What’s the value of pornography? Feminists have notably tackled this question, as two “camps” are often formed between anti-pornography and sex-positive feminists. The former usually frames pornography as the circulation of violent images against women. The latter usually understands pornography as moving away from puritanism to examine the political and social import of desire and pleasure. These debates have come to be known as the feminist sex wars of the late 1970s and early 1980s, with reverberations well into today.
Mette Ingvartsen’s to come (extended) not only revisits these debates, but also animates them with contemporary concerns surrounding the oversaturation of sexualized images in today’s digital culture alongside the experience economy. Although it is certainly of value to consider these changes within today’s mediated society, I find that her work is most important for how it helps us revisit the sex wars.
to come (extended) is part of Ingvartsen’s larger series, The Red Pieces. In this series, the artist reconsiders sex and pornography as not solely about the private individual. Instead, she helps us grapple with sex and pornography as always inherently public. In this vein, the choreographer reframes the porn wars by directing us to the ways both sides overlap in their focus on desire as individualized: will the individual reproduce the violence seen in pornography (à la anti-pornography logic) or will the individual have access to pleasure which has historically been governed for femme subjects (à la sex-positivists)?
Ingvartsen, however, renders sex and desire public. She uses performance and the space of the theatre to make sex a commodity that we consume as viewers. However, rather than simply reproducing the normalized aesthetics of pornographic displays that dominate public culture and media, she uses choreography to amplify porn to a point of absurdity. Through the cacophonous music, the orgiastic display of bodies, the bouncing around of multiple body parts, and the changing of partners, sex is displayed in its hyperreal form.
The value of pornography then is that as a spectacle, it helps us track public logics and feelings. Ingvartsen’s work locates desire in not only individual pleasure, but also larger structures. Put differently, sex is economic. If economics is the study of the production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services, then Ingvartsen might be understood to be an economist of sex. Her works examine how sex has come to be produced, consumed, and distributed.
Hentyle Yapp is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Public Policy at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and an affiliated faculty with Performance Studies, Comparative Literature, the Asian/Pacific/American Institute, and the Disability Studies Council.