Pages from Porno-graphing, photo by the artist

Dirty Subjects: An Interview with AnnaMaria Pinaka about Porno-graphing

Issue no3
Juni - Juli 2018
Transgression

AnnaMaria Pinaka is a visual artist and researcher. In her work, she mainly focuses on the intimacies of domestic life while re-appropriating sexual or pornographic imagery through lens-based media, a method she conceptualizes in her written work as porno-graphing. She recently finished her PhD at the department of Theatre and Performance at Roehampton University, a project that took her almost eight years. Part of her practice-based research is now published as a zine by Onomatopee. The publication, that is titled Porno-graphing, carries the subtitle ‘What do dirty sexual subjectivities do to art?’ and it discusses different positions in the art/porn debate as well as the ways in which porno-graphing strategies can mediate between binary stances. Liza Prins talked to Pinaka.

Liza Prins: It might be a very bold first question, but what is porno-graphing and how does it express itself in your work?

AnnaMaria Pinaka: Porno-graphing is an art methodology. One of its premises is that artists use sexual situations that exist in their lives independently of their art practices as art-material. So, it is about acting upon sex with the aim to make art. It also involves self-objectifying into sexual and artistic positions that could potentially be considered ‘dirty’. Porno-graphing has stubborn aspects, it is deductive, entropic and sometimes feels regressive, so spotting it can be tricky. I just finished the PhD a few months ago and I can’t really tell yet if porno-graphing strategies are as much part of my work as they were before I started it.

AnnaMaria Pinaka tijdens een lezing bij Onomatopee

LP: It’s quite a curious decision to publish (part of) a dissertation as a zine. How did this idea come about? And why did you publish specifically this part of the dissertation?

AMP: The zine was a collaboration with Onomatopee. Pernilla Ellens, who is curator at Onomatopee, did the editing and helped to structure the text down into sections so that it could make sense as an independent publication. The text was originally a sub-chapter of the introduction of my thesis, called ‘Porno-graphing & the art/porn debate’. Pernilla and I were chatting about censorship, how the era we live in is rather conservative and the impact of this conservatism on art-institutions and academia; we were discussing how the binarism of pro- and anti-porn positions also reflects this. So, we decided to present this element of my thesis, which offers an overview of the debate including feminist anti- and pro- positions in regards to pornography, and to then goes on describing how artistic porno-graphing methodologies can perform interventions in this debate and propose an alternative paradigm.

Rather than taking pride in 'breaking' taboos it’s more about being anxious about having exposed one’s self and about feeling, enduring, carrying or embodying 'dirtiness'

LP: I can imagine that it is important for the form and content to somehow coincide. How would you describe your collaboration with the designer of the zine?

AMP: Yes, that is definitely important! Decisions about the presentation of my work and research make me really nervous. So, it was great that the designer, Mook Attanath, was there and I think she did a great job! I really like the glowing effect of the titles and the white letters on the black surface. Early in the process I told her that while porno-graphing aesthetics have at times 'in your face' or 'dirty' aspects, the focus is not on direct messages per se. Rather than taking pride in 'breaking' taboos it’s more about being anxious about having exposed one’s self and about feeling, enduring, carrying or embodying 'dirtiness'. The designer translated this information into the idea of reading in the dark, and I think it works really well.

LP: Black on white or white on black alludes to binaries, which you also discuss in the publication. Can you tell me something about how porno-graphing as an artistic methodology navigates through binary thought and what kind of position it takes?

AMP: It is about complicating binary positions, such as pro-porn/anti-porn and art/porn, but also about other binaries such as truth and false, structural and subjective, healthy and pathological and so on. It does so by suggesting that binary positions can be part of the same landscape and serve the same structure and power-systems. In porno-graphing methodologies, pornographic vocabularies are used precisely because pornography is historically loaded with binary positions – such as it being considered a binary opposite to art. The binarism related to pornography and its different aspects and expressions operates symbolically to address other binaries and their boundaries; for example, as a means of approaching and negotiating the boundaries between life/art, privacy/publicity, and knowable/unknowable. In this sense porno-graphing works and my analysis don’t aim to create neutrality, but rather to address the excess of space that stands between different positions.

Pages from Porno-graphing, photo by the artist

LP: You write that making work through porno-graphing strategies involves a lot of self-doubt and that it often comes from a position of non-sovereignty: a position in which one cannot explain oneself to oneself. In the very beginning of the publication you state that you first conceptualized porno-graphing through your own work, without naming it. How do you feel writing about it and studying it in other people’s work has changed your work? And might there be a paradox between the ‘non-sovereign subject’ that you are in your own work and an indebt analysis of the concept of it?

AMP: My use of the term non-sovereignty is based on the ways Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman talk about the non-sovereign self and the sexual encounter in Sex, or the Unbearable. In porno-graphing, non-sovereignty relates to working from positions of lack: lack of confidence, destabilization, not being able to articulate oneself, being resistant to satisfaction, being resistant to answering and resolution, and working through one’s contradictions. When I started to talk to other artists, like Leigh Ledare and Alan Sondheim among others, with the aim to write about aspects of their works, it became deeply apparent that these thoughts and vulnerabilities were relevant. The conversations were an incredibly important part of the research. What happened is that through these different dialogues, that lasted over five years, I was voicing different aspects of the methodology. I came to understand different aspects of porno-graphing strategies through these discussions, but for that to happen meant that in the beginning I was very destabilized, not necessarily due to what they might tell me but about how non-sovereign I felt in this process, as if I was lacking. I would be speaking to a certain artist and they would be offering me answers in many different ways, but I felt resistant to resolution and surprised to feel that way. And this is me not being able to explain myself to myself in the research process, resisting satisfaction, resisting to meet what I am searching for and enduring this resistance and the elements of uncertainty that come with it. So, to come back to your question, I do not think that researching and making work are that diametrically opposed or even complicate each-other. I was never completely sovereign in the research either.

Pages from Porno-graphing, photo by the artist

LP: Is it important for you to somehow actualize porno-graphing strategies within your writing(s). In the publication, for example, you mention that porno-graphing is a methodological tool that is crucial in contemporary discourses on the use of subjectivity in art making. You then also included pictures and stills of your own works in the zine. I think there is a really strong connection there between what you say and how the zine presents the research, in the sense that you are not only present there as a researcher, but also as an artist and as a (dirty) subject in your personal space. I was wondering how you think about these connections between your artistic work and your writings and if you make parallels consciously or if they just happen?

AMP: I absolutely did practice porno-graphing through the textual parts of my work as well: In many parts of the writing, I was radically destabilized and anxious. There were aspects in the research that were so scary for me to write: parts of the chapter about Kathy Acker’s and Alan Sondheim’s Blue Tape. This black and white video depicts Acker and Sondheim while they engage in sexual acts together and speak about personal and emotionally charged matters. After they showed the video several times, they decided to not show it again unless both of them were present, which was nearly never possible. Acker died in 1997, which made it impossible for me to talk to her and complicated writing about the Blue Tape. Besides, the chapter about my own work was really challenging to write.

In order for me to conduct these parts, I had to be in this position of being unsure, because I felt exposed or I felt as if I was taking risks by completing these texts. I asked myself: What right do I have to feel so nervous? Am I actually facing a danger by exposing myself or am I being paranoid? Am I being ‘dirty’? How so? How much? And this is exactly the kind of position from which porno-graphing artistic actions take place: the position of not exactly knowing, resisting understanding, un-knowing. Exposing oneself to criticism or a certain kind of reception, inviting it even, and then feeling destabilized by the process and by the reception itself. So, all these thoughts were just as much part of the writing process as they are of making a work using porno-graphing methodologies. At some point, I was really embodying the methodology.

This black and white video depicts Acker and Sondheim while they engage in sexual acts together and speak about personal and emotionally charged matters

Vertoning Blue Tape van Acker en Sondheim tijdens een presentatie bij Onomatopee

LP: I read your idea of dirtying as ‘infecting’ art with aesthetics that are often connected to pornographic content, thereby disturbing certain value-systems. For this ‘infection’ it seems to me that it is important that ‘porn’ and ‘high art’ are and remain different categories with different sets of values attached. In connection to that, you mention in the zine that you don’t want to argue towards legitimizing pornographic aspects in art. Would you also go so far as to say that legitimizing them would destroy a porno-graphing approach?

AP: Yes, absolutely. There are risks involved in porno-graphing, also in conducting a PhD about it. This research is part of a discourse; I am making sense; I want to make something successful out of it and I am formulating a ‘purpose’ for porno-graphing strategies. It is hard to determine whether making the work analyzable in a certain way adds to its effects or whether it steals from it.

LP: Oh no, I did not want to say that I think you are legitimizing pornographic aspects in art through you writing. I actually do not think you do that at all!

AP: The reason why I think this is not happening is because I wrote it from the exact same positions I work from when I make visual work, for instance feeling destabilized, uncertain or ‘dirty’ in the ways I do when I work with video and performance. The writing and the zine are pieces of work in themselves that carry the same aims and intensities of porno-graphing methodologies. So, I hope I didn’t tame porno-graphing.

AnnaMaria Pinaka, Porno-graphing, Onomatopee, 2017, ISBN 978-94-91677-8-16, Softover, 40 pages, 14,8 x 21 cm/ 5,8 x 8.3 inch, 8 illustrations, of which 5 full-colour and 3 b/w

Liza Prins
is kunstenaar

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