Friends or Foes?: Art and Pornography

Sometimes, when I’m feeling in the mood to watch experimental video art (which actually happens), I go to ubu.com, a wonderful source for all things experimental.  Once I’m on the site, I find the directory for online video art and click on an artist’s name at random.  The other day, upon fulfilling this urge, I clicked on the name Bruce LaBruce.  I had never heard of LaBruce before and was immediately intrigued when I read this description of his work:

“Bruce LaBruce is a Toronto based filmmaker, writer, director, photographer, and artist. He began his career in the mid eighties making a series of short experimental super 8 films and co-editing a punk fanzine called J.D.s, which begat the queercore movement. He has directed and starred in three feature length movies, “No Skin Off My Ass” (1991), “Super 8 1/2″ (1994), and “Hustler White” (1996). More recently he has directed two art/porn features, “Skin Flick” (2000)(hardcore version: “Skin Gang”) and “The Raspberry Reich” (2004)(hardcore version: “The Revolution Is My Boyfriend”).”

I had no doubt that what I was about to watch would be art, but what was its relationship to porn?   I quickly saw the connection.

Super 8 1/2 is a “look at a triple-X star-director caught in the downward spiral of his career.”  My favorite quote from the film, “He was actually attempting to break down the whole subject-camera relationship… It was as if he was an existentialist trapped in a porno star’s body.”

This film, I can easily say, is a work of art.  The cinematography, screen play, acting and mise-en-scene all communicate a story that investigates the artist’s relationship to himself and pornography.  Although genitalia are revealed, all the sex scenes in the film at least appear to be simulated.

But wait…it’s still porn…right?  By general standards, I think yes, it is pornography, but what makes this piece art and not exploitation?

After watching this film, I think about other works of art that have been put into question.  I’m thinking of Andy Warhol, with his films Blow Job and Flesh (A poster of Andy in Bruce’s bedroom in Super 8 1/2 tells all) Robert Mapplethorpe, who had NEA funding revoked for his provocative, homoerotic photography, Peter Berlin, who defined a gay identity in 1970′s San Fransisco, and Tom of Finland.

I think exploitation and misogyny are what make pornography abominable, but what happens when the artists agree to exploration and misogyny?  Although Super 8 1/2 isn’t misogynistic, exploitation is one of the biggest themes discussed in Super 8 1/2. Bruce, who is the protagonist, constantly comments that he’s being exploited (although he’s technically the director of this semi-autobiopic).   Googie, the antagonist, just says, “Well someone has to be exploited, and it might as well be you.”  By recognizing the exploitative nature of pornography, I think that the work can step away from being accused as exploitative.  What makes this work distinct is that it takes on an “in your face” approach, assuming the viewer’s gaze and asking for it loudly and clearly.

Therefore, if we all agree that this is a work of art, can it also coexist as pornography?  I think this is a much larger debate, but it reminds me of the conversation we had about Pretty, Pretty.  Pornographic images can put the form itself into question, but where do we draw the line?  Or do we?finland7382

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