THE DIRTY SHOW
by Margaret Dragu (April 2006)
Every person believes he/she is an expert about art.
An expert about sex.
About sexual representation.
Erotica and pornography.
We all firmly believe that we KNOW.
The Every(wo)man saying,
“I don’t know much about art but I know what I like”
believes he/she really and truly KNOWS what art is; art looks good above the sofa.
Cultural-studies artists/students quoting from
Lacan-Foucault-Barthes-‘Sexe et Po’ Femme-French-Lit-Deconstructionists
believe they are the ones who actually KNOW; art is created by rigorous discourse.
Politicians, the judiciary, church leaders, school teachers, activists,
the Liquor Board and even the Fire Marshal
all believe they are the ones who, in fact,
really KNOW. About art. About sex.
By accepting Stephen Reamus’s invitation to curate, contextualize and provide parameters for
THE NAC DIRTY SHOW, am I, in fact, naming myself as the expert?
And why did NAC invite me, anyways?
Sitting in front of my computer in a fishing village on the south arm of the Fraser River, I assumed
this honour was because I’m an older artist, stripper, activist, feminist, writer, and mother
experienced with the political/cultural/legal issues around sexual representation in art and in the community.
I also thought that it might be a big plus that I live very very very far away from St. Catharines.
[Yeah, yeah, you never heard of me. Trust me. I am famous. Really.
So famous that Artistic Director Todd Janes (Edmonton’s Gallery Latitude 53) calls me Brittany Spears.
In fact, try googling me and see how quickly you arrive at a thousand German porn sites
and a Romanian anime series about a vampire-Shakespeare character called Dragu-Slayer
to which neither I have the remotest connection. Natch.]
Turns out the invite was not given to me because I am a famous artist.
It was sheer nepotism. Of which I am a huge fan, bye-the-bye.
It is the good/bad thang of artist-run centres and arms-length funding.
Both of which I shall …. “fight on the beaches… fight on the landing grounds… fight in the fields,
and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!” as Churchill said
about Dunkirk in House of Commons June 4, 1940.
So what am I bringing to the curation of NAC artists’ Dirty Show?
How do I want to discuss sex and art with this community within a community?
I am bringing 35 years of making art.
Art that is made from the body (always) and investigates sexuality (often)
and is about creating community, transcendence, and power
which is also a part of sexuality.
I am also a survivor of 35 years of conflict around these issues.
Conflicts fought in public, in the media,
in court cases, in art/feminist/theatre/activist communities,
in the art market, the farmers’ market and on the streets where I live.
I am a survivor of what Ariel Levy in her book
Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
describes as the “unresolved conflicts from 30 years ago
between women’s liberation movement and the sexual revolution …”
And after 30 years, it is not surprising we are asking the same questions.
Questions that are so polarized as to feel unresolvable.
Like what is the difference between Pornography and Erotica, how do we
develop and/or enforce community standards about sexual representation in public and private,
is censorship good/bad or avoidable, how do we protect children (as well as women and men) from exploitation,
is everything just getting worse and worse and worse or is this a skewed or unconscious vision of our history?
What is the difference between Pornography and Erotica?
I shall tell you.
One you like and one you don’t like.
Erotica is something you like.
Pornography is something you hate.
There is a thin membrane between the two but most people
are neither living at the membrane
nor are they creating/consuming at the membrane
Most people really know what they like.
It is living with a lack of ambiguity that encourages the belief
that he/she is an expert and is an easy step to feel a necessity
to judge/define/set standards for others.
While having breakfast at Art’s with S. and Stephen Reamus, S. asked,
“Who is setting this community standard or deciding what is
interesting and acceptable for a so-called family newspaper or magazine?”
This is a good question.
And the answer always reflects the politics of our time
which has taken a deep swerve to the right.
This swerve feels subtle to those living and working far away from the membrane in the middle
but feels like deep hot predatorial breath the closer one operates towards the membrane.
Who is living and operating at the membrane?
Artists, of course. And the transgendered, the intellectuals, the activists, the humanitarians
and the usual crew. And oddly so are pornographers, advertising executives and even Hollywood.
Why is this membrane spot so crowded?
Because everyone (and we are each an expert) wants to have sex, talk about sex,
explore sex, empower sex, exploit sex, employ sex, control sex, or even actively ignore sex.
And often we want to control what others are doing/being/creating/thinking
because it impacts us through public arenas (advertising, Hollywood, internet, television)
and privately as our global village shrinks every day making our neighbours closer and closer.
Their thoughts, beliefs, and actions are always escalating in their impact upon us.
Sometimes we disapprove of ‘the other’s’ sexuality or what ‘the other’
is being/feeling/making causes us to be uncomfortable.
Sometimes someone in the membrane is making money off of us.
Or exploiting and enslaving us or someone we love.
No wonder it is so challenging to talk about sex together without coming to blows.
Our culture possesses so few words to describe and discuss sexuality (and the spirituality of sexuality).
A paucity of words to share our feelings and experiences as sexual and spiritual human beings.
We are often left with the lexicon, nomenclature, and images from commercial sources
like Hollywood, TV, and pornography — unconsciously absorbing the values attached to these
commercial sources. It is my very strong belief that it is individual artists
who shall help us create a new sexual language.
Visually. With words. With media.
How can we passively accept that our language, humour, aesthetics,
and morality is being created by the global economy — or as I like to call it – Capitalism Gone Wild?
In a speech given by Sally Tisdale (author of infamous pro-pornography book Talk Dirty to Me)
at the Law and Literature Symposium, University of California-Berkeley, October 1, 1995, Tisdale says,
“Art exists not so much outside social responsibility, but within it — woven through it,
through the social fabric, the political reality and the political vision, intermingled in
and embroidered upon the daily life of culture in such a way that it can’t be held separate,
imprisoned in a cage of changing values.
In Oscar Wilde’s words, ‘Art never expresses anything but itself.’
Art must exist and cannot be contained, because art is that which humans must do. Art simply is.”
I love art. And I love sex. I am extremely interested in the spirituality of sex, the passion of love,
the psychology of change, the transcendence of sexual and spiritual acts, and the support and nurturing
of our expression and growth as loving and sexual humans.