insidefleshartificial pleasure (2018)

At present, my brain is a hectic, swirling mass of chaos–my first semester as a graduate art student is spinning up and I’m not as lucid as I would prefer. (As a result: things with this project will be fairly scattered for a couple of weeks–thank you all so much for bearing with me.)

I don’t have a clear piece to offer you about this image. I mean: I freaking love it. But as I’m looking at it trying to figure out what about it I want to point to as being the thing or things that draw me to it–it’s the usual: a simple, straight-forward conceit, executed in a matter-of-fact fashion; also, I both wish it was an image I made; or, even better: I wish it was an image of myself.

Looking at it the only place my brain keeps returning is to a point a member of the sculpture faculty made about how he feels that one of the biggest hang-ups contemporary artists have with struggling to fit their concept within a particular form–when the concept would become for less complicated if it were perhaps applied to a more complimentary form.

His point was that there’s a natural tendency to play to our strengths as creative folks. But there are times when our ideas will be expressed more clearly in a form with which we are perhaps not so well versed.

And I think the inverse of that notion applies to insideflesh–I would be very hard pressed to point to work with a better synergy between concept and execution (form, aesthetic, tone, resonance of meaning).

Inside FleshTitle 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:

  1. Do the same thing you did before–except this time around do more of it and do what you do bigger;
  2. Apply your essential voice to something completely different in scope and execution (generally referred to as ‘making a left turn’);
  3. 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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.

Inside Fleshbad dream ii (2014)

Credit where credit is due: although I’m not especially interested in visual depictions of fellatio, I am consistently captivated by Inside Flesh’s treatment of the motif. (Fig. 1 | Fig. 2)

My fascinating has always and unfortunately been tempered by the post-industrial-detritus aesthetic and the monotonous mechanically repetitive sex they tend to favor.

In that way a glitched .gif loop addresses half my problem with their method of exhibition. And, I’m pleased to see them pushing their leather/latex/balaclava fixation in more religio-mythical directions. (Here: I love the fuck you, True Detective insinuation, the way the light accentuates her skin and dramatically emphasizes the cavity between her sartorius and gracilus muscles–which in turn emphasizes she’s doing most if not all of the work.)

Inside FleshHostage (2011)

Suka Off is a Poland-based artist collective founded by visual/performance artist Piotr Wegrzynski.

The second member of the collective is Wegrzynski’s partner philologist and performance artist Sylvia Lajbig.

For all intents and purposes, Inside Flesh is the arm of Suka Off concerned with the production of explicit pornography.

Inside Flesh is a mixed bag. They insist upon unity of medium and message in porn; eschew mainstream porn.

A lot of words get bandied about with regard to their work: dark, kink, fetish. All lazy designations. The work Inside Flesh makes fixates on the violence of physicality. Depictions of intercourse are reduced to a visual amalgamation of genitals, erogenous zones all while imposing a rigid post-human mechanical anonymity.

I appreciate the attention to detail, the seamlessly glitchy/degraded production aesthetic. Further, a good bit of their work I have explored, not only embraces but emphasizes the potential beauty of the viscous effluvia accompanying human carnality.

It’s interesting that in its mission to counter the inconsistent production ethos of mainstream porn and in it’s implicit critique of the tendency of said industry to reduce expressions of sexuality to a field of grinding, thrusting genitals, Inside Flesh actually recreates much of the insipid repetition they claim to oppose.

All that being said, in spite of my general objection to the decontextualization of close-ups, I really do like this image. The sickly light emanating from what appears to be florescent tubes glaring off the coloration mottling the swollen glans, the saliva wet texture of the curled tongue and toothy pearl glint.