You have seen performing art pieces that deal with sexuality. I’m pretty sure you have been turned on in a performance by some performer or a scene. But have you ever participated in a performance designed to evoke sexual pleasure? If you have, and you got excited, do you think it was art? It seems to depend on the framework. If it was a performance executed by a sex worker, it was using services of a sex worker, prostitution in other words. But if it took place at a theater festival in a performance made by artists, it’s called art. But is it art, sexy art or just sex? Does arousal in participatory performance violate the cultural context of art? What is the link between such performances and sex-positive culture? These are the question of this issue #8 of ICE HOLE.
”Art has been erotic but not sex”, writes Nora Rinne in her study based on professor Jennifer Doyle‘s book Sex Object, Art and the Dialectics of Desire. As a comment to that, after compiling this issue, I claim that progressive performing arts are becoming very sexy indeed and they are a part of the rising sex-positive culture. A good example of it is the recent case of Pie Girl, a sexually explicit performance by Slutartists, three Theater Academy students, that caused a controversy in the 75th anniversary gala of the Degree Programme in Acting at the Theater Academy of the University of the Arts, Helsinki. In Louna-Tuuli Luukka‘s interview, Slutartists describe the feedback they received and explain their objectives to erase the stigma surrounding sexuality and eroticism. Such attempts are blooming. The annual Wonderlust Festival in Helsinki celebrates diverse and conscious sexuality. Tuomas Laitinen describes his experience both as a participant of the festival and as a participant in a sexually oriented participatory performance Sleeping Beauty and juxtaposes these with a documentary film from 1970.
Australian Pony Express took part in the ecosexual movement in 2016 with their world touring immersive performance Ecosexual Bathhouse. You can find a sneak peek video of the performance on the front page. Ecosexuality is both an embodied sexual identity and political provocation. Check the teaser of the performance here and an example of how it was perceived by the mainstream media here. According to Loren Kronemyer of the Pony Express duo, in Ecosexual Bathhouse she and Ian Sinclair wanted to position the Ecosexual Manifesto into the future where it will be a fully-formed social movement, mirroring the trajectory of the queer movement last century.
After writing a feature interview with my close colleague Julius Elo, and digging into his latest work Sleeping Beauty, and then watching sex worker and performance artist Sadie Lune‘s video interview, I realized that there’s no tangible difference between performative sex work, like a session with a dominatrix, or participatory performance art that seeks to excite the audience sexually. In both cases, you need to define the same things; how to frame the encounter, how to begin, how to end, how to define the area of improvisation, how to find consensus between the participant/client and the performer/service provider and how to maintain the physical and emotional safety of both parties. Except that there’s perhaps one difference. A piece of art deals with the unknown and therefore sexual encounter in arts, as Elo puts it, should always contain the element of the unexpected. But what if the unexpected is just a buffer, a camouflage? In Luukka’s second interview that explores why people get defensive or depreciative when facing sex-positive performances, dramaturg Titta Halinen suggests that perhaps such artistically ambiguous shows could function as soft porn for timid people in need of encouragement.
Personally, I side with live artist Hanna-Kaisa Tiainen who admits in Luukka’s interview that she feels a bit like a granny when it comes to sex-positive culture. Yet I support it, particularly in the arts.
Let me conclude with a quote from Rinne’s magnificent article:
“…sex in art can be seen as a very important move away from or expansion of the better-known modes of representing sex: entertainment industry’s romantic, never messy and over intensified first-times with ‘The One’ that make everything else look embarrassing, wrong or violating, or the just-sex representations of porn, which do not allow anything to block the viewer’s journey from arousal to climax. Art is able to bring along all the rest; the sex that doesn’t sell as well as porn’s you’ll-come-for-sure-and-nothing-else-matters promise or romantic first kisses, but broaden the horizon of sex immensely. Doyle’s book is an important portrayal of all this. Sex in art can be boring, bad, messy and without climax, and that’s why it should be embraced.”
Don’t forget to take a look at the wonderful one minute video performances with ball gag by performance artists Pilvi Porkola, Tomasz Szrama, Aada Sigurlina and Sadie Lune on our One Minute Video Page.
Extra Special Thanks to Christopher Hewitt from liveartwork.com for putting final touches to most of the videos and to Sarka Hantula for correcting the use of English language.
ICE HOLE – The Live Art Journal, issue #8