Art vs Porn

David Lee Periera

Can art succeed where porn fails: to actually turn us on? This is the question greeting visitors as they enter the erotic art show, Feck:Art, which sprawls across the pop-up gallery of a Brunswick warehouse as part of the Melbourne fringe festival.

It’s a pertinent question when online pornography is so ubiquitous, yet Australian art galleries are increasingly places of state censorship and moral outrage.

Set over several large rooms, the exhibition contains the painting, installation, photography and video work of more than 50 emerging Melbourne artists, as well as a room of images from the “socially responsible erotica” online outfit Feck. The company are behind the erotic websites, I Shot Myself,, which collects images of people’s faces during orgasm, and Beautiful Agony, a collection of erotic footage that subjects have filmed themselves.

According to show coordinator Hannah Miller, socially responsible erotica is work that does more good than harm. “That means self-consciously choosing work that doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes or repeat negative teachings about sex that are often found in mainstream porn. We are interested in alternative models of eroticism,” she says. “We were looking for, and I think, found some great variety on what can be considered erotic.”

The art on show is refreshingly mixed, with around 60% female and 40% male artists represented, as well as some work by transgender artists. However, there are noticeably more women than men depicted in the works. The quality is mixed – with some of the best works by artists and photographers who both comment on and offer something more personal than we would expect from pornography.

David Lee Pereira’s work Pasiphaen Desire, inspired by the queen of Greek mythology who was cursed by Poseidon with an uncontrollable lust for a white bull, stands out from the crowd. As does the close-up photography by artist WH of shaven vaginas in a series called Space, Shape and Form that calls to mind the work of Wolfgang Tillmans which currently hangs in Berlin’s Panorama Bar.

In a video room, a montage of erect disembodied penises flash across the screen juxtaposed with minimal psychedelic and medical anatomy sketches before a topless nymph appears sprawled on a bed and rips the head off a teddy bear that spills blood on her. It’s rather like a bad, erotic acid trip.

In the final room, the most confronting images include a vaginal close-up urinating into autumn leaves in Amanda Wolf’s work, The Mess We’re In. There’s also a booth called Erosiac that invites the audience to take part in the show with the tagline: “Wanna have your moment in the sun? (yeah I know its pretty hot around here).”

A pair of young women took up the challenge, sharing a pash in front of an opening night audience who seemed all too appreciative. Still, this show seems like a relevant and provocative disruption at a time when we are witnessing a number of censorship cases in Australia, most prominently that of Melborne artist Paul Yore, who is awaiting judgement over charges that he produced and possessed child pornography in his 2013 exhibition at the Linden Gallery in Melbourne.

Miller says she is well aware of the risk that the police could turn up at any time and raise objections: “We’ve seen a spate of censorship recently of art – and there is a lot of fearmongering. I think that kind of censorship can stifle the creativity of artists and I hope we are redressing that with this show.”

It’s certainly a brave move on the part of the fringe festival to stage the exhibition in the current conservative political climate. But what differentiates the work displayed in Feck:Art from pornography? Surely the dialogue between artist and audience, which ascribes it a personal and reciprocal depth that porn lacks.

The knowledge that this work has been created by real people with the autonomy and artistic intent to push erotic boundaries without exploitation – rather than create a consumable sexual commodity –leaves a more lasting impression than pornography could muster. Seeing the show is not so much about voyeurism or gratification – it invites viewers to make a judgment based on artistic merit.

So, while not fully succeeding in its intention of turning the audience on, at least it leaves them switched on to the potential for art to transcend the “turn off” factor of some porn.

This article first published in The Guardian

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