Arse Elektronika 2007: Talk Abstracts

Katherina Zakravsky

A Brief History of Cultural Genitals

In conjunction with the documenta 12 the curator Roger M. Buerghel posed three “leitmotifs”, the second of which was the Agambian question “What is Bare Life?” And he gave this a peculiar and daring “Bataillian” turn by saying, “But as in sexuality, absolute exposure is intricately connected with infinite pleasure.” Still, it remains to be clarified what is being exposed if life is being bared ¬ let alone the thesis that infinite pleasure would be the outcome. (See here) Already in June 2006 an illustrious group of international artists, theorists and curators took the “Leitmotif” text as a starting point to discuss a whole array of topics around “bare life” on the Australian website “empyre - soft-skinned space”. There, in the midst of a lot of status fighting around the dangerous claim of the artist being the natural born embodiment of “bare life” in his usually exposed and precarious condition, Michele White, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Tulane University, intervened with the following statement: “ Science studies scholars indicate how the biological and fleshy aspects of sex are also constructed and medically produced. This makes the distinctions between gender and sex messy and perhaps counter-productive. People rarely see the genitals of other individuals that they have accepted as ‘biological’ men or women. They also rarely consider the possibility that there is an array of genital variations.” And that’s where the strange new term “cultural genital” comes in. (See the full text on Considering the very different site of “Second Life”, where a newcomer who chooses to parade a male avatar has to actually earn and buy his first genital, this term might be with us in the time to come. I want to pick up the challenge and follow the traces of unexpected, artificial and indeed also spiritually gratifying genitals in various manifestations in Science Fiction mythology -- from Spock’s Vulcanian techniques of mind-melting through the orgasmic organ in “Barbarella” to the fleshy game pods in Cronenberg’s “eXisTenZ”.

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Annalee Newitz

A Futurist's History of Sexual Technology

This will be a guided tour of the history of sexual technologies, from nineteenth century steam-driven vibrators to today's programmable, remote-controlled sex devices. (I'm assuming that "technology" means moving parts.) I will explore three themes in the history of sex technology: the urge to enhance the body, to create new kinds of sexual sensation through tool use, and to communicate about sex across great distances.

I call this a "futurist" history because I will also speculate about what these historical trends tell us about the future of sexual technology, and how technology is likely to change our experience of sex altogether.

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Aaron Muszalski

Behind The (Green) Screen Door: Exploring the Untapped Potential of Digital Visual Effects in Pornography

Digital Visual Effects (VFX) have become an integral part of the modern production process, reducing costs and enabling filmmakers to realize even the most fantastical visions. From epic space operas to modest indie dramas, VFX are nearly everywhere; everywhere, that is, except most pornographic films, where producers have been unusually reluctant to employ such techniques.

This reluctance conflicts with the notion that, historically, pornographers have been the ultimate early adopters, pioneering countless new technologies. So why are VFX (and specifically, high-end VFX -- think "Lord of The Rings" or "The Matrix") so rarely used in contemporary porn films? Obviously, cost is a factor. But costs inevitably drop. And with the markets for porn continually broadening, the demand for new and unusual material will eventually be impossible to ignore. VFX will play a role in the future of porn.

This presentation will examine some of the ways in which modern VFX might (and thus, probably will) be used in pornography. From the mundane to the outlandish, from the socially beneficial, to the morally questionable, what happens when anything you can imagine can be convincingly, photo-realistically realized on screen?

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Violet Blue

Ceiling Cat Hates Your Porn: Sexual Privacy Online

The online world changed human sexuality forever as we know it; what the internet did for sexual privacy, advocacy, understanding and the landscape of pornography is still yet to be understood. At the core of all this is sexual privacy online. Ceiling Cat Hates Your Porn: Sexual Privacy Online discusses the main target groups affected by internet
sexual privacy -- everyone, but especially underserved, maligned, misunderstood communities from GLBT to BDSM, women, people needing accurate sex info and urgent nonbiased medical information and beyond. We'll be looking at example cases of privacy issues, such as the "Craigslist experiment"; 2257 laws for performers, businesses; 2257
laws for social networking sites and their users; porn companies using 2257 against "piracy"; the police officer recently fired for having an adult site. For the porn consumer, sexual privacy online will be described as a case of informed risk and an attempt at harm reduction. "Jane user" will learn what she can do to ensure her sexual privacy
online (the user's perspective), and the talk will finish with what porn businesses can do to educate their users, and why it's urgent for them to do so.

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Kyle Machulis

Getting The Message Across: Hardware and Software Interfaces for Sexual Interaction

We stand at the beginning to the future of sex, and it sucks. A bunch. Hardware interfaces are cheaply manufactured junk hindered by patents (both domestic and international), and the software interfaces that are paired with them resemble either a sci-fi nerds wet dreams (and not the good kind of sci-fi nerd, and not the good kind of dreams, but an ok kind of wet). How is it expected that anyone should take this seriously?

Through the use of open source technology and design methods, users are now able to create their own hardware and software to fit their own, personal needs. This lecture will outline my personal research on sexual interfaces, as well as giving an overview of the community that has formed around sex tech and teledildonics. New types of technology beyond the simple "vibrator/motor controller" setup will also be discussed, including work with biometrics, fetishes and their intersection with technology, and the use of sex technology to teach skills such as electrical and mechanical engineering.

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Autumn Tyr-Salvia (Panel Moderator)
Tasha Bob
Jocey Neveaux

How Porn & Tech Change Sexual Discourse (as seen in the Vagina Pagina Community)

Both pornography and technology have significantly changed the way we think and talk about sex. Pornography brought sexuality out of the fringes, and technology gave us an anonymous way to seek out new experiences and information. At the same time as America's sexual education reaches a new low, thousands of people look to the internet for reliable information about sexual topics, often inspired by porn. As pornography has begun to move to the mainstream, more and more people seek to emulate it in their personal lives.

Vagina Pagina is a large online forum for topics relating to women's sexuality and reproductive health. As maintainers, we've noticed that online discourse about sexuality is significantly different from other means of conversation. This lecture will detail the ins and outs of the Vagina Pagina community. Specifically, we'll talk about how the presumed anonymity of the online format allows a more open discourse than that found in the offline world. Because of pornography's intimate relationship with technology, the online world often seems highly sex-positive. This interrelation between porn and tech seems to influence all online conversations, making a place like Vagina Pagina possible.

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Eon McKai and Violet Blue

MSM Porn Wishes It Had A Blog, AVN Licks Your Vlog

In this segment, Violet Blue interviews mainstream company Vivid Video's altporn director Eon McKai about the tempestuous relationship MSM porn has with new media, especially reflected through the director's struggles to incorporate online and viral marketing (along with social media community building) into an aging medium struggling
to evolve and survive in the new media landscape.

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Mark Dery

Paging Dr. Moreau: "Humanimal" Porn in the Age of Xenotransplants and Genetic Chimera

Poking around the Web’s darker corners, fetishists, sexologists, and pornographic rubberneckers can find pomosexual proclivities and pornographic subgenres de Sade never dreamed of: amputee worship, armpit fetishism, clown porn, lactating transsexuals.

But “humanimal” porn is calculated to blister the mind of even the most been-there, done-that pornsurfer. Armed with image-manipulation software, morph auteurs are conjuring up images worthy of medieval bestiaries, or maybe a postmodern Decameron. The result is Dr. Moreau’s idea of Web porn: Hyperreal cheesecake in which nude babes with cow ears, tails, and udders suckle each other and naked werewomen flaunt donkey ears straight
out of Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Is this an absurdist attempt to push the envelope of fetishism to the point where not even devotees of this obscure desire can take it seriously? Or an earnest attempt to feed the fantasies of a vanishingly obscure market niche that would have flown under radar cover in the lost world before do-it-yourself Web porn? Or is it something more profound---a campy, tongue-in-cheek exorcism of our cultural anxieties about genetic hybrids and human-animal transplants in the age of pigs with human hemoglobin and babies with baboon hearts?

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Thomas Edlinger

Plug me in! Porn and Art

“I don’t know what pornography is, but I know it when I see it.” This quotation by a US-American judge seems to make sense in the first place, because it refers to the most popular notion of pornography as the portrayal of sexuality and the sexual act with deliberate emphasis on the sexual organs. Its aim, in writing, sound, image or film, is to arouse the viewer sexually. This tendency or intention to arouse is considered to be a key aspect of attempts to distinguish between “pornography” and “art” which deals with explicit or implicit desire and sexuality. But what if pornographic visualisations are transformed into an institutional art context, where they necessarily start to communicate with the artwork around them? Do they turn into readymades? What if the aim of sexual stimulation in some pornographic manifestations cannot be determined as the one distinguishing mark of the commodification of sexual simulation, but should rather be described as one layer of meaning amongst others? And, on the other hand, can “pornographic art” also be conceived as a way of revaluing and upgrading desire and sexuality by switching to the medium and the techniques of art? Art as a sort of media change, as an aesthetic al and technical translation from nasty thumbnails into blurry blow-ups like the huge photographs from the “Nudes”-series by Thomas Ruff?
Our exhibition project “Bodypoliticx -- but is it porn?” takes place at the Witte de With center for contemporary art in Rotterdam in autumn 2007. It tries both to trace historical shifts of pornography and to highlight some significant dark zones of indifference between what we call art and what we call pornography. Emerging out of the endless stream of anonymous, largely standardised industrial products are individual positions that attempt to assert their (sexual and political) difference. Net-porn, indie-porn or alt-porn are contemporary phenomena between transgression and affirmation. Yet within (and in opposition to) the coded cultural industry production of porn, the popularisation and culturalisation of porn creates players who are concerned with different physical practices, different emotional and aesthetic impacts and their own uncompromising identity politics: gender trouble producers like the collective Panic Culture, porn punk directors Bruce La Bruce or porn art commuters like Robert Mapplethorpe.

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David Dempsey

Porn and Personal Development

Although the porn effect has been fairly well documented at a technological and corporate level, it's role in the life of individuals has remained an unspoken truth. Every new technology that has been successfully adopted by porn producers is a technology that has been accepted at an individual level. Porn users are early adopters, frequently at the cutting edge of media technology. The desire to consume porn thus acts as a catalyst for personal tech development. A porn consumer must develop their own understanding of the technology being offered, eventually expanding their technological horizons beyond those of standard office or home use. Porn consumers frequently become porn producers, encouraging individuals to learn the basics of film, video and photography. Webporn encouraged a whole new range of skills, from basic HTML to java coding and server management. The profusion of trojans and viruses packed in porn has created a need to understand computer security. Personal anecdotes and video interviews with end users, hobby producers and professionals from outside of the tech industry will illustrate the role their porn consumption has played in transforming their understanding and use of technology.

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Peter Asaro and Katie Vann

Pornomechanics: Sex Robots and the Mechanisms of Love

This presentation will begin with a viewing of the film "Love Machine" (2001), directed by Peter Asaro. This independently produced feature length documentary looks at the development of robots capable of entering human social relations of love, caring, and friendship. It also explores the social interests and fears surrounding their potential as sexual partners, augmenting or replacing human sexual interactions.

It features interviews with leading roboticists, philosophers, sexologist and inventors, including: Rodney Brooks, Hans Moravec, Ken Goldberg, Hubert Dreyfus, Daniel Dennett, Manuel Delanda, Carol Queen, Robert Morgan Lawrence, Ernest Green, Lisa Palac, and others.

Following the film will be a discussion between film maker Peter Asaro and technology theorist Katie Vann, as well as an opportunity for audience questions.

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Thomas S. Roche (Panel Moderator)
Kyle Machulis
Violet Blue
Johannes Grenzfurthner

Porn, Tech and Creativity: How technology changes the erotic creative process

Pornography is always quick to adapt to new formats, but in what ways can the development of new technologies change pornography? How – and how quickly -- do new technologies change sexual creativity and sexual expression? What are the newest creative trends in erotic entertainment and education, and how are they being influenced by -- and influencing -- new technologies like blogging, vlogging, mobile messaging, and podcasting, plus developing non-information sexual technologies like sex toys, sex machines, pharmaceuticals (recreational and otherwise), not to mention the old-school – digital video, photography, audio, DVD, music, and (gasp!) text? How do the erotic arts develop with technology, and in particular how do sexual minorities use developing tech to democratize sexual information?

In a discussion between professionals who work in porn, tech, text, visual arts, sex education, politics -- and combinations of all or some of those -- this panel will seek to illuminate how developing technologies change the creative process in erotic arts and entertainment, both internally (to the artist) and externally (through social effects). The panelists will seek to create a suggestive template for how human erotic express is newly inspired -- or, in some cases, squelched -- by the rapid development of new technology.

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Thomas Ballhausen

Push It!
Fragments from the History of Adult Remakes

Examination of a media history of pornography reveals interesting tendencies in the world of film: since the era of silent film, pornographic films have not only produced genuine 'blockbusters', but have also imitated the concepts, logics and narratives of successful mainstream films. These well-established techniques of narration, marketing and distribution of popular and successful films should be further investigated, always bearing in mind the conditions and the framework of the media-history of pornography itself (i.e. for the adult remakes, there may be a shift from a subversive form of literature to a more orthodox form of filmic entertainment). By dealing with a sample of pornographic films from the history of film and the counter-positions of pornographic media itself (i.e. tools like video cameras or the internet), a comparison between blockbuster movies and adult remakes will be carried out.

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Tina Lorenz

Putting It in Perspective: What Role Does Technology Play in Today's Mainstream Porno Films?

To find the newest technological innovations in the pornographic sector, one just needs to look at the Internet: projects like home-made fucking machines or turning consumer electronics into vibrators are usually furthered by lone hobby inventors or internet companies seeking a commercial niche. Mainstream hardcore films, on the other hand, attract producers and movie makers who tend to play with images that are known to have worked before, featuring traditional status symbols and the most common of pop cultural references. Thus the mainstream hardcore DVD is amongst the most conservative output forms of pornography, catering to the lowest common denominator in its consumers, compared to the specialized
cutting-edge internet pornography with a much less varied consumer base.

This lecture will look at a selection of European hardcore films, including features, gonzo and sequence pictures, to determine the role of technology played in those films. What kind of technology is considered a lowest common denominator or a status symbol to legitimize its portrayal in a mainstream hardcore DVD? How did the use and mention of technology change over the years in European productions? Film-extracts will be shown.

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Amanda Williams

Sex and Computation in a Material World

Computational technology, including sensors and actuators, has the remarkable ability to blur the boundaries between information transmission and material action, between bits and atoms, between seeing and touching. It doesn’t simply provide new ways to create and distribute dirty pictures, rather it may be a key participant in a redefinition of pornography and sex altogether. I will discuss seeing and touching as contrasting modalities of sexual/sensual experience, and the potential of computational technology to allow us not just to see and hear but to touch and be touched over distance. This raises some interesting questions: where does porn end and sex begin? What would touch-centric sexual technologies be like? What technical and social challenges and opportunities are provided by our use of computers to reach out and touch someone sexually?

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Timothy Archibald

Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews.
How small town inventors are changing America.

The event will be a lecture and slideshow based around the research done for my book "Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews." The book is an examination of independent inventors working in small towns across America attempting to create a new form of sex enhancement device. The lecture will include a reading from interviews with the inventors, photographs of the inventors and their machines, as well as a discussion of some of the goals the inventors had for future devices they currently didn't have the ability to create. The lecture will focus more on the sociology of the inventors: their motivations, their goals and a big picture look at what exactly would make a person want to create a sex machine. The lecture will most likely appeal to those interested in the art aspect of the topic: are sex machines a new form of American folk art? Do the machines tell us something deeper about the American sexual consciousness? Is there a future for this movement or was it simply an internet driven trend? This and more will be dealt with, with lots of give and take from the audience.

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Jonathan Coopersmith

Technology as a force for democritization: The rise of do-it-yourself pornography

Pornography has historically been closely connected with the rise of communication technologies, offering primarily male customers the justification to become early adopters and providers with profits sufficiently alluring to overcome societal opprobrium. This trend has accelerated with the digitalization of data, the Internet, and the World Wide Web. The result has been a faster diffusion and acceptance of these new technologies and their accompanying services, business models, and operating styles.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect has been the rise of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) pornography. Historically, production, distribution and consumption of pornography were separate activities. In recent decades, new technologies and business models have radically changed this pattern, blurring the distinctions among those three activities. Most significantly, the skills and capabilities that only experts or large organizations possessed have been blackboxed, enabling ordinary individuals easily to produce, distribute and consume their own pornography. By greatly reducing barriers to entry and transaction costs, new technologies like the camcorder and business models like the sitelink have enabled millions to become active purveyors and not passive consumers of pornography.

In the 1970s-80s, the camcorder (nee video tape recorders) began the large-scale DIY pornography movement. Thousands, if not millions of people filmed their own pornography. A market to distribute and market these homemade videos emerged, aided by the higher profit margin for video stores than regular pornography (itself offering higher profits than regular videos). The advent of digital cameras, webcams, file-sharing, and the web greatly expanded the DIY world.

The web has revolutionized distribution as well as consumption. Just as the Polaroid camera enabled people to make their own pornographic photographs without the expertise and equipment to develop and print their own pictures, so too have businesses provided blackboxed services to enable individuals to create their own pornographic websites with only a basic understanding of the underlying technologies.

One striking aspect has been the democratization of pornography. YouTube’s popularity of self-exposure and voyeurism has some roots in the technologies, techniques, and concepts pioneered by the pornography industry dating back to the VCR.

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Stefan Lutschinger

The Re-Judgement of Paris
How “Ob/scenity” Gave the World Modern Art in 1863

In his masterful pamphlet The Eighteenth Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte, Karl Marx writes that all “great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it where, twice … the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”: and so it would seem with the invention of Modern Art after the Judgement of Paris. In an atmosphere of censorship as Emperor Napoleon III rebuilt Paris, the Académie des beaux-arts dominated the French art scene in the middle of the 19th century. For instance, historical subjects, religious themes and portraits were valued, whereas landscape and still life were not. Works which failed to satisfy the accepted definition of "art" at that time, were deemed dangerously subversive by the cultural elite and excluded from art exhibits. The Académie held an annual, juried art show, the Salon de Paris, and artists whose work displayed in the show won prizes, garnered commissions, and enhanced their social reputation. In 1863, the jury rejected The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) by Édouard Manet primarily because it depicted a nude woman with two clothed men at a picnic. While nudes were routinely accepted by the Salon when featured in historical and allegorical paintings, the jury condemned Manet for placing a realistic nude in a contemporary setting. Ironically, the “ob/scene” portrayed in his work pools on classical sources in 16th c. Italian renaissance art as the art historian Gustav Pauli has proved later on: the composition source of this – so to speak – epitomized Apple of Discordia reveals Manets’s study of the old masters as the disposition of the main figures is derived from Marcantonio Raimondi’s allegorical engraving The Judgement of Paris, dated 1515 or 1516, after a lost painting of Raphael. The jury's sharply worded rejection of Manet's painting, as well as the unusually large number of 4000 rejected works that year, set off a firestorm among French artists. These artists, including Manet, Renoir and Monet, would later become known as the Impressionists, the famous founding figures of Modern Art. Eventually, these rejected artists persuaded Napoleon III to set up the Salon des Refusés, providing them with an opportunity to bring their banned and literally “ob/scene” – in the sense of “off/scene” – work “on/scene” (Linda WILLIAMS 2004). After seeing the rejected works, Emperor Napoleon III decreed that the public be allowed to judge the work themselves, and the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) was organized. Even though many viewers came only to laugh, the Salon des Refusés featuring Manet’s sexed-up version of the Judgement of Paris drew attention to the existence of a new tendency in art and attracted more visitors than the regular Salon.

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Rose White

When correctly viewed, anything is lewd: An unintended consequence of Web 2.0

There's plenty of material on Flickr to keep perverts happy--cute redheads, fat chicks, knee-high socks--but most of it wasn't put up with perverts in mind.

It's hard to imagine someone not enjoying the social computing aspects of Web 2.0, Flickr in particular. By tagging photos and joining groups, users can put their photographs in front of more people than ever before--but often discover they'd rather restrict who can see their posted material. The attention of fetishists and "perverts" makes "innocent" photographers into sex objects and pornographers. Historically, we've been able to decide whether to adopt these stigmatized roles--today, we can have them attached to us.

Fetishistic uses of Flickr are far from a perversion of the site's intent, however--favoriting and tagging photos, discovering simpatico users, and exploring communities are absolutely intended uses of Flickr. Even something like Plumpr, a third-part site, uses Flickr API in a completely legal manner, and encourages anyone who objects to being included to speak up. This marks a shift in responsibility, though. The content producer has to consider and then specify what uses her work may be put to.

This paper will explore this new paradigm through photographic examples taken from Flickr, private correspondence with both "innocent" and "perverted" users of the site, and responses to brief questionnaires posted in Flickr communities.

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Carol Queen

Your Great-Grandmother's Vibrator: How the technologies of our times shape sex and pleasure

If your great-grandmother had a vibrator (and it's very possible she did), it got into her hands thanks to technological advances as well as contemporary understandings of health and well-being. If she used it to have an orgasm, it's possible that she didn't know what the sensation was; and if she learned about vibrator use from a medical doctor, as she may well have done, it's possible he didn't know it was an orgasm either. But if your great-grandfather went down to the club and watched pornography with the boys, he may have realized the implement on his wife's nightstand was the same device he could see on the screen: one reason not every doctor today recommends you use a vibrator!

Carol Queen will examine some of the history of pleasure-giving devices (at least one of which, it turns out, was also a labor-saving device) and offer some thoughts about their future. Along the way she'll discuss pleasure; some social definitions of sex; the role/s gender may play in our use of technological sex enhancers; and some ways that technologies shape sexual identity and possibility.

mp3 (20 MB)