How Will This Affect Me?
Censorship, sexuality, creativity and the economic meltdown. Featuring a specially commissioned collage by Cerith Wyn Evans
(I) PAGES GLUED TOGETHER
Anyone who got their hands on the splendid catalogue, fresh from the printer and binder, that accompanied a recent group exhibition in a German castle, Schloss Dyck, titled Paradies und Zurück (Paradise and Back, 2008), perhaps with the experience of that edifice’s halls and parquet still in their mind’s eye, would never have known the difference. Shortly after coming out, this memorializing document – the fruit of the participating artists’ labour – would be decisively interfered with, and not by an outsider but by the exhibition’s patron. Subsequent readers, purchasers and browsers would be denied access to the following explanatory text, originally transmitted in Morse code via a row of flashing bulbs, which together make up Cerith Wyn Evans’ work: “He Called Me a Old Cocksucker” from “Filth: An S.T.H. Chap-Book, True Homosexual Experiences from S.T.H. (Straight to Hell) Writers” edited by the Reverend Boyd McDonald (1987) (2006): ‘“He called me a old cocksucker.” Not only do I pick up empty deposit cans & bottles in the parks, sometimes I meet guys that want me to suck them off. I don’t know how they can tell I’m a cocksucker. I don’t advertise it, although I still have a boyish appearance. I’m slim, medium height, 135 lbs., 5’9”, hairless body (no hair on legs & arms). I’m in my early 50s. Some people tell me I look 40. This one day while collecting cans I was wearing shorts & tank top. This guy who looked about 30, tall and slender, asked me how’s business. I told him it was slow. He then asked me if I would like to give him a blow job. I took him to a place in the park where nobody could see us. When we got to this place I went down on my knees and pulled his pants and shorts off. I started jacking him off while licking his balls & cock. It started getting big & thick, about 9”. I then put it in my mouth. It was hard as a rock. When he came he gave me 2, 3 wads of cum into my hungry mouth. I tasted it all before I swallowed it. He then asked me if I wanted some more later. I said sure I would. He then asked me if I could give him some money. I asked him how much he wanted. He said a couple of bucks would be O.K. I told him that I don’t carry money in the park but that he could have my empty cans, over two dollars’ worth. He called me a cocksucker, so I took off with my cans. I hope I never see him again although I liked his big juicy cock.’ Evidently appalled by this passage, the patron ordered the offending pages of the catalogue to be glued together – a comically nifty intervention in the interests of propriety. Censorship (especially self-censorship) is everywhere, of course. But what is striking about this story is that the glued-together pages are arguably more erotically suggestive than the above text. They create something forbidden; they presume the reader is a voyeur who needs protection. When you hold onto the pages of this art magazine, or any other ‘glossy‘ (a term sometimes used disparagingly from a supposedly anti-commercial perspective, although a certain un-reflected antagonism to anything involving desire is also lurking there), sex is playing a role even when the pictures perhaps are not. There is no getting round the fact that art magazines play with an aura of power and seduction, and that in relation to the art worlds that they represent, report and comment on, they embody both. They are also a textual body of sorts, with an inside and an outside, a fold and a particular smell, which may either attract or repulse. Speaking of this recently, a friend reminded me that one used to need to cut a novel’s pages open with an ivory knife to read it; parents could thus monitor their children’s clandestine torchlight reading according to how much of a book had been opened.
Issue 10 of Semiotext(e) – ‘Polysexuality’ – is a dark icon, which perhaps ought to be better known or to become known again now. I wish its pages were more exposed and even discussed frankly around the kitchen table. Published in 1981 – the same year that AIDS was identified as an illness – it is a radical, poignant, provocative achievement. In the opening pages, the guest co-editor Canadian psychoanalyst François Peraldi outlined their intention: ‘… POLYSEXUALITY IS A TEXT IN ITSELF, THE EDITORS OF WHICH ARE THE AUTHORS. LET'S CALL IT A COLLAGE OR A TEXTUAL PATCHWORK, IF YOU PREFER. IT TELLS WHAT THE REALITY OF SEX HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH RESPECT TO ITS ALIENATION TO 'USURA' AND EXPLOITATION. IT ALSO POINTS TOWARD THE 'REAL OF SEX' WHICH STILL UNDERLIES UNTOUCHED, UNTHOUGHT OF, BUT PERHAPS ALLUDED TO BY FREUD WHEN HE SUGGESTED THAT LIBIDO HAD NO GENDER. LIBIDO: AN IRREPRESSIBLE 'VOLONTE DE JOUISSANCE' (WILL TO PLEASURE) NEVER PURE SINCE IT IS ALWAYS LINKED TO THE DEATH DRIVES...' The issue is entirely in capital letters. This makes it emphatic, like a rude email, though emails didn’t exist then. Perhaps the intention is that words are robbed of their normal hierarchy in a sentence. It looks as though it ought to be carved in marble. The book contains illustrations showing only political disasters, massacres, genocide, war crimes, which the editors describe as ‘our daily lot’ – nothing has changed. It has 13 chapters, among which are: ‘SELF SEX’, ‘AMBIGUOUS SEX’, ‘MORBID SEX’, ‘DISCURSIVE SEX’ and ‘CRITICAL SEX’. A challenging chapter, ‘ANIMAL SEX’, includes this: ‘THE WILD CELEBRATION JEAN-PIERRE BAROU: FIRST OF ALL, BY WHAT SINGLE TRAIT WOULD YOU DEFINE LOVE IN THE ANIMAL WORLD? FREDERIC ROSSIF: BY MADNESS. ONE THING THAT HAS ALWAYS SEEMED AMAZING TO ME IS THAT WHEN THEY'RE IN HEAT, ANIMALS LOSE ALL THEIR INHIBITIONS: FOR SOME OF THEM, YOU CAN'T EVEN GET CLOSE ENOUGH TO FILM EXCEPT AT THAT TIME, BECAUSE THAT'S WHEN THEY'RE REALLY OUT OF THEIR SENSES, THEY'RE HOPELESSLY DISTRACTED. YOU CAN EVEN KILL THEM, YOU REALLY HAVE TO HAVE SEEN ANIMALS SUPREMELY 'IN LOVE': THEY DON'T MOVE ANYMORE.'
(III) ZEROS + ONES
If ‘Polysexuality’ were to be published now, perhaps it would also have a Chapter 14, ‘digital sex’. Once a chorus of disparate voices rallied against the problem of binary notions of gender and sexuality, it was just a side-step away to consider the same problems in the binary zeros and ones based digital realm. In 1997, Sadie Plant’s Zeros + Ones offered a cyber-feminist revision correcting one injustice among so many by acknowledging women’s central role in the long development that would lead to the digital and virtual spheres. Along the way Plant, no essentialist, relates the story of ‘the father of modern computing’, Alan Turing. Turing published a theoretical model of a machine that was to constitute the basis of all postwar computing, spent the war cracking German codes and later worked on Artificial Intelligence. A homosexual, in 1952 he was convicted of an ‘act of gross indecency’ and subjected to chemical castration. Subsequently he committed suicide by biting into a poisoned apple – perhaps the birth of a logo. In the 1990s digital, bodiless sex seemed at least theoretically full of liberating potential. A decade or so on, whenever new art involves sex, the body or intimate personal revelation, it does so against a new cultural backdrop: there is an entire digital shadow world – part minefield, part goldmine – in chat rooms, 3D virtual worlds, social networking platforms and other websites for user-generated content. This medium is more explicit, more caustic and more available than most art could dream of being. I asked Timothy Moore, editor of the Australian magazine They Shoot Homos Don’t They? – one of many new mags and ‘zines that, among other things, tackle the problem of what a queer body might look like – what he thought of all this, and he emailed me back: ‘Like a man who whips out his most private part at the public trough, the public realm has also been a function of the private – or the social wellbeing of the individual. With self-interest, there is often a physical and psychological separation of action and its consequence, exacerbated by the medium, the Internet. This separation can warp the notion of what we constitute as fantasy and reality. […] A virtual presence magnifies sexual desires. XTube.com flattens the hierarchy of sex. It is available to anyone who can jack in and upload online, and consequently has produced a stream of endless shit. These peer-to-peer sex-sites have also killed off the traditional hunting ground of queers …’
(IV) COUNTERSEXUAL MANIFESTO
Beatriz Preciado’s book Manifeste contra-sexuel (Countersexual Manifesto, 2000) outlines a radical but also humorous and pleasure-allowing, victimless, contractual form of sexuality that can be taken up by any and every kind of body. Preciado proposes and theorizes a sexuality in which the dildo – not as a phallus substitute but a deconstructive tool – plays the main part. ‘The Dildo is an alien.’ ‘The Dildo says: the Penis as sex is a lie.’ Here is an extract from Preciado’s example of a countersexual contract: ‘I, the signatory herewith _______ renounce, by my own will, my natural position as a man […] or a woman […], any privilege (whether social, economic or regarding hereditary rights) and any commitment (whether social, economic or reproductive) resulting from my sexual position within the framework of the naturalized heterocentric system. […] I consider myself as a dildo-producer, a translator and distributor of dildos on my own body and on any body signing this contract. […] I consider myself as hole and as worker of the asshole. […]’ Theory and practice are still two different things. For all the insights and more than considerable complications of queer theory, in the mainstream even traditional gay and lesbian visibility and first-base causes still provoke a backlash. For instance, even while tears of relief flowed en masse upon the victory of Barack Obama, especially for some, as in his acceptance speech he made history by acknowledging gay voters in an inclusive way, at exactly the same time something pernicious was also happening with the passing in California of ‘Proposition 8’, just one of three measures outlawing same-sex marriage. Constitutional bans were approved in Arizona and Florida. In Arkansas voters also passed a measure aimed at barring gay men and lesbians from adopting children. Whatever ones thinks of marriage, the point is that while the repressive regime of modern patriarchy still stands, such laws legitimize discrimination and bigotry. I found some satirical comic relief on the online blog of the fictional gay character Lloyd from the HBO series Entourage: ‘What?! Marriage? This was a shock to my system. It’s not that I didn’t love Tom, or that I didn’t want to spend my life with him, it’s that, if I’ve learned anything from the Alphaboss over the years, it’s NEVER GET MARRIED. What if things go south? He’ll want half my money! He’ll want my possessions! He’ll want half of any animal or foreign-born child we adopt! No. I can’t get married. It’s just not something I ever want to do. Luckily for me, gays can’t get married! So it was very easy for me to say, “Now, Tom, I am a law-abiding citizen and I absolutely will marry you – as soon as it is legal in our home state of California.” I NEVER thought that it ever actually would be made legal.’
(V) BEYOND VISIBILITY
As news broke about the global capital meltdown, the big question was: ‘How will this affect me?’ Art-world microcosms large and small, it seems, are already reacting in a predictably knee-jerk fashion as no one knows how long this downturn will last and how much of what has been erected in the unprecedented expansion of contemporary art in the last decade was built to last. Walking along one day, it occurred to me that the terminology of a credit ‘crunch’ or ‘squeeze’ was putting forth ghastly images of bodies. In this moment of rupture and reconsideration of means and ends, thought of in terms of the effects on bodies, sex and love, a modest-looking series of works popped into my head, namely Isa Genzken’s sculpturally framed collages ‘Liebe als Wesen’ (Love as Being, 1996). This work was created when Genzken changed her way of working – dispensing with assistants and determined to make everything herself. The collages are assembled from body parts from porn magazines; no extremities are involved. The finished compositions are encased in gold frames behind glass – perhaps sculptural, polysexual ‘glass closets’. In them, bodies pile up and merge with each other – cuts and tears mark the transitions. Love and sex (whatever they are) are both present and beyond visibility.
First published in Issue 120