Ten years ago today, my one-woman art show, Consent, opened at apexart in Tribeca, NYC.
The show explored the people’s relationships with adult entertainment—people who made it and people who watched it alike.
Consent ran from March 21 – May 12, 2012, and, at the time, was one of the best-attended exhibits in the gallery’s history.
Ten years has flashed by, but it’s also been an incredibly long decade. (Cliché? Yes. True? Also yes.) I’ve been reflecting on the show, and all that went into it. So, let me take you back to where I was when this show went up.
When I started reviewing smutty DVDs for adult magazines as a young adult (my first paid writing gig!), my interest broadened. Who were the people on camera and behind the camera? I wanted to know what made this industry tick.
As I continued to amass a truly stunning collection of adult films, I started talking to the people who made it. Soon, I was writing a column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency about my experience as a budding feminist who liked watching people go at it, sometimes in not very friendly-to-women ways. I even co-founded my own online magazine, where I interviewed porn stars, reviewed movies, and wrote op-eds on what was happening in the industry.
But it wasn’t only the industry that interested me. I found myself deeply fascinated by the way we, the viewers, interact with porn. By the impact that the medium has on our lives, our brains, and our bodies.
I kept wondering: What do do people think about it? How do people feel about it as individuals?
Remember, this was ten years ago, before Pornhub became such a cultural mainstay, before there was much journalism about adult entertainment out there, before there’d been a full-on culture war about smut as a “public health crisis.”
This stuff wasn’t talked about very much. But I was desperate to talk about it with anyone who would have the conversation.
So, when apexart approached me about “curating” an art show on the topic of adult entertainment, I wasn’t just ready to curate. I was ready to create.
I spent six months talking to anyone and everyone who would have an open, honest conversation with me about their relationship to pornography. I recorded my conversations with all twenty people I interviewed…and one interview I had a friend do with me.
Then I cut those twenty-one interviews together into four short documentary films, each of which explored its own aspect of the human relationship with smut: “Morality” looked at people’s qualms over the ethics of adult film; “Industry” focused on how the adult entertainment biz works—or how people think it does; “Society” was about the way pornography interacts with culture; and “Reality” was a look at the raw truth of porn in people’s lives.
The films weren’t just talking heads, though. I didn’t want the subject matter to feel too academic—after all, smut is meant to make an impression. So, I interspersed the footage of interviews with footage from the pornographic films we were talking about. And while the films played in the gallery, images from films the porn stars I interviewed were hung on the walls, along with my collection of DVDs, stacked fifteen feet high.
I wanted the show to be very clear that watching pornography, like the show, is an experience that one opts into. It is a consensual give-and-take relationship. So I named the show “Consent.” And I made the tagline: “Talk. About. Porn.”
The Past Decade
After the show opened, we held a series of public events at the gallery, including a “Feminism in Porn” panel and a screening of The Graduate XXX with one of the writers. After the show closed, “Society” went on to win a Feminist Porn Award in 2013. In the same year, “Reality” was screened at the YANS & RETO film festival in New York.
The exhibition also attracted the notice of legendary publisher Peter Mayer, who would go on to publish my memoir, Watching P(o)rn. That book’s publication launched me into writing for outlets like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Glamour, Allure, Bitch Magazine, Men’s Health, and others.
In the process of putting my thoughts together for the show, I started writing Tracy Queen, a graphic novel about a woman who goes into the adult biz to find herself. It’s a continuation of Consent, insofar as it continues to hold a lens up to the way that we view smut, even now, ten years after the fact. But I added some cyborg-clone warfare and a talking raccoon… Plus some supervillainous tendencies and a whole lot of swordplay, because, you know, why not?
Issue 3 of Tracy Queen is actually just about to launch on Kickstarter, so if you’re interested in seeing my grand vision for “talking about porn” come to larger-than-life…go ahead and follow the pre-launch page!
Lots more on that to come.
But for now, I just want to bask in the glow of remembering that, a decade ago, I got all of these people together in a room to drink booze and watch smut…and maybe, just maybe, think about it, too. I’ve never been prouder of anything.
(While you’re here, considering supporting apexart! It’s a fantastic non-profit arts organization that does great work all over the world. A really wonderful group of people.)