On the other side of the spectrum is Swedish artist Elin Magnusson, whom Maes cites in his article. In her 2009 film Skin
, which has been on view in venues from New York’s New Museum
to Sweden’s Arbetets Museum, two figures in nude bodysuits start making out, cutting away parts of their costumes as they grow more aroused. Magnusson describes Skin
as “art meets porn,” suggesting, as Maes does, that the categories need not be mutually exclusive. The artist combines larger ideas about intimacy, self-revelation, and the body into a work that, ultimately, still ends with explicit sex. Magnusson’s work aligns with that of another Swede working well outside of a fine art context, Erika Lust. According to her website, the director considers herself a leader in the “ethical adult cinema” movement. Lust compares the ethos behind her work to that of organic produce in the age of fast food, advocating fair labor practices, a focus on women’s pleasure, diversity, and high aesthetic quality.
Notably, the work of artists like Schneemann and Magnusson subverts one of Schlenzka’s ideas about pornography: that it requires estranged partners. As the pair of artists challenged that conception, they also created aesthetically elevated footage. In contrast, the artist
once made a prosaic sex tape about a meaningless encounter to address other targets: money and the New York art world. In her film Untitled
(2003), she sleeps with a collector who paid around $20,000 for the experience (and a DVD recording of the encounter). Fraser examines the relationship between artist and collector, art and prostitution. That’s not to mention the relationship between artist and critic: Notably, Guy Trebay’s New York Times Magazine
piece from 2004 further objectified her, highlighting Fraser’s physical attractiveness and likening her to a “hooker with the heart of gold.”
Fraser’s approach, with an overhead camera capturing the tryst, links her back to Acker. “It’s one of the first truth-and-sex tapes,” says Schlenzka about Blue Tape, suggesting that it’s also a forerunner to Paris Hilton’s explicit, leaked footage. Celebrity sex tapes, she says, have “a big impact on the public mind and public consciousness,” whether or not they are intended as art. Schlenzka goes a step further, connecting the country’s prurient interest in these projects to the voyeurism inherent in today’s social media culture. One wonders, if Acker were alive today (she passed away in 1997), just what her Instagram account might look like.
For his part, Maes has written that we should encourage artists “to make intense, powerful, and profound works of pornographic art and rescue this much-maligned genre from the clutches of the seedy porn-barons.” Elsewhere, in a 2017 paper titled “The Aesthetics and Ethics of Sexiness,” he calls for “radical egalitarian pornography” to alter viewers’ perceptions of sexiness as they relate to such factors as gender, race, age, class, and disability. The distinction between art and pornography becomes less interesting than work that pushes at the boundaries of the two.