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The Columnest: I’m Google, Polyamory, Trisha Brown and Learning to Let Go

I’ve been taking release technique. Release is a type of modern dance born of the upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s. A Cliffs Notes history: sixties troublemakers, bored with “technique” and finding its history of elitism incompatible with their political beliefs and with the practices of their comrades in visual and other arts, began focusing […]

Screenshot from I am Google, a Tumblr of imagesby  Dina Kelberman

Screenshot from I’m Google by Dina Kelberman

I’ve been taking release technique. Release is a type of modern dance born of the upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s. A Cliffs Notes history: sixties troublemakers, bored with “technique” and finding its history of elitism incompatible with their political beliefs and with the practices of their comrades in visual and other arts, began focusing on dance as task, on uninflected, un-virtuoso, pedestrian dance. A dancer responding to a task is necessarily improvising; dancers pursuing improvisation for its own sake found that improvisation worked best with an open and capable body, one that could go in any direction at any moment. Throw in a pinch of Alexander Technique and other body-alignment systems, and you get release: a form of dance that prizes an open body, whether improvising with another or executing a combination.

What does release look like? The Trisha Brown Dance Company. Spinning into and through the floor. A traveling balance that disintegrates yet remains a balance. Constant flow. With her head thrown back, she spins with one leg up, then flips so the leg that was in front of her is now behind her body but still up, her head perilously low. She crumples into the floor but keeps going; a sweep sets her upright again, but tottering backward. Her arms reach for light.

I ask a friend in her twenties what’s trending in young sex. “Polyamory,” she says—not so much the practice but the public identity. People are polies now the way people are vegetarians, or redheads. We discuss the polies. Are they for real? The irony (or is it an irony at all?) is that the most sincere and solid polies my friend has run across seek not multiple lovers, but multiple loving relationships: more caresses, less sex. (I propose an axiom: whatever’s trending in sex is never about sex.) My friend and I, both happily coupled, come down on the side of monogamy. But the conclusion we reach, I can’t help noticing, makes a neat mirror image to our last conversational topic, freelancing versus having a “real job”—in which we voted for freelancing, because who wants to depend on one and only one?

Trisha Brown, Untitled (Set One), soft ground etching with relief roll on paper, 2006. Photo: Walker Art Center

Trisha Brown, Untitled (Set One), soft ground etching with relief roll on paper, 2006. Photo: Walker Art Center

Here’s something entrancing: I’m Google, the artist Dina Kelberman’s sprawling Tumblr. Once I decided to write about this site, I visited it every so often, intending to “assess” the scroll of images somehow and formulate some sentences. But I always get lost in plastic doll shoes, for example, remembering how once I had seven or eight pairs of these — all different colors, plus some spares — and how some clearly went with one doll or another, but other shoes mysteriously did not fit anybody’s feet. Why should dolls have shoes? Little high-heeled sandals, for example, or clumpy white Mary Janes. And then I scroll a little further and the worst, most gnawed-on shoes give way to melty bits of plastic and then to a negative-space blob that might be a hearing aid, and then splotches of Play-Doh, dough, then dirt buggies in blooming clouds of sand. I thought, when I first saw this site, that Kelberman had created some image-searching algorithm that served up the rolling carpet of color and pattern that is somehow also our world, but no: she trawls through Google for this stuff herself, matching a kid in a sand castle to a lunar crater to Crater Lake.

A few years back a student of mine, Brendan Dawson, created some “poems” out of Google image searches. He printed pages and pages, exhausting searches on phrases like “How to draw a fox.” The fun in these poems was seeing where images of hot women—the detritus of the internet—took over from cartoon red foxes. But when I try this myself now, my searches don’t work the same way. They don’t get exhausted, for one thing; they go on and on in a vast web of images, all connected one to another by ever more tenuous threads. For another, porn is no longer the baseline. Instead, my search unravels in pictures of people, homely pictures, office pictures, women smiling over diplomas, dogs, flowers, smiles of various types, network profile images, LinkedIn, Twitter — hello, here I am, pick me — from here to the horizon.

Screenshot from I am Google, a Tumblr by Dina Kelberman

Screenshot from I’m Google, a Tumblr by Dina Kelberman

I don’t find release technique easy. I’m ballet-trained, and ballet works in form and shape. I suspect this is not a helpful understanding of ballet, which might be why I’m here trying to learn to let my head move as I move. In ballet, the head remains erect on the stem of the neck; it inclines this way and that way, but its weight remains suspended. In some way the head is not of the body, not merely another limb or appendage, which is what it becomes in release. To put this another way: dances express ideals. The erect head of the ballet dancer expresses an ideal of vision and choice, of rational selfhood. The tumbling body of the release dancer expresses instinct in a storm—an ideal of openness, adaptation, abandonment, selflessness. As I attempt to spin about with my head in my armpit, I imagine a woman in 1973 telling herself I should be able to accept any arrangement of lovers.

What I love about I’m Google is how it flips between the abstract and the mundane without passing through grandeur or critique. What does that mean? I’m not at all sure. The images are all photographs, all factual; they represent elements of a world that remains mostly unknown to me. I imagine I will never see a jet dropping bright red retardant on a forest fire in real life. At the same time, the jet’s red streak becomes merely color and design as it blurs with a scarlet kayak and then a red clay track.

It’s as if you didn’t have to choose.

Lightsey Darst writes, dances, writes about dance and other arts, and teaches. Her books are Find the Girl and the forthcoming DANCE (both Coffee House Press). Her poetic work appears in Typo, Spork, and Diagram. Her criticism is online at mnartists.org, The Huffington Post, and Bookslut.