A midsummer night’s sex conference

Scholars joined strippers to discuss art’s response to online pornography, writes Matthew Reisz

July 25, 2013

Academic conferences are not normally the place to find demonstrations of Japanese rope bondage or extracts from films about sexual interaction with an octopus.

But those were two of the contributions at an event held in London earlier this month that united artists, activists and academics with “camgirls”, strippers and “submissives” for a series of discussions on the effect of the internet on pornography and performance art.

“Performing Porn (after the computer became boring)”, held on 12‑13 July, was organised by the performance artist Daniel Ploeger, lecturer in theatre and digital arts at Brunel University, and Brunel PhD student Sarah Harman.

Pornography was opposed by many feminists in the 1960s and 1970s, the pair explained, but later practitioners “produced work that ventures beyond normative gender stereotypes and aesthetic clichés, and blurs the boundaries between performance art and sex work”.

Now that pornography is readily accessible on the internet, it has “arguably lost some of its thrill. Can body-based performance art practices offer a response?” they asked.

Giulia Casalini and Ana Grahovac – curators of CUNTemporary, an organisation set up to “explore feminist and queer art practices and theories” – presented examples of “Guerrilla Pornfare” by artists “address[ing] the vexed question of whether our global porn-saturated digital environment can re-awaken and stimulate our bodies and desires”.

They included a 2009 video called Mother of Pearl by visual artists Andrzej Wojtas and Ewelina Aleksandrowicz – known as Pussykrew – which features an extended interaction between a woman and an octopus.

Meanwhile, Heather Pennington, who has been investigating the London “kink” scene as part of an MA in performance and culture at Goldsmiths, University of London, gave a demonstration of kinbaku, or Japanese rope bondage.

She compared the practice – which is safe, consensual, female-friendly and as ritualised as flower arranging – with most representations of it on the internet, which often show jeering men torturing much younger women.

Sharif Mowlabocus, lecturer in media studies at the University of Sussex, considered “the emergence of a new economy within online pornography made up of performers who are, often for the first time, making money out of their own sexually explicit material”. He asked whether “Web 2.0 is ‘democratizing’ pornography” and “support[ing] more egalitarian, less objectifying pornographies”.

Yet Victoria Holt, “a webcam performer, stripper and professional submissive” who is about to start an MA at Sussex, argued that “the openness of the internet is really not that open after all”. When she started a blog, she said, she had wanted to “show that pretty, articulate people who were ‘sane’ could use their bodies in unconventional ways, [including] a type of masochism…rejected by much of mainstream society”.

Yet as time went on, Ms Holt continued, strangers began to ask her questions and book her for “professional submission sessions in the dungeon”. This soon led to her “producing photographs I thought would be either enticing or shocking enough to keep the people who read my blog interested…I was the object, when I so wanted to be the subject, of my own work.”

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Senior Lecturer: Architecture (Cultural Content) NORWICH UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS
Head of Department of Physics ZHEJIANG UNIVERSITY
Research Assistant LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS & POLITICAL SCIENCE LSE
Lecturer in University Study Skills UNIVERSITY OF HAFR AL BATIN

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest