Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Meet the Neighbours: Feminism. Art. Porn. Sex.

Howdy folks! Another little interview with a neighbouring blogger – actually, it’s a rather long interview, but I refused to trim it because it’s so damn good. I won’t even bother to do any introductions – I’ll let Nio, of Feminism. Art. Porn. Sex. do that herself. Enjoy.

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Tell us about yourself! Who are you, and what has led you to this point in life/work?


I’m 25 years old, grew up in small town New Zealand then moved to Melbourne, Australia in 2007 to do my Masters in Fine Art.

The conceptual aspects of the art I did at university revolved around gender, cuteness, performative identity and sexuality. When I completed my MFA, I got some fantastic feedback from the assessor who observed that though my art had sexual undertones, he would really like me to explore the sexual aspect more overtly. That comment really stuck with me, but then life got busy, I needed money and I had to get a job. I ended up working in a call centre collecting credit card debt for a bank, until I decided I needed a job that allowed me to eat chocolate and watch porn all day.

That is when I found my current work as a video and image editor for an “ethical erotica” company. I was interested in the company’s mission statement which seemed to be about subverting the dominant paradigm when it comes to consumable depictions of sexuality – ie, making porn that was different. I felt this could give me some experience and insight into various ways that sexuality can be depicted – with the idea that my work could help inform my art and politics. I actually ended up contributing a little to the company’s projects myself which basically involved taking naked photos of myself and wanking on camera! Obviously, the work I did was low-key and soft-core, but I still feel as if it’s given me a little more insight into how it feels to be in front of the camera in a sexual context. Something that struck me was how much fun I had, how much of a non-event it was otherwise and how it felt less exploitive and soul destroying than working for a bank had been.

I’ve recently gone part time at my job to concentrate more on my art and keeping in mind the comments I got from that university assessor, I am now attempting to bring the things I have been learning and thinking about sex and porn into my own artistic practice. Today, I spent almost an hour examining wooden fruit in an interior decorating shop, wondering if I could paint them pink and use them as dildos in an installation.


Tell us about your blog - what is the focus? What are your goals?


My blog is a space where I can give a more coherent form to the thoughts that have been floating in my head for many years now about some of the things that I think about the most – feminism, art porn and sex!

The goal started reasonably loose but I am starting to realise that though I am not an overtly political person, this blog is also somewhat politically motivated. The climate in Australia is disturbingly conservative with the Church having far too much power. It also seems to me that certain groups of people have become more vocal in their moral hysteria about “porn culture”. I find a lot of their arguments frustratingly simplistic, especially as they often don’t tend to define what “porn” actually is, and in fact seem to mean mainstream heterosexual porn, which while being the most widely available type of porn, is not actually all that porn can be.

Basically, it seems that everyone wants to take the moral high ground and that nobody wants to be the pervert standing up for porn and sex. I decided I wanted to be one of the perverts who does! My aim is not to uncritically talk about porn, sexuality and their relationship to art, but to attempt to discuss them as the complex subjects they are. Though I am a white, cisgendered female and therefore have my own perspective and privileges, I hope not to be too preachy but rather encourage open dialogue about the things I wish we’d discuss more often without getting hysterical, judgemental, moralising, or seedy.


You identify as feminist - how do you define feminism? What do you find are the most common misconceptions of feminism?


I indentify as a feminist because I believe feminism is still relevant and important, not only for what it has given women but for the conversations it continues to create. Yes, women in the West have come a long way as far as their rights go, but I believe we need to go further. And while I do not believe in imposing Western feminism on women of other cultures, I feel feminist discourse can be useful for women everywhere.

I get frustrated when feminists are lumped together. There are a million different forms of feminism, but I feel that the thing that binds us together is the belief in women’s rights. Because of my specific stance in regards to porn, sexuality, BDSM etc, I actually like to further clarify my stance by calling it “sex positive feminism”; this is not totally necessary but I find it useful for positioning within the much broader spectrum of feminism.

The most common misconception I come across is that feminism is about women being superior to men, which is ludicrous. People complain about the wording, that “feminism” means it’s all about women and, well, duh. Feminism IS about women’s rights and equality because we still need to fight for these things.

A more modern misconception seems to also be that feminists are silly women who are just imagining their feelings of being oppressed, that feminism is no longer necessary in Western society and that feminists are just a bunch of white, middle class whiners. As a white, middle class whiner… I resent that! In seriousness, I find that argument offensive as it invalidates the perspective of a large group of people without seriously considering why they might feel this way.



I personally have gone through several "evolutions" of feminism due to various experiences, books, classes, and a multitude of other influences. What has been your own "evolution" or "journey" through feminism? What or who have been the biggest influence on your perspective?


I grew up with parents who very much nurtured my feminism. However, the early manifestations of feminism I went through involved a period where I couldn’t even wear a skirt without feeling I was bowing to the patriarchy and I never, ever wore makeup. I was basically denying my own desires to sometimes dress and act “girly”, because I seemed to be making the mistake some people make in thinking that to be equal to men, one must act like them.

Then I went through a phase in my mid-to-late teens where I decided that feminism was no longer necessary and I started making art exploring sexuality as well as posing naked for photos and posting them online on deviantart.com (perhaps in rebellion to a boyfriend who told me that if I ever did nude modelling, he’d dump me). A few of the nude photos received a reasonable amount of popularity but I was shocked by some of the hateful vitriol spewed my way by people who seemed to despise me, simply because I was a 19 year old posting naked photos of herself online. What had originally felt like a fun, liberating and revealing experience became one that was complicated and upsetting because I realised my body was a playground for projections not just from creepy men but also judgemental people. This was my first real understanding of how loaded it is for a woman to reveal and own her body/sexuality.

Somehow, this led me back into feminism because I realised I don’t live in a world where my body only belongs to me. But I still felt frustrated by a lot of feminist discourse I was exposed to at the time, which often made me feel hopeless, helpless and guilty about my own desires to dress nicely, expose my body in an exhibitionist manner, be sexually submissive and so on. In a funny way, feminism often felt oppressive because everywhere I looked, there was the patriarchy and how the hell was I supposed to be myself? How was I to avoid being a female chauvinist pig?!

Then I discovered sex positive feminism and the conversations surrounding it and this is where my feminism is at right now. My current stance is also influenced by people working on sex workers’ rights. I can’t point to one specific influence but I’m certainly inspired by people such as Susie Bright, Dorothy Allison, Annie Sprinkle and Audacia Ray. I enjoy the sex positive feminist stance because it has helped me learn to acknowledge and accept aspects of my own sexuality and self. My relationship with my desires and with my feminism is still a complicated one, often fraught with contradiction and uncertainty, but I think it’s valuable to always question ourselves and accept our contradictory nature. We’re complicated creatures, we human beings.


You explicitly invoke porn and feminism as core aspects of your blog - what is your perspective on how these two subjects intersect? How do you feel about the various ways feminism and porn have clashed and bonded? Where do you situate yourself in the "sex wars"?


As a woman who enjoys using pornography as a masturbatory tool, and who is interested in exploring it artistically, I want the right to be able to do so. So in that sense, I am distressed by the anti-porn stance certain feminists take, specifically those who want it outlawed as I am very much against censorship. I am against paternalistic laws that deny women the right to bodily autonomy and moreover, make criminals out of sex workers. So, as stated earlier, I identify as a sex positive feminist.

That said, there’s one hell of a lot of mainstream porn that I find incredibly disagreeable; its depictions of women are often misogynistic, violent without contextualisation, and it tends to sideline women’s pleasure to concentrate on male fantasy and orgasm. In my mind, there is absolutely no doubt that porn is a feminist issue and as such, should be critiqued, deconstructed and reconstructed into something smarter, more female-friendly and therefore sexier. The answer, to me and others such as the wonderful Violet Blue, is not to censor porn but for women to demand better porn. Organisations such as the Feminist Porn Awards, which have been running since 2006, are doing a great job of encouraging porn through a feminist lens.

It’s certainly not an issue without complexity, and I’m not even necessarily against porn that does display idealised female bodies, as obviously porn is fantasy, but I simply want there to be more alternatives and rational discussions about the topic. I’m not interested in the “for” or “against” sort of attitudes of some, as I think when you’re discussing a topic as complex as human sexuality and the depiction of it, you can’t discuss things in simplistic black and white terms.


Art and porn are two typically binarized spheres, in both legal and cultural contexts. What are your thoughts on the way society locates these spheres in opposition? What is your perspective on the relationship between art and porn? How do you define what you have referred to on your site as "art porn"?


Several years ago, I read an essay by Alan Moore called “Bog Venus vs Nazi Cock Ring” that spoke of the way Victorian attitudes towards sexuality basically ghettoized pornography and left it in its current ugly state. I don’t know just how historically accurate this essay was but I certainly agree that the reason we polarize art and porn is because we tend to hold art on a pedestal as a higher human endeavour, something beyond the flesh, but culturally we tend to see sex as a dirty, irritating aspect of our animal selves; something lowly, based only upon bodily function (like shitting or sneezing).

I tend to think of human sexuality as far more complicated than this, and as such it should not be beyond exploration in art. Nothing should be beyond ethical exploration in art. Of course, a lot of artists explore sexuality in various aspects, but when it comes to imagery that is explicitly sexually arousing, that seems to have become an almost entirely exclusive domain of pornography. But I think if art can make us laugh, cry, think and feel… why can’t it make us horny?

Of course, this is where it gets tricky: how do I define art porn? Well, that gets to the question “What is art?” That’s a hard question! Art is subjective and I think the same is true of porn. In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart said of hardcore pornography “I know it when I see it." I’ve heard people say “I know art when I see it, and that’s not art,” of Marcel Duchamp’s work, so it’s obvious to me that when it comes to what is art and what is porn, it’s in the eye of the beholder.

But as for my own definition of “art porn”, to me art is a creative endeavour that attempts to express complexities… so art porn, to me, is either art that tries to be arousing or porn that tries to be complex. In my mind that’s how you get art porn, but whether it makes GOOD art porn is an entirely different matter. I’m not yet sure what makes good art porn – I guess I’ll know it when I see it!


Is there anything about the porn industry that troubles you from a feminist perspective? What, if anything, would you change about the industry in its current form?


Oh there is fuckloads about the current porn industry that troubles me. The first thing I’d like to change is how the industry aims almost exclusively at an audience that is the stereotypical notion of a heterosexual man – no wonder so many women despise porn, it’s like a parody of the patriarchy except it’s not a parody! I’d really like to see porn producers consider their female and queer audiences a lot more, humanise their female actors, think more, explore human sexuality deeper, become more imaginative – gah! Just… get… better!

But I really don’t think the onus can be put entirely on porn producers. Just as we’re buying fair-trade chocolate, free range eggs and locally farmed carrots, we need to become ethical consumers of porn. Know where your porn has come from, question the producer’s practices, put your money where your mouth is and support ethical and indie porn companies. We all know about supply and demand; we need to demand better material to wank to.

Finally, we need to stop vilifying porn producers and actors and start respecting them as human beings. If we stop marginalising sex and sex workers, perhaps more artists will venture into the territory and transform the landscape. If porn is currently a dangerous monster, this is only because we have made it so. I believe we can change that.


What are your Top 3 favourite XXX movies, and why?


1. The Opening of Misty Beethoven. A friend of mine lent me this old classic and so far it’s been the only feature length porn film I’ve been able to sit through in its entirety. I love that it is clever, funny, sexy, has high production values and subversive power play (one scene has a woman fucking a man with a strap-on, I want to see much more of that!), and the movie ends with the woman in power. Oh and I totally came about six times while watching the film.

2. The Fashionistas. Actually, I watched this high budget BDSM film years ago and can’t remember much of it, but one scene really stood out for me. One of the stars, Belladonna, is sexily stripping and watching herself in a mirror, obviously turned on by her own image. This really struck a chord with me – a wonderfully sexy sort of narcissism.

3. Stage Left, which is a short film on ifeelmyself.com. Haunting music as a female clown walks onto a deserted stage, lit by two spotlights. She starts masturbating and the music gradually fades out as her cries get louder. Her orgasm is intense and emotional, then she takes a bow, exits, and returns to her work sweeping the stage. It’s a quick film, erotic but also kind of alienating, emotional and haunting for me. It speaks to me about the performative aspect of sexuality and of loneliness in a way that is almost surreal. Also, I like it when scary things are eroticised and clowns are the height of scary!

You can read the wonderful blog Feminism. Art. Porn. Sex. here!

3 comments:

Nio said...

You asked some fantastic questions here! And now I'm curious... how would you feel about being interviewed by ME someday? All good if not! :)

Jake lara said...

"Several years ago, I read an essay by Alan Moore called “Bog Venus vs Nazi Cock Ring” that spoke of the way Victorian attitudes towards sexuality basically ghettoized pornography and left it in its current ugly state. I don’t know just how historically accurate this essay was but I certainly agree that the reason we polarize art and porn is because we tend to hold art on a pedestal as a higher human endeavour, something beyond the flesh, but culturally we tend to see sex as a dirty, irritating aspect of our animal selves; something lowly, based only upon bodily function (like shitting or sneezing).

I tend to think of human sexuality as far more complicated than this, and as such it should not be beyond exploration in art. "

As a human society we tend to live in our own fantasy world, but in reality sex is the highest human eandeaver, without it none of us would even exist, so it is actually everything to us. For nearly all of us the story of our conception started when our parents met. We can enjoy sex without concieving but only because as a species we're smart enough to decide to have sex without penetration and invent contreception for the times we do. I would think art/porn could reflect the reality of how vital sex is to us and try and weave that into the collective fantasy that is human culture.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

Hi Nio! I think your answers just make my questions look good. ;) And yes, I would love to do an interview for you! Sounds like fun!

Jake: thanks for your comments. I agree, but I think this is how we would *hope* people see sexuality. I think society prefers to overlook the importance of sexuality, as you outlined it. Really interesting feedback. Thanks for stopping by!

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