Filed under: culture | Tags: bondage, daddy: a memoir, family, feminist porn, kink, madison young, pornography, sex
Madison Young’s Memoir offers a truly rare account of a rich, complex life, of art, sex, porn, kink, and family. This will surely be a book for those looking for an insider’s account of working in porn and kink. Madison Young is an icon of feminist pornography, radical queer arts activism, sex education, bondage, and kink. No doubt this memoir will find an audience of fans and devotees already smitten with her work and public persona, hungry for a more intimate view into her life. Young—originally Tina Butcher—narrates the evolution of her porn persona, guides readers through the halls and chambers of the legendary KINK Armory, walks us through the throngs of people at the Folsom Street Fair, and goes into vivid, erotic detail describing sex both on and off camera. The writing is hot and will certainly arouse and delight. Her story will give feminists and activists much to celebrate and some places with which to struggle, where one woman wrestles to actualize her passions and ideals in and through her work, her relationships, and herself. Those looking for something of a guidebook into sex and kink will no doubt find Young’s journey educational and inspiring.
However, the significance of Young’s memoir exceeds anything like a “celebrity tell-all” or a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important feminist pornographers of our time. Throughout the details of art and porn and kink are stories for any person trying to forge their own paths, to discover who they might become, to love and foster lasting relationships, and to find others with whom life is worth living. Daddy tells a story of one person’s journey that bleeds back and forth across decades, where the present turns again and again back towards a past from which it emerges, where the presence of the past sets the stage for how the present unfolds. It is a story of finding heroes and home, with its roots in a Midwestern childhood colored with loss, otherness, and shame, a journey of discovering empowerment and self-actualization in San Francisco and beyond. It is a journey there never fully finds completion; it turns out—for Young, perhaps for all of us—that what it takes to be empowered changes over time, that anxieties come and go, that shame and old wounds take time to heal, and that self-actualization takes place in all kinds of partnerships in all kinds of settings—having sex on a dirty bathroom floor of a bar, bound and suspended by rope, being fucked on camera, during performance art, covered in soil on stage surrounded by California red woods, holding a mother’s hand, planting basil on a patio, during a video conference call with a therapist, holding a child in your arms, and being held in the arms of our lovers. That the journey is never complete and that each step cannot be certain does not make the journey a failure; it is a journey that must remain ongoing, and each step is an act of bravery: that is what makes it a success.
Throughout her Memoir, Young navigates the shifting dimensions of relationships, negotiating monogamy, polyamory, open and dominant/submissive relationships, contending with the flourishing of love, stability, and security as well as the sometimes sudden and sometimes gradual pain of jealousy, anxiety, depression, and abandonment. In these navigations and negotiations, she works to find livability between the dynamic evolution of what becomes public and what remains private, what can be open and what needs to remain closed, what is part of love and what is part of work. She gives us an honest view of one person’s victories and challenges maintaining multiple identities, balancing who she is and who she wants to be. These are themes with which many of us are familiar: how do you make relationships work? How do we celebrate stability and security without ignoring or avoiding inevitable jealousies, insecurities, anxieties, and hurt? How can we recognize that one solution or version will not necessarily work forever and always, for the relationships we cultivate, nor for who it is that we might be? What does it take to stay connected—to others and ourselves—and move forward?
For me, Daddy is a story of families—of origin, of those we choose, and those we make—and the courage and creativity needed to find a way to love and live with others. Young does not move through her journey alone: this tale is populated with mothers and fathers, fairy godmothers, lovers, collaborators, respected colleagues, therapists, and trusted friends. One of the many lessons that I have taken from Young’s memoir is that none of us face this world alone, and we become more of ourselves as we discover ourselves with others.
There are parts of Young’s tale to which we might all relate, portions with which we might identify; there are other parts that recount experiences that probably few have lived. Young narrates us through the unfamiliar even as she herself comes again and again to the edges of what she has known, who she has been, and who she might become. She details her life—a life that is very different from mine, probably very different from yours—and in doing so, helps open up possibilities for what a life might be—from little girl to slut to hero, queer, lesbian, artist, activist, pornographer, submissive, feminist, bisexual, ecosexual, mother, and so on. In telling her own tale, Young expands an archive of lives lived, and in doing so, affirms and enables other ways of living and lives that might yet be.
I consider Madison Young to be a superhero—a sexual superhero, and so much more. Her book reminds us that even our superheroes suffer wounds—both physical and emotional. No great work is without cost and no great life is without suffering. Young reminds us that, “The reality is that we all have heroic moments. Sometimes, we have to be our own heroes and sometimes our heroes need our help. They are, after all, human too.” She boldly faces her own wounds and lives out something of her own healing in the pages that she’s written; she courageously comes to the aid of her own heroes, and we’re allowed to witness this as well. Some of it can be traumatic to read, some of it can be deeply triggering, but even at its most intense, Young remains a trustworthy caretaker of her reader throughout, all the way up to her words to her own child, “Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with yourself and with those around you,” to a final deep breath and “Instructions for Aftercare” in the “Afterword.”
Near the end of the book, in relation to her own therapy, Young writes, “It was hard work, delving through the past, understanding our emotions, our actions, and creating new pathways. Sometimes it felt like more than I could bear, but that was why I had support.” This summarizes for me the important insights of this Memoir: it is, itself, a difficult delving through her own life, back to families of origin, through painful and joyful moments throughout her career and adult life, making connections strand by stand, reflecting on herself, coming to recognize herself, coming to recognize those from whom she draws support, and finally giving an account of that life. I would not say that it is a Memoir intended to offer a model for living, a path for anyone else to follow; I don’t believe that’s Young’s intention. Rather, it boldly and courageously models something of how we might each approach our own lives, our own loves, our own desires, our own wounds, how we might forge our own paths, do the hard work of coming to know ourselves, and share who we come to know with others.
Filed under: culture | Tags: courtney trouble, devi lynne, drew deveaux, feverhead, fluid: men redefining sexuality, heavenlyspire, james darling, jiz lee, madison young, michael j morris, queer behavior, queer porn, quinn valentine, river turner, rose, roulette: toronto, shine louise houston, tommy midas, warming up
warming up: a queer porn screening and conversation at FEVERHEAD
saturday, february 25, 2012
18+ age limit
suggested donation $2-5
Join us for a queer porn screening presenting work by directors Shine Louise Houston, Courtney Trouble, and Madison Young, introduced and facilitated by Michael J. Morris. If we consider pornography to be an archive of human sexual behavior, queer porn makes important social contributions by giving representation to bodies, sexualities, and sex that go otherwise unacknowledged and often disavowed within our society’s mainstream cultural productions. In a society in which bodies/people are identified by markers such as gender, sex, and sexuality; in which rights and value are mediated on the bases of these identifications; and in which media—including pornography—plays significant roles in shaping our perceptions of both ourselves and of others: the production and screening of this material takes on substantial social and political dimensions. We invite you to come enjoy a sampling of sexy scenes by award-winning filmmakers and performers, to take part in dialogue about the social and cultural relevance of this work, and to consider pornography as a productive site of knowledge in addition to its erotic functions.
We will be screening scenes from Shine Louise Houston’s HeavenlySpire.com, Courtney Trouble’s Roulette: Toronto, and Madison Young’s Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality; with performances by James Darling, Quinn Valentine, Jiz Lee, Drew Deveaux, River Turner, Tommy Midas, Rose, and Devi Lynne.
For more information, contact Michael at email@example.com
Michael J. Morris is a PhD student and Graduate Teaching Associate in the Department of Dance at the Ohio State University, doing research in the areas of performance, sexuality, and queer theories of the body.
This event is made possible through the support of CoCo Loupe, FEVERHEAD, and Queer Behavior; and the generous permissions of Shine Louis Houston and Pink and White Productions, Courtney Trouble, Madison Young, and Good Releasing.
RSVP on the facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/210505295702709/
HeavenlySpire.com with James Darling and Quinn Valentine: http://www.heavenlyspire.com/wordpress/james-darling-and-quinn-valentine/
Courtney Trouble’s Roulette: Toronto: http://courtneytrouble.com/dvds/roulette-toronto/
Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality: http://goodreleasing.com/fluid-men-redefining-sexuality/
Filed under: art, culture | Tags: amy champ, amy marsh, annie sprinkle, carol queen, center for sex and culture, dylan bolles, ecosex manifesto, ecosex symposium II, ecosexual queer porn, ecosexuality, elizabeth stephens, femina potens, joseph kramer, madison young, michael j morris, robert lawrence, san francisco arts commission, sasha hom, serena anderlini, sexecology, sharon mitchell, stephanie iris weiss, tania hammidi, tessa wills
Today I am flying to San Francisco for an exciting week of events that relate intimately to my research. The primary purpose for the trip is the Ecosex Symposium II and Ecosexual Manifesto Art Exhibit (see flyer and press release below):
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For all the information about the Symposium go to SexEcology.org
Contact: Center for Sex & Culture—415-902-2071
Love Art Lab 415-847-1323
Femina Potens Press: Malia Schaefer HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com
Annie Sprinkle HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com
Elizabeth Stephens: firstname.lastname@example.org
San Francisco, CA
ECOSEXUALS UNITE FOR AN ECOSEX SYMPOSIUM & ART EXHIBIT
The Ecosex Symposium II– a public forum where art meets theory meets practice meets activism—will take place June 17-19 at the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco, CA. What’s an ecosexual? Why are skinny-dipping, tree-hugging and mysophila so pleasurable? Where is the e-spot? Can the budding ecosexual movement help save the world? What is this new sexual identity and environmental activist strategy all about? These are some of the questions that will be explored. Femina Potens Gallery is producing the event in collaboration with Center for Sex & Culture.
Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D., a feminist-porn-star and artist turned “SexEcologist,” and Elizabeth Stephens, a UCSC art professor and environmental activist are organizing this event. The two women explain, “as a strategy to create a more mutual and sustainable relationship with our abused and exploited planet, we are changing the metaphor from the Earth as mother, to Earth as lover.”
Sprinkle and Stephens kick off the weekend with their “Ecosex Manifesto,” an art exhibit with new collages, wedding ephemera (they married the snow in Ottawa, the moon in Los Angeles and the mountains in West Virginia), and a manifesto. They have also invited a dozen other artists to display their related works.
Ecosexual author of the seminal text, Gaia and the New Politics of Love, Serena Anderlini, Ph.D., from the University of Puerto Rico will present the keynote address. What is Ecosexual Love?:A Guide to the Arts and Joys of Amorous Inclusiveness. Good Vibration’s sexologist, Carol Queen, Ph.D., will explore The Sexology of Ecosexuality. Dr. Robert Lawrence, Ph.D. will cover ecosex fetishes. Also presenting is Madison Young, the award winning queer porn movie director and the Femina Potens Gallery director. She will cover the Greening of the Sex Industry. Artist Tania Hammidi will perform a dance piece about conflict, genocide and olive trees in the Middle East. Other presenters are artists Dylan Bolles & Sasha Hom, Amy Champ, and the legendary porn actress, Sharon Mitchell, Ph.D., who will talk about The Sensual Pleasures of Gardening. The author of the book Ecosex; Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable, Stephanie Iris Weiss will be Skyping in from New York. Erospirit Institute director, Joseph Kramer, Ph.D. will guide the group in some somatic ecosex practices. Michael J. Morris will discuss theories of ecosexuality. Amy Marsh shares how toxins ate her sex life, and performance artist Tessa Wills offers an Anal Ecology performance piece. There are twenty five scheduled presenters, and there will also be an open mic forum for attendees to share their work and ideas. Becka Shertzer’s Brazennectar and Mister Cream team up to create and serve a gourmet, “ecosexi-love-a-licious” vegan lunch.
Expected to attend the conference are artists, activists, theoreticians, nature fetishists, environmentalists, ecosex community movers and shakers and people from many other walks of life. These events are sponsored by Femina Potens Gallery in collaboration with the Center for Sex & Culture. Stephens and Sprinkle received a cultural equity grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission to help make it all possible.
All the details and advanced tickets are available at SexEcology.org The producers of these events say that their aim is to “make the environmental movement a little more sexy, fun and diverse.” They’d also like to see an “E” added to GLBTQI.
Friday, June 17
7:00-9:30 ECOSEX MANIFESTO ART EXHIBIT OPENING RECEPTION &
ECOSEX SYMPOSIUM RECEPTION (Everyone is invited. Free.)
All three days of events will be held at the new Center For Sex & Culture, 1349 Mission Street. (Between 9th and 10th)
Saturday, June 18.
ECOSEX SYMPOSIUM 11 ($35. for the whole symposium.)
10:30 AM to 10:45 PM
Sunday, June 19
ECOSEX MANIFESTO ART EXHIBIT
The Ecosex Manifesto Art Exhibit will be open for public viewing for a month through July 24th. Check SexEcology.org for gallery hours.
June 16, 8:00 Femina Poten’s ECOSEXUAL QUEER PORN NIGHT—Tall Tree Tambo, 776 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA
June 19 5:00-7:00 DIRTSTAR PERFORMANCES at the Tenderloin National Forest/Luggage Store, 1000 Market St., San Francisco, CA.
Filed under: culture | Tags: annie sprinkle, bodies that matter, crash pad, crash pad series, daily writing practice, gender, heavenlyspire, james darling, judith butler, madison young, porn, pornography, queer porn, quinn valentine, sex, shine louise houston
I was recently inspired/challenged by one of my faculty (Dr. Harmony Bench) to begin a daily writing practice as a method for not only developing as a writer, but also in preparation for the intensive writing I will be doing for my candidacy exams and dissertation. I will not post everything I write from this daily writing practice here on the blog, but what I wrote today is something I want to share:
I am enamored with Shine Louise Houston’s work, on both her Crash Pad Series project and on her more recent endeavor, HeavenlySpire.
“HeavenlySpire is a Shine Louise Houston creation for the purpose of masculine appreciation. HeavenlySpire focuses on masculine beauty and sexuality and how it manifests on different bodies. Following the same vision as Houston’s previous projects HeavelySpire focuses on capturing genuine pleasure with a unique cinematic style.” This work is personal and intimate in ways that is traditionally considered to be antithetical to pornography. The performers are introduced as people: they discuss themselves, their sexual predilections, their appreciations of their own bodies. They set a context of individual and aesthetic appreciation in which they then display their own bodies and sexual behaviors. In a sense, it functions as portraiture. This work functions as a kind of “docu-porn” (other work with which I am familiar that would fit into this category includes Madison Young’s Fluid series and Annie Sprinkle’s Linda/Les and Annie, the first FTM trans love story/sex film, in which the re-presentations of bodies/sex/sexuality/sexual behaviors operate within the framework of personal identities), and emphasizes what I consistently consider to be one of pornography’s potential virtues: a public archive of human sexual behavior, responsible for both the documentation, preservation, and re-presentation of bodies, sex acts, and sexual (inter)subjectivities, and for the production of sexual subjectivities in the virtual and actual experiences of the spectator of pornography. Porn records and produces the ways in which people perform and understand sex, and thus themselves as sexual subjects.
HeavenlySpire as an archive does something more: in the interview segments, the performers call attention to erogenous and erotogenic zones and surfaces that exceed genital sexuality. They call attention to their forearms, their eyes, their chests, their legs, their asses, their nipples, etc. They introduce themselves in their own languages, and we are then given access to some sense of how they consider themselves as sexual beings as we encounter their displays of their own sexuality. Heavenly Spire is also radical in its treatment of gender/sex (the two being perhaps not as discrete as they may seem): in these videos, we are introduced to cis-men and trans-men, those who identify outside of the gender/sex binary of man/male/woman/female. We are asked to consider bodies both within and outside of these binaries.
Last night I watched a video featuring James Darling and Quinn Valentine. It blew my mind. It is elegant and a little campy, and one of the most illuminating artifacts of human sexuality that I have encountered in a while (although I would say that the illumination of the range of human sexuality is a mission furthered actively by Shine Louise Houston, Madison Young, Courtney Trouble, and the plethora of directors, performers, and producers in the “queer porn” genre).
In the video, the boys introduce themselves, and James confesses that he’s been checking Quinn out for a while, online. Quinn says, “You had a picture of yourself in sparkle unicorn drag, and I couldn’t resist.” They laugh. James say, “Yeah, you were the most sparkly, femme cis-boy I’d ever met, and I was just enamored immediately.” They talk about the first time they hung out (a “really fun time” in James’ shower) as “the beginning of something amazing.” They talk about what they love doing to one another: James says that he loves fucking Quinn, that he’s really into Quinn’s cock, but that he really enjoys fucking Quinn in the ass, and the sounds Quinn makes when he’s cumming; Quinn talks about going down on James—“I could get lost in your junk for days …”—and holding James while he fucks him, feeling the movement of James’ muscles; James’ facial expression; his chest. The way they look at one another while they’re talking is the way that I look at someone when I am so moved by their beauty that I can no longer contain my desire to touch them.
The scene starts in black and white, both wearing bowties, Quinn wearing fairy wings, with white feathers falling and floating in the air around them. An old time-y piano song in playing in the background, and there’s something tender and nostalgic about the romance being staged.
The music fades out as the scene saturates to color.
These boys kiss long and hard, and the way that their lips press and linger is both calm and electric, a stillness full of activity.
I won’t go into a detailed description of the video (Buy a membership to HeavenlySpire to see the video. Support queer porn.). But I do want to give attention to one moment in their scene, the moment when James penetrates Quinn. A cis-guy being penetrated by a trans-guy is something that I have never seen re-presented in a pornographic archive. Having spent my week reading Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (for the third time), I can’t encounter this scene without recalling Butler’s discussion of “the phallus” as the imaginary position characterized by its own uninhabitability. The phallus is a position of privilege and power, considered to be the ultimate signifier, the form by which the intelligibility of objects and subjects are understood. It would be easy to read the phallus as symbol of the penis, and in doing so attribute this privileged position of power (and its form) to the position of male bodies in social economies. And yet the male position is characterized (for Freud and Lacan) by the fear of castration, the anxiety of losing the phallus, an anxiety that exposes the reality of the phallus having never been fully possessed to begin with. The phallus, then, is never fully attainable, always transferable. Butler even suggests that the phallus is the very principle of erotogenic transferability, the capacity for other bodies and other organs to take on the erotogenic potential ascribed to the phallus. When James Darling dons (what looks like) the Feeldoe dildo, taking it into himself as [part of] himself, and penetrating/fucking Quinn with it, my morphological registers are disrupted. I see both of their cocks, and both organs are taken out of this penetrative configuration. The dildo functions in a way that recalls some of what I’ve read of Beatriz Preciado’s philosophy of “dildonics” which substitutes the “dildo” for the “phallus,” casting this privileged signifier not only as a commodity, but one which can be exchanged, taken in/taken on, a prosthetic device in the construction (and deconstruction) of cyborg bodies (and in our post-human era, all bodies are cyborg bodies, always already composed of [biological, psychical, cultural, social, etc.] pieces and parts in machinic systems that we stabilize/treat as stable in our reference to their corporeal coherence. Cyborg is not a secondary/compromised position of bodies that are somehow less than whole; instead, it is a position that seeks to expose the never-whole/always-open-to-completion condition of all bodies, whether they be trans or cis, whatever their range of ability, etc. Elizabeth Grosz has also written intelligently about the inherent openness of biology to cultural inter-constitution). The significance of the penis (an idealized significance that might be considered consistent with the notion of the “phallus”) is here displaced from organic material and transferred into the synthetic. Bodies become denatured in a way they liberates them from the sexed specificity. Organs lose the clarity of their significance, and in becomes free to become more ambiguous surfaces of intensities (I’m here reaching towards an understanding and application of Deleuze, a theoretical frame to which I am attracted but with which I am only familiar in a fleeting way). This sex act reconfigures bodies, giving them significance that exceeds their normative boundaries, borders that it simultaneously displaces/disrupts.
When Quinn cums, I am drawn to the noises that he makes, having been told that those noises are part of what is hot to James. As Quinn cums on James’ chest, Quinn’s appreciation of that chest is part of what makes it hot. These bodies (bodies in general?) are not only remade by re-presentation of their sexual behavior; their sexual behavior is given [part of] its significance by the exposure of its personal meaning for the performers. Through this docu-porn format, I am offered new personal experiences and understandings of sex and bodies to inhabit in my spectatorship, and in my willingness to do so, I allow this information to participate in the materialization bodies, especially as they materialize in/as sex.
This is a rough first draft, but ideas that I wanted to share.
Filed under: art, culture | Tags: annie sprinkle, art, black spark, body fluids, elizabeth freeman, history of sexuality, intersubjectivity, jiz lee, madison young, michel foucault, morethekill, porn, pornography, queer porn, sex addiction, sunday faith, syd blakovich, time binds: queer temporalities queer histories, twincest
I recently wrote a paper entitled “twincest/body fluids/fluid bodies.” It’s a bit of a performative paper that looks at video documentation of a performance piece entitled body shots by the duo twincest, comprised of Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich (twincest is no longer in operation; they created work from 2005-2009); the paper also looks at a scene from Shine Louise Houston’s Crash Pad Series, Season 1, Episode 3, also starring Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich. The paper looks at these performance projects for their potential as discursive spaces in which bodies are reconfigured (specifically beyond heterosexist or normative models of bodily significance), considering their permeability/penetrability, as well as their production of fluids (ejaculate, blood, etc.), as routes through which to consider the intersubjective potential of bodies. I also incorporate some writing about my experience as a conjoined twin, and how the body-that-does-not-stop-at-my-own-skin which I find to be inherent in the ontology of being a conjoined twin, might participate in the theoretical positions emerging from this analysis.
I hope to have a “web safe” version of the paper to share soon. It includes an experimental writing project of inhabiting multiple authorial voices simultaneously, reducing the gap between my voice and the voices of other scholars in the way that I am using their work. It is fundamentally plagiarism in its current form, thus can’t be posted. I’m working on finding another expression of this idea of transgression individual/discrete voices that is not a disservice to the scholars with which I’m working (Baitaille, Irigaray, some Kristeva, Linda Williams, among others). There is also a possibility that the paper will be posted on the twincest site to live alongside the materials/performance it addresses. Which would be exciting.
This is not the first time I’ve written about porn (specifically queer porn). I even written about it here on this blog. I don’t want to be redundant here about my summaries about why I think analyses of porn might be significant contributions to the understandings of our culture, sex/sexualities, and bodies (see earlier posts). I don’t know how much of a research topic this is going to become in my writing and contributions to “the field” (which for me is something like “body-based performance”). But I do seem to be spending some time exploring down this rabbit hole (which reads kinkier than I intended it in this context . . .), and there’s another “porn phenomenon” that I’ve been wanting to consider in writing.
The Black Spark.
The Black Spark is a film/video-maker whose videos first began to appear on XTube in the fall of 2010. Other publications have recounted this history more specifically: OUT.com, The Sword, and Boy Culture have all published interviews with Black Spark situated in accounts of the appearance and continued visibility of his work. I’ve considered situating anything I write about this project similarly, but in actuality I find a lot of what is said in these interviews to be extremely disconnected from how I experience the work. I find the artist’s insistence that what he is doing is “not porn” to be naive (which is fine; according to all accounts, he’s twenty). Erotic intensities can flow similarly in what is labeled “art” or “porn.” Pornographers like Madison Young have done exceptional work that questions and even collapses the lines between art, porn, and sex. Certainly there are dominant narratives in the porn industry from which the Black Spark wants to distance his work, but the same can be said (based on interviews) of the distance he is attempting to maintain between his work and the work of other artists with which his work might be associated. He presents this work as if it is his “real life,” and invokes certain [also dominant] narratives of “authenticity” and “realness” as the substance of the work, perhaps without engaging completely or reflexively with the complexity and politics of “the real,” or the actuality of the video camera and editing as systems of mediation, re-telling, re-making what it “real.”
[To be clear, I like this work. I hope to continue to see more of this work. And I hope that part of how the work evolves, beyond the “organic” process that Black Spark continues to describe, particularly in the incorporation of new players and characters as he meets new people interested in participating in the work, is a more critical understanding of what the work is beyond just the artist’s “real life,” the mythology of the Sparks, or making cool videos to songs that he finds meaningful. There is more going on in this work than just those things, and the “more” is what might make them really good.] Also, it isn’t that I have any need to argue that the work “is porn” or “is art;” rather, without making this the focus of anything I write about this work, I would suggest that there is value in recognizing that within the cultural (not to mention digital and virtual) landscape in which the Black Spark is situating his videos, he is already participating in frameworks associated with (and informed by) pornography, art, social media, etc. Those frameworks are not necessarily “inherent” in the work, but nor is the work entirely separable from the frames in which they are functioning. My suggestion is that rather than the artist or his audiences committing to positions of defining what the work “is,” we (and the work) might all benefit from recognizing these multiple frames, not simplifying or demonizing any of them (for instance, Black Spark in OUT: “It’s not porn — it’s my life. What you’re seeing is not a show I’m putting on. People need to know they’re seeing something real and the reality of it makes it art. There are no faked emotions. When people in my work look passionate or in love or deeply in lust, that’s all very genuine. Whereas in porn you put two people together and you’re paying them $500 to do a scene. Just because two people are having sex and you get to watch it, doesn’t make it porn.” This assumes SO MUCH: Yes, when you edit video material of you having sex for the purpose of presentation, and then post those edited videos on the web or share them in public viewings, what you’re doing is a show that you are putting on. The reality of anything is mediated, including the realities produced in porn–especially feminist and queer porn in which reality of desire, pleasure and feelings is an explicit goal of the work; and the equation of “reality” and “art” is a huge jump, especially because many art makers are engaged in their work precisely because of the artifice they can create. And for many people, by many definitions, getting to watch other people have sex on video is exactly what makes it porn. That isn’t all that it is, and that doesn’t make it less important. It’s just one registry in which the work can sit. And that seems to me a good thing.).
I think there are exciting possibilities for Black Spark’s work–possibilities opened by both the artist and the viewers recognizing that what the work “is” will always be a joint project between these two parties, not to mention the endless social and cultural frameworks in which that joint project is taking place–if we recognize that the work functions simultaneously in multiples registries of significance, and that “reality” gives it the potential to create and have effects in multiple areas of culture simultaneously. And that’s kind of cool.
There’s something to this first film about mythologizing daily life. The video begins with the inter-cutting of sex acts and what appears to be just life around an apartment. Mundane life and sex acts become transposed into the pastime of super heroes with super powers (lit with special effects); browsing gay porn becomes jerking off and fucking in public spaces (public, assuming the video rental place was public, but also public in the sense that it is now re-told through the web presentation of the work). I am struck by the discontinuity of time (this narrative is not sequenced chronologically, which, while not particularly exceptional in contemporary film/video media, does seem to heighten the sense of transforming “real life” into mythology and fantasy, where the normal rules of life no longer apply). The temporal discontinuity of the video also reminds me of how Linda Williams describes early pornographic videos that were sometimes just montages of sex acts, not necessarily building to climax or cum shots, and not necessarily sequenced in a linear fashion (this is one point at which I can read this video as in dialogue with the culture and history of porn, beyond the obvious connection of public displays of sexual behavior). The temporal distortion also recalls certain questions about queer temporalities raised by Elizabeth Freeman in Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories, in which sexuality and sexual orientation or considered alongside their implicit compliance with or deviation from chrononormativities. I would suggest that the deviation linear time might be a small way that a much larger project–that of queer temporality–is at work in this video. There’s also an emphasis on social networking, in this video as well as others, and the whole web culture around Black Spark. This is in one sense perhaps just a reflection of our culture, but it is also unique in that these stories/images/sexual displays are not given as a mono-directional exchange, but are offered as an invitation for dialogue and communication. Alongside a visual tour of the performers’ bodies and sexual behaviors we are given email and facebook addresses. This adds a layer to what might otherwise be simple/recognizable citations of the roles of “porn performers” or “super-heroes”: whereas these figures are typically unreachable (unattainable?), here the artist is inviting the reach, inviting dialogue/exchange (this is fostered further on facebook and twitter, but my focus here is on the videos themselves).
I’m interested in the inter-cutting of the masked images, the images of sex acts, and the mixture of the two (having sex, wearing masks). There are so many ways to read this, of course, and the incorporation of the Eyes Wide Shut-esque white Venetian mask definitely inflects the content/context of the work. Regardless, here are some basic ideas that come out for me:
there is a relationship between sex (who we are when we have sex, how we have sex, etc.) and the “masks” that we wear. If I was to read for an easy “message,” I would say that there’s something here about sex adjusting or disrupting our masks, or even that sex unmasks us. I don’t think the video content is that simple, nor do I personally think that would necessarily be an accurate understanding of the personal effects/affects of sex. A baseline from which I can begin to offer one interpretation of the work is that the masks withhold a particular (privileged) facet of who a person is, namely, the face. The code name/alias functions as another kind of mask, withholding another particular (and privileged) facet of the person: the name. We are given access to other facets, namely the naked body and visual spectacle of sex in various forms and configurations. Bodies and sex function as revelations of the parts of a person often withheld in public culture (except perhaps in the frames of porn or art), and so these images might function as a kind of personal confession of these parts of (him)self. Juxtaposed with the mask images, however, and considering the highly produced condition through which these materials (bodies, sex) are being mediated (the videoing, the editing, the organization of these images alongside musical accompaniment, etc.), a question is raised about how these facets of identity also function as “masks” that withhold. Does a slab of chiseled abdominals become a signifier that obscures other aspects of who a person might be? Do particular sex acts (anal penetration, oral penetration, various positions and configurations, etc.) signify a person composed of social norms (to “bottom” means something in our culture, to “go down” on someone means something, “rimming” means something, etc.), and in doing so obscure other details of who that person might be? There’s a sense in which the limited range of personal dimensions offered in the video(s) functions itself as a mask. While these images are discussed by the artist as “real”—a personal journey, even—they are without extensive context; their (limited) context becomes the music, the masks, the settings, the code names. And, perhaps most interestingly, the kind of meta-web production/presence in which they are situated (email, facebook, twitter, tumblr, etc.). Certainly there are stories being told here, but they are only (selected) parts of the stories. These parts are about sex and bodies on display, and in such tellings, those parts of the story become foregrounded to stand in for the whole. Masks. Isolation (“No Spark wants to be alone …”) and connection (in the visual displays of sexual partnership, but also in the invitation for web-based social networking). And “sexual addiction” (one of the first phrases that scroll across the screen introducing us to the world of the artist is “I am Addicted to Sex”). [Without going too far down an adjacent tangent, I think there is something interesting about the fact that this figure/artist/work is characterized under the auspices of “sex addiction.” Annie Sprinkle, former porn star, among others, has written about the myth of sex addiction: http://anniesprinkle.org/writings/sex_addiction.html. I find the notion of “sex addiction” to be a product of a “sex negative” culture, and it is curious to read these videos as simultaneously a myth-making project, a celebration of (homosexual) sex, and simultaneously as a confession of failing to live up to the values of the culture (in classifying sex as an “addiction,” and thus inherently destructive in its excess). This would be an interesting thread to follow, exploring how the production of sexually explicit videos might simultaneously contribute to and counter a culture that views sex as inherently negative outside of certain socially constructed prescriptions.] This moment of “I am Addicted to Sex” frames the work in/as a mode of confession, and this for me recalls Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality Volume I, in which Foucault traces a genealogical production of this modern notion of “sexuality,” specifically through the apparatus of “confession” in religious, medical, and psychological settings. Here again sex becomes a confession, and its meaningfulness is inflected/constructed in/as such a confession.
Some sub-stories: about how our lives are organized by music (our socialization includes the production of soundscores for our daily lives), and how the mundane can take on super importance.
Looking at the video Sunday Faith:
This video has a much more tender tone (mainly because of the music selections that include Imogen Heap, but also because of the insinuated focus on a central relationship), the alternating between partner sex and masturbating that is eventually revealed to also be partner sex (what is left to the viewer’s imagination is whether this is the same partner, or some other web-fuck-buddy situation. I feel as if both are suggested, the former by the text that alludes to a loving, trusting, “faithful til the end” relationship that is interspersed throughout the video, the latter by the constant insertion of email and facebook addresses inviting the viewer’s contact, the intense gazes into the camera (thus, into the gaze of the spectator), and the momentary glimpse of the three-way sex situation, indicating that this loving/trusting/faithful partnership is not monogamous. The latter may even go as far as to suggest that the viewer might become implicated into the scene, a kind of seduction into the possibility that to get in touch with the Black Spark by way of the constantly-advertised social media access points is to get involved with the kind of scene being presented). There’s a lovely play of language in the middle of the video, when the text on the screen reads “If you are interested in helping my project …” and we hear the person who at that point is being penetrated anally say “I have to stop . . .” and the text on the screen then reads “Support love.” What begins as what feels like a clumsy fund-raising pitch quickly turns intimate and even romantic, with the notion that project at hand is really “love.” Love here may be a euphemism, but it is yet another way that the viewer is invited into the project, the suggestion being that if you “support love,” then you are a part of what you are seeing. Although all the [early] videos include this textual push to establish contact by way of email and social media, this video in particular seduces me the most. It makes me as the viewer want to contact the Black Spark, because on multiple levels (the gaze, the text, the inclusion of the web-sex and three-way sex) that I am already a part of what I am watching, or that I could be if I wanted to.
Another reason I appreciate this particular video is that it begins with a cum shot. The cum shot is the money shot of porn (and most bad sex I’ve had). It is the climax, the “goal;” everything that comes before the cum shot is in preparation for it, rendering all other forms of sexual engagement as “foreplay,” only segues on the way to penetration and subsequent ejaculation. In this video, the cum shot is given first. It displaces what can easily become the fixed (fixated) goal of porn/sex, and in doing so, at least in part resignifies everything else that is shown afterwards. I as a viewer am freed to contemplate what else might be taking place or inspiring the sex acts that I am witnessing (love, for instance). Sex is no longer only something that leads to orgasm or ejaculation; the temporal manipulation creates the possibility for other stories to be told (again, this significance comes out for me directly because I am considering the work through the cultural framework of pornography. It is an example of why I am reluctant to abandon that frame as a way of considering Black Spark’s videos. Looking at them as porn—specifically the ways in which they deviate from the normative devices of mainstream porn—gives me access to a broader significance of how these re-presentations participate in the socio-cultural constructions of what and how sex takes on meaning).
I might add, one of my favorite videos thus far (aesthetically, but also because it shows the potential for switching roles between being penetrated/penetrating, which I think might be a difference in how I consider “queer sex” and “gay sex”) is Dance Inmyheartnow (can also be viewed at the link above). Perhaps at some point I will make the time to write about it and other videos.
That might be all I can write on the subject now.
Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
I hope to see Black Spark and/or some of his work when he comes through Columbus on 13-14 June (if I’m not in San Francisco doing a residency/conference that week; funding pending).
[I might suggest that the tour is yet one more avenue through which the work seems intensely centered on connecting with the viewer base/community surrounding the work]
Other useful links for Black Spark
Filed under: creative process, research | Tags: courtney trouble, madison young, pornography, queer porn, sex education, shine louise houston, sketches of shame, theorizing performance
Different new projects/potential projects in the works.
This week I start rehearsals with Daniel Holt. I am restaging/recreating Sketches of Shame, a piece I made with Clara Underwood in 2007. I already know there are things that are changing. From the “original,” I think I am retaining Clara’s solo, which will be performed by both Daniel and me simultaneously. It is not set to counts, and the timing is not necessarily precise. I’m interested in the fluctuation of drifting in-and-out of unison, how the aligning and misaligning of bodies/actions/pre-determined gestures articulates something about the shame experience as one predicated on the sensation of falling out of line/out of synch with the/a regulatory normality. Here the choreography functions as that regulation, we are both approximations, but there is no absolute measurement; we are each variables being treated as constants in the assessment of the other . . . this seems to me to be central to the production of bodies, genders, sexes, sexualities, etc. It is also my intention that a significant portion of the piece be done watching one another. That might enhance the analogy (observation and the sensation of being observed are central to the shame experience), or it might break the analogy in that watching one another without falling into perfect unison will be difficult. Or maybe not. Perhaps the deviations will become much more subtle, but the remaining disparities are would be more acutely analogous to the slippages of bodies/genders/sexes/sexualities that are attempting to adhere to regulations. Maybe.
There is another section that will be new material, added at the front end of the piece. It’s still very new, and I’m a bit guarded about discussing it. We’ll see how it goes and how much makes it onto the blog.
Another project that occurred to me yesterday that I might consider as a study for my Theorizing Performance course this quarter is an analysis of queer bodies and queer sex in a survey of queer pornography. This is building from earlier ideas about pornography as non-sanctioned sex education and an archive of human sexual behavior (there is a recent wealth of research on pornography as a source of sexual information in adolescent development, and it is at this intersection of development along with developing sexual identities–which might take place beyond adolescent development–that I see pornography as a relevant line of inquiry into the socialization and education of [sexual] bodies), and queer pornography as a radical intervention for expanding the range/scope/possibilities of such an archive (and thus, in effect, the range/scope/possibilities of bodies/identities that are educated and circulated back into culture/society). My interest is in developing a lexicon for the bodies and relationalities demonstrated in this media, particularly in the work of pornographers such as Madison Young (who has specifically addressed fluid sexuality in a series of docu-porns), Shine Louise Houston (crashpad), and Courtney Trouble, among many others. I’m thinking of something like a survey of 20-30 performers in 2-5 films by each director. I don’t know what I’m looking for yet . . . that’s the nature of developing a lexicon, allowing it to be emergent from the data sources considered. Things to consider might be: self-identification (do these performers identify as queer, genderqueer, female, male, trans, etc. etc. etc.); bodily configurations in sex acts (parts of the body involved, how they are involved, etc.); performance of roles within these configurations; inclusion of extra-bodily components (dildos, condoms, gloves, etc.); number of participants; and whatever else comes up. Maybe.
Those are two projects that are in my mind right now. We’ll see where they go.
Filed under: creative process, inspiration | Tags: annie sprinkle, billy castro, catriona sandilands, christopher kennedy, courtney trouble, drew deveaux, dylan ryan, erotism death & sensuality, georges bataille, jiz lee, karl cronin, laboratory for independent scholars, madison young, queer porn, shine louise houston, sketches, syd blakovich, travis mathews, twincest
I wanted to take the time to leave the trace of another constellation of ideas that are forming frames for me right now. In the midst of everything else I’m doing, I have also been lucky to find some intense inspirations. One of the most notable is work happening in and around queer porn.
I have written around some of these ideas on the blog for the Laboratory for Independent Scholars (the collaborative research project with Karl Cronin, Christopher Kennedy and myself). You can check out those posts here.
On that blog, I listed lots of the individuals involved with and responsible for queer porn that have quickly become heroes in my life. I don’t want to be redundant, but I do want to leave a trace, so briefly (with hyperlinks, which are anything but brief when blogging), they are:
Jiz Lee (genderqueer porn star, blogger, activist, artist, etc.)
Madison Young (porn star/director, gallerist, educator, etc.)
Shine Louise Houston (porn director/producer, etc.)
Courtney Trouble (porn star/director/producer/etc.)
Syd Blakovich (porn star, artist, activist, etc.)
Drew DeVeaux (porn star, model, etc.)
Dylan Ryan (porn star, academic, etc.)
Billy Castro (porn star, etc.)
Annie Sprinkle (one of the the original queer porn performers/directors/dreamers; artist, activist, sexecologist)
Travis Mathews (filmmaker, activist, artist, etc.)
These people are some of my many heroes.
I wish I could write a whole essay right here about why I think queer porn is a radically progressive force in our world, culture, society, etc. (I’ve dabbled with some of these ideas on the LIS blog), but the short version is that queer porn, among much else, demonstrates and performs bodies and sexualities in a way that substantially disrupts and subverts normalized heterosexist configurations of bodies, identities, sex, sexualities, and gender. By giving representation to bodies and acts that live at or beyond the edges of normativity, queer porn offers legitimacy and recognition of those lives to others who are living them . . . that’s not clear . . . what I mean is that one of the things queer porn does is offers a site of identification for those who live and perform their bodies and sexualities outside of the socially sanctioned and normative. But it also functions as a activism towards a public archive of such lives/bodies/sexualitites that authors our culture beyond the edges of the normative. It leaves a trace of some for all, an archive that subverts the notion that all bodies and people are a particular way (this is most notably a heteronormativity, but I would venture to argue that much of gay sexual practices, identities and representations have configured themselves as imitations and emulations–thus representations and reiterations . . . maybe even simulacra–of heterosexuality, thus constituting a homonormativity that continues to abject some lives/bodies/sexualities and sexual expressions/acts as unlivable; I think the efforts of queer porn disrupt these normativities as well). In this way, queer porn accomplishes in representations of sexual encounters, relationships, pleasures, etc., what I tend to strive for in my dancing life–a practice, experience and perhaps even representation of bodies of vast possibilities, bodies that know and become more rather than less, that form and reform within mobile, fluid edges, never stable and always in transition.
I have some ideas of how my work will begin to dialogue with practices in queer porn. Some of this will be explored in the forthcoming reconstruction of “Sketches of Shame” (discussed in my previous post), although I’m not yet certain how.
I also have become interested in how this work and work by these individuals beyond the scope of “porn” might become topics of my research (alongside arts practices by the Love Art Laboratory, Karl Cronin, and various Butoh artists). One such example is a project with which I have recently become completely enamored called Twincest:
Described on their site:
“twincest was a multimedia collaboration between two lovers, Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich. They spent 4 years together documenting their interpersonal dynamics and intimacies through sound, movement, video, photography, body fluids, pain, aggression, meat, sex, and love. Founded in 2004, their art and performances not only strengthened their budding relationship, but also provided a playground for the more complex elements that manifests in love’s shadows.”
“My blood brother/sister,
Bonded by bloodpissshitcumspitpussweat-andassjuice, we share a body/canvas/culture for projections of disjunctured identities. With you, I expose and archive the physicalities of the sorid, you are my twin conjoined through the technological extentions of the body, a desire for the same…
wrpt in soild shts
Traces of their work.
Syd Blakovich says on her website (which is distinct from the twincest project that she conducted in collaboration with jiz lee from 2004-2009): “My interest in movement based performance is similar to my interest in body fluids. It’s a dialog between bodies and the spaces they occupy.”
Which is completely ecosexual, as far as I’ve theorized it.
I want to write about this work. I need to study it more. I need to be in contact with Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich at some point. I need to draw together supporting theoretical materials needed to discuss this work. I already think Bataille’s Erotism, Death & Sensuality has a lot to offer. I think Catriona Sandilands “Eco Homo” article has a lot to offer.
I’m thinking about flesh and fluids, permeability and that which permeates, transmission and that which is transmitted (this has to do with performance, performativity, writing, choreography, etc., in the metaphorical sense), but also the levels of the body which we (in dance, in society) don’t address. I remember reading Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s writings about Body-Mind Centering, and those writings referring to movement on a level of fluids and tissues and bones. I didn’t find it to be very precise, although I have heard from colleagues who are more familiar with that work that those who understand it intimately, it is incredibly precise.
As I talk about fluid bodies, how can I not talk about body fluids? The morphability/malleability/instability of bodies is at the skin, in the seeping and sloshing and squirting, the sweating, the threat of leakage, the “necessity of management” (or of an aesthetics of flesh, re: Sandilands) in an age of latex. As I write about sexual epistemologies (see the paper posted in previous post), how do I not discuss latex and liquids, the edge between safety and danger that is inseparable from how we must know/understand sex in this era, and how does that affect how we live/understand the world, bodies, identities, dancing, etc.?
And what does a dissertation begin to look like if these are (potential) figures to be considered: the Love Art Laboratory (Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens), Karl Cronin and the Somatic Natural History Archive, twincest (Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich), and Butoh artists such as Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata, and Yoko Ashikawa?
I’m not sure where any of these ideas/inspirations are going, but I knew I wanted to begin to leave their traces here.
I’ll keep you informed as to how they develop.