[NetBehaviour] sexuality in performance and video

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Tue Sep 19 20:07:24 CEST 2006

Some notes on sexuality in performance, video, etc. (This is in part a
follow-up to a recent discussion elsewhere, and is hopelessly naive, 'off the 
cuff,' but perhaps of interest anyway.)

First, it seems that sexual representation is overdetermined; the result
is it tends to dominate everything else. If I have a sexual work in among
a number of non-sexual ones, it's the sexual work that's remembered and
that actually forms the tenor of subsequent discussion. Our culture is too
confused and contradictory in relation to sexuality - it never resolves -
and sexual work can open a can of worms.

Second, there's a huge responsibility involved, ethically and psychologi-
ically, in terms of sexual or even nude representation; if I'm using my
own body, I can take that, but if I work with someone else, he or she
might not realize the implications. So one has to be careful.

Third, using one's own body creates an intense and unresolved disturbance
for an audience, when confronted, not only with nudity, but possibly with
the nudity of someone present (dressed) in the room - I'm talking about
video and reality co-mingling. And this may be difficult to take. All of
these situations result in an unresolvable problematic, usually produc-
tive of intense and on occasion negative emotions. After all, it's the
audience member's own body, own responses (sexual and psychological) that
is at stake.

Fourth, most members of an audience will resist arousal - and while one
can generate any kind of powerful emotions in an audience (and that's
generally a good thing), arousal is taboo. Anger can be one result - just
like anger against gays often has to do with one's own impulses in that

Fifth, we're living in a culture which hinges and intensifies explicit
sexual presentation and censoring; nudity is never complete, is always
dirty, and always desirable as a result. Television is full of this -
which then has to be situated elsewhere and elsewise in a performance.
I tend to favor pornography over eroticism (although I don't own any
pornography and/or practice it) on the basis of honesty; one is confronted
with a kind of truth that eroticism hides. And I think that eroticism
spills out into and around capital - it's the 'way' the culture works,
even though pornography probably generates more money. To some extent
pornography is pornography because it is taboo - a kind of circular
reasoning - after all what's being presented is usually fucking of one
sort or another, an everyday act.

Sixth, pornography is mixed with violence in an equation that I associate
with Iraq mixed with Al Qaeda; there's no necessary relation. Television
is far more disturbing in terms of the latter than the former, and while
some pornography has very uncomfortable power relations embedded in it
(for example the 'money shot' of coming on the face of someone, usually a
woman), this isn't necessary to it. What does seem necessary is a sense of
danger (there's also physiological and psychological evidence for this) or
transgression - in this sense, in spite of its codifications, pornography
is somewhat revolutionary. (Of course this is also taking the position
that pornography may be ultimately liberating, which may well be both
naive and retrograde.)

Seventh, pornography and eroticism both touch on prostitution, etc.; the
very illegality of these forms tends towards a kind of (what is perceived
as) low-key criminality. And along with this, pornography now - at this
point in time - tends to slide into child pornography - into child abuse -
into a general category of 'pervert' - into the idea of sexual danger
lurking everywhere for everyone - into increased repression - including
things like Megan's law (which seems, to me, fundamentally wrong, a
continuous life-long punishment after someone has served time) - I could
go on and on about this, but in any case, this discourse of children tends
to frame or contaminate or penetrate the discourse of pornography, and
sexuality itself. One has to be more careful than ever - that what is
adult stays adult for example (however 'adult' or 'mature' for that matter
maybe defined).

And eighth and final, even now there still seems to be a kind of libera-
tion in arousal, sexual display, etc. Dance comes more out of the
Dionysian than the Apollonian; it's connected with courtship, with inter-
course, mating rituals, Bacchanalias, etc. And yet dance is now largely
repressed - it's formalized (the cultivation of protocols, barriers,
institutions, companies, etc.) and even though, for example ballet, has
heavy sexual elements (supporting someone by the crotch etc.), these are
pretty much ignored or bypassed (all the more reason because they domin-
ate, are present) in discussion. It's this lack of discussion, lack of
sexual discoruse vis-a-vis dance, that, in fact, propels dance, in
particular ballet and so-called modern dance. Dancers themselves may be
poorly prepared for thinking through these things. (I'm not saying that
dancers should dance sexually here - only that this is an option which is
generally taboo.) (Of course there are exceptions to everything.)

This is somewhat off the top of my head, but it's an area I've had to
consider far more than I've wanted to, given the nature of some of my
work. From my own viewpoint, my pieces cover a wide field of content and
interests, but sexual overdermination creates what might be thought of as
a black hole of discourse, everything far too often falling into that
particular direction.

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