The erotic world, freed from the stigmas of guilt and repression is a powerful path to self-discovery. Our erotic sexual lives are not to be discouraged or discounted as nothing more than sensory stimulation, ego gratification and pursuit of orgasm. It can be the road to erotic connections, psychosexual liberation, to fantasy and excitement, to living our dreams, to erotic transcendence. It may even help us heal our mind/body split.
CYBEROTICA MANIFESTO WALL TEXT
Wall Text for CYBEROTICA ART SHOW,
Wynwood, Miami, Art Basel Dec. 4-7, 2003
Forbidden Fruits and Technoshamanism
Iona Miller and Bob Judd
Technoshamanism is the process of altering consciousness through technology. It implies using the artistic, psychosexual, healing and mind altering techniques of ancient shamanism combined with modern technologies for altering consciousness, culture, and the holistic mindbody.
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"Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is” man" in a higher sense -- he is 'collective man' -- one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic life of mankind.”
-C. G. Jung
Beyond the Forbidden
Are there things we should not know? There are many responses to the impulse toward experience. We pass through the essential stage of experience on the way to wisdom. But it remains a stage, not an end in itself.
Religion generally answers yes to the question, while philosophy answers no. Sex, death, and religion are the three taboos to question. They are also the most interesting subjective experiences to examine.
Freud contrasted sex and death as Eros and Thanatos. Are there things we shouldn’t know about the erotic impulse? Are there things we shouldn’t know about the relationship of death and religion? Sex and death are givens of our existence, and so is the spiritual instinct. Experiential awareness of these domains is gnosis, direct knowing.
If no one is allowed to venture into the forbidden we cannot know what it is like. No one is allowed to talk about, or represent it. It becomes a dirty secret, surrounded by fear and shame.
Adopting this forbidden spirit, we even begin to hide this side of our nature -- our fantasies and dreams -- from ourselves. The next step is to condemn, ridicule, even fear ourselves. Then we exile ourselves from ourselves, recreating the so-called result of Original Sin, kicking ourselves out of the garden of earthly delights.
With this mindset, passion is twisted and turned toward anything around us that threatens to expose this hidden reality of who we are, what we want, how we dream, and what we desire. Is this self-denial not the true perversion of the human spirit?
Where is the freedom in sexual dictatorship, in rigid political and religious morality? There are many forms of masochism, and wherever there is a masochist there is likely to be a sadist or persecutor. We play this game with ourselves, splitting ourselves into judge and victim, repressing the exploration of our own erotic limits. How dare we even think these things?
Life becomes split in two, into false polarities and we are forced to choose sides: good/evil; proper/improper; rational/emotional; light/dark; order/chaos; madonna/whore; heterosexual/homosexual; self/other; mind/body; sane/sick. We embrace a false self when we learn to blindly accept one or the other. To become whole we need to consciously carry the tension of the opposites.
All sexual things become polarized as we are taught to choose the approved pole over the other, once and for all. If we do, we are praised, accepted, admired; if we don’t we are condemned, ridiculed, exiled to the underworld, the erotic frontier. Shame and fear can torture as surely as any pain inflicted on the body.
It is important we hear directly from these frontiers, no matter how we react to erotic perspectives different from our own. Our minds have been programmed with toxic shame and moral strictures that seek to preserve parental, spousal, and religious power. When sexual stories are depicted accurately, we can separate the reality of erotic exploration from the confines of our cultural conditioning that reinforces our fear of the unknown.
Knowledge of these frontiers, and our personal “edge,” helps us make informed choices about our erotic lives. Since the sexual revolution, the parameters of acceptable erotic behavior have steadily expanded, multiplying our erotic options.
Yesterday’s fringe activity is today’s simple recreation, a matter of entertainment, fashion and fun, rather than perversity. There is an on-going revolution in sex-role mores. Who is to say what is a politically-incorrect dream?
The controversial sexual world becomes one where we work out our issues of power, trust, vulnerability, shame, and the nature of sensation. These issues are important pathways to personal growth and increased self-awareness. There is a thrill in moving toward our fear, toward and beyond our boundaries, shattering our cherished notions. It allows us to see and be seen in much more than a voyeuristic way.
Erotic power and trust are always the issues, whether in romantic relationships, marriage, the fetish and bondage scene, or even S&M. Love is not the only “tie that binds,” and some prefer to act out that metaphorical relationship quite literally. Perhaps they are merely “dreaming out loud” what some of us cannot even allow ourselves to consider. In that sense, they carry or embody our cultural “shadow” side, our unlived potential.
Sex (and erotic art) is always political not only because of gender issues, but also more fundamentally because of power. Political correctness aside, polarized dynamics require one another to play out. Thus, the dominator becomes essentially the slave of the submissive who is needed for the other to feel and express the urge to power. One validates the other.
Thus, not all working relationships are based on equality, but on finding a suitable match psychologically. Whether sexual preferences are “right” or “wrong” is not necessarily for others to say. Who grants or withholds the permission for such exploration and multiplication of erotic delights? Erotic play can be “edgy” without being emotionally toxic.
The erotic world, freed from the stigmas of guilt and repression is a powerful path to self-discovery. Our erotic sexual lives are not to be discounted or discounted as nothing more than sensory stimulation, ego gratification and pursuit of orgasm. It can be the road to erotic connections, psychosexual liberation, to fantasy and excitement, to living our dreams, to erotic transcendence. It may even help us heal our mind/body split.
Ties to the Past
This confrontation, moving toward the fear and pain wherever it occurs, brings us close to the core of our transformative process --“ the essentially sacred dimension of life. The root of the word religion is “religio” which means to yoke or to bind back. Do we need to point out that this can also be another form of “bondage”?
Before philosophy and the dogma and dictates of religion, before forbidden knowledge and forbidden fruit, there was shamanism. Shamanism is the primordial spirituality of humankind. Evidence of our spiritual evolution is at least 50,000 years old.
Shamanic beliefs and practices are implied by the earliest ritual burials and later the birth of art as a means of contact with or reflection of the spirit world. Art is philosophy expressed in symbols and imagery. For the sensation function, art serves the same purpose that science does for thinking. Other analogies for art include philosophy and psychology for the intuitive function, and the emotions of human society for feelings.
Traditional shamanism is still practiced throughout the world, particularly in third-world countries, which might more properly be referred to as first-world countries. Shamanism has enjoyed a resurgence, explicit and implicit in postmodern culture. Its idiosyncratic nature is well suited to the zeitgeist of our age, which has deconstructed and rejected all meta-narratives.
The drive to directly experience the inner realm of being is universal and reflected in the myriad ways the majority of human cultures find to incubate alternative phases of consciousness. In the shamanic worldview, art is not separate from transformative magic.
Technoshamanism is the interactive integration of futuristic technology with ancient pathways of the past. As an artform, it implies access to full-immersion experiences, virtual realities that have consequences in the real world.
This gnostic experience for the new millennium explores the final frontier: the untapped powers of the human mind. It means dancing through the doors of perception into the hyper-spatial realities of the unfettered collective imagination.
The world of the shaman is the world of the spirits, psi powers, psychic phenomena, initiation, altered states, dreams, death, rebirth, and healing. It is the irrational realm of body, faith, trust, and belief.
Shamanism reveals the uncanny world of superstition, disruption, dissolution, intuition, mysticism, transcendence, psychedelia, cosmic consciousness. It shows the polarities of Dionysian and Apollonian spirit: sex and madness vs. conventionality, intellect, morality, and dogma.
Technoshamanism is also the world of what we can call extrasensory science. We can bridge the archaic and modern with cutting edge science and art, which dares to trespass into the forbidden realms. We can play the human sensorium with modulated electromagnetic energy.
We can move shamanically through our blocks by heading directly into the fear and pain, which are the doorways to our transformation and head chaotically toward the creative Source. This is the shamanic journey. It is a restructuring process that dissolves old, outworn forms, and fosters spontaneously emergent new images and manifestations.
Technoshamanism is a voyage into the holographic matrix of experience, reflecting both our tribal heritage and global citizenship. In mythology Prometheus, staling fire from the gods, represents the archetypal technological man.
Arguably, two defining characteristics of the modern age, icons of our times, are the omnipresence of the Promethean spirit and the pervasiveness of sexuality and its imagery, soft and hardcore pornography.
But even more important and fundamental is the power of imagination and passion, pathos. We can each tap the spirit of Prometheus and Promethea, grasping our share of the fire of the gods, taking a bite of the forbidden fruit.
Neuro-tica as Fetish
Our modern culture is bombarded with an overload of hypersexualized imagery, both idealized and bluntly realistic. It transports us out of the mundane into the surreal. It is clearly noticeable, even raised to cult status in such subcultures as multimedia, haute couture, gaming, cyberculture, the gay community, the fetish world, and bondage scene. Sexuality spans the spectrum of highbrow and lowbrow artistic expression. We have accessorized our quest for erotic gratification.
Sex has become even more of what it always was “ a hot commodity. Harnessed, the erotic image becomes a potent penetrator of the neural nets of the observer, subtly affecting and rearranging biochemical makeup. This is the compulsive arousing power and penetrating eroticism of the fetish, it’s symbolic value, its fecundity or fertilizing power.
Cutting-edge art is fetishistic in that it connotes an object regarded as having magical power, eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect and devotion, even a psychosexual response or fixation. It exerts a push-pull attraction, fearsomely fascinating yet simultaneously repulsive to the conventional sensibility. Still, it has the tremendous ability to lure us.
The erotic drive challenges us boldly to go where we ourselves have never gone before, into unexplored territory. And how we yearn to be seized, to lose that emotional control, surrendering to erotic catharsis: the sense of awesomeness, ravishment, rapture. It keeps us intoxicated, coming back for more.
This fetishistic power is clearly visible in the various denominations of the virtually religious cult of the art world. Sex sells, but does it sell art? Not necessarily, even though provocative art invokes this archetypal power even more strongly than representational or “safe” art.
However, “safe art” is a bit like “safe sex” it isn’t very “wet.” It hangs over the couch hardly worthy of mentioning. It may be easier to live with in the living room, like an old partner. Still, it lacks the seductive power, fantasy, risk, juice, tension, fire, renewal, and mystery of a new lover.
Curiously, often the less explicitly sexual an image is, the more erotic it becomes through the power of suggestion. What is important is its power to mobilize imagination, to intimate unfathomable depths, the Unknown and perhaps unknowable. Yet, often things are not what they seem. Image does not always match reality, nor should we confuse the artist and the art.
In modern parlance, we might think of playing the hot-wiring of the human neural system as “neuro-tica,” (a hybrid of neural erotica, manipulating the pleasure centers). Neuro-tica, the ambient sexual background, combines both elements of transformative spirit and the libidinous power of the erotic, our instinctual drives. Ideally, it collapses those polarities in a powerful subjective experience. Sensory overload leads to paradoxical transcendental release.
Freud informed us that all human energy is sexual energy, and Jung expanded that notion redefining it as psychosexual energy, since the mind is the most potent of all sexual organs. In the east it has been called the life force (chi, prana) or serpent power, Kundalini, spanning the spectrum of expression from sexual to illuminative.
Jung observed that every creative person could be considered a "duality or a synthesis of contradictory attitudes," a unique human with a personal life, but also the carrier of an impersonal creative process. The artist's creative achievement cannot be accounted for by an examination of his personal psychology.
Joseph Campbell states, “The creative mythology of the modern artists arises when the individual has an experience of his own -- of order, or horror, or beauty -- that he tries to communicate by creating a private mythology. So it is the creative individual who must give us a totally new type of nontheological revelation, who must be the new spiritual guide.”
There is always the puer complex [eternal child] at work motivating the artist, as well as an element of narcissism. The artist has a love relationship with the image of himself, which is projected onto the performance, canvas, print or screen.
Both imaginal art and archetypal thought enliven the world of fantasy and imagination, by turning vision inward. They are a release from the literalization of object-orientation. They take the psychic energy, which normally flows outward, and turn it in.
In order for the values of, let's say the archetypes of anima or animus, to be incorporated into the personality of the artist, he or she must assimilate the psychological significance of their own work, in a self-fertilizing movement.
Dynamic feedback from the creation influences the creator and informs the process. Otherwise, the creative urge may be just another way of projecting one's inner reality into the outer world. This integration does not always happen spontaneously to the artist. If this were so, every great artist or poet would be a self-realized individual. History has shown different.
Discipline is not the only distinction between the true artist and the dabbler or dilettante. To subject oneself to hard work and the evaluation of one's fellow man is no small accomplishment. The development of artistic insight rather than an externalization of one's specific neurosis is another. One must combine the innate curiosity and vitality of youth with the maturity and dedication of experience.
Joseph Campbell sees creative artistic work as a "response to the need to escape from danger and chaos and find some new security." This inner quest repeats the main theme of the hero monomyth. “Further development of consciousness leads the artist to acute perception. He no longer simply reflects the collective values, he is now free to criticize them.”
Campbell states, "...the world of the artist or the intellectual must be fierce, accurate in its judgment of the fault in a person or society. But along side this judgment there must be affirmation and compassion. What is important is to keep the dissonance between judgment and compassion."
Under the influence of shamanic spirit, we may attain direct transpersonal experience that vivifies multiple realities. Shamanism means mastery of the sensorium, the symbolic world. The World Soul becomes embodied Eros, illuminative, and informs our existence, giving life to spirit. Cyberspace is buzzing with ELF machine Logos: the 60-cycle Om.
Artist as Shamanic Personality
To the extent that the shamanic personality (like any artist) has great power, he or she penetrates deeply into the basic roots of the structuralizing process, and brings that symbolic information back. In the realm of “metaphorms” our brain images reality and the universe in its own structural terms. This surreal vision attempts to portray the working of the subconscious mind.
The future is being created in the imagination of the now. Herein lies the tremendous power of both art and invention. All the symbolic iconography of the ages is perpetually recycled and morphed at warp speed, and the vanguard senses that breakthrough is near.
In Creation Myths, Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz says, “ ...these four factors -- originality, consistency, intensity, and subtlety, [show] the differences between someone who has creative fantasies and someone who is only spinning neurotic nonsense...the continuity of devotion an individual is capable of giving his fantasy is very important and shows the difference between someone who is gifted with creative fantasy and somebody sucked into sterile unconscious material.”
Shamanic personalities work at the creative edge of chaos where it is often difficult to distinguish spiritual emergence from spiritual emergency, bloom from doom, breakdown from breakthrough. Technoshamanism is connecting contemporary society with the mythic roots of humanity, warming it with electric fire.
The world's great performers and virtuosos of art, (the great painters, instrumentalists, vocalists, dancers, sculptors, photographers, writers, athletes, etc.), all need the skills which come only from excited concentration on an activity for long periods. No other type can mobilize what virtuosity takes: untold hours of continuous action. In a sense they do not work, for work implies production, completion, and accomplishment.
They largely have no desire for closure, completion, finishing but are process-oriented. What ensues from action is mere product, mere outcome, mere result, and is incidental. The true artist’s "work" is essentially play, but with the dedication usually reserved for one’s beloved. The bliss of the process lies in the subjective flow state experienced during creation.
A more fundamental level of our existence is tangibly revealed; connection to Source erupts spontaneously. Shamanism is beyond time; it's a primal spirit. Anything that is created is linked into that spirit. Technology is the interface between what exists now and what is coming into existence.
We are all capable of transcendent awareness, of becoming shamans. The shaman is a shaman because he has been empowered by treading the road others wish to follow. The shaman is a symbol to others of their projection of a degree of personal insight, power, heart, and growth.
We can all make the journey between two worlds, exploring the “ancient-future” created in the here and now. Its legacy is always one of hope, understanding, and empowerment. Above all it means direct experiential connection to creative Source.
The shamanic principle is ubiquitous in art, religion, healing, and transpersonal activities simply because its activity is essential to neurocognitive and physiological development. The inner shaman is a percept that penetrates to our neurocognitive intentionalities: exploration of self and multiple worlds, transformation, and social flow.
Shamanism has enjoyed a resurgence in the West in a variety of forms including multimedia, raves, yoga, fen shui, martial arts, Tibetan Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Amazonian shamanism, fire-walking, trance dance, hypnosis, Sufism, Voodoo, and more. They connect us, calm our nerves, or inspire the soul, even heal the spirit.
An archetypal example of a highly developed technology is the Asklepian Dream Temples of ancient Greece. The afflicted went for cures through healing dream incubation when conventional medical treatments had failed. The cures came not from the priests or any interpretations, or even drama, but from immersive experience -- direct contact with the divine in the dream, an epiphany with the healing image.
The shaman lives at the threshold of the unconscious. A main characteristic of the liminal shamanic personality is living with a foot in each world, the conventional and supernatural. All these technologies, the hallmarks of modern culture, involve ritualistic forms for altering states of consciousness, with and without psychotropic drug plants. Art, of course, has been at the forefront all along, illustrating, creating and transforming worldviews.
Like traditional magick and ritual, these technologies rely heavily on accessing multisensory cues, emotions, dreams and imagination. They range from process to product, temporary rites of passage to stabilized lifestyles. They actively change us. This is the engine that engineers culture, it’s imaginative driving force.
Art and music have played a big role in emergence of this technoshamanic spirit, especially explicitly shamanic artists, such as performance artist and musician Genesis P-Orridge, of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and Thee Majesty. His outlandish role in magick, (Temple Ov Psychic Youth), psychedelics, sexual freedom, and organizing raves led to his being the first person exiled from his homeland England in 250 years.
There are many more examples, too numerous to mention. Electromagnetic means of altering consciousness have superseded chemical means. What matters is the quantum and electromagnetic modulation of the brain chemistry and neuronal circuits. We now have a fairly accurate map of what modulations control what subjective experiences.
Part of the artist's gift is his relative lack of adaptation to the values of "average" society. The artist is aloof from daily life, in a world of his or her own. Or, if they are close to the streets, they have a radically different perspective on things that produces unique vision.
Rodin, Picasso, and Dali are all examples of psychological "rugged individualism." An artisan has a trade; an artist lives an alternative lifestyle. It is impossible to analyze why this impulse occurs to one individual and not another.
The electronic occulture is dancing through the doors of perception into a hyperspatial reality. It is a pilgrimage into the mind out of time, the body out of space, and the universal spirit that beckons beyond.
This story is told through images -- ceremony and ritual, music and dance, sight and sound, science and religion. Written with living light, it fosters a reunion with the sacred, the Divine, the Other. Its church is in the temples -- the left and right temporal lobes. Its bell is the ringing radiance of the A-ha! moment. It is fueled by energized enthusiasm. Its altar is the Temple of Living Light, millions upon millions of screens, including our inner “screens.” We may be witnessing the creation of new species: Homo Mutans and Homo Lumen.
It hardly matters whether these technologies emerge from disciplines such as shamanism (inner journeys), hypnotherapy (neuralfeedback, frequency-following response), psychology (process work), psychiatry (neuropsychology), neurology (TMS; Persinger's 'Relaxit'; Murphy's 'Shakti', shock-ti; Dr. Gilula’s Alpha-Stim), mysticism (Tantra; meditation; trance dance), or anthropology (biogenetic structuralism).
The ends are often the same whether the aim is explicitly artistic, mystical, spiritual, psychosexual, or psychotherapeutic. The brain, or rather mindbody, is actively and intentionally driven toward the experiential creative edge and changed by the process.
Art communicates and transforms the destructive, isolating and individualizing effects of genetic difference. It channels them into a culturally informative mode. It brings the “outsider” in. The conventional is thus confronted and transformed in a non-threatening manner. Yet, the art itself may still be perceived as “unsafe,” pushing the observer to the edge, to psychological boundaries, as in the case of cyberotica or fetish art.
The apprehension of beauty leaves a physical “footprint” in the brain. Some people, such as artistic geniuses, are more receptive to aspects of imagery, forms, and color than others. This extra sensibility is called neuroaesthetics.
Their works reveal previously unforeseen neural pathways, elusive links to subjective states. Brain scientists like Vilayanur Ramachandran have conducted brain monitoring studies and identified eight essential rules for the perception of art. He claims his rules, including “less is more”, can predict which art movements will succeed, as they have broad-based neurological appeal.
Each brain center for form, motion, and color responds dramatically to strong, clear representations. Connecting things in seemingly unrelated ways, metaphorical linkage, is fundamental to artistic expression. Art allows the externalization of inner, subjective life in tangible images -- “meta-phorms.”
Ramachandran’s law of peak shift discloses that it’s not about representing or duplicating reality, but about hyperbole, exaggeration, and idealization. They create neural shortcuts, hypernormal stimuli that excite the relevant neurons, and liberate us from the tyranny of our particular viewpoint.
Logic can overpower blunt neuronal stimulation acting as a filter to pigeonhole, discount or judge art. However, at the neuronal level the brain still responds positively. The message still reaches the pleasure center.
Not all technologies necessarily involve hardware, wet ware or ars electronica, though in the future technoshamanism will undoubtedly evolve to include a variety of cybernetic enhancements. A range of related research (Charles Tart's altered states; John Lilly's sensory deprivation tanks; Mantak Chia's 'Darkroom' technique), consciousness studies (Chalmers; Hameroff) and the administration of psychedelics in laboratory situations (Rick Strassman; Robert Goutarel) can be included.
Postmodern visionaries and process oriented experiential psychotherapies also fall under this rubric. Among the notables are Marshall McLuhan (Media; "The medium is the massage"), Buckminster Fuller (whole systems; Spaceship Earth; Synergetics), Stanislov Grof (LSD therapy; Holotropic Breathwork), techno-shaman Terrence McKenna (Alien Dreamtime), stand-up philosopher and psychonaut Timothy Leary (Chaos & Cyber Culture).
Scientific proponents include Jungian analyst Arnold Mindell (process-oriented psychotherapy), shaman/therapist Graywolf Swinney (Consciousness Restructuring Process), Ericksonian hypnotherapist Ernest Rossi (Ideodynamic Healing), neurologist Antonio Damasio (Proto-Self Model), and a variety of essentially hypnotic alternative therapies like NLP, Psychosynthesis, and RET (Rapid Eye Treatment, formerly EMDR).
Digital Art and Multimedia Magic
Multimedia, and digital art in particular has led to a technological revolution in both our creative and perceptual experience. At the top of the list are digital pioneers such as Nam June Paik and “Digital Dali” Laurence Gartel. Not many artists have the unique opportunity of introducing a new medium as well as their vision and message.
They, and the pantheon of their successors, taught us to see the inner and outer worlds in new ways and expanded not only the perception of what art is, but also what it could become. The result, after a long uphill battle, is that digital fine arts has been accepted as a medium co-equal with the classical modes.
All technologies begin to alter consciousness with a variety of traditional shamanic techniques, and then proceed through an experiential journey, again in the shamanic tradition. The commonality among the artistic processes, therapies, and electronic multimedia is facilitation and exploitation of natural process in the stream of consciousness, the 'waking dream,' or REM (rapid eye movement) state.
Perhaps in the digital world, where an orgy of variations on a theme are rendered with the click of the mouse, perhaps the greatest talent is knowing when to quit, to stop manipulating the image, to not overwork, it, to let it speak for itself. Gartel considers his works detailed narratives. His FETISH SERIES was an exploration that pursued “an internal and external truth.”
"What should be photographed? This question is the foundation for the entire process. What merits taking a picture? I juxtapose imagery as objects, shapes, graffiti, abstractional forms in two dimensions. The careful balance configures these objects allowing the viewer-voyeur to delight in the collaged works, similar to a listener of music who embraces a symphony. One might hear and discover unheard melodies and sounds, as hidden pictures, and imagery acting as enrichments to the investigative eye.
Perhaps there might be a seductive image lying unobtrusively, beckoning to be noticed. What does it mean to the overall semblance? What spirit does it breath? Color, shape and form of any object(s) add symbolic meaning. Why wear a red shoe with sparkles rather than one of deep purple? Does one wish to express oneself as hot and excited, or subdued and contained? Why something larger and powerful rather than diminutive and unassuming? These are several techniques and insights that contribute to a "GARTEL." While abstract in nature, its structure is very real as its construction is based itself on the solid foundation of an original photograph." (Gartel: Fetish, 2001)
Perhaps nothing comes closer to emulating the waking dream than filmmaking. Gartel recently explored this medium for himself with his fetish documentary. Rather than just another consumable voyeuristic peek into this taboo world, his view is one for the ages, a valuable window into the soul of that world, a compassionate yet historical portrait. When the scene has evolved or died out, the art will remain.
Both cinematography and electronic animation help to mirror the inner life of the filmmaker. Nothing so clearly captures the living essence of the psyche as the aptly named ANIMAtion.
The anima is not only the “inner feminine” of men and his soul guide, but also the embodiment of the World Soul, that restless panoply of imagery and pervasive mystification that is evident in the anthropological insights about animism. A spirit animates every object. The world and cosmos is alive, not merely dead matter. The secret of the Universe is that “It’s Alive.”
Video-wizard, animator Bob Judd has used psychosexual dreamlike imagery in his award-winning film work (Down, Bovine Vendetta and Jesse Helms is Cleaning Up America) and his Flash MX projects. He combines highly manipulated still composites with languid dissolves that reveal layer after layer of meaning and hypnotic ambient texture with mind-bending provocative reveals. Buried beneath the interactive presentational image are an array of “gotchas” that dive into the psyche of the observer causing visceral reactions.
This is true cyberotica, not in the pedestrian sense of internet sex, cheesy skin flicks, or even canned virtual reality fantasies. This is art, in the classical sense that truly moves us from where we are toward where the artist wants to take us. It captivates, enchants, even seduces. It triggers the sensual self. We journey as close as we may come to peering inside the head of another and sharing their dream life in an intimate form of co-consciousness.
The transformative processes, including art, pull us into states of rapport, confrontation, and identification. Even beyond that, it can take us out of ourselves into an expanded awareness. Instead of mundane sorcery like “I Dream of Jeannie” it exalts us and hurls us toward our own potential, more like “I Dream of Genius.” Great art speaks to our own inner Daemon, in the Platonic sense of the word. It changes not only our brain chemistry, but can modify our hardwiring.
Waking dreams can be induced through techniques which function to drive the state, such as ritual, performance and interactive art, hypnosis, intense breathing, drumming, dancing, chanting, imagery, meditation, etc. In neurological terms, they facilitate neural plasticity and exercise or reprogram neural circuits.
Thus, our society is transformed by dynamic art, by beauty, by quantum leaps one synapse at a time. We’ve been kicked out of the garden of forbidden fruits with a basket of goodies. Meanwhile, Prometheus has stolen the electronic fire of the divine. Today what was once forbidden has become virtually mandatory. We now consciously carry the burden of that forbidden knowledge without knowing where our journey will take us.
Bon voyage, fellow travelers,
Iona Miller and Bob Judd, 12/2003
Artistic Vitality in Sexually Potent Art
Iona Miller, 4-2004
“New art is always shocking,
because you don’t know what you’re looking at. . .
It’s about boundaries being permeated and transgressed.
It makes people nervous when there aren’t any boundaries.”
~Lisa Phillips, Director, New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC
“...the number of perverts involved in the field of art is probably much greater than the average for the population in general.... It can be supposed ... that the pervert inclines in some particular manner to the world of art.”
~Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Creativity and Perversion, 1985
“With male nudes in full display, pornography a common source material, and explicit imagery the norm in galleries and museums, sex in art has become fun, disturbing, raunchy, even cerebral.” ~Linda Yablonsky, Art News, January 2004
Nakedness and Vulnerability
Many art forms over the centuries have centered around celebrating the body, both male and female, animalistic and spiritualized, and imaginative forms in-between. Like undertows along the shore, deep currents of eroticism have always pervaded the creative edge of the cultural ocean of art. To remain vital, art must stay in contact with the erotic element, the ground of our very psychophysical being. To deny it, is to deny life and the vulnerability of our naked awareness.
Art gives form to the apparitions of our imaginations, and one of the most imaginative is the erotic form, expression of the erotic impulse, or raw libido. Both art and eroticism are forms of the epitome of human life, expressions of insight and deep feeling. Sexuality is one way of inducing ecstatic states that alter perception dramatically. It is simultaneously and paradoxically ordinary yet extraordinary. It embodies the very essence of dramatic tension, a finite act with infinite repercussions.
Art is the spearhead of human development, both collective and individual. It was the seminal force and vanguard of cultural advance in Egypt, Greece, Europe, Africa, and Asia; all these cultures produced some extraordinarily erotic art. While the vulgarization of art is considered a sure sign of ethnic decline (Langer), erotic or vulgar art itself appears in all eras heralding new perceptions of our erotic drive, our sexual self-images. Even if perceived as an affront, art values rather than devalues the sexual image.
More than the difference between the naked and the nude, erotic art transgresses the boundaries of outdated eras and mores, including fashionable nudity. All that is erotic is not necessarily pornographic, and what some might call pornographic is often not perceived as lacking artistic merit, even prescience, in following eras. Artists test our social and psychic boundaries, making them more explicit. Sexual art can emulate the psychic and emotional forces at play in arousal, active engagement, and afterglow. Sexual tension has been a perennial theme in art through the ages.
What begins as shocking becomes familiar once emotional merger is consummated through suggestive penetration. Art expresses an essentially inward experience. Though for some the distinction between art and porn is not easy, explicit or compelling artistic depiction of the fringes of human sexuality is not the same as perversion or obscenity. It brings images back from the extreme edge of society to the mainstream for consideration at all levels, shamelessly chronicling the unvarnished human condition.
Shock, Shame and Disgust
Art, unlike pornography, contains an essential emotional content. It aims at stimulating the largest sex organ, the mind -- rather than just the genitals. Erotic art is always more than merely aesthetic. The function of the artist has always been to look unflinchingly into the dark heart of humanity and describe the living, breathing processes of human life as frankly as possible. The artist’s mandate is to look at everything.
Erotic art serves the same purpose as all art: objectifying self-knowledge as it springs forth from artistic imagination. Every generation has its own style of feeling, determined by forces including artists who shape that vision. Erotic art’s purpose is more than to shock, to confront, even to transgress. It explores the threshold of sanity and insanity, narrowing the definition of obscenity and expanding the definition of art as a legitimate context for sexual expression.
Each flowering of the arts, each new formulation leads to a cultural advance that signals a new way of feeling. It reeducates our vision beyond hostility to the explicit into mirroring the foresight of the artist’s eye. It transforms the worldly and mundane into a piece of imagination -- an imaginative inward vision.
Total nudity is more than nakedness; it is an imaginative state where barriers between lovers, between artwork and viewer, dissolve in a lingering encounter. Truth stands revealed, unadorned, transparent.
Fertility, Fear and Awe
Cross-cultural and trans-temporal visions of sexuality have maintained persistent themes of power, beauty, and spirituality in the grossest and most carnal of human acts. The cultural trinity centers around sex, death and religion. In the Paleolithic era art was visceral shamanic fetishism, talisman creating and ritual drama.
In the Neolithic era, fetish continued as taboo. The first fully modern humans were characterized by art and symbolic thought. Then cult worship of the chubby pudenda of the Great Mother goddesses developed. Her mystery embodied the magical invisible workings of divinity through the sexual organs.
Sexuality had an important place in Egyptian myths, creation tales, and the afterlife that was not ignored in their art, symbolic and explicit. The so-called Turin Erotic Papyrus (O’Connor) demonstrates both reverence and irony in a variety of positions emphasizing the delightful fertility generating energy of the blue lotus.
In the Near Eastern and Greco-Roman pagan worlds, the wildness and soulfulness of the psyche were equally celebrated in the ithyphallic form and availability of the hetaera or sacred prostitutes, along with heroic versions of the human form.
Nudity was perhaps the most important contribution of classical Greek art. The repressive early Christian era brought sublimation and transmutation of the instinctual spirit’s yearning for union.
After the near total religious suppression of Eros in the Dark Ages, the Renaissance brought a resurgence of pagan imagery and renewed interest in the vitality of the physical and psychic image. Meanwhile, Asian sexual art explored the spiritual dimension of Lingam and Yoni, jade-warrior and fleshy blossom, while African art maintained its blunt primal vitality.
Modern art began a systematic exploration of the distortions and perversions of sexuality, including impressionistic, surrealist, and abstract fetishization. Avant garde breakthroughs and revelations were conceptually daring and novel in both graphic design and ritualistic physical performance art. Now we are jaded by these socially assimilated cliche, and neo-tribalism. It is a fact of post Postmodern life that all these currents still flow strongly, endlessly recycling through the depths of our collective psyches depending on where we find ourselves on the sexual evolutionary spectrum.
Power and Helplessness
The artist’s actual medium is the psyches of the public, which are massaged, aroused to curiosity, piqued, fascinated, infatuated, and sometimes emotionally terrorized by this pseudo-intimacy. The artist mounts more than his image: the viewer is intellectually and emotionally ridden at his or her pleasure. Curiously, it is not a substitute for sex, but arguably its very creative evolution. Reflective observation is more than passive voyeurism. One is changed by the experience, seeded within the dark virtuality of the unseen dimension.
Our culture’s preoccupation with sex is undeniable as expressed in advertising media, so why shouldn’t it continue appearing in our galleries, museums, music venues, and screening rooms in ever-renewing forms? Surrealism bent and stretched our notions of physical embodiment with bizarre, dreamlike qualities. Low brow art has proven that all that implies beauty and truth is not necessarily beautiful to look at in its stark reality, but worthwhile to consciously examine, nevertheless.
Today’s “Know Brow” art fearlessly stares at it all, if not in the face, where it clearly counts. Perhaps the Third Eye really lies below the waist. Why not realize that “many of the masterpieces of modern art depend on perversion to make their dramatic point”? (Kuspit) Robert Bak suggests, “Fetishism is the model for all perversions.” Still, the seductiveness of the bodies is subsumed in the seductiveness of the overall image or scene. In this context, one’s oeuvre means more than one’s fleshy meat.
Contemporary sexual identity is in flux, creating new sexual types and titillations by actively changing our psychology and sexuality. The future of reconfigured sex is pangendered: pandroGENous (P-Orridge) -- a liquification not only of the organs, but also of all the formerly presumed limitations of our biology. Visual, theatrical and biological experimentation in this area has been happening at the fringes and in the dungeons of contemporary society at least for a few decades, as people play imaginatively with their bodies and sexual personae.
‘Normal sex’ has become all too familiar and boring outside of the bedroom. More than narcissistic indulgence, for today’s artist, the formerly pornographic image is just part of the artistic palette, something to be morphed and remolded in the contemporary context, sometimes hiding the explicit in plain sight. Visions of new ways of connecting are already emerging in the art world, as they always have.
“Put an artist at a drawing board and he may design new types of genitals that attach like replaceable parts, or at least move them around a bit (clitoral relocation) so that they are better positioned, or not so vulnerable (internal testicles). Genitalia could resemble the unfolding designs of a Georgia O’Keefe painting, or an element that rises indefinitely like M.C.Escher’s staircases. Genitals could be advanced prosthetics that barely resemble the parts that we have today. We could have several genitals, or none. Add an extra one for more stimulation, have none when you really want to focus without distractions.” (More, 1997)
For art to remain vital, not merely decorative and safe, it must follow the currents of the libidinous urge as it flows stronger than ever through our cultural landscape beyond simple physical sensation and somatic gender. We will always be motivated to maintain and feed our greedy sexual appetites. We will also continue craving strong cerebral and aesthetic responses, as well as somatic experiences.
So why not praise and celebrate both penis and vagina before technology and imagination make them potentially obsolete? Rather than supplanting the sexual aim, sexual art is vital -- it is preparatory: the seed of “coming attractions.” It is merciless and unrestrained cultural foreplay, designed to rouse us from our indolence, from ambivalence. Why not let it ravish us?
Bonfante, Larissa (2003). “The Naked and the Nude: Erotic Images in the Near Eastern and Greco-Roman Worlds.” Archaeology Odyssey. Jan-Feb 2003, p. 44-53.
Duca, Lo (1966). A History of Eroticism. Covina, California: Collectors Publications. Adapted from the French by Kenneth Anger.
Evola, Julius (1983). The Metaphysics of Sex. New York: Inner Traditions International.
Kuspit, Daniel. “Perversion In Art.” Online at
Langer, Susan (1962). “The Cultural Importance of Art”. Philosophical Sketches.
More, Natasha Vita (1997). “The Future of Sexuality” Online at . Accessed 4-4-04.
O’Connor, David (2001). “Eros In Egypt” Archaeology Odyssey, Sept-Oct 2001, p.42-9.
Paglia, Camille. Sex, Art, and American Culture.
Paglia, Camille (1990). Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickenson.
P-Orridge, Genesis (2003). Painful But Fabulous. Soft Skull Press.
Prose, Francine (2004). “What Has This Woman Just Been Doing?” Art News, Jan. 2004, p.122-3.
Tannahill, Reay (1980). Sex In History. New York: Stein and Day.
Yablonsky, Linda (2004). “How Far Can You Go?” Art News, January 2004,
Transgressive Potency in Underground Art
By Iona Miller, 2004
The Real ‘Outsider Art’
"Genius does what it must. Talent does what it can." -Bulwer Lytton
The genre ‘outsider art’ is generally reserved for those who don’t know that they are artists, the untutored, or naive artist, who may span the spectrum from functional to visionary folk art. The term is often misused, however, which we would like to do here. The real outsiders don’t even care if they are ‘artists.’ Their internal drive is so strong they cannot help what they do. It must be expressed.
The very term ‘outsider’ sets up a false dichotomy that there is somewhere in the artworld to be an ‘insider’, in a university, museum, or commerical gallery setting. In this sense, all the outsider is outside of is the clique of the artworld and its corporate sponsors. But the pronouncements of the artworld of its own self-importance may just be selling so much snake-oil. A lot of uncommendable work passes through the artworld. Plenty of commendable work does not, but this makes it no less relevant.
The real outsiders aren’t necessarily these unlauded folk artists, but the true outsiders of the societal mainstream Ã¢â‚¬“ mavericks who inhabit the dark worlds of various subcultures. They are those who intentionally place themselves beyond the pale, or are ‘out’ because they never made it ‘in.’
Their art has a transgressive power, whether expressed in film, performance art, music, or visual media. It gives the ordinary person a glimpse into a mysterious, dangerous, or forbidden world. The viewer may be drawn further in or completely repulsed.
Outsiders pursue art as a means of self-expression for themselves and their disenfranchised community, generally not commercial ends. Outsider art, in this sense, is analogous to ‘disorganized crime,’ executed in an idiosyncratic or haphazard manner by the rugged independent, rather than through institutionalized hierarchies.
This radical art inflames the desires that originally led to the lifestyle choice. Specialized taste and artistic style bind the community together. Artists are always interested in communicating the ‘signs of the times.’ This art draws on life for inspiration. It is very ‘street.’
Each of these worlds has its own aesthetic, its own dress code, its raison d’ete. They each produce their own ‘outsider art’ based on the proclivities of those who indulge in the lifestyle. Often the audience is an intimate part of whatever artistic process emerges. This art serves an ecological purpose in the community, reducing fragmentation, making meaning or fostering insights.
The artist speaks for the mute crowd and articulates their spirit, their zeitgeist. This raises him or her (or the diverse genders in between) to iconic status among his peers, for he can clearly express what others just dream. For this reason, subcultures often revolve around the artists who exemplify them.
Conversely, artists have always formed a solid subculture of their own, preferring one another’s company, mutual inspiration and understanding. Some scenes are merely faddish and deteriorate while others endure.
Subcultures are as diverse as the worlds of body art, fetish, gay, punk, occult, Goth, cyber-, club kids, rave culture, hip hop, pagan, political, psychedelic, radical feminism, New Age, bodybuilding, motorcycles, filmmaking, or any number of other underground “scenes.”
Mostly they are so far out on the cutting edge, they don’t want to be ‘in.’ They are ‘into’ what they do and how they do it, and generally loath the idea of corporate interference. They don’t create art for an audience, but for psychophysical survival. The art that emerges from these subcultures is often considered pop or low-brow, divorced by mutual consent from intellectual or high art circles.
High art and low brow art as well as media art can mingle in a lively juxtaposition of cultural activity, according to media guru Donald Theall. We could call it ‘hyper brow.’ All forms of cultural production are relevant, have validity and the potential to contribute significantly to social life and transformation.
Beyond personal expression, there is a social function to cultural and subcultural production. Subcultures often have overt or tacit political agendas. Sometimes the outsider artist, like a missionary, seeks to pesuade his audience to come into his world, to embrace its values, its freedoms, even its pain. Other times, he may attack the audience, even while seducing.
Shock value and confrontation is often a big part of setting oneself apart from the conventional, the hum-drum. This outsider art is anything but conventional or “safe” art, at least for the innovators. Copyists may faddishly follow later in their footsteps.
Both Eros and Pathos are fundamental to subcultural immersion. One’s chosen path is the Beloved and totally identified with; personality becomes structured around it. This art may be very gritty, counter-poetic, satiric, confrontive, dissonant, primal and sensual, even erotic. It is the dark shadow of snobbery and elitism. It is reverse-elitism. It tears at the subconscious, the weak underbelly of society.
This is where the main hotblooded current of today’s ‘outsider art’ lives, and throbs through the veins of the heartland. Many of these artists never see the light of day beyond their own subcultural context; many of them never see the light of day at all! It is all about the subcultural experience. ‘Have you ever been experienced?’ For the rest of us, it is like a short trip to another planet, far far away.
Underground superstars rarely become household names even if they join the pantheon of their own subculture. They are ‘not ready for prime time’, in fact, they are likely to object strongly to commercialization. But collectively they say something historically important about the culture at large, much like an ‘indicator species’ does for an ecological system.
Most of them wouldn’t have a clue about the history of art, or their potential place in it. Mostly, they spend their days ‘preaching to the choir.’ But they still act as chaotic “Strange Attractors,” culturally engineering the whole fabric of society by perturbing and unravelling it ever so slightly from the fringes.
Their mediums range from their own bodies, to performance art, musical and spoken word poetics, ritual, digital- and multimedia, hypertextuality, and more traditional graphic forms. But the content of the work is always in the vernacular of their subculture with its prefered palette, symbolism, and feeling tone. Their audience has been conditioned toward certain expectations, a certain aesthetic, even certain politics.
The post postmodern Underground traces back to the counterculture of the ‘60s, but it can arguably be traced back to certain art movements in Europe (fin de siecle, impressionists, dada, surrealism, expressionist, etc.). In those days the artists’ community and the cultural intelligentsia were one. But even these now well-established schools had to fight academic art to carve each niche.
The same struggle goes on today in the world of new media. Over the last 25 years, digital fine art has had to struggle for legitimacy with other print media. Now the same arc is repeated for electronic media: media art, animation, web presentations, and interactive multimedia installations. Hypermedia gives us the sense of art as virtuality, an ephemera.
Techno art has carried a stigma that perhaps the results are haphazard appearing as artifact of seeing what the equipment will do, rather than the more traditional approach of conceiving the piece in the mind’s eye, then executing that vision. This is likely a ‘bum rap.’
Artists have always made use of ‘happy accidents’ in their work. Further, the exploratory path has always been a viable process in art. If we don’t follow the circuitous path of the Muse, how can our art be authentic at all? Outsider art invites us to let go of all preconceived categories and expectations entering a realm of existential immediacy where the art may not be separate from the participants.
To curate a show from ‘the American Underground’ we have to look first to the ‘Ground Zero’ of the genre,“ New York City. Scenes also arose in London, San Francisco, and Los Angeles (Hollywood). Lately, Miami has become a cosmopolitan hotbed for diverse lifestyles.
For decades, avant garde artist Andy Warhol was at the heart of and orchestrated the NYC underground scene. His experimental films were actually largely written and directed by Paul Morrisey. His Factory also spawned the prototypical punk band, years ahead of its time, the Velvet Underground, featuring alternative icon Lou Reed. They opened the way for acts such as Iggy Pop, Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams, and Brian Eno.
The modern era of outsider lifestyles took hold with east and west coast. Beat generation poets which gave way to the counterculture, then the punk, cyber- and techno- subcultures. But counterculture sought to reform the mainstream with its values; relativistic subcultures could often care less about bourgeois or conventional judgments.
The shamanic beat poets of San Francisco’s North Beach rubbed elbows with gay theatrical pioneers, such as the Cockettes and their NYC counteraprts, Black Lips art troupe. After fomenting the psychedelic revolution, Tim Leary went on to become the godfather of Cyberpunk. Only the drug of choice changed to protect the innocent.
The punkrock genesis saw groups like Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), the Ramones, Patty Smith, the Pretenders, Blondie, and Talking Heads crawling out of the underground like cockroaches scurrying from the kitchen. Rock music had gotten stupefyingly banal at the time, demanding a return to fundamentals. These soulful artists sought permission from no one, performing whether they could actually ‘play’, or not. Soon, the world beat a path to the Bowery door of CBGBs, Max’s Kansas City, and the Roxy.
But all shamelessly took their turns in the commercial markets, becoming brand names. They played to the masses while William Burroughs and his successors such as Brion Gison, Lydia Lunch and Hakim Bey continued ranting with outrage in the style of Ginsburg’s Howl. Their audience doesn’t want them selling out to corporate sponsorship. For some it is a point of pride, of artistic authenticity.
The rave movement spawned such ‘industrial strength’ hybrids as pangendered Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Thee Majesty) and his bastard offspring like Marilyn Manson and his band mates Twiggy and Gidget Gein. Genesis, now Breyer P-Orridge, traces his arc back to S.F. troupe, the Cockettes’ influence in his youth, as well as the Occult.
No one comes out of a vacuum. All of them owe a lot to the legacy of the Velvets, New York Dolls (David Johanssen), The Fugs, Zappa, and genderbender chameleon David Bowie, a mainstream artist but one with original roots in a few underground scenes, including gay theatre.
If It Feels Good, Do It -- Virtually
Subcultures offer self-indulgent permission for virtually mythical living. Lack of talent or inability to play is no disqualifier; participants are nominated and elected by themselves only. If they suck, the audience lets them know. One can create a unique persona that is, indeed, larger than life, and act it out. In cyberculture, such an incarnation is referred to as one’s virtual or “chip body.”
We may give wildly different names to these subcultural alters than our normal personalities. And, they may behave differently. They are hybrids spawned in the underground hothouse. They only come out at night. They constitute a form of performance art themselves, on or offline. The more outrageous, the better.
Recently, the kaleidoscopic world of fetish has also become an established feature of urban life, allowing the working class to walk the razor’s edge. For many, it is more of a fashion-inspired artform than a psychological compulsion “ more good clean fun than pathology.
Weekend warriors and suburban housewives now flock to exotic-erotic balls or dungeons for titillation as they once flocked to drive ins or rock concerts. American voyeurism, fostered in all forms of commercial media, has found its roots again. Our novelty-seeking culture keeps pushing its boundaries of acceptability outward. And the people-watching keeps getting better and better.
Sexual boundaries have been obliterated by multimedia artists such as Annie Sprinkle, with her boob imprints, wild film and TV performances, and serious sexual research work. Contemporary cult films have demystified sexual and political content, while displacing narrative, time and space. Today’s filmmakers draw on a rich heritage.
The boundary-breaking underground film scene might be traced back through mother of the avant garde Maya Deren (Ritual in Transfigured Time), Kenneth Anger (Magic Lantern Series), the ‘elegant madness’ of Curtis Harrington (Games), and John Waters (Hair Spray; Cry Baby). Anger’s use of dream imagery, rapid cuts, and pioneering use of gay, sexual, and occult themes in his experimental films began in 1947.
“Kenneth Anger and the Kuchar Brothers are the aorta of the original underground film movement," said filmmaker John Waters. "Without their incredible pioneering influence, the independent film world could never have been born."
“In the late fifties George and Mike Kuchar began making 8mm movies that toyed with the conventions of Hollywood melodrama. With titles like ‘A Woman Distressed’ and ‘I Was a Teenage Rumpot,’ the outrageous take offs caused such a scandal at the New York Eight Millimeter Club that the Kuchars moved screenings to Ken Jacob's Ferry Street loft. The works are among the underground films credited with spawning a rethinking of popular culture that later took on the term "camp."
A major difference between surrealist masterpieces, such as Fellini’s works or Dali’s "Un Chien Andalou", and today’s cult films is that much of the subversion of conventional content and form of the surrealists came from the unconscious, from a dreamlike quality and vision. Today’s subversive art films are not based on dreams, or even fiction, but on unvarnished reality where the pathological, forbidden, and unthinkable are neither glamorized nor dissociated.
The new underground has produced intentionally confrontive classics of the Warhol-influenced Cinema of Transgression, like the Cremaster series with Kendra Phaler (C2) by Matthew Barney, the films of Nick Zedd (War is Menstrual Envy), Richard Kern (You Killed Me First).
Then there is the legacy of new transgressions, independent works such as those by Bob Judd and digital pioneer Laurence Gartel, including his artful documentary, "The Art of Fetish".