Samara Ginsberg // 11 January 2008
Last night I went to see the Seduced exhibition at the Barbican. This has been on for months and I expect that many of our London-based readers will have seen it already. The idea behind the exhibition is that it is simply a comprehensive collection of art featuring human sexuality from Ancient Greece and Rome to the present day.
Of course, being the childish person that I am, I found much of it highly amusing. I had to stifle giggles when I saw Robert Mapplethorpe’s self portrait (NSFW!!!!). It’s not every day that you see a man in thigh-high boots with a whip sticking out of his arse. There were quite a few interesting line drawings lent by Her Majesty the Queen – I had no idea she was into that sort of thing. And I was most amused to see a cellist who I used to know being groped by some actress as she played a solo cello version of Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata – much as I don’t miss the music profession, sometimes I think that my life might be slightly more interesting if I hadn’t defected to journalism.
Then again, lots of it was extremely thought-provoking. By far the most interesting installation from a feminist point of view was Requiem – k r buxey’s answer to Andy Warhol’s Blowjob (a 35-minute film of a man’s face as he receives oral sex). Buxey films herself receiving oral sex from an unseen partner to the soundtrack of Fauré’s Requiem. The idea behind this is a subversion of mainstream porn, in which female orgasm is either fake or irrelevant. It is a given in porn that the woman is having millions of multiple orgasms, she is certainly moaning and screaming like a banshee in a manner in which I suspect that very few women would if they were actually having an orgasm. The woman’s pleasure exists for the man’s pleasure, so that he can give himself a pat on the back for being such a stud. Even depictions of cunnilingus in mainstream pornography seem to exist in order for the man to show off his “skills” rather than for the woman to receive pleasure (who has ever seen a porn actor stick his tongue out and flick it at high speed over some poor woman’s clit and just thought, Ouch? I know I have). In this film however, the woman’s pleasure is all that is depicted. Her partner’s “performance” is seen only indirectly in terms of the pleasure it gives her, and her own “performance” exists to titillate nobody but herself.
I see it as an irrelevance whether or not buxey is “conventionally attractive” (she’s not). But what is very relevant is that she has made no effort with her appearance. She wears no make up. Her hair looks truly abominable. And she is totally unselfconscious. She does not look at the camera, she does not pout or lick her lips. She pulls really weird faces. Sometimes she almost looks as if she’s in pain. In fact, at one point I started thinking that if I didn’t know any better I might guess that she was giving birth.
That for me is the difference between sex-based art and porn. Porn exists to get the (usually male) viewer off. Art depicting sexuality has no such purpose – sex is just a subject matter. If it gets you off, good for you, but that’s not what it’s there for. In theory Requiem is an incredibly interesting idea, but the reality was really rather dull to watch. Afer I got over the initial, “Oh my God, she’s actually filming herself getting head”, I just wasn’t interested any more. It wasn’t the slightest bit titillating, and the heterosexual male friend I was with said exactly the same. And the fact that watching someone having an orgasm can be so dull when it’s real and not intended as a show is fascinating in itself.
Seduced is good fun, and for a fab evening out in London it is an absolute snip at £8 (£6 concessions). Just go and see it. You’ll never look at the Fauré Requiem the same way again. May I suggest however that you do not go for drinks anywhere in the vicinity afterwards, as it seems that City types have driven prices through the roof. I was most displeased to discover that at the King’s Head, the completely unremarkable pub that I used to frequent when I was studying at the Guildhall, a glass of wine and a gin and tonic is now £8.45.