A Spinning Trace


I am performing A Spinning Trace from October 6, 2013 through January 5, 2014 at the Krannert Art Museum.  The performance is part of the School of Art & Design’s Faculty Exhibition.  The video below is time-lapse documentation of a 2-hour performance during the opening on October 5, 2013.  I recommend watching the video while listening to the audio piece that accompanies it.


Photo by Guen Montgomery

I will be regularly visiting the museum to jump rope between now and the exhibit’s closing to describe and to interpret the lived experience of spinning.


My interest in describing the lived experience of spinning began through playing with a toy that from one of my kid’s Easter baskets.  It has 4 petals that fit together to form an Easter egg.  You hold the toy in your hand and pump a button with your thumb.  The Easter egg starts to spin, the petals open, and inside is a rabbit.

The toy is lush.  Its pump-action gives positive sensory feedback.  You push, the egg opens and spins!  The rotation of the egg pulses through the toy and is echoed through its sound: its stuttering beginning, self-propelling middle, and its stuttering end.   The little rabbit, seen through the rapid succession of moving petals, has a big personality.

This toy is designed with purpose.  Piaget observed how rotation is a repeated pattern of childhood play.  Stirring liquid, spinning in circles, playing with tops, rolling down hills, jumping rope… children engage in these activities because they are sensory-rich and pleasure-filled.   Through these activities, children learn concepts including the circle, balance, space, propulsion, momentum, entropy…

As I played with this toy, I started to think about how I might further investigate spinning through an art inquiry.

This summer, I started jumping rope as a way to get back in shape after I was in bed for a month with a serious case of the shingles.  Shingles is an expression of the chicken pox virus, which I came to find out, lives in folks’ spines after they contract the virus as children.  The virus sits there, waiting for the moment to strike the body’s neurological system.   The right time for me was the day I moved to Champaign, Illinois.

Shingles strike!

Shingles strike!

During the first month in my new home, I was in bed with intense pain: piercing stabs in my left nipple, open sores, spasms in the stomach, and muscle pain to the core.   I laid in bed waiting for my next hydrocodone pill, I thought about how easily our bodies devolve towards disorder.  I thought about how my mom’s body deteriorated during her final weeks of life with breast cancer.  I think it used to be customary to think that folks thought they should be chubbier so that when they are struck with illness they have more stored energy to survive.  It’s not surprising that I/we would think that I/we need to be more fit to prepare for death.  So as soon as I got out of bed, I started to jump rope.

Jumping rope is  part of a boxer’s training regimen, and, I guess, a competitive sport:

I was introduced to jump roping through my father, who was obsessed with boxing.   My dad had a heavy bag and a speed bag in our basement, and my dad, my brother, and I used to jump rope in the garage.  For boxers, jumping rope is good for developing footwork and conditioning.  In the Sweet Science, AJ Liebling’s classic text on boxing, Liebling observes Sugar Ray Robinson’s training regimen:

Most fighters jump rope as children do but infinitely faster.  Robinson just swings a length of rope in his right fist and jumps in time to a fast tune whistled by his trainer.  He jumps high in the air, and twists his joined knees at the top of every bound.  When he jumps in double time to “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” it’s really something to see.

Sugar Ray Leonard, the famous middleweight, is seen in the video below telling boxers in Russia that each person has an embodied rhythm, and that this rhythm is expressed through the rope.  (He adds that jumping rope is not some girly thing.)

Preparing for the performance

As I started to consider jumping rope in a museum, the project started to become somewhat comedic and carnivalesque.  But then again Or as I wondered whether as a college professor of art education, I am reproducing art education’s status by performing as a strongman working act in the sideshow to the serious artwork produced by faculty who can make art rather than those who can only teach it (I think that’s the distinction).  (If only I could get anybody to laugh in a museum.)  

Except I do not want to apologize for the fact that this project is art, about art education or manliness, so I am saying publicly for an art world audience that jumping rope in a museum is a creative self-fashioning somaesthetic practice.

I am discovering the double hermeneutic of (interrupted) flow.  It takes little effort to make the rope twirl forward.  It may take more effort to hold the body still while the rope spins around it. The rope hits the ground… Twack… twack… twack…  Each time the rope hits the floor, it is a moment of reassurance… a pulse of reassurance… over and over… twack… twack… twack.. Facing forward, looking in the mirror, the rope becomes binary code.  On above the waist/off below the waist… On below/off above… and so forth.  From the side, it is a ovaled blur.  The pulse of reassurances calls for greater challenge, a scissor step or side-to-side of the feet or maybe a crossover of the rope.  I am rediscovering the dialectic of flow… Challenge… Positive feedback… New challenge.   Absorption until the pulse is interrupted.  The rope gets tangled in the feet.  The momentum of the rope whips the rope unpredictably, leaving a red mark/impression on my leg or wrist.  It’s a hiccup interrupting a breath.  A glitch in a television transmission.  The sequence of things, the natural order of things, becomes disrupted.  It’s entropic.   Next topic to consider is the forcefield.

I was uncomfortable to some extent, appropriating  for exhibition in a university art museum.  But that’s okay because I am trying to get fit so that I can endure the next 5 years of tenure-seeking.   But

In the end, I can admit neither to these publics nor myself that I am seeking psychoanalysis for my forsaken relationships with my father and older brother, who both influenced my interest in jumping rope.  So I am handing over the tiny sense of agency that I once had through subjecting myself to the suffering of jumping rope under the surveillance of a rabbit overlord.  I am seeking to avoid hardship by pleasing the Gods by offering my body in the place of an umblemished goat.

I don’t know though…  I may just be investigating the pleasure of feet skipping over a twirling rope or the painful lived experience of entropy.  Or as Merce Cunningham liked to say, there is no meaning… only movement…

[At least until there isn’t any movement, right Merce?  Rest in piece(s).

Stay tuned for more descriptions and enterpretations from Dr D., a manly college professor.

Color Key

  • All text in this color reflect revisions/additions made during the week of October 7th.
  • All text in this color reflects revisions/additions made on October 30th, 2013.