Laurent BenaimUntitled (2018)

It’s interesting to me what people accept regarding the aestheticization inherent in most mainstream pornography. That the cute college coed is going to answer the door in her robe, see the muscly stud with a pizza and be immediate DTF? That everyone who fucks does so in opulent but ultimately either nearly empty or decorated without any discernible sense of form or function, without a single trace of any sort of shadow anywhere in the scene? That the only people who fuck are perfectly depilated without a trace of body fat?

The general motif is that if it distracts from the fantasy, it should be diminished or eliminated. But just as the best lies are sown in the same furrow as truth, so I think that the reality of depicting sexuality is that if your fantasy has an correlation with reality, an aesthetic that eschews the aesthetics of perfection is probably the better option.

This image is downright ugly–looking more like a photocopy of a photocopy that has been darkened to compensate for the first layer of generation loss. But it really does work better for that. You can’t so much focus on the pretty picture so you instead have to embrace what’s being depicted to engage with the picture.

And I can’t tell which part of this I like better: the self-aware way the model is staring directly into the camera or the discrepancy between the way her ankle in those stiletto heels is wrapped in light or the way you can only see the other woman’s breast by imagining what’s in between her breast and the cast shadow.

Tamara de LempickaLes deux amies (1923)

I’ve realized that the art world is neither as progressive or avant garde as I would’ve hoped.

Invariably, when the subject turns to how to hold shitty male artists accountable for their exploitative fuckery, someone asks when criticism of him as a person will lead to the ‘cancellation’ of his work.

This is a straw man argument–no one is suggestion that Picasso be excised from the canon; instead: the proposition is that we maybe mention that his works are full-throated missionaries of misogyny. Given that fact, it might be responsible to make this explicit to consumers of his work.

But I think I’m just going to ignore the straw man argument and treat the supposition as serious: why the hell would you ever need fucking Picasso when there’s Tamara de Lempicka?

image

[↑] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [↖] ZishyArya and Bailey Room Mates (2016); [↗] X-ArtRaw Passion (2016); [+] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [←] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [→] Source unknown –  Title unknown (201X); [-] Source unknown – Title unknown (2015); [↙] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [↘] Source unknown – Title unknown (201X); [↓] Nubile FilmsTitle unknown (201X)

Follow the thread: GIF Exception Edition

Ho Yan Pun Nicole – [↑] Hand 1; [↙] Hand 2; [↘] Hand 3 from In & Out series (2014)

As a lesbian artist from Hong Kong, I choose lesbian’s hands as a
site of resistance. Through photographing and exposing different
lesbian’s hand gestures in public, I am making a political statement to
show the existence of the lesbian community, that has been invisible in a
lot of Asian countries. Under the British colonial governance, Hong
Kong had a criminal law against male homosexuality before 1990s. Any
male to male homosexual behavior were banned. In 1991, the Legislative
Council decriminalized the private homosexual behavior. These law
address specifically to male homosexuality. The society largely believed
that only the male homosexual behavior involved the act of insertion.
It was considered indecent and would cause diseases. On one hand, the
legislation oppressed the right of male homosexuals. On the other hand,
this oppression reveals the existence of this marginal group. Their
voice and desire of fighting for their right becomes more and more
explicit nowadays. Lesbian’s voice is always hidden. In Hong Kong,
lesbians do not have a clear social space. Even in the US, when it comes
to bars, the number of lesbian bars can hardly match up to that of gay
bars. This community is always invisible, especially in Asian culture.
Obviously, there are body politics involved. The society presumes
lesbian sex do not have the insertion as sexual activity. Their hands
are not regarded as “sexual organs”. As a lesbian, I believe hands are
precious sexual organs, just as how penis signifies male power. Lesbian
hand embodies lesbian phallus, power, fantasy, erotica. Therefore, by
showing intimate hand gesture, it is a sign of revolt, a sign of
recognition of this community.

source (via @lesbianartandartists)

Alex SothUntitled from Looking for Love (1996)

I saw Blue Velvet for the first time over the summer of 1997; I was 19 and I HATED it.

I was somewhat familiar with Maestro Lynch at that point; I’d seen The Elephant Man, Dune and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me–I enjoyed the former, was underwhelmed by the second and the sequence from the latter in The Pink Room is one of my favorite scenes in any Lynch film.

And even though I disliked Blue Velvet, I could admit that my issue with it had less to do with it’s quality and more to do with it’s tropes.

The primary reason I loathed was more a function of my perception than anything on the part of the film itself. By that I mean: I saw Pulp Fiction something like seven times while it was in theaters. It had thrust me deeper into ‘art house’ fare and I watched everything (not an exaggeration) that had any sort of link to either Tarantino himself or was categorized as being Tarantino-esque. (I spent a lot of time watching a lot of rubbish.)

My quarrel with Blue Velvet was that I had seen almost everything in it in other things. I felt that it was unoriginal.

I know, I know… it was partly because it looked so thoroughly modern and fantastic, I failed to realize it predated most of the stuff I thought it was ripping off by almost a full decade.

Luckily, I was forced to watch Eraserhead for a class and was thoroughly transfixed by both how weird it was/how beautifully it was made to look. I saw Wild at Heart (mixed feelings), The Straight Story (I feel like this and Eraserhead are the most truly Lynchian as far as it pertains to aesthetic vision), Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. (LH and MD both share the same structural form–a Möbius strip and I’ve always felt like in the context of the latter that Adam Kesher is a stand-in for Lynch himself and that LH is the movie that The Cowboy insists Kesher make but MD is the film he really wanted to make in its place.)

(We don’t discuss Inland Empire–I have interacted with Lynch twice in my life and both times I’ve started arguments with him; the second time I may have told him the second hour of IE was entirely unnecessary and that had he still shot on film he would’ve made a better project for having to make decisions instead of throwing things at the wall and then leaving it up to the audience to decide whether or not they stick…)

Anyway–and I swear this all pertains to Soth (which he says rhymes with ‘both’ but why would you not say rhymes with ‘oath’, I mean really…)–I actually did go back and watch Blue Velvet again. The second time I was blown away by it. I may be partial to Eraserhead and Mulholland Dr. will likely go down as his crowning achievement but really, Blue Velvet is a cinematic masterpiece of truly rare acuity.

How all this relates to Soth is: I am not a fan of his work. But I try to remain mostly civil as far as this project–like I despise the work of Gregory Crewdson (spoiler alert: he’s not particularly well liked by those who had a hand in training him or who are his ostensible peers) and Fox Harvard and Brooke Shaden are godawful… but mostly I keep it constructive.

I have actually changed my opinion on Soth. He work doesn’t especially resonate with me but I now see that what I read before as vapid vacuity, is actually much closer to the form of fine art photography rendering meditations on disaffection and loneliness banal. I don’t really think this is exactly the best tact but it is a code I can read now.

And I think that’s really what I’m getting at: if you are doing the work you are supposed to be done correctly, i.e. with the appropriate degree of rigor and attention, then you are going to realize frequently that you’re wrong more than you are right.

I know this blog comes across as persnickety and I realize there are things I say that seem preposterous–but this is a way I’ve found of pushing myself to do the work.

I was wrong about Soth. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna rush out and buy his work it just means that I had not yet found the right photo to draw me into his work. The photo above was what I needed.

Saint George Hare – Victory of Faith (1889)

I missed the hungry lions lurking behind bars in the heavily shadowed upper left corner when I first saw this–as such my thought was Victory of Faith is a weird title for a painting that is ostensibly about lesbians, isn’t it?

As I’m looking into it now, I’m realizing my mistake and that it’s both a mistake and an insight into the work.

My instinct–that this is a work of erotica–is almost certainly true. Hare’s other work was rife with similar sorts of tableaux. However, the lions I missed initially are rather important.

This scene is ostensibly a depiction of a high society misstress and her maid who are discovered to have converted to Xtianity and sentenced to death by lions in the coliseum. They have been stripped and locked in the anteroom of the coliseum where the lions that are to eat them look on as they slumber.

As has been fairly well-established sex was a fixation within Victorian culture, even if no one really addressed it directly. There was apparently a tradition of coding erotica into work that seemed explicitly Xtian at first glance. The choice of martyrs as subjects would’ve been practically–many saints were tortured and otherwise humiliated/punished, thus them being clothed would been a vestige of protection. (See also: Saint Eulalia)

Additionally, apparently Xtian commentators saw the lack of clothing as proof of their freedom from sin.

Interestingly, I can’t help thinking of this image in terms of the trope of Daniel in the Lions’ Den–where Daniel is depicted as standing upright and prayerful through the night. It reminds me of the tired police procedural trope–which is factually dubiou–where the guilty are so relieved at having finally been found out that they sleep like babies; whereas the innocent are so consumed by their righteous fury at being falsely accused, that they cannot sleep.

Daniel was innocent and stood vigilant through the night; these women are guilty (of being Xtians) and therefore slumber.

The ways in which this is both Xtian allegory and work of Victorian erotic all at once are intriguing. Unfortunately, there’s also apparently racial connotations–namely: the painting can be read to contain only one woman, i.e. the dark skinned woman who in her martyrdom is purified and becomes white.

I think it’s a dubious claim and given that their are two lions, I just don’t see it. However, there was apparently a moral panic in the ‘woke’ Victorian world where slavery was considered to be morally repugnant but instead of working to right centuries of wrong headed thinking, injustice and inequality–a new focus centered on ‘white slavery’ (which apparently was entirely preoccupied with sex work, it seems–something I did not know until just now).

With this painting, Hare was apparently making very thinly veiled erotica designed to fool Xtians but to also give voice to his own interest in a sort of slave spectacle peddled by the likes of Boucicault.

The Victory of Faith is also the title of one of Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films so again, I suspect there’s more unpleasantness to this painting than I’m even able to scratch the surface on.

defiantly-yourssSome friendly fingers 🐶 (2017)

The above is a Fuji Instax Mini Monochrome instant photograph.

I’ve always been a fan of instant film–the unpredictable peccadilloes of the process contribute an unmediated in-the-momentness to them. It’s partly the singularity of the original–yes, you can scan them or snap a picture of them with your phone (but that one be the same; essentially, there’s only one true original.

Whether it was intended or not, this has always facilitated a special relationship between instant photography and DIY porn making.

(Honestly, if there was a browser plugin that filtered out mainstream pornography and only allowed DIY work through, I’d be thrilled. Diminish the profit motive and it seems like this girl’s enjoyment of things increases, but also ostensibly there’s less premeditation on what will sell the most units, earn the most clicks and it’s focused on what the producer likes and perhaps also what the target audience–whether a person or a small community–enjoys just seems to me to come across as not only more immersive but more authentic.)

Yet, of all things this also got me thinking about the received wisdom that art and pornography are mutually exclusive. (There’s a stellar piece, Museums, Urban Detritus and Pornography, written by Paul B. Preciado (formerly Beatrix), which has been seminal influence on this blog.)

It’s been a bit of shit week for me and I was wracking my brain for something to say about this. (A common misconception is that I just find something I like and then spew convincing BS about it and call it a post. I won’t deny that that happens on the off occasion. But for the most part, the stuff I post is posted because I have something to say about it.)

With this I knew I wanted to post it–that it belonged here–however, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say about it.

Then it occurred to be that while this is an explicit image, it’s not especially graphic. Genital penetration by multiple fingers is clearly implied but not graphically illustrated. And that’s kind of the strength of the photo: the basics are clear but the specifics are amorphous.

This encourages the viewer to fill in the blanks–and I use that in spite of the clumsy pun.

I started to wonder how many fingers are inserted. You can’t tell but it specifically says fingers plural. For some reason I thought of the tradition of depicting Christ in oil paintings–with his thumb extended and index and middle finger raised in a sign of blessing. (Bonus points for the art history nerds out there: apparently this was because this finger placement is like a gang sign that reads IC XC–the first and last letters of ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ in ancient Greek.)

It being a sign of blessing is definitely in keeping with the above image. And that got me thinking about how ecumenical tradition tends to take extant symbols and appropriates them for religious use. Xtianity is all but a carbon copy of the ancient Mithras cult, for example.

The Xtian cross symbol originates from what is termed a Roman or Latin cross and became–after the apostle Peter demanded to be crucified upside down to prove his piety and that he was not anything like Christ–the Petrine Cross. Thus a symbol of imperial violence is appropriated by early Xtians, then appropriated again by the Catholic Church (in it’s upside down variant) before being flipped right side up again only to be re-appropriated as a bit of anti-Xtian imagery nowadays.

I realize this isn’t the most un-specious of arguments but I think it works given the way the majority of wisdom traditions have de-emphasized individual experience of the divine with a sort of ersatz groupthink instead. The fact that drugs and sexuality can–given the right environment–be a stepping stone to self-transcendent experience. The powers that be are very much invested in using religion to wall off that option from the majority of people.

Lastly, I’ve had this notion for a while that landscape oriented imagery tends to be secular in nature whereas vertical oriented stuff tends to be more liturgical–I think this digression is actually very much in the spirit of the original Instax.

Source unknown – Title unknown (19XX)

Looking at this photo I can’t help but ponder the notion of regret.

I encounter a lot of people who believe  life should be lived in such a fashion so as to remain completely absent regret.

Every time I interact with these folks, I find myself vaguely irked. I mean without regret, what motivates the urge to do better/be more/grow?

Yet, that thought is predicated by the belief that one should regret mistakes because a mistake entails a right way of doing things and a wrong way of doing things. By extension: there was the right way and a wrong way or more likely wrong ways and by not doing it the right way–one should regret doing it the wrong way.

It’s rarely that simple, though. I mean: very few people can sit down at a piano and having never taken a lesson before play a passable rendition of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. (No, you get to being able to play it by practicing–which means playing it for a very long period of time at varying levels of awfulness before it starts to come together.)

My reaction to other folks objecting to regret always surprises me–because I’m someone who claims to live in a way that seeks to minimize regret. What I mean when I say it is something more like: given a time machine and the option to travel back in time to fix things, the things I would opt to fix would do little to shift the broader outcome for a situation/scenario.

As a concrete example: When my ex and I broke up the first time, one of her reasons was that I so rarely walked with her back to the subway when she couldn’t stay the night with me at my place.

To her this represented a lack of motivation and concern for her safety and well-being. And I don’t have my head so far up my own ass that I can’t realize that it was occasionally due to the reason set that it’s freaking cold as fuck out, it’s late and I have to get up and get ready for work in 4 hours. More often than not I didn’t go because I knew she didn’t want to leave–but that she had to–and that my going with her would make it harder for her to leave. (Interestingly, she said that’s what she wanted–me to make it harder for her to leave instead of easier.)

So if you offered me a time machine, I’d go back and walk her back to the subway twice as often as I did. Not because I believe it would’ve changed anything about our relationship just because it was a small thing that would’ve meant a lot to someone I loved.

And that’s why I think of regret when I look at this: it’s not a great image, honestly. The foreshortening of the masturbating woman saves the composition from being unforgivably flat. The light is hard and over bright–tumbling in through a skylight and hazily blowing out in a blueish aura over the scene.

You can see just the faintest hints of the hanging tapestry backdrop. It’s neither great nor is it quite awful, either.

But what I notice–like when presented with the prospect of a time machine to go back and fix things I wish I’d done differently–are the four hands. The way the one woman is holding the other’s hips, how the woman is supporting the woman’s lower back while masturbating and the way the woman in the middle has her wrist clenched and locked.

The rightness of those elements–for me, at least–overpowers the shoddy and weaker aspects of this composition.