Malerie Marder – Untitled from Carnal Knowledge series (1998)
When I first stumbled onto Marder’s work a little more than a year ago, I had mixed feelings about it.
As I’ve subsequently encountered the work and reengaged with it, my estimation has shifted dramatically. The work has grown and I’ve discovered nuance and sensitivities I had previously overlooked.
Yes, I would still very much like to see her make something that is simultaneously capital-A Art and pornography. However, I’m not much less inclined to believe that not making that sort of thing the focus of her work is any sort of detriment or side-step of intrinsic potential and more I suspect if she did make art porn it would immediately clarify a number of stubborn questions I have about how to approach such an endeavor.
Really though, what I’ve learned by spending more time with the work is there’s actually less in the work that relates to pornography or Art. As the title of the series from which these images emanate suggests, these are more documentations of sexual arousal. They are less concerned with any sort of fantasy or sensuality; all but completely disregard any pretense of eroticism and focus simply on the space between tension and distension in physical desire.
The images are about sex. But in being about sex they aren’t intentionally arousing or explicit, that’s merely a natural outcropping of their laser-like focus on presenting the material with honesty, immediacy and intensity of feeling.
Another way to put it might be like this: how do you describe the taste of coffee to someone who has never tasted it? It’s a trick question: you don’t/can’t. You pass them a mug and say here this is hot and strong, try it.
The corollary here is that in a similar fashion, you cannot explain to someone who hasn’t had sex with another person, what it’s like. You can say it’s different than masturbating; but as to how it’s different… yeah, good luck with that. Because there’s the way the sensation is fundamentally different.
To be crass: being so horny you need to get yourself off to alleviate the tension is not unlike hunger but desire to share a connection with someone is much closer to thirst.
I believe Marder’s work is seeking to address something of the mechanism of such thirst. And the extraordinariness of that cannot be overstated.