Ovarium: BioPorn Videodrama Just Across The Border
It was a low point in my life. I received an email from Adam Zaretsky telling me that he would like to get in touch and make a link from his website emutagen.com to my site libidot.org. I had not heard from Zaretsky in a long while and was glad that he had resurfaced. I called him on the phone and as it turned out, we were both thinking about the varieties of netporn and also, both on the last week of our unemployment paychecks. It must have been one of the most intimidating winters of my life, yet I managed to laugh my head off during this phone conversation with Adam Zaretsky.
And then I remembered: he had rescued my mood once before. It happened during the last days of Porn Ar(t)ound the World, a twelve-day art festival that took place in KC nOna, Mechelen, Belgium, in November 2002. This festival, which I had prepared as guest-curator, ended in a total fall-out after 75% of the artworks had been removed by the Belgian police. The Belgian TV, newspapers, a psychotic porn producer named ‘Black Magic,’ and a team of catholic journalists and organizations had orchestrated a large-scale attack. I walked around in a state of enormous stress caused by lack of sleep. There was no more space for viewpoints or festivity, no more solution to the problem—the artworks had been removed, performances and parties cancelled. It had all happened right over my head, a hostile, catholic-driven media circus had invaded the Porn Ar(t)ound the World festival like a storm.
This is when Zaretsky walked into the picture. He entered KC nOna like a fresh spirit, cracking a few jokes about the situation. He also immediately started writing a statement for the Belgian police, together with his ‘ex’ and artistic collaborator, the performance artist and ‘Kissing Girl’ Yoshie Suzuki. One of their brainchildren, the digitally enhanced enema-art video Squart, had also been taken away also by the Belgian police. Suzuki and Zaretsky worked very hard at their written statement, explaining their motives for making this type art and ending their letter with the following line: ‘Every society shits every day, including yours.’ For years, this line stuck in my mind. This angry-poetic and confident response by Suzuki and Zaretsky to the Belgian authorities lifted my mood.
II. On The Road: From Boston, MA to North Adams, MA
It is several years later and I set out to meet with Zaretsky and his new artistic collaborator, Barbara Groves, also his partner. They live in the old industrial town of North Adams, Massachusetts, home of the ambitious-progressive contemporary art museum, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MOCA). North Adams is located at the western edge of the northeastern state of Massachussets, where ‘blue’ (democrat) voting America starts merging with the great American middle of nowhere. If in the years preceding the 2004 US presidential elections, the small ‘blue’ regions had still shown some potential as a place to live and be livable for an artist, the swarming ‘red’ (republican) middle grounds of the continent indicated what kind of culture the USA was quickly becoming.
On my way to North Adams, I listen to the news about Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding tube was disconnected after fifteen years of vegetative existence and legal dispute between her husband and her parents who were supported by the more radical religious pro-lifers. The fury of the protesting Christians had arrived on Schiavo’s husband’s doorsteps and they engaged in prayers and rituals to save her life and soul. The Christian lust for life was gaining ground. The Christian habit of sculpting the hero as martyr, as so vividly depicted in Mel Gibson’s illuminated sermon The Passion of the Christ, swaps the intolerant and violent practices of Christian extremism into a depiction of a benign martyr body, Jesus Christ. I was wondering how this new era of Christian extremism in the USA, the alliance between an extreme right government and ‘holy’ media corporations, were affecting Zaretsky’s ‘bio-art’ career and his ongoing fascination with porn, sex and excess.
III. Adam’s Bioporn, Barbara’s Fuzzy Erotique
I take a look at his website http://www.emutagen.com. It shows pictures of Zaretsky in transparent blue uniform with a big medical device in his hand. Reading his CV and job application portfolio, one can see that he has worked hard in the last years, as a self-aware type of bio-engineer, taking the politically daring or ‘wet’ approach to science and engineering. He is not afraid of lust and humor. From the angle of ghost-like or Nietzschean ‘god’-like impersonation of the scientist, he challenges students and audiences with his experiments. For instance, in one of his projects MMMM, he used music to manipulate E. Coli and humans sitting on voice transmitting vibrators, which wiggled both the flasks of bacteria and the butts of the communicators. He attempted “to determine whether music has any effect on the growth and/or production of pharmaceuticals by an engineered strain of E. Coli”. He played some obnoxious music to the engineered E. Coli and found out through careful scientific investigation that the cells were “bothered.” Then he proposed to play more agreeable music and to publish the findings of the E. Coli hitparade.
One might think that MMMM was inspired by the myths and folklore surrounding the development of the unborn’s brain inspired by their regular exposure to music. But alas, the scientifically proven finding that the unborn can remember and react to music training, has also been appropriated by the opposition. For instance British pro-life groups seeking evidence of the ‘humanity’ of a fetus at an age when it can still be legally aborted. Is it even a coincidence that the hitparade for unborns, as we can find them online and in music stores, is largely dominated by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Jonathan Sebastian Bach? Are these just examples of ‘holy’ music taste manufactured by right-wing corporations for the unborn? Or has it been scientically proven that the unborn likes Mozart and Bach?
Zaretsky’s goal is to provoke and experiment with the power of scientific knowledge. In Workhorse Zoo, he worked with Julia Reodica to create a display of nine of the most studied industrial organisms of Modern Molecular Biology, making them live together in a ‘glass house’. These organisms are: Bacteria - E. Coli, Yeast - C. Cerevisiae, Plants - A. Thaliana and Fresh Wheat, Worms - C. Elegans, Flies – D Melanogaster, Fish - D. Rerio, Frogs - X. Laevis, Mice - M. Musculus, Humans - H. Sapiens. Advancing like a mean little boy, he created a messy zoo inside this glass house, to see how these organisms would react with one another. The boy had an eye for the fantastic as he pulverized the lessons of enlightenment science and the Bible -- not to interfere with God’s kind of divisions and order, not to interfere with God’s primary interlocutors, the corporate biotech industries. But Zaretsky was already a great sinner and even a cannibal. He killed four mice, he fried them and ate them, and they tasted like bacon.
Then years later Zaretsky creates a human zoo with his powerFARM community, where a group of people get hybridized by living together on a property in Woodstock, New York. Zaretsky issues a call for “performance artists, musicians, dominatrixes, fetishists, organic farmers, conservation ecologists, embryologists, molecular biologists, video documenters, volunteers, submissive investors, the generally devout and the public.” Then follows a call to arms for the selected group to explore their sexual interest in posthuman organisms, ie. doing experiments as a bio-engineered performance species, as opposed to libidos weened on viagra and porn. As the ringmaster explains: “[T]he human genome project, new reproductive technologies, trans-species chimeras, breast milk pharmacies; we are our own tormented mirrors. The hidden will be revealed, fact-by-fact, corpuscle-by-corpuscle. Eventually, it is hoped by all erect explorers, Nature will lay open, legs in the air. Or for the more brutally honest, legs bound open in universal stirrups, screaming and heaving under the heavy-handed methods of investigation. All these novel explorations are fantastically pornographic but who is watching…” The fantastic pornographic-performative nature of the powerFARM’s chimeras are brought alive through daily instructions and exercises, and the evidence of their daily routines can be found on the website pfarm.org.
The performative experiments are further developed in Zaretsky’s recent collaboration with Barbara Groves. Barbara Groves as a performer can be seen as a ‘dark feminine nurturer.’ Gilles Deleuze’s evokes this type of female persona in his essay ‘Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty,’ (something Mel Gibson should read), where she is a formidable presence who incites her fellow ‘masochists’ to abandon themselves and play. Bobby is an artistic and queer kind of girl-dominatrix who tries out multiple roles while helping others see their hidden chimeras. She especially likes to do it with Zaretsky. One of the last things Barbara Groves made before meeting Zaretsky was a performance art piece, whereby she dressed different people in her wardrobe and sent them out into the streets so that she could shadow them with her camera. She was not so much interested in people worshipping her body or wardrobe, as in creating performativity, intimacy and femininine self-portraiture for social networks.
Barbara Groves is interested in performance as a type of self-portraiture, where the performer uses media to cultivate a position of ‘doubling’ as ‘subject’ and ‘object’ of human agency. In recent years, feminist theorist[s] and performance artists have started to revel in positions of the ‘doubling’ of acts of sex production and consumption. As Rebecca Schneider writes in her book The Explicit Body In Performance : ”Explicating while illustrating this double bind is the project of feminist performance artists of the explicit body who present their bodies as stretched across this paradox like canvases across the framework of the symbolic order." For instance, when Barbara Groves performed for the cameras in the Etay studio space, she was interested in modeling and simultaneously watching herself as a model. Coming out of a tradition of modern painting, where the artist focuses on representing a model or object, she uses performativity to liberate herself from the subject-object dichotomy. Her work tackles the alienation inherent in this dichotomy as it creates one-sided genres and roles of traditional art and pornographic portraits. She wants to be an erotic subject who can understand a position of ‘doubling’ and focus on creating images that allow other users to playfully experience ‘doubling’ or other relational aesthetics.
Barbara Groves also likes to think of her own relational aesthetics as ‘porno-graffiti,’ a type of body art or artistic commentary that aims at ‘smearing’ commodified portraits. By donning a punk extravaganza of fabrics and entering public spaces, she tries to awaken spectators to new ways of seeing themselves as subjects and objects. Just like the philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote about prostitutes walking their sexual bodies on a two-way street, selling themselves as commodities and yet in control of the process of exchange, Barbara Groves’s art spectators are asked to sell and critique themselves as consumers/horrifying beasts.
Barbara Groves is inspired by the icons of pop culture, such as the double-edged characters of the Japanase artist Junko Mizuno, who creates manga characters that are seductive, cute and innocent, yet also aggressively repulsive. Barbara Groves is aware of entering the exotica context of Japanese manga as a living western woman, and she wants to be a ‘femme,’ a vulnerable female who can also show an insane and murderous side. She is inspired by queer body art and likes to read and question psycho-analytical theories. In one of the love contracts she made up with Zaretsky to guide their art career, it is stipulated that some of the profits of their art should go to SKUL, or the Society for Cutting Up Lacan. She investigates psycho-analysis that locates the birth of the subject in their entering symbolic and elusive language systems, as in the theories of Jacques Lacan.:
“From what I know of Lacan, he is acutely focused on our inability to transform anxiety into the symbolic. I feel that he is biased against the visceral. I think transformations and communication come out as much if not more this way. And, then what about animals? I guess by his principle argument, they cannot communicate on an intelligent level because they have no access to our system of language which I believe is only a system. What about preverbal sounds and poetry? Language can be too rational and blocked from honest experimentation.”
Through modes of performance art and enabling queer networks she hopes to create ‘honest experiments’ with new languages of art and sexuality. She believes that the modes of performance are very powerful in their effect on artistic growth and audiences. She also wants to radiate pleasure and extraversion as a cheeky ‘art star’. She also creates performance figures of a darker shade. I realize this more clearly when she shows a performance photograph of herself as a housewife with transparent mask. In this photograph, the female is buying two heavy jugs of milk in the grocery store and stares into the camera. There she is, the hardworking and nurturing ‘cow’ of society looking back into the lens, with formidable strength and with vengeance.
IV. Ovarium.org: Porn-on-the-verge
We are now ready for the silent footage of Ovarium, their most recent webcast performance, which took place at the Canadian art space Etay. Etay is a studio set up by Jhave, a Canadian art facilitator, visionary, and software & space designer. Jhave is interested in using this space for experimental performance events that reclaim the art of everyday life from the jaws of reality TV. He built a studio and furnished it with living essentials, as well as computer technologies and webcameras for artists to record their daily living experiments. The artists make their ‘e-flix’ (short videos) independently and stream them onto the web. The etay.ca website houses a large archive of artist videos, which one can access by clicking on the artist names and the short videos they created and recorded. In the case of Barbara Groves and Zaretsky, the ten-day residency resulted in www.ovarium.org. The ovarium.org site contains their ‘warm-up’ movies, located in the folder ‘Svetlana and Andy Wallwhore,’ and the grand oeuvre itself called ‘Ovarium’ (Located in the folder ‘Ovarium’).
A precedessor to Ovarium in the history of experimental media art would be the 2002 performance by the Amsterdam art-couple Zoot en Genant, entitled 8X8X72 Fucking Retreat , in which the couple spent one week in a wired gallery De Praktijk, and streamed their ‘eight times a day’ sex life onto the web. Zoot en Genant’s sex art performance was based on a Taoist sex exercise whereby two partners charge each other’s sexual energy by ‘fucking’ in regular intervals and with a certain number of thrusts, but also withholding orgasm. Barbara Groves and Zaretsky’ performance, on the other hand, was not focused on such rhythmical genital intercourse but on an exploration of home-made uncensoring fetish and fantasy scenes.
In the warm-up movies, Barbara Groves and Zaretsky and turned into their personas, the female ‘Svetlana’ and the male ‘Andi Wallwhore.’ They work for about a week to prepare the production of Ovarium, which is shot in the last three days of the residency. The couple’s power dynamics are tested out in the ‘ad libbing’ period--the male is very often ridiculed and humiliated as a burly figure by the female. And Zaretsky is very good at this role. The female is more adroit and erotically charged in comparison to him, and shows off her eyes and body (including privates) just when the viewer is at a total loss. The male is her muscular handyman who gives her head for ‘breakfast’. They also dress up in each other’s clothes and impersonate each other’s habits and neuroses in the kitchen, one party making French Toast, the other trying out soft erotic asphyxiation inside a garbage bag. She kicks him and he falls down on the kitchen floor. Then we have Andi’s becoming-mother, and a Jewish mother indeed, when he yells at Svet for not cleaning up the kitchen. Should we call this their porn-on-the-verge?
There is also the loss of the family unit, the disconnect between Svetlana and Andi, and this fragmentation is emphasized through their narcissism and obsessions with certain objects --an amputated leg, vagina-and clitoris-shaped pillows, and other plastic objects. Svet and Andi display modes of infantilism, both making appearances as helpless or overly tucked-in babies wearing vagina-shaped gloves. The choice of ‘narcissistic’ performance modes was also determined by the set up of the Etay space itself. The performers directed themselves to the surrounding web cameras individually, hence they were not modeling for ‘each other.’ They could only catch furtive glimpses of each other through the surrounding video monitors. Andi adds to these awkward reality TV scene a touch of slapstick, for instance when he displays a nose torture fetish. After all he has background in the ‘Yiddish’ Theatre, and named one of the movies ‘Are Fat Americans Romance?’
In the fifteen eerie movies that constitute Ovarium, the couple as heterosexual unit and indie porn production team has fallen into place. Ovarium.org is defined by them as the ‘organization’ that houses the ‘ovaries’ and is seen as an enabling space, or a greenhouse for the soul. If some of us had been waiting to witness the sexual vibe that constitutes this art-couple, here we can see it in full glory. The couple is dressed in mirroring outfits, with white facial masks and pink hairdos. The scenes are eerie or vague, and speak to the spectator’s imagination. The style of the video drama is inspired by anime, or cartoon and sci-fi fetishism. The fantasies takes place in the future, the fetishes are either twisted ones or fetishes that are still ‘unexplored.’ They often do nothing but obstruct arousal. Here is how I read their ‘bioporn video-drama.’ The female is a cute child in need of a doctor. The male is the doctor who comes to her rescue and helps her, but he cannot keep his hands off her. She looks androgynous and retro, like a handsomely melancholic bedridden prince from the renaissance period, staring with a beautiful pouty face into the camera. He operates on her and cannot control his sexual desires. He cuts with a big knife into her stomach, and he is assisted by two other figures in this scene. He tries to place an ‘ovarium ‘(red plastic egg holder) into her womb. But she fights back and keeps control over her womb, he loses control again as he starts making love to her. And so on. Even though the movie is already over.
They are a smart and outgoing duo and look like a glittering anomaly in the town of North Adams. Bobby is feminine, young, gregarious, esoteric, and feminist-leaning. Her lover, Adam Zaretsky, a more experienced artist-scholar-educator. He looks tall and happy, when we meet again. He has lost weight and wears a fashionable shirt. It is very cold today. He wears a Russian woolen hat and walks around like Rasputin or a Bolshevik. We meet in the middle of an icy cold spell and talk extensively over coffee, cigarettes and shots of vodka. We sit at the kitchen table of their quaint and tiny apartment in one of North Adams’ oldest converted office buildings. We talk breast-to-breast while exploring the reasons why our websites got linked.
They are a very social couple. You can tell, they both have an enormous libido and they are deeply in love. This is the impeccable foundation of their living art experiment. In this sense the adventures of Andi Wallwhore and Svetlana connect to everybody else’s desires and sex lives—all that bubbles, all the stuff and little things lovers do every day, all the fights and frolicking with words and deals. These scenarios are not only meaningful as intimate codes, but can be shown to others through social networks like ovarium.org. But rather than sharing the code with customers who expect a certain type of programme for their money, Zaretsky and Bobby share it with their peers or ‘niche’ audiences.
There is potentially massive exchange between such intimately camming ‘sex artists’ and their peers, resulting in an indie sex/porn movement that is now is in a stage of infancy. It is just not clear at this point in media history if the more conditioned Real TV voyeur is able to ‘swallow’ it. It is not so easy for a spectator or researcher to decipher or be part of a performance art couple’s ‘code’, and that is why we still have to explain it to each other. And, as it still tends to go in this kind of critical dialogue, even though we are networked peers equipped with tiny devices to record and share questions and answers, the most compelling bits were revealed to me when I did not have my tape recorder on. When we were sufficiently relaxed and inebriated, some of our deeper psychic states jumped onto each other. It was a moment of fragile beauty unfolding on the kitchen table itself, a story of a woman in deep pain, who watched her brother die after a long state of coma, remembering his bed, his little hand; her memory of his tied up hands and the necessity to feel them. It was dark and her pain affected me so much that I finally understood why she had a blue object, a ‘baby,’ strapped around her belly, in one of her performances. And I guess that is the reason why I arrived on their doorsteps.
V. Ovarium.org: The Interview
Jacobs: How did you prepare yourselves for Ovarium conceptually?
Groves: A few events probably set much of the tone for our residency at Etay.ca, of which, the first two occurred prior to our arrival in Montreal. Adam and I purchased a dried chicken foot in New Orleans as a voodoo charm for our performance together. Secondly, we managed to established a peculiar relationship with the authorities at the Canadian border, as the vagina pillows from an installation I had made over the summer --in collaboration with my mother (the seamstress)-- entitled "perversely pink and femme, downy soft and plastic" were searched and fondled by a female guard in latex gloves. Still unsure about our motives, they went online researching the Etay website, which luckily for us, was much more tame at that time.
Also, the night that we shot Ovarium, Adam had just come in from Chinatown with a bundle of raw chicken feet as I was preparing the studio for a quick medical skit before the arrival of our dinner guests Jennifer Willet and Shawn Bailey of Bioteknika www.bioteknica.org. By the time they appeared, we were only 1/3 of the way into the creation of what was to become Ovarium and invited them to participate--- requesting that they be medical interns who would draw the surgical line across my stomach dressed as French maids with ball gags, sunglasses and sun burns.
Jacobs: So the success of the performance must have had something to do with those chicken feet. Can you explain that a bit more?
Groves: I grew up in Pass Christian, Mississipi, where from a young age onwards I came in contact with religious catholic mindsets and types of witchcraft and voodoo that seem to follow me around the world. Even when I moved here to Massachusetts, I remained aware of the hidden tradition of Christian culture, which is on the one hand very ornamental and festive yet morally very repressed. I see the signs of voodoo worship almost anywhere I go, and I see the chicken feet as symbol of rejuvenation and revival. There are characters in New Orleans like the ‘chicken man’ who would bite off the head of the chicken in his trance performances. These people explore real parts of the animal that are also highly symbolic. Some of these traditions of the ‘carnival south’ are getting lost but I feel like it is important for me to be in tune with my roots. It is very fascinating to me as carnival is supposed to be an emblem of ‘transition time’ and is highly baroque way of expressing excess and a new time to come. It is the one period of time where you can splurge in beauty and vice and after that, the catholic subjects is supposed to go back to straight living.
‘Voodoo’ is a way of dealing with projections, trying to find out how you can channel projections, trying to take them in or reflecting them back out. Voodoo is a very psychological belief system, where you try to use representations in order to create an outcome in the world outside you.
In some sense, our performance for Ovarium was like an online manga voodoo ritual, where some of the objects had an intense effect on us, i.e. the amputated chicken legs. Sometimes when we are confronted with certain objects or symbols, they can have a kind of ripple effects in our live histories and aesthetic developments, as if certain motives keep popping up and can no longer be repressed. For me, it’s the chicken.
Jacobs: We can see in your movies that you also like to make fun of fetishism. What is your take on fetishism and how do you develop sexual modes as a performance artist?
Zaretsky: I think our ‘boudoir scenes’ are based on pure sex play veering away from genital-centrism. But the origin of fetishism is not genital aversion. Fetishism is the polymorphous perverse focused on an unusual ‘monomania’ (i.e. desire to for one specific activity or object) I worked for a few years in a ‘House of Domination.” One of the many things I learned there was that a Professional Dom needs breadth. He or She must be able to bring to fruition the ‘monomanias’ of a dissonant crowd: from stern beatings to foot worship, from the scatological to your basic houseboy in a maid’s outfit, Anal obsessives to Oral Obsessives, and then you still have to be ready for the real esoteric connoisseurs. This is the best training for a performance artist. Every monomaniac is in his or her own little bubble world of fantastic obsession. But the artist is intent on being flexible. This leads to some interesting questions about fetishes. It is what we cal “post-monomania fetish obscura.”
It shows something in a healthy haze of dementia. The ‘eflix’ from ovarium.org are documents of a certain trance that predicates both fetish and other forms of religious abandon. Our eflix are flirting with things like nose torture, bloodsport, medical scenes, homoeroticism, oral fixation, cannibalism, and animal sacrifice, just to name a few. The question is did we push the limit of eroticism in all its many deformations? Is there a sexuality represented in our eflix that might turn-on a neophyte in a way that makes a new kind of fetishist? Some of what Svetlana and Andi Wallwhore’s eflix were trying to do was desublimate and resublimate the lost minds of the WWW voyeurs club. Our ovarium.org uploads are Degree Zero brainwashing vortexes for novelty seekers. Did we push it far enough this time? I would have to say that I don’t believe human sexual response is finite. So, it’s sort of like pushing a waterfall in process. But, in the name of psychosexual variety and furtherance towards putting the P back into Polymorphous, we did set a sort of comic, burlesque limit to be surpassed.
Jacobs: When you started your residency at Etay? I guess you were not exactly sure what kind of scenarios would emerge. Can you describe your artistic process, how you used the space and worked with the cameras?
Groves: Jhave's construction of the video equipment throughout the loft was significantly conducive to the type of work that Adam and I have been producing together. Computer monitors mimicking our gestures were placed in every direction we looked, so we could see our exact placement on screens as we recorded ourselves perform. At first I would watch them to the detriment of the performances, but by the time of the shooting of Ovarium, I knew how to navigate my placement on screen without obstructing the image.
Adam and I were somewhat confused as to how the loft would be set up before we arrived, so I think we cultivated an aesthetic of the raw by just experimenting with letting things naturally snowball into open-ended play while inspiring one another through improv---this seems to be our working method of choice. Our wardrobe and props become the tools for an absurd game of free associations. For example, my costume usually combined typical ‘femme’ signifiers such as the baton girl lyotard, aerobic leg warmers, exotic dancing high-heels, mittens, layered pairs of uniquely seductive underwear, frilly Barbara Groves socks and a toxic green tutu. Fetish upon fetish exposes the nausea of so much cliche. Also, we know one another's independent aesthetics, as well as our limits, enough not to censor one another, but instead to freestyle critique and exchange libidinal ideas. We end up with the behavioral dynamics of two subjects negotiating with one another in the art process. I see the shorter videos as a budding of our own linguistic style, a sort of object oriented silent pre-verbal communication, before the creation of Ovarium.
Zaretsky: We started just playing with the cameras, the software, the props and costumes we had brought. We made ourselves at home. Certainly the objective was to unleash the unnamable from within: a theatre of irony, a theatre of gender relations, a theatre of post-porn, and a theatre of ‘realTV.’ I think the footage shows our playful disregard for time and space. I think our love and delirium are un-ignorable. As I watch, I can see us both growing as performers. We were voluntarily stuck in a wired space perfectly suited for a mix of extroversion and insularity. It was also exhausting and it took us two weeks to recover from it. We also spent a lot of time editing the content we wanted. Unlike a well-funded profit based network, this was a seat of your pants,’ edit and upload yourself operation. Because of Jhave’s deep understanding of non-marketplace media, we were the entire production team, alone in the choice of what to say and do, what to upload.
Jacobs: How does this approach differ from the mainstream of wired spaces used by Reality television and webcam operators?
Zaretsky: The Etay space is a homegrown response to Real Television styled ‘ego-psychology’ programming. By standing up and trying new ways of being ‘real’, I feel like Svetlana and Andi Wallwhore were volunteering to fight in a media war against banality. Even if some of the campy erotic moments are banal camp, they are also vaudeville burlesque as an endgame and a resurgence. We let ourselves be Scoped for another take on The Real World and Survivor.
Jacobs: What do you think is the overall effect of Real TV on American (or global) viewers and media culture today?
Zaretsky: We were allowed to produce our own Real TV show instead of an overproduced Real TV show put out by FOX television. We filmed what we wanted to film and put up what we wanted to put up. We named it what we wanted to… ‘Daniel My Brother,’ ‘Cannibal Hygiene,’ ‘Pata-Primatological,’ ‘Studio Arte,’ ‘S.W.A.T.,’ ‘Object Relations,’ ‘Mirror Phase,’ etc. We did what ever we wanted.
Even when you make fun of Real TV, it is not funny. Everything about Real TV is what ‘war’ is about right now. And people are falling for it. So even when you are trying to usurp it, you end up implicating yourself in it. We are Americans, The Time is now and Ovarium isn’t that funny. Ovarium is referencing blood and death and glorifying some of the horror of the US at the same time as critiquing it. You have to be aware that we are aware of where we are and what we are about but we can’t be perfect because we also just are living here and we are immersed in it and it’s horrifying. Some of what we are trying to do is just reveal it for what it is without the production value, without the implicit acceptance of, say, Fox News Through Ovarium it becomes easier to read our US Social Reality as incredibly juvenile, incredibly masturbatory, maybe infantile. Through Ovarium an operative curse is being cast through the taking on of juvenalia.
Jacobs: Is it significant to you that you did this performance in Canada, right across the border with the USA? Are there spaces that would take on this kind of uncensored erotic/pornographic performance art in the USA? Or Is this a type of art work one could equally organize from within your own apartment?
Zaretsky: Canada funds their artists. In the USA we are subjected to the business model or we are left to our paroxysms. In fact, I sometimes leave the US just so I can feel good about doing art in the world. Jhave, the Etay architect and multiwebcam capture software and interface programmer, did set us up with a freeware blank of his interface so we are thinking about continuance from nomadsville to the web: Batching .swfs and uploading.
Jacobs: What kind of sex theory informed your performance? There are all these psycho-analytically inclined titles in your archive?
Groves: We are both bibliophiles who probably read too much to stay sane and are inclined to reading a lot of psychoanalysts' works, possibly more so in my case. Two come to mind when I look at the work from the Etay residency; Melanie Klein and Julia Kristeva. I find Klein's ideas about early children's fantastical play to be relevant in terms of their acting out the desire to rip apart and devour the mother in an attempt to get to the source of her power. The penis that has been broken off into her body after intercourse, as the symbol of the phallus the child wishes to possess. I wonder if that is that the power of the maternal (abject) feminine that Kristeva is talking about?
Jacobs: I noticed when watching the movies that you both like to imitate each other and embody the other gender. Is that something you find sexually empowering, or intimately correct?
Groves: Certainly, in the act of dress up and prop improv we exchange our identities for a variety of roles. The camera is a technology of othering. It permits role-playing in an otherwise constrained ‘objective’ social space. Svetlana and Andi traded clothes and redefined reoccurring props and we became each other’s characters at times. We are also in love, and I think it shows. So, like most romantic partners, we know each other too well. This gave us the leeway to externalize our interpersonal space. By over accentuating our relational world as an act, many of the hilarities of identity-overlap were vamped.
Zaretsky: ‘Cannibal Hygiene’ came out of a male reclaiming the kitchen. My licking and toying with Svetlana’s ‘Ovarium’ were sights that underscored her power as a performer ,and the quintessential opacity of female power that leads men into hysteria and transparent mocking. I felt the need to lick the Ovarium which is a shield. The ovarium is a shield against submission, an effervescent bubbling forth of that portion of gendered space that is inaccessible to boyish blather/slather.
Jacobs: But how do both of you see your art in relation to ‘porn.'
Groves: Together, Adam and I play on the predictability of the mainstream American porn industry where sex roles are prepackaged and spoon fed as the common denominator of heterosexual desire. As social mores are inscribed on the body for pan-capitalistic incentives, we decode propagandist kitsch explicitly in a sort of "how to " fashion. Through polymorphously perverse modes of being we convey the sexuality inherent in the social manipulations of race, class, gender, body, and language.
Bio-porn is an idea that Adam is working on. Bio meaning life, so porn in the everyday might be a simple definition. I like the irony of choosing soft erotica to describe the work that Svetlana and Andi Wallwhore produce. Performatively, we critique the supposed "artistic/intellectual distance" of erotic art by using our own bodies in the process. We humorously bi-pass inhibitions imposed by traditional modes of taste ascribed to erotic art. Also, soft erotica works as a verbal lure for the visually biased and/or innocent. Maybe fuzzy erotica would be a better choice of words in order to implicate our outlaw relation to censorship?
Zaretsky: I use porn as a critical tool to analyze biology in my art. I believe in the fact that there is an unnecessarily range of diversity in the human sexual response. I think this coincides with a unnecessarily diverse range of life forms on the planet. This behavorial and anatomical breadth is more varied than could possibly be utilitarian. I am interested in that portion of life that seeks out all kinds of possibilities. It may be that diversification itself is a main force driving evolution itself, above and beyond the need for survival.
Jacobs: Yes, ok, but what exactly do you mean by ‘bioporn?’
Zaretsky: It is the materialized record of living sensuality that is life, the Biota, pornographized, taxonomized and voyeuristically orgasmatized. The process of objective analysis assumes, a priori, that nature will reveal her secrets when interrogated. And the methods of interrogation are extreme. Often, in the pursuit of knowledge, you must destroy the unknown thing to comprehend it. Destroying an organ of the mysteries, on the way to knowledge, is akin to devirginization. It is for this reason that I refer to the process of discovery as perverse.
By the amount of detail and specificity, by the ornate and baroque nature of these prurient exposures, I conclude that Science is a subset of Art, which is a subset of Pornography. Science contains such specialized fetishes, such truly obsessive fragmentation, that I dubiously honor it with the label -- ‘one of the most demented practices in the pantheon of our sexological proclivities.’ Biology, as the science of life, visceral and engorged is therefore a mutant fetish subset of Bioporn.
And when we display what we have found, whether in a scientific journal or in an art exhibition or on the dinner table, we display pornography. By bragging about our power to apply both theory and practice towards a spectatorship and their arousal, we display Vital Hardcore: “Bioporn”, explicit and zoomed in.
And some examples of proper neologistic usage:
Nosey Nancy caught Mighty Martha masturbating at vitality itself ruining an otherwise biopornographic moment of pleasure and clarity.
Her entire life cycle, even her death and disintegration were perceived of as erotic bioporn to her father.
The discovery sat warm and biopornographically in his lap.
Katrien Jacobs is a scholar and art critic currently based in Hong Kong. She has researched new media art and sexuality, often focusing on the current climate of censorship and porn hysteria/politics. Some of her work can be found at LIBIDOT.
Thanks to Barbara Groves and Adam Zaretsky for their participation in all the stages of creating the text. Thanks to Adam Zaretsky and Andrew Guthrie for editing the text.