curated by Lynsey G

Consent, installation view.
When apexart approached me about curating an art show on the topic of pornography, it struck me that porn is a difficult thing around which to structure an intelligent dialogue, especially from an art standpoint. Not because art and porn have nothing in common, but because they have so much in common. Whereas "true" art exists in a context of nearly constant conversation, porn exists in a veritable cultural vacuum, considered purely utilitarian and thus—somehow—without artistic merit. But the mediums gain access to their audiences in similar ways: art can slip past our rational systems of logic and language, sending an aesthetic impression right to our guts, upon which we are encouraged to reflect. Likewise, porn skips our systems of reason, but rather than lodging in our viscera and moving up to our brains, porn settles—hot and heavy—in our crotches. Adult entertainment takes advantage of our evolutionary inability to tell the difference between real sex and sexual imagery, and dives into our groins, demanding we take action. In this way, porn is utilitarian, and because we are taught not to speak openly of the utility to which we put it, pornography can hit our naughty bits without doing much else, aside from tugging on our heartstrings with the shame, anger, and revulsion that cultural stigmas bring to the party.

So pornography goes undiscussed, unlike its cousin art. Most of us don't want to discuss it, much less see a need for discussion. We just feel it (and ourselves), neglecting to open it up to dialogue, analysis, criticism? the things that give the "high arts" their cultural oomph. This lack of dialogue allows the space where conversation could take place to instead remain vacant, echoing with the hysterical cries of pro- and anti-porn zealots who take advantage of the lack of critical context to promote their antithetical messages, though most of us know that the truth is somewhere between black and white. Porn is a huge grey area, a murky patch of swamp that's easier to enjoy when left alone. So most of us keep quiet about what we really think, if we think at all, shrugging, "Who cares? It's just porn."

In a way, that's accurate. Porn isn't usually trying to make a statement in the way that art is. But that doesn't mean a statement isn't being made. Let's be honest: for many of us—myself included—porn is a companion during some very vulnerable moments; it sees us in all our pared-down perversity, naked, trembling, wide-eyed, and alone. We show it our most hidden sensibilities and allow it to fill in the blanks of our fantasies. We are sometimes more honest with pornography than with our intimate partners: we tell it what we really desire without fear of judgment. And that is a powerful connection; the accommodating offerings of smut that we watch during our defenseless moments must have some impact on our ideas about ourselves, our bodies, and our sex. But we let its impact go unremarked upon more often than not. It is difficult for us to think on the matter seriously because, unlike other forms of erotic entertainment, porn involves real people performing real sex acts. It is a difficult subject matter. Pornography is fake but it is also genuine, and it brings all the issues inherent in sex, industry, entertainment, and fantasy to a head in one place. It is far simpler to ignore the complicated realities or the impact it has on us than to address it. We tend to hold pornography at a distance—cleaning up and returning to our own reality, for which we put on a face markedly different from what was reflected in our computer or TV screens moments before.

I am an advocate for pornography, and I spend a huge amount of time writing, thinking, and talking about it, but I also include myself in the silent "we" of porn consumption. For each of us, the internal space between private moments and public face is different: some distance themselves from porn by joking about it in public; others over-glamorize the industry; many demonize it; still others pretend to know nothing about it (though their internet browsers know better). For me, porn is a serious topic that I critique, and it is also my field of study. I focus on the academic details in my columns, reviews, interviews, and blogs. Not on the sex or the way it makes me feel. What I do alone when watching it for pleasure is very different from what I include in my reviews.

Though the media informs us that adult entertainment is "mainstream" and that our culture is becoming "pornified," the topic of personal relationships to porn is still taboo. The space that yawns between what we do and what we say is so empty and quiet that other spaces have opened around it. There is the space between what consumers think about porn stars and what porn stars are really like, the expanse between pornographic sex and private sex, the distance between porn bodies and "real" bodies, the divide between what we think of as the "typical" porn user (indubitably male, balding, overweight) and a real porn user (you, your family, your coworkers), the long corridor we imagine stretching between performers and consumers. All of these spaces are virtually empty of honest discussion. They are dark, and, as dark places often are, they are scary.

I sensed that there was something about my particular situation in all of this that was compelling, some reason that I was the one people kept turning to with questions and ideas. Though I am hesitant to step into the center of all those creepy, dark spaces and call for attention, I have realized in thinking about this that I am already here. With one foot in and one foot out of the porn industry as a journalist, I turn one way to chat with porn insiders, but I turn the other way to answer friends' questions about the logistics of DPs. I am solidly in the dim space between sides, and it is because I occupy this chasm that people gravitate to me with questions, concerns, stories, and ideas—like this show.

It occurred to me that people who ask me questions, tell me their fantasies, request interviews, and send me movies for review are all looking at me because they see me as the middle ground I occupy. I can, they hope, translate their fears and desires across a great distance to the "other side." But there is no other side. We are all tangled up together in our one common thread: the consent we give to being part of pornography. Whether we make porn, watch porn, love porn, or hate porn, we are all enmeshed in it. An industry that makes billions more than America's largest sports industries, that has produced an estimated 370 million videos that now exist on the internet, that dominates a solid quarter of our web searches, surely ties us together more tightly than religion, politics, activism, or—it's true—art. The sheer numbers tell the story of our involvement. More of us watch porn than any other form of entertainment, and we are all taking something away from it, whether it be orgasm or our entire understanding of sex. Everyone who takes part has given consent in so doing. The performers consent to do the things you watch them do; the directors consent to film them; the crew consents to get in there with cameras and lights; the editors consent to chop out the not-as-sexy bits; the distributors and websites consent to carry the material; and you, dear consumer, consent to watch it, and to wank to it. Lots of people along the way got off on it. Not everyone enjoyed it. But we all did it. And the tie that binds us is our knowing, willing consent in taking part in the whole cycle. So now, let's consent to thinking about it—unraveling some of the knots we have tied and take a look around our common ground.

Consent is my attempt to turn up the lights in the space I occupy by documenting and presenting what the world looks like from my point of view. I've brought together conversations with the "insiders" and the "outsiders," footage from the movies I've reviewed, images of my friends and colleagues in the industry, and my very own porn collection, sourced from my years of being given review material. I want to show you what my empty space is like, and invite everyone to join me in here. It's really not so scary. We are all in this together, to get our rocks off somehow, and by reading this essay or wandering through this exhibit, you're more a part of it than ever.

Lynsey G © 2012

Special thanks to: Joseph Conroy, video editor
Additional thanks to: Tristan Taormino, Madison Young, Brian S. Gross, C. Batts Fly, Jeremy Seiller, and Kelly Shibari

  • artists:
    Brittany Andrews
    Sinnamon Love
    Oriana Small
    Nyomi Banxxx
    Cindy Gallop
    Madison Young
    Mr. Marcus
    April Flores
    Daniel Reilly
    Lux Alptraum
    Danny Wylde
    Kelly Shibari
    Natasha Starr
    Lynsey G.
Lynsey G, sometimes known as Miss Lagsalot (and a few other, more ridiculous, pseudonyms), is a writer, thinker, and porn critic operating in New York City. She splits her smutty scribblings between DVD reviews, set copy, sex toy reviews, performer interviews, "sexpert" advice, think-y analysis and criticism, and memoir-like musings in SFW publications like McSweeney's Internet Tendency, WHACK! Magazine, her blog conflicted eXXistence,The Whiskey Dregs literary journal, and The New York Poetry Brothel, as well as a few NSFW outlets like Madison Young's TheWomansPOV and some very "dirty" printed magazines.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the National Endowment for the Arts, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, The Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.