On October 23rd I attended the PICA presented screening of Destricted at Washington High School, one of the first since its delayed U.S. release. The screening of Districted was quite a bit like internet porn surfing, sometimes fun, fascinating, often boring (although potentially arousing for others) with sporadic bursts of appeal and an overwhelming heterosexual bias.
Included in the viewing at Washington High were short films by Marina Abramovic,Matthew Barney, Larry Clark, Richard Prince, Cecily Brown, Marilyn Minter, andSam Taylor-Wood. Surprisingly, Hoist by Matthew Barney could be read as the most queer film, featuring a male actor with what appears to be a large beet or gourd suspended from his rectum and a huge crane that is oiled by the man’s seemingly endless amount of ejaculate. The film was shot in Barney’s usual mythic and visually flawless style that makes the film seem like a post-industrial arcadian dream or futuristic creation myth commenting on the interaction of Man and machine (yawn). There was a certain amount of anxiety created by the vulnerability of the human elements (by this I mean penis) in relation to the omnipotence of the mechanical. I think that might be the closest I ever get to understanding literal castration anxiety. Perhaps Barney is starting to examine in a more complex way the thick masculinist overtones of his work that, up to this point, have been as apt to cause suffocation as standing in an elevator next to someone wearing too much cologne, although I won’t be holding my breath.
My favorite films were Marina Abramovic’s Balkan Erotic Epic and Larry Clark’sImpaled both of which use humor and spectacle to highlight the absurdities of representations of sexuality. Impaled was particularly entertaining. The film stands out among the other films in the sense that it doesn’t attempt to alter the conventions of pornographic imagery and representation. It is, for all intents and purposes, hard core pornography, and there is no attempt to glorify the sex or make a transcendent statement by aestheticizing the imagery. For that it was refreshing. There are very few ways to claim that Art defeated pornography as in the traditional American discourse involving art and sexuality.
Marilyn Minter’s Green Pink Caviar integrates elements of high fashion and imagery hinting at the abject. The film involves models licking caviar and other unidentified liquids off from a glass plate that is directly on top of the lens. Each frame references high fashion with deeply saturated and often complementary colors. The models lips and teeth appear perfectly formed despite their intentional distortion. Although there may be a kind of tactile sensuality to the images they also, more prominently, foster a mild form of repulsion.
Initially, I had the urge to connect these images to Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject that has been used to discuss certain work by artists like Carolee Shneemann and Cindy Sherman. Although the images caused minor discomfort, the reaction did not have any lasting significance and quickly devolved into boredom. Because of this I wouldn’t categorize them in terms of the abject as presented by Kristeva, which she beautifully illustrates in the Powers of Horror:
When the eyes see or the lips touch that skin on the surface of milk—harmless, thin as a sheet of cigarette paper, pitiful as a nail paring—I experience a gagging sensation and, still farther down, spasms in the stomach, the belly; and all the organs shrivel up the body, provoke tears and bile, increase heartbeat, cause forehead and hands to perspire. (1)
(Yes, I was just searching for a way to use this quote).
Kristeva goes on to explain the function and cause of this reaction as being an acknowledgement and an active and violent separation of the self from the desires of others. Generally, an abject response represents a dissolution in the perception of a boundary or sense of order and an attempt to reestablish those symbolic distinctions. Although Minter’s film does not achieve boundary dissolution essential to Kristeva’s theory of abjection, it does cause a disconnect in expectations of typical fashion photography and ideals of representation of beauty. While visually striking, the images become mundane rapidly and don’t have nearly as much impact as Minter’s still photographs.
(1) Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 2-3.
Originally published on November 13, 2010 at Ultrapdx.com. Direct URL: http://www.ultrapdx.com/zero/2010/11/13/destricted-a-few-thoughts/