Inside Flesh – Title Unknown (2016)
If you’re at all familiar with music criticism, you know that generally there are three templates for artists with long careers of making continual relevant, ground breaking work:
- Do the same thing you did before–except this time around do more of it and do what you do bigger;
- Apply your essential voice to something completely different in scope and execution (generally referred to as ‘making a left turn’);
- Burn everything to the ground, then burn the ashes and only then reinvent everything again from the beginning (think: David Bowie).
If Inside Flesh can be said to be following any of the above trajectories, it would be #1.
To me, that’s not just interesting–it’s surprising. Let me attempt to explain what I mean…
I’ve always appreciated IF’s aesthetic. But I’ve always worried that it’s a little too rigidly circumscribed–the whole glitching, industrial hell thing seemed to me that it would become cloying at a rather quick clip.
Quite the opposite, in fact: it feels like someone exploring the interstices between art and pornography could do worse than to immerse themselves in IFs oeuvre.
What I’ve noticed is a degree of conceptual recursion in their work. The limitations of their aesthetic are frequently mirrored in a certain heteronormative predisposition in their work. For example: they have a lot of scenes like this, where the viewer sees an nearly disembodied phallus vaginally penetrating a definitely embodied woman. (I really like that their frames tend to include the entirety of the woman’s body within the frame.)
However, there are two things that distinguish IF from most straight porn:
- Running counter to the strict aesthetic limitation (or perhaps, because of them), IF’s work possesses a profound sense of animalistic desire–the limitation of the form presents itself as artifice (or, you might say: the pornographic fantasy of it all is a set dressing intended to be seen as a set dressing which contributes an ambiguity to whether the form isn’t merely a means of helping to illustrate the strange beauty of two people who would be fucking in which the same way with or without the production design, props, costumes and cameras rolling.)
- As unsettling as some of it is, there’s never a sense that what the viewer sees is in any way divorced from a legitimate experience of interpersonal intimacy.
In their artist statements IF refers to their ongoing preoccupation with “human carnality in all its aspects.”
I know they are based in Poland. But I can’t help seeing what their doing as a sort of radical fuck you to on going policing of sex workers by ‘well-intending’ fuckwits–I’m thinking specifically of the AIDS Healthcare Foundations utterly ridiculous ballot initiative that would empower private citizens to personally sue adult performers not wearing a condom in adult media.
I am about as against the contrived Puritanical prudery that suggests sex is a sin in the eyes of some deity as a means of dodging unwanted pregnancy, disease, eternal damnation, etc., as one person can possibly be. When it comes to sex positivity, I err on the side of over-the-top. I think people who enjoy sex should have more and better sex.
By the same token, I find the sort of heteronormative no risks/all reward notion of sex perpetuated by most mainstream pornography to be only a bit less repugnant. I mean how many times have you watched a scene where a cable guy or plumber shows up to fix something and upon finding the person with the troubles is scantily clad and horny, things progress to sex with little if any flirting, communication or foreplay. It’s pure simulacrum.
But although it’s fantasy, and part of the fantasy is the randomness and availability, the context indicates that there should be behavior in place that pays attention to safer sex. (I say ‘safer ‘specifically because I don’t think there is any such thing as 100% safe sex–at least if your doing it right by recognizing that risk is an intrinsic feature to anything in life truly worth doing–and vulnerability, connection and giving expression to unfiltered desire are all risks; plus, the queer milieu in which I maneuver, I don’t know a single person who uses dental dams or condoms when performing oral sex.
My point is you choose your level of risk and accept the consequences. It’s not really anyone else’s call to make.
Yet, I feel like whereas most porn would argue against condoms for being elements that pull the viewer out of the fantasy, their absence in feels like a radical decision to experience the extremity of human carnality.
And it’s true: safe sex is good sex. But there’s something about unsafe sex that is completely immersive. (It’s like the difference between the hallucinations associated with mushrooms vs LSD–when I’m shrooming, I always remember I’m shrooming, when I’m tripping on acid, I sometimes lose site of the fact that I’m hallucinating–interestingly, I don’t especially like LSD.)
Like you can feel the smallest changes in engorged rigidity, changes in the viscosity of vaginal mucus, the slow build up of clenching and unclenching micro contractions, the warm surge of unrestrained ejaculation.
Really, I think it’s exactly these sorts of intangibles that IF is trying to convey in their work.