Cinema X: I Like to Watch
Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art - Toronto
Curated by Paco Barragán
By Camilla Singh
The collision of emerging erotic practices against the grip of religious morality compels us to re-educate ourselves about human sexuality without prejudice. Paco Barragán’s iconoclastic exhibition “Cinema X: I Like To Watch” challenges the prevailing sexual mores. He supports his call for a new paradigm by showcasing ten video works displaying notions of sex, sexuality and eroticism, subjects perennially mired in taboo and anxiety.
The exhibition opens with a seductive invocation of mature female sexuality in Erwin Olaf’s video Wet. A woman’s voyeurism of a young man showering becomes a mutually libidinous exchange. As each frame of the video teases the erotic out of the moment, the antiquated notion that women are sexually redundant after childbearing age is refuted
The single character in Dani Marti’s video The Stamp Collector portrays both the intimacy and alienation of connecting with online sexual subcultures where sexual proclivities can be cocooned in anonymity and distanced from social stigmatization. In contrast, Bruce LaBruce’s porn cult-classic No Skin Off My Ass, an iconoclastic sort of gay remake of Robert Altman’s That Cold Day In The Park, takes us back 19 years, intimating a historical context of balls-out sexual activism for the exhibition.
The subtitle “I Like To Watch” took on new meanings as I watched an hour’s worth of faceless masturbating Cuban men in Santiago Sierra’s potently oppressive video Ten People Paid for Masturbating. Sierra enlisted ten men to sit alone in a room and masturbate in front of a crotch-level video camera, each to be paid twenty dollars upon completion. Eight succeeded, all ten were shown. To survey this desperate tugging and slapping of flesh, waiting for a deep swell to rise, and kind of sensing when that might happen, is to witness the psychological transition from reality to fantasy materialized as semen in a capitalist structure.
Regina José Galindo subjects her own body to hymenoplasty, a cosmetic surgical procedure that reconstructs the hymen, a thin membrane partially covering the entrance to the vagina. An intact hymen has no known function, is easily torn and bears no relationship with virginity or sexual activity. Yet the pressure to surgically reconstruct one’s genitals for marketability as a bride or in sex trafficking rings promotes anxiety, uncertainty, self-hatred and shame in women.
The exploitative shame that plagues Sierra’s and Galindo’s videos is passed like a torch into the poetic and disturbing video Everybody by Steve Reinke and Jessie Mott, where a group of animals take us on a tour of postmodern fears and desires. Carlos Aires mixes shaky-cam footage of backroom sex and a haunted house, both shot using the green-hued, glowing eyes infrared camera setting in Mister Hyde, but to what effect? As collected footage, it forms an impressive document, but the allusion of barebacking in tandem with images of funhouse death masks edges toward a courageous conversation that is left unattended. Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkacova disrupt the idea of what is essential to mainstream heterosexual porn when they star in a porn video, fully clothed, assuming both the male and female positions.
Rouge, a second video by Erwin Olaf, is a highly fetishized, football-derived interaction involving three men and one woman set in a red room, with the partial bathhouse-like walls inviting voyeurism; a visual embodiment of elaborate sexual fantasies and erotic practices.
The exhibition was part of Toronto’s annual Images Festival at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art just weeks before a contentious debate erupted over the implementation of Ontario’s revised sexual education curriculum in public schools. The curriculum was to provide a more accurate introduction to the adolescents’ world but it was abruptly aborted by public outcry.
Sexual evolution is an inextricable component of human experience. This exhibition skillfully challenges us to consider whether the acceptance of a sexual behavior implies identification with it.
(April 2 - 11, 2010)
Camilla Singh is an art critic based in Toronto, Canada.
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