Nudity and sexuality are prevalent throughout the history of Western art – from the prehistoric Venus figurines and painted portraits of Lucian Freud, to the porno-kitsch objects of Jeff Koons and Robert Mapplethorpe’s very well endowed … photos.
At its most compelling and creative, graphic/sexual imagery asks questions about the aesthetic and philosophical relationship between art and sex. In a time where the labels and boundaries of media, art, and culture are blurry at best, some contemporary artists are left pondering the divide and many are making a case that it no longer exists. Alt porn mavens like GodsGirls demonstrate this by presenting provocative imagery that often feels as though it’d be as much at home on the walls of a downtown gallery as it would be on an adoring fan’s computer screen; this is no doubt thanks in part to photographers like JM Darling, who engages and toys with his subjects in the realm of erotic storytelling — elevating his models beyond a mere pound of flesh.
Revolver Entertainment’s short film series, Destricted, also explores the intersection of sex and art – providing a platform for uncensored expression through the eyes of a diverse group of visual artists and directors. The eight-part portmanteau features several names familiar with the realm of controversy and censorship including Kids director Larry Clark — whose recent Paris photo retrospective was forced to prohibit minors from entering the exhibition – as well as Irréversible director Gaspar Noé, and Richard Prince – whose appropriation of a Playboy photo featuring a naked, heavily made up, prepubescent Brooke Shields was removed from the Tate Modern exhibit, Pop Life, last year.
Matthew Barney’s Hoist – an erotic meeting of libidinal and technological forces — and Larry Clark’s Impaled dominate the series, with Gaspar Noé following based on reputation alone. Noé’s We Fuck Alone is nearly impossible to take if you possess any sensitivity to the physical turned psychological endurance test he pushes you into. Clark’s short, which is a reality television meets pornography tale, is the longest of the bunch (which is perhaps why it’s one of the more successful entries) and is the same kind of adolescent, anthropological study we’ve come to expect from the director – with moments of disturbing hilarity. Young male porn star hopefuls are lured to Clark’s makeshift casting couch with the promise of having sex with a “hot porno chick.” After some uncomfortable silence, voyeuristic camera views of their naked bodies, and the selection of said porno babe – one of the boys gets exactly what he came for and a little something extra. Clark films the whole experience with unsettling, matter of fact style — showing audiences the gory, unedited details of real anal sex – a semi-successful attempt to investigate the parallels between fantasy and being a child of the porn age. Prince’s House Call is a strongpoint of the series – transforming re-shot/re-edited generic ‘70’s porn into a beautifully hypnotic, nebulous experience. Cecily Brown’s drawings and paintings in Four Letter Heaven are stop motion animated, but her voluptuous bodies don’t resonate as intensely in this medium. The soundtrack of Sante D’Orazio’s Scratch This is a winner solely because of its sounds. He edits ‘60’s lesbian porn to the tune of Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos – scratching out the faces and genitals of the actresses. Meanwhile, Tunga’s Cooking is a dish best served raw.
Destricted proves to be frustrating at times, if only because the power of some of these works is diminished by the vastly different approach and medium each artist/filmmaker uses. While this format and variety can be appealing, some of Destricted’s shorter pieces feel lost in the mix or relegated to a kind of intermission experience, rather than the “breath” they should have been – like Marilyn Minter’s Green Pink Caviar, which features a gooey, psychedelic action painting made with a girl’s lips and tongue. Given Destricted’s target audience, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request to suggest time between shorts for moments of digestion, but it does present questions about the series’ mission statement and whether there’s enough of a thread to stitch these pieces together and allow viewers to draw bigger connections across the works.
Revolver’s series provides a platform for digital, sexual, artistic autonomy – a place of context for works that far too often battle the collective anxieties of contemporary society, stirred by the mass media. While Destricted has its share of hits and misses, it is a genuine attempt to explore the ways that film can traverse the boundaries of art and sex. Explicit and mostly entertaining, but never delivering quite the promise it offers, Destricted has the potential to open up a continuous dialogue on a subject that artists and filmmakers will never tire of exploring.