Dodie Bellamy’s 2006 essay/fiction ‘Sexspace’ is so full of form that it is practically formless. Language breaks down into an excessive stream of metaphors and movement, so that syntax is not sense-making but faulty. The text is a pornographic cyber-romance, but also a performance of the kind of textuality that this kind of epistolary relationship provokes. Like writers such as Kate Zambreno or Eileen Myles, Bellamy becomes as much the work’s protagonist as the sex dolls that inhabit the fiction. ‘No difference between character and author, organ and arousal’, Bellamy writes. The story of ‘Sexspace’ is also a manifesto for the writing of sexspace.
With no inside or outside, this is a place that lacks material borders; it is where instinct melts into machine, giving birth to a language without rules, a language that twitches, seeps and erupts, as it listens to the body. Two letters are a linguistic come-on for the sexual imagination: ‘CM = CUNT MOTION = CAT MIMIC = CHRIST MONGER …’ I think of these metamorphosing morphemes when I encounter the sexspace worlds of Clunie Reid at MOT International. Here, the artist is also writer, as Reid’s sex-poetics function like a series of uncensored, untranslatable subtitles: nonsense becomes a tool in seduction. Four screens play videos on repeat: as images of kittens and girls seize and spasm, female sexuality is presented as computerized data – an illusion made for the phallic consumer, where boobs are constructed out of animated tissue. The visuals are, as Bellamy desires, complicated and confused by pink text that reads ‘concrete soft’ or ‘crucifixion loop’. Sensual phonetic collisions float on screen, so that language is estranged from its virtual function: what we experience is a perverse textuality, where syntax and meaning are sacrificed for the sake of a sexspace beyond expression; beyond something that can be packaged and sold.
It would be easy to place Reid’s project within the (somewhat limiting) parentheses of post-internet art – I’m thinking of artists such as Ann Hirsch or Leslie Kulesh – as she claims back the web as a vital medium for gendered critique. Visually speaking, this lies at the heart of Reid’s practice: mutant organisms pose as female, knowingly sexy on all fours, before a bestial act with My Little Pony redefines them as a hybrid of animal and machine. Hardware and software. But as Reid occupies the misogynistic language of the internet, and fiercely edits its structures, it is not only ‘image’ that bites back, but also ‘language’. The plagiarized cyber-poetry that not so much narrates, as distracts and contorts, the seedy underworld of screen four, reads: ‘punctuation cipher/speaking spanking’. Here, the relationship between sex and language is made explicit: is speaking a form of spanking, or is spanking speaking? The forward slash I have added denotes only a millisecond; blink and the words will vanish, but with these gaps comes desire: the irregular, the perverse, the impure: this is the language of sexspace.
Reid performs the pornographic as a matter of political exposure, in pliable grammar. Calling to mind the ventriloquist tactics used by Kathy Acker in novels such as Blood and Guts in High School (1984), Reid copies, transcribes and rearranges words, in order to reveal the sexist surveillance supporting such texts. It is an art of re-writing: an interruption, but also a renewal. As Bellamy muses: ‘In sexspace bodily fluids are not slime but nectar.’ Not gore or gossip, but actual material substance: a corporeal language all of its own, that can stick morphemes together like glue. Reid’s processes are similarly carnal, as she vivisects the vocabulary of the internet, and particularly the porno pop-ups and graphic speech bubbles ejected by chat-room avatars. Plundering these slogans and seductions, Reid then wildly disrupts their syntax: impulsively she graffitis in, over and through language, reworking it into a non-linear, non-male mode. This is viscous, visceral, vengeful writing. The exhibition is titled ‘In Pursuit of the Liquid’: that liquid is image, but it is also words.
Alice Butler is a writer based in London, and a PhD researcher in Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. Her work has been published in Cabinet, Art Monthly, gorse and frieze. In 2012, she was the winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize.
First published in Issue 160