The Project Room, curated by Diego Sileo, exhibits the work of artist Silvia Giambrone SEXUALLY EXPLICIT CONTENT.
"Receiving a ‘dick pic’ is not considered much these days. It happens everyday to many people (women and men) and it seems it has almost become a social phenomenon that is not even considered outrageous anymore as we are so domesticated to pornography that we tend to forget it is eventually a harassment what we are talking about.
The stalker I’ve had for more than a year sent me 46 videos of himself masturbating and wrote horribly gross things to me. When telling people about that I realized just a few of them took what was happening seriously. Most of them joked about it as this was not a serious matter. To change that I’ve decided to ask some intellectuals and writers I highly appreciate to write a short text about my stalker’s videos as he was a visual artist and that was his body of works. I think that using this conceptual détournement will paradoxically lead to approach the dick pic as something to be considered more carefully and to better ponder the cultural and relational implications and impact it has on people’s realities." Silvia Giambrone
Sexually Explicit Content premieres Silvia Giambrone’s new work: a very strong, violent and disturbing video installation that recounts an episode of sexual harassment via web towards the artist. “Receiving a ‘dick pic’,” the artist writes, “no longer seems to scandalise anyone. It happens daily to so many people, men and women, and it seems to have become a social phenomenon that hardly causes a stir since – being so used to pornographic images – we forget that photographs and videos of this kind are, on closer inspection, real sexual harassment. The stalker I’ve had for more than a year sent me 46 videos of himself masturbating and wrote horribly gross things to me.” We therefore asked several intellectuals and writers to come up with a short text about the videos sent by the stalker as if they were the body of a work
of art and he was a video artist, or even a broader reflection on the power of pornographic images in our society, thinking about them more carefully, especially with regards to the cultural and relational implications and impact they have on people’s realities.
If we watch the 46 videos one after the other, in an ongoing and exhausting marathon that penetrates the linguistic possibilities of the contemporary lexicon of desire, we are led to wonder – as we feel intensely destabilised – if the Author of this body of works is actually an Artist, or a common stalker. And also if these overlapping planes of reality (the haziness between being a creator of art or a serial molester) were, in fact, among the Author’s intentions. A complex challenge for anyone observing this anthology of masturbation, as – between doubts and disgust – we find ourselves catapulted into a minefield where the subject’s ambiguities yield to new questions. The monotony of the set-up, the repetition of the act, the predictability of coitus would all take shape as acts and signs handy for a shift in thought which aims to lead the conversation towards its most drastic consequences. That is, viewing these videos as works of art because, ultimately, such is the art market in the era of hyper-technological capitalism: new devices, social media, sex. Thus, the Artist finds himself staging and criticising the very System in which he acts. After all, he lives anonymously, like a common stalker, limiting himself to sending his works to private addresses, as if they were the streets of a residential area and he were a graffiti artist ready to mark its walls with his strokes. His name no longer matters; anonymity is a protective shield, capitalism keeps finding new ways to create profits.
However, we still need to ascertain just what the Artist is communicating, and to whom. What we are shown in each of the 46 works is the flaunted exposure of his sex – clenched, crushed, shaken, enclosed in a suffocating shot that creates a pained picture which, as Giovanni Lindo Ferretti would say, represents «a sad erection, for a humble and harassing coitus». Sadness, humility, harassment: the Supreme Trimūrti of desire in the era of social media. These videos tend to reveal a disastrous desire, and whether it is by choice or necessity is of secondary importance. Against this very backdrop of obstinate misery, the operation is inscribed as the ultimate metaphor of the suicide of desire. The repetition of squalor as the only possible way to link distant parts of life, squalor as stigmata of a Zeitgeist, the 46 videos as pages in the journal of a complete failure, with no possible redemption because it is fully accepted. The staging of the act, in its similarity in every frame, reveals how these shots are actually moments stolen from another life, from another existence made up of other relationships, commitments, realities. And this is the true constant spanning all the videos. It weighs a tonne, and the weight is all there: in the blurry, shaky shots, in the misery of the same bare interior chosen as a set, in the sounds that unfold like a symphony of degradation. A cork falling, a groan more similar to a wound than to a hint of pleasure, a rasping, post-coital breath that the Author (blindly following the grammar of pornography) does not hold back but, rather, exaggerates. Because this is what he must do according to the System of desire within which he moves. His pleasure must be shown off, as must his fulfilment; it is what the world expects from him. Thus, by following the basest stereotypes, this extravagant staging of masturbation celebrates the death of desire. That is why, both during and after viewing, we are left feeling dirty – as pathetic as the fraying in the pyjamas mercilessly framed by the mobile video camera. Signs showing that the Author is a loser, especially from the perspective of creating imagery. In the end, what these 46 videos suggest – in the face of a commodified desire captive to market rules – is a series of inexorable questions: Who are we? Are we men or corporals? Artists or perverts? The images end, desire is absent, the screen turns off and, against an insuppressibly squalid backdrop, we receive no answers.
I became an artist thanks to my dick. Or rather, the artist, in the words of the critic who publicly commented on the videos I took on my mobile of myself masturbating. During the pandemic, I’d sent the videos to a woman who made me hot-blooded, as a friend of mine says when he likes someone. Before, the expression always sounded kind of strange to me. But the moment I saw her, I finally understood it; I felt it deep inside. But she never answered my videos, and I wondered how she could be unmoved by such devotion. As if she didn’t see my offerings as a series of love “letters”. And now – she’s an artist too, but I only found out later – she’s apparently decided to make an art installation out of them, to free herself from the violence of the images (or so she says). Apparently, though, the critic tasked with writing about this work was so struck by the “crude poetry” innervating my videos that he really wanted to meet me. When we met, he started talking about how my performances brought back the terrible loneliness our bodies felt during lockdown. The suffering of absence. And how the more or less identical shot represented an explosive narrative device within the forced dimension of the mobile phone screen. A hypnotic series of videos with no way out. An obsessive act on par – according to the critic – with the never-changing rituals defining the perfect machine of abuse and pleasure described by the Marquis de Sade. He may be right. After all, there has to be some reason why I’m the artist who has best portrayed the lockdown experience. I’m ok with that. But she never answered me.
Creeps are too many to remember but each girl knows their first and last. Number one for me was Train Grandpa. Heading home from a Zagreb rave.
No sleep or food in two days. By the time I saw his dick in his hands, the drugs kept me from standing. The trees passed as he finished. Outside was mercifully grey. The construction workers across from my building would watch me change. I didn’t know I had blinds so I’d wave. Emails rolled in from an unknown man.
He said he liked my pajamas. A boy I brought home closed my shades. They were ancient, heavy, wooden. Even through the dark, emails came. Angry I’d hid, he found me. Look, it sucks being followed home from bars by boys you don’t even want. When I told the cops I felt scared they said call back, “when someone gets hurt.” Hearing the usual footsteps one night, I turned, exhausted. “If I give you what you want, will you go away?” He nodded. I led him into the basement and he kept his word.
Why shouldn’t my body be a work of art? So what if I never paint, don’t sculpt, can’t write music or poetry. Everything I have is near to me, it is me. Every day I look online and see body after body, naked, writhing, pretending, acting, squirming for likes, pouting. I hate them. I hate these bodies and their need for admiration.
So venal, so public. They don’t even care who sees them!
When I send my works of art to you, I am dedicating my whole self to one person. You. My body is a work of art, and when I move it I think of you. Of course, I get excited, but this is only because I am thrilled to be performing for this most exquisite of audiences, you, alone, just you.
I know my body isn’t perfect, but I figure that we’re all broken by the world. I know that you are an artist too, so you’ll under- stand. You understand the need, the compulsion, to create. And more than this, you’ll understand what it means to be in touch with desire, and the line that separates us from the beasts. Of course, we all play with it, this line. When I play with myself, I’m playing with you. It wouldn’t be fair if only one of us gets to be an artist, would it?
The desire to be seen. A popular theory says that rape isn’t about sex but, rather, that rape (the desire and point of rape) is the assertion of power. I basically disagree, because I believe that normal sex is about power. I also believe that – at some point – rape is about sex. But that’s not what I wanted to say here. Indecent exposure is related to sex, but also to the desire to be seen. The desire to be looked at. Just like rape and like sex, which are also related to the primeval, elemental desire to be seen. The desire to attract attention; the wish that other people be forced to recognise our presence no matter what – at all costs, even their own.
It’s horrifying, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something touching about this boy saying look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me mama look at me. The word isn’t touching at all – it’s a mixture of scorn and tenderness, some- thing akin to pity. I know where the tenderness – the tenderness it arouses
in me – comes from, and I apologise in advance. I write: I don’t approve of what this man is doing, but I understand.
Feminism may have come a long way in its fight against the sexual assaults us women are usually subjected to by men. It may have won several battles, but the journey isn’t over yet, and we can’t lower our guard. There are many ways to violate us, not all of them physical. The act of violation has a strong psychological factor; a person can definitely be assaulted through the non-consensual showing of body parts or sexual acts. It’s odd how society tends to underestimate the “dick pic” phenomenon, as if seeing an unwanted penis weren’t so serious. But it is. Any non-consensual sexual act is a form of rape, even if we want to believe that it is an unimportant minor incident, a game, something even funny. There is no hierarchy in gender violence: every small act – every contribution to our suffering – counts, adds up, accumulates. And this tangle of “minor” aggressions ends up generating femicides which respond to the same rationale: our bodies are not our own, they belong to the patriarchy and men can do what they want with and to us.
¡Basta ya! Enough is enough!
Watching the artist’s autoeroticism video brought to mind Seedbed, the extraordinary performance by American artist Vito Acconci (Vito Hannibal Acconci, 1940–2017). A revolutionary work presented in January 1972 at the Sonnabend Gallery, where visitors could hear Acconci’s erotic fantasies amplified by speakers while the artist was hidden masturbating under the wooden floor of the exhibition space.
Like several other renowned perfor- mances of the time, the act hinges on the participation of the visitors to create a mutual exchange between them and the artist. The main goal of this specific performance was to spread seed. Acconci had to become aroused in order to do so; thus the declamation of his sexual fantasies. Despite the parallel drawn between these two works, both focusing on the practice of male autoeroticism, the difference – both qualitative and disturb- ing – leaps out, although both mirror the historical moment in which they were created. Explicitly sexual and subversive in nature, the performance at the Sonnabend Gallery was the product of the hippy ideology and of the sexual freedom demanded by young people belonging to the generation that had revolutionised society and customs. Despite actively performing this act of autoeroticism, Vito Acconci did not show himself to visitors, who were only involved through sound. The absence of the act itself (which could only be imagined) served as a trigger because, as we all know, there is nothing more erotic than something that is hinted at but never actually shown. On the other hand, not only does the artist concerned (in an extreme and utter act of narcissism) wish to visually involve visitors in his masturbation; by pointing the camera at his penis, he also transforms his erect member – which he is constantly rubbing – into the protagonist of the work. A voyeuristic act that fits right in with the present day, when our existence is unfortunately measured through followers and likes. This act is repeated by the artist – more or less identically – across a series of forty-six videos, and this repetition makes it unconvincing from both a formal and a conceptual perspective. The number forty-six has no specific meaning; it is neither a lot nor a little. It would have been another thing altogether to force the act – to make it obsessive and rhythmical like a daily ritual so as to produce a more intellectually interesting work. For example, a daily journal of his masturbation, thus transforming it into an identity practice and elevating onanism to art.
However, in his excess of narcissistic self-satisfaction, the artist did not hit the mark, killing any form of eros with a work more reminiscent of amateur pornography than of art.
SILVIA GIAMBRONE, who both lives and works between Rome and London, works about both the physical and invisible evidence of the strong connection between violence and the ‘subjectification’ process. She won the 2019 VAF Award, the most important prize for young Italian artists. She is an ambassador for Kaunas European City of Culture 2022.
Some of her exhibitions include: W Women in Italian Design, Triennale Design Museum, Milan (2016); Corpo a corpo, La Galleria Nazionale, Rome (2017); Terra mediterranea: in action, NiMAC, Nicosia, Cyprus (2017); Wall-eyes. Looking at Italy and Africa, Keynes Art Mile, Johannesburg, South Africa (2019); VIII Premio Fondazione VAF, Mart, Rovereto (2019); VIII Premio Fondazione VAF, Stadtgalerie Kiel, Germany (2019); Sovvertimenti, Museo Novecento, Florence (2019); Nobody’s room. Anzi, parla, Museo del Novecento, Milan (2020); I say I, La Galleria Nazionale, Rome (2021); Hall of Shadows, Dior show FW2021, Versailles Castle, France (2021); Mascarilla 19 – Codes of domestic violence, LOOP Festival, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, Spain (2021); Mascarilla 19 – Codes of domestic violence, Castello di Rivoli, Rivoli (2021); Reclaiming and Making: Art, Desire, Violence, Museum Of Sex, New York, USA (2022); Blow-up Arthouse Film Festival, Chicago, USA (2022); INTERTWINGLED – The role of the Rugs in Art, Craft and Design, La Galleria Nazionale, Rome (2022); Fine Arts Festival 2022, Los Angeles, USA (2022); Female Feedback Film Festival, Los Angeles / Toronto, USA / Canada (2022); Mill of performing Art, Larissa, Greece (2022); San Francisco Arthouse Festival, USA (2022); Accolade Global Film Festival, Los Angeles, USA (2022); Ediplay International Film Festival, Paris, France (2022); London Indie Short Film Festival, UK (2022); World of Film International Festival, Glasgow, UK (2022); Florida shorts, USA (2022); Some things, Nicola Del Roscio Foundation, Rome (2022); Turning Pain into Power, Kunst Meran, Meran (2022); Sensei Tokyo filmfest, Japan (2023); Tokyo Film Award, Japan (2023); Reise nach Italien, Goethe house, Rome (2023) ; You owe me one, Prometeo Gallery, Milan (2023); Cinequest Film & VR Festival, San Jose, USA (2023); Sexually Explicit Content, PAC Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan (2023).
Maria Luisa Frisa
Diana J. Torres
Contextus, We Translate Art
(Mirta Cimmino, Daniela Innocenti)