Naked lecturer looks for nude truth

Daniel Ploeger’s performance provokes minds through ‘body beautiful’

February 7, 2013

Come again? Electrode’s shocking results

An academic and performance artist described as the “Jimi Hendrix of the sphincter” has delivered a “naked” lecture to a group of researchers at his university.

In “Thinking Critical/Looking Sexy”, Daniel Ploeger, lecturer in theatre and digital arts at Brunel University, set out “to actively provoke the sexualisation of my narcissistically disciplined naked body”.

He also explored “the different frameworks in which we see naked bodies” during the lecture at Brunel, which was broadcast live on the internet on 30 January.

It started with him lying naked on a hospital bed (a context in which nudity is not normally considered erotic), but with a soundtrack taken from two pornographic films.

He then put on his trousers for the bulk of the lecture, although he remained stripped to the waist with a bodybuilder’s fake tan.

Dr Ploeger used the talk, part of a seminar series open to the public, to argue that it was once assumed that there was a difference between the “naked” and the “nude”, and that “a high art audience” did not look at paintings to be titillated or aroused.

Yet today’s performance artists who work with nudity, however complex and painful the themes they deal with, regularly attract lewd comments and propositions, he said, with the artists often complicit in this.

Although “critical of the idealisation of normative bodies”, he admitted that “in my own work I am very concerned with how I look”.

So, rather than pretending that artistic nudity can ever be non-sexual, Dr Ploeger wondered whether it was “possible to create work with naked bodies which actually deals with the sexualising gaze”.

He also liked the idea of critiquing the performance artists who claim to be transgressive but still buy into the idea of the “body beautiful”.

To illustrate these themes, Dr Ploeger described recent examples of his performance work that are not for the faint-hearted.

In one piece, Electrode, he used an anal probe of the kind now utilised by those suffering from incontinence to retrain their sphincter muscles.

In the past, however, the same electrodes were used by researchers to measure the physiological changes in a man having an orgasm.

Therefore, for the performance Dr Ploeger displayed a graph of the research from the 1980s and at the same time attempted to recreate the pattern while “adopting an Action Man pose”.

On one occasion in Dresden, he recalled, “I faked 90 orgasms in two hours - [but] it was totally unerotic and gets very tedious after a while. My own desire to look good is part of the work and necessary to it, since I glorify myself [in] an Action Man [pose], though it is also undermined and made comic by the reference to incontinence and ageing bodies.”

It was this work that gained Dr Ploeger the unusual label “the Jimi Hendrix of the sphincter” from a Czech newspaper.

In another work-in-progress, Dr Ploeger said, he is collaborating with Australian porn star Zahra Stardust on what is envisaged to be a taboo-breaking “heterosexual encounter” over the internet.

For those worried that the lecture was not naked enough, Dr Ploeger finished his talk by stripping off and lying down - and from that position he contributed to a lively question and answer session.

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