Monday, November 5, 2007

Desire and intimacy in Art

There was a moment during the hour I spent at the Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now exhibition at the Barbican that I realised I was enjoying pornography with a group of other fully-clothed and silent strangers. Crouched down in a small darkened space screened off for privacy within the gallery, I entered in the middle of the show, as you do, and was amazed ("pretend nonchalance") to see a film of a series of photographs of couples in the act of heterosexual and homosexual sex in a variety of carefully catalogued positions. These were the original photos that accompanied the Kinsey report and are old-fashioned looking enough and black and white so that the viewer/voyeur can maintain a dignified and scholarly distance from them. I particularly warmed to the images of women in nothing but smart hats and shoes, that you might have worn to Sunday mass in the 1940s, having it off with dastardly looking moustachioed gentlemen. And then there were the homo images which I have a thing for. I know that it is commonplace for men to snigger about how they would like to see to girls pleasuring each other - for their own greater pleasure -, but the spectacle of male gay sex has a strange effect on me: I feel at once excited and sad: I am excited to see this other pleasure, this pleasure that still seems daring to me, and sad because they don't need me. It is like watching two friends entirely engrossed in each other who cease to notice your presence and the feeling of loneliness, humiliation and distress at that moment of realisation is acute . When I grow up I want to be a gay man; I don't want to be left out any longer.

There were two very long, self-important Andy Warhol films of two men kissing or a James Dean look-alike climaxing whilst being given an invisible blow-job. I'm just glad it wasn't me giving him the BJ as it took him 50 minutes. There was also a disproportionate amount of beautiful Japanese erotic prints that made me marvel at the sophistication of Japanese culture in pre-modern times. We in Europe were a long way from elegant depictions of sex until the late 19th century, before which we went unwashed for months and sloshed about in our own filth, teeth rotting and narrowly missing all dying of the plague.

Growing bored and a little aroused with no eligible male in sight, I wandered into another darkened, screened off room and sat on a bench, while others loitered near the exit, to witness a slide show of the intimate life of couples - the most moving collection of images on the subject that I have ever come across in my adult life. Nan Goldin's exhibit Heartbeat is a work of art that most artists would only dream of creating, and for the non-artist it is almost impossible to imagine how the artist can gain entry into these truly intimate moments in a couple or a family's life. One very young couple is Goldin's nephew Simon and his girlfriend Jessica; I was devastated by her portrayal of first love - the kind of tenderness and compassion and closeness that I know I will never experience now: the moment as teenagers when you feel you are really alone in your world of love and pain. Goldin's subjects inevitably have a different attitude to nudity and every body in these photos became familiar and loved - each body was your mother's, your father's, your friend's - not merely an object of beauty, but a physical necessity, a wonderful fragile giving being that could never be subject to the crude judgements we are daily coerced into making upon ourselves and others.

1 comment:

Sometimes Raouf, sometimes Elly. Who knows said...

Days ago, I had some problems with my old computer (hope to by a new apple for the first time …soon!) So I could not comment on Elly’s interesting post on the sex expiation which she saw : the relation between art and sex
I was reading – by chance – an old article in NBR on an expiation “ earthly bodies “ Irving Penn Nudes … and another one dancer photographs of Alexandra Beller by Irving Penn
The title of the article is “ Nudes with out desire ( April 11 ,2002 N.B.R)
I understand – through my experience- how a nude body can stimulate many things inside me without desire
Also it astonished me a bit when Elly used the expression of “ sadness” and “devastation” commenting on the homo sex in the film : how she felt sad “sad because they don't need me.” And the second time “ I was devastated by her portrayal of first love - the kind of tenderness and compassion and closeness that I know I will never experience now: the moment as teenagers when you feel you are really alone in your world of love and pain” and that was on seeing a young couples in intimate moments as she said.
It is usually we got strong reactions seeing nudity. I had saw naked bodies in in prisons taking bates in groups ( only men ) and saunas : men and women some parts in Africa , beaches , brothels and sex clubs.
It is – of course- with all our inhibitions each has different attitude towards nudity and being not needed and “ be subject to the crude judgements we are daily coerced into making upon ourselves and others” But it is also how we look at our selves and our nudity …. Which it is a very uneasy exercise!
It is interesting to hear Elly wishing to shout against the feeling of being left alone: “ When I grow up I want to be a gay man; I don't want to be left out any longer”
And I tell her .. You do not have to be a gay man ( why not a gay woman?!) to join the earthly and heavenly pleasures of togetherness … just be nice to your self! Indulge her ( it) !