuman material-discursive actants across which agency is distributed. How does the “material environment” (as Butler refers to it) participate in the action of the performance, in ways that are entangled with but not reducible to human action?

Before addressing this question, it is necessary to recall that the collective action of these nonhuman and human actants produces the differential components of that collective. Within Ahmed’s terms of orientation, and Butler and Bennett’s discussions of gathering and collectives and publics, it might be easy to default to a perspective of preexisting individual entities that are then arranged through the apparatuses of group action and shared orientations. However, we must continue to recall that Barad’s agential realist contribution to this analysis is that the relata do not precede the relation; the apparatus enacts practices that configure phenomena as states of relation from which differential terms such as object and subject, or material environment and human, emerge. We must then do more than inquire after how the city of Venice and the Sea on which it is built participate in the action of this performance; we must consider how they are produced through participation in this intra-action and, in turn, how the human participants emerge simultaneously through this intra-activity.

How does the Sea participate in this action, which is to ask, in what ways is the Sea performatively constituted through its iterative intra-active participation in the performance of the Blue Wedding to the Sea? The Sea operates in a range of material-discursive becomings. The materiality of the waters flowing around and through Venice cannot be disentangled from the discursive productions through which they have come to matter, discursive productions including but not limited to the LAL wedding ceremony; likewise, such discursive productions cannot be disentangled from the material constraints, supports, and consequences through which they become enacted. Discourse is never merely ideological, but always relies on material apparatuses for its articulations, articulations that themselves participate in the (re)configuration of material possibilities and impossibilities, the ongoing materialization of the world and how it matters. Within the Blue Wedding, the Sea—specifically, the Venetian lagune of the Adriatic—flows alongside the banks of the city, waters and stone that are here given by way of an ancient history of materialization, centuries of nonhuman and human intra-action engaged in commerce, politics, religion, society, and culture.[38] The city itself might be considered the materializing effect of human intra-actions with these waters of the north Adriatic Sea, a materialization that reconfigures both “the human” and “the Sea” in the differential production of what becomes possible and impossible due to its iterative becoming. The Blue Wedding is one such possibility enabled by the long history of formative intra-action between the city of Venice and the Sea. The materiality of the Sea has functioned for centuries as a material condition for the city; in turn, the materiality of the city functions as a necessary condition and support for this performance, which in turn conditions the possibility for particular orientations and groupings of bodies. The city and the Sea do not only provide the support for these human actions, as if such actions and actants preexist the apparatus of the performance in which they take place; rather, such actions are already intra-actions with the city and the Sea, and the performance itself participates in the history of material-discursive production through which “the human,” the city, and the Sea are entangled.

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​———. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. New York: Routledge, 1997.

———. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Gender. New York: Routledge, 1990.

———. “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street.” Lecture presented at The State of Things lecture series, sponsored by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Venice, September 7, 2011. http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1011/butler/en.

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———. “Cyborgs to Companion Species: Reconfiguring Kinship in Technoscience.” In The Haraway Reader, 295-320. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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Tea, Michelle. “The Fifth Wedding: A Dispatch from a Three-way Marriage at the 2009 Venice Biennale between a Porn-Star-Turned-Performance-Artist, Her Chakra-Savvy Partner, and the Ocean.” The Believer (November/December 2009): 15–20.

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Notes

[1] “Love Art Laboratory” Homepage, Love Art Lab (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens), 2007, http://loveartlab.org/index.php.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chakras are energy centers in the body taxonomized in yogic philosophy. See Anodea Judith, Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2006).

[4] “Blue Year Gallery Installation,” Love Art Lab (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens), 2007, http://loveartlab.org/gallery-installations.php?year_id=5.

[5] For a more detailed account of Sprinkle and Stephens’s declaration of ecosexuality, see “Ecosex Manifesto,” Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, http://sexecology.org/research-writing/ecosex-manifesto/; “Ecosex Herstories | sexecology.org,” Stephens and Sprinkle, http://sexecology.org/research-writing/ecosex-herstories/; and The Journal of EcoSex Research 1, no. 1, http://sexecology.org/research-writing/the-journal-of-ecosex-research/.

[6] In addition to my scholarly interest in the LAL’s work, I participated in The Purple Wedding to the Appalachian Mountains in 2010, The White Wedding to the Sun in 2011, and the EcoSex Symposium II in 2011.

[7] “Short Bios | sexecology.org,” Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, http://sexecology.org/about-us/short-bios/.

[8] To be clear, I believe the framework of “ecosexuality” to be a field of diverse potentialities that become articulated differently in different situations, contexts, and sites. The LAL and the Blue Wedding to the Sea comprise a series of nodes at which ecosexuality becomes articulated, but I believe its potential as a framework exists at innumerable sites at which sex and sexuality become entangled with “ecology,” “nature,” the “environment,” and the material world more generally.

[9] “Beatriz Preciado’s Homily,” Love Art Laboratory (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens), http://loveartlab.org/slideshow.php?year_id=5&cat_id=126.

[10] For the most part, I will refer to the Blue Wedding to the Sea in the present tense, gesturing toward how it might be inhabited as a figuration of ecosexual orientation, and also toward its continuing digital “performance” through the LAL website archive.

[11] “Artists’ Statement: Eco-Sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea,” Love Art Laboratory (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens), http://www.loveartlab.net/PDF/statement_blu09_final.pdf.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Michelle Tea, “The Fifth Wedding: A Dispatch from a Three-Way Marriage at the 2009 Venice Biennale between a Porn-Star-Turned-Performance-Artist, her Chakra-Savvy Partner, and the Ocean,” The Believer (November/December 2009): 15–20.

[15] For documentation of the event, visit “Ecosexual Blue Wedding to the Sea,” Love Art Laboratory (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens), http://loveartlab.org/slideshow.php?year_id=5&cat_id=121.

[16] My account of the wedding ceremony is reconstructed from the wedding program, http://www.loveartlab.net/PDF/VeniceProgramDesign.pdf; Blue: A Documentary about “Eco-Sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea” by Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, by Francesca Fini, http://loveartlab.org/slideshow.php?year_id=5&cat_id=123; and Tea, “The Fifth Wedding.” In accounting for this event as an intra-active phenomenon of material-discursive arrangements, it is significant to note that this chapter, itself a participant in the material-discursive life of this event, is reliant on digitally archived materials, the technoeconomic relations of Internet access, and the mediating devices/practices of film and journalism. This account is not a representation of a preexisting independent event; rather, it is the production of an event—the event of this chapter—in which the Blue Wedding to the Sea and its documentation are constituent parts that are themselves reconfigured and produced anew in and through the phenomenon of this account.

[17] Costumes, themselves material participants in these performances, play a big role in the Blue Wedding. Michelle Tea recounts: “Everyone is wearing blue, and the overall look is very Burning Man—costumes and body paint, rhinestones and glitter, ribbons, tulle, sequins, chiffon, lots of tattoos, and some scarification markings keloiding across arms and collarbones. There are Venetian masks, fake flowers, and paper fans fluttering in the humidity.” Tea, “The Fifth Wedding,” 17.

[18] By “material-discursive,” I mean to signal the entanglement of discursive practices—the social, cultural, linguistic, and disciplinary conventions that condition the materialization of bodies and worlds—with the material conditions through which such discursive practices are accomplished. I use this term in order to resist a reductionism that figures matter as the passive surface on which discourse acts, or matter as fully determinate. Rather, material-discursive apparatuses and actants are operations of the agencies of both matter and discourse, which are never disentangleable from one another. Karen Barad writes, “In my agential realist account, discursive practices are specific material (re)configurings of the world through which the determination of boundaries, properties, and meanings is differentially enacted. That is, discursive practices are ongoing agential intra-actions of the world through which specific determinacies (along with complementary indeterminacies) are enacted within the phenomena produced.” Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 148–49 (italics original).

[19] The term “actant” is Bruno Latour’s, and has been picked up by various scholars of science studies and adjacent inquiries into the nature of matter. Jane Bennett writes, “Actant, recall, is Bruno Latour’s term for a source of action; an actant can be human or not, or, most likely, a combination of both. Latour defines it as ‘something that acts or to which activity is granted by others. It implies no special motivation of human individual actors, nor of human in general.’ An actant is neither an object nor a subject but an ‘intervener,’ akin to the Deleuzian ‘quasi-causal operator.’ An operator is that which, by virtue of its particular location in an assemblage and the fortuity of being in the right place at the right time, makes the difference, makes things happen, becomes the decisive force catalyzing an event.” Vibrant Matter: Towards a Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 9.

[20] Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, 139 (italics original).

[21] Ibid., 33 (italics original).

[22] Ibid., 49 (italics original).

[23] Ibid., 170 (italics original).

[24] Ibid. (italics original).

[25] Ibid., 148.

[26] For more analysis on the relation of activity, agency, and the body, see Carrie Noland, Agency and Embodiment: Performing Gestures/Producing Cultures (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).

[27] Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 28.

[28] Here, Ahmed suggests that such orientations affect how we inhabit space; however, this configuration produces space as a preexisting container for action. Within Barad’s agential realist account, the agential intra-actions of phenomena do not merely unfold in time and space but are the iterative reconfigurations/production of space, time, and matter. See Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, 140–42.

[29] Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 43.

[30] Ibid., 120 (italics original).

[31] Judith Butler, “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street” (lecture at The State of Things lecture series, sponsored by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Venice, September 7, 2011), http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1011/butler/en.

[32] Augusto Boal, Theater of the Oppressed (London: Pluto Press, 1979).

[33] Butler, “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street.”

[34] Ibid.

[35] Bennett, Vibrant Matter, viii.

[36] Ibid., ix.

[37] Ibid., 108.

[38] For a detailed account of the formation of Venice on the waters of the Adriatic, see Francis Cotterell Hodgson, The Early History of Venice: From the Foundation to the Conquest of Constantinople A.D. 1204 (London: George Allen, 1901).

 

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