From the Heart:
The Pleasures, Profits and Politics of Sex in Performance
by Maria Finn || Author's Links
Hardcore from the Heart
Continuum Books, NY.
Annie Sprinkle was just on tour autographing Hardcore from the Heart with "tit prints." You could choose from a stack of stencils: circles, hearts, squares, and commemorative World Trade Center towers. She'd place a stencil over the inside cover of the book, dab ink pads onto her bosom, circle some glitter around her nipples, lean down and press. The line for them was long and it moved slowly. Young female students gushed and asked for lesbian symbols in their books, friends from the sex trade hugged and compared book deals, academics greeted her, older men, ones who looked like they might have belonged to the "raincoat brigade" at one time stood a little back and checked out Annie's pendulous breasts. Ms. Sprinkle displayed the ribald generosity she is known for as she slung her breasts about and promised "tit prints for everybody" even though the books had sold out.
Next to her stood Gabrielle Cody, a Drama professor at Vassar College who had been approached for the series Critical Performances by Continuum Press. The series pairs academics with performance artists in order to create the effect of a dialogue about Performance Art. She chose Annie Sprinkle to be the subject of the book. The purpose the collaboration is to create a dialogue between a theorist and a performer.
Their book, Hardcore from the Heart, is an montage of critical essays about Annie Sprinkle, scripts from her films, still photos of performances, first person tales of her brushes with the law, spiritual sexuality workshops, interviews between Sprinkle and former collaborators, artists, and anti-porn feminists. The forward by Rebecca Schneider about "Dialectical Image" is about as sexually enticing as staring straight into Annie Sprinkles' cervix. That seems to be the point here though; as Barthes said, "Everything is sexual, except sex." In this book the discussion is not just about female sexuality and power dynamics, but pornography and the prostitute as representative of all women in society. Ms. Sprinkle's role as "dialectical" shows her as someone very conscientious about her role as both commodity and seller, and it disavows her as a victim.
In both pornography and art, fantasy is made into an actuality. But whose? In the last decade feminist scholars are revisiting pornography because it can be more than exploitation of women, particularly if women are making it. After the forward, Gabrielle Cody introduces Sprinkle's work in the context of performance. She states that Ms. Sprinkles' performances blur the boundary between performer and spectator. Because they are explicitly sexual and socially transgressive, the interaction with the audience makes them not merely spectators, but participants as well. Our own voyeurism transforms us. The script for Annie Sprinkle's Herstory of Porn follows directly after these essays. Unfortunately, the script is not nearly as interesting as the documentary itself. This is understandable, as watching people having sex is usually more fun than reading about it. But the most notable absence is Sprinkle's humor, and reading this makes you realize that she goes well beyond exhibitionism, and is a remarkable performer.
Herstory starts when Annie Sprinkle first began acting in pornography films; she plays an innocent girl who is coerced or tricked into sex. Through her career, we watch not just the evolution of the porn industry, from bans on "kinky" sex to AIDS, but we also see Ms. Sprinkle's personal sexual evolution. She realizes that art gives her more freedom than porn, and the boundary between art and porn, performer and prostitute becomes blurred, with Sprinkle as the embodiment. When she starts to make her own films, she explores the diffused possibilities of sex and sexuality rather than the build up leading to a phallic centralized, cum shot. She identifies herself as a lesbian, yet this is not a political statement meant to exclude men. The documentary ends with her own mermaid film where she teaches a younger mermaid to seduce a man. What gets explored is sexuality and seduction, rather than sex. As Baudrillard states in his book Seduction, this is the realm of the feminine. He goes on to argue in this book that "Seduction represents mastery over the symbolic universe while power represents only mastery of the real universe."(8) This idea is echoed in some of the changing views of feminism. Rather than make ourselves become masculine in order to acquire power, why can't we make the world more feminine? In Annie Sprinkle's pornography, sex is about transformation, not domination. Ms. Sprinkle has come to prefer art to pornography because of the freedom and acceptance she has found as an artist, and she has found a way to transcend porn and present a bigger message.
This book is a fast, engaging read. Since it is comprised of scripts, interviews, and short essays, the ideas and effects of it are much bulkier than the actual book. It can be read in a few hours, but you finish it with a strong sense of having just been part of a lively conversation. It starts off feeling uneven, but Dr. Cody uses theory to introduce the performance scripts, and she pulls themes and ideas through the book from her interviews. It is said more than once in the book that Sprinkle is an artist and her medium is sex. Sprinkle has not been just an artist, but also a political activist, advocate, spiritual healer, and sex scholar. She believes that if we can be happy in bed--generous, loving, considerate and passionate--then we could be that way in every aspect of our lives. These traits would overlap into our work places, communities, national and international politics. In Hardcore from the Heart, we see that Annie Sprinkle has transformed not only herself through performance, sex and seduction, but the audience as well.
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