|From Porn to Art
Manet's Olympia was painted in 1863
and images of sexual exploitation have been popular among artists ever
since. Although art has long provided the bashful with illicit kicks under
the guise of self-improvement, it is only more recently that porn stars
began making the transition from the video underground to the cultural
mainstream. Nevertheless, sustaining a straight movie career can be difficult.
Teenage porn sensation Traci Lords was elevated to matinee status thanks
to a role in Cry Baby, but currently makes techno records after several
Pornography is an integral part
of the entertainment business, and the vehicles created for its stars are
every bit as formulaic as Hollywood blockbusters. While there may be less
money in more experimental areas like performance, such genres offer a
freedom that is attractive to individuals who are sick of being type-cast.
Porn veteran Annie Sprinkle is typical of those who want to escape the
limitations imposed on them by mass culture: "The reason I got out of porn
and moved into art is because there's more room for experimentation in
art. I can be myself."
Gay porn stars are making this transition
too. Aiden Shaw whose autobiography Brutal was published last year, has
been pulling in punters at prestigious venues such as the ICA. Shaw's act,
which lies somewhere between performance art and Chippendale-style pop,
has been packaged as part of a musical review that also features cult rockers
Minty. While cynics see these gallery escapades as a neat way of marketing
over-exposed sex stars to a fresh audience, a trooper like Annie Sprinkle
radiates sincerity as she hard sells 'post-porn modernism' as a 'new age
sexuality'; "sex is a path to enlightenment. Women producing porn will
push things in a positive direction."
One woman who relishes breaking
down sexual boundaries is Cosey Fanni Tutti, born Christine Carol Newby
in 1951. Between 1974 and 76, Tutti worked as a glamour model for Fiesta,
Curious and Ladybirds, then exhibited her centre-spreads in art galleries.
Tutti also toured London pubs as a stripper, as well as appearing in films
such as Confessions Of A Superstud and I'm Not Feeling Myself Tonight,
all in the name of art. These activities are currently being researched
by Simon Ford, a post-graduate student at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
"The strength of Tutti's work lies
in its play on artistic authenticity," Ford explains. "For this to register
there had to be a certain loss of agency in the studio stages of its production.
It was the ability to draw on real experiences as a real model in the fantasy
world of pornography that made it so hard for critics to deal with in the
seventies. It is the explicit play on notions of authenticity and identity
through a foregrounding of pornography as a signifying system, that marks
out Tutti's work as a significant contribution to the feminist critique
of an essentialised femininity."
Tutti favours plainer words when
defending her activities: "You get feminists saying you're being exploited
and all the rest of it. But it's not like that. It's a total power trip.
When you're being exploited, it's when you're doing something you're not
comfortable with. When it's not you. When someone is saying do this." Porn
queen La Cicciolina, whose stormy relationship with Jeff Koons was recorded
in a series of hardcore poses that her partner marketed as art, seems to
have been more ruthlessly exploited on the gallery circuit than during
her glory years in glamour. Since the breakdown of her marriage, Cicciolina
Cicciolina has disappeared into a post-porn wilderness.
Art and porn are mirror images of
each other. Sex sells and the main thing distinguishing these two genres
is the more open and honest approach of the sleaze merchants. Nevertheless,
even someone as pretentious as film-maker Michael Winner was able to begin
his career with the nudie abomination Some Like It Cool, while numerous
struggling actresses have made ends meet by appearing in blue movies. Elaine
Page of Evita fame cameos in Adventures Of A Plumbers Mate, while Joanna
Lumley features in Games That Lovers Play. Both the art and pornographic
worlds are fashion based. In each there is a constant turn over of faces.
While former porn stars make adequate artists, let's hope there isn't a
widespread attempt at reversing the process.