het Theater Festival

‘Pleasure and frustration — the mechanics of porn can be found everywhere’

Je 06 Sep 2018

There was probably no other time in history that is as progressive as the 21st century, especially in terms of effectiveness and information-spreading. We desperately want to find purpose in our jobs while maintaining a #relationshipgoals relationship. We worship alternativeness, yet seem to be unable to find alternatives outside our comfort zones. It seems that in times where time itself moves so fast, we should take time to stand still and rethink certain beliefs we have about structures within us and our environment. In our interview with Mette Ingvartsen on her research for the piece 21 pornographies, we came across 21 questions that are in desperate need of 21 exclamation points.

Regina Janzen

(c) Jens_Sethzman

Mette Ingvartsen is a Danish dancer and choreographer who is currently based in Brussels. She dedicated herself to a profound research on topics like sexuality, intimacy and how they influence infrastructural power mechanisms in politics and our society. 21 pornographies is the fourth piece out of a series that’s called The Red Pieces. It is about the journey through important moments of porno­graphy and how to understand its mechanisms.

What exactly was driving Mette to investigate this topic? Although topics like sexuality, intimacy, identity and androgyny were already important for her in her early career, it was the birth of her children that created a new awoken urge to keep on questioning our relations to one another and the existing societal models. ‘When I became a mother, there was something that happened in relation to how we view societal structures in relation to sexuality, family structures and the expectations that come along with it. All of a sudden I felt the urge again to think about societal structures that determine how sexual practices exist between people, but also within society. I felt that there was a strong societal push towards certain forms of sexual practice and family structure, which I didn’t find liberating at all. I found it quite restrictive in the way that society determines specific structures as the dominant ones.’

Concerning the many diverse ways, one could choose to continue this research, what were the starting points for Mette? Her profound personal research started from the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s, where nudity was often used as a tool to protest against war, capitalism and nuclear power. Afterwards, sex became big business and could be found in your everyday entertainment tool-kit: TV, Internet and advertisement.

One might wonder how it could have become that popular and all-consuming? There is definitely pornography in disguise in our daily lives, but where? Mette tried an experiment: ‘Imagine if you would consider the whole world as being pornographic, not in a sexually explicit way, but in how pornography wants to do something to your affective body; it wants to produce an orgasm. It works through excitation and once you have that orgasm, then afterwards there’s a certain frustration and you want to have another one. In a way, you can compare it, amongst other things, to shopping, or the instant gratification we experience when we actively use social media, when we play video games, or watch TV series that work with cliff hangers.’

Pleasure and frustration — the mechanics of porn can be found everywhere. Your brain releases dopamine and after a short while there is again a craving for a dopamine dose. Are you asking yourself if that’s the reason why you binge-watched another series, instead of being social with your friends? Absolutely!

 

(c) Jens_Sethzman

 

One might really get carried away by the way we receive information. It is built on peaks of excitement that make you want to come back and consume more; more news, more food, more clothes — more life?

Consumerism truly gives us the feeling of being rewarded. It does make us feel good and that’s why it’s so difficult to detect those little tricks that are being played on us. There are many people spending hours trying to find more productive ways on how to sell us things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like and look for happiness that seems to proactively hide.

But shopping is one of the less harmful ways that micro-mechanisms are working in our subconsciousness. What about violent movies or video games? In Mette’s opinion, the general research on exposure of violent movies and video games is still incomplete: ‘You won’t become automatically violent after watching a horror movie or playing a virtual serial killer, but who really knows about the long-term effects or consequences that will occur in the long run?Could these be the micro early stages of a possible warboner in the future?

War pornography was another topic Mette took a look at during her research. It is definitely on the more extreme side on the scale of power abuse and we might all still remember the pictures of the US soldiers and the tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

Unpleasant as it is, Mette always prefers to look at cruelty and violence directly: ‘I think in our society, we live in a privileged part of the world, where in a way it’s quite easy to live a nice life and to not deal with the forms of cruelty that exist all over the world, especially in war situations, but I think there is something troubling about the way we look at violent images from that perspective. The way news images are reaching us. Are they actually truly reaching us? I know from myself that I have a difficult time with brutal imagery and sometimes I also wonder what it does to look at it without doing anything about it. Then I am thinking about how media also circulate violent images as a kind of machinery that produces news and I find this to be very questionable. To me it’s a kind of porno­graphic use of emotional imagery that is repeated over and over again. It creates cycles of consumptions, of news consumption. I was looking at this form of war pornography and sexualized torture in war, because it is something that has existed throughout history and I felt like I needed to understand it. Sexuality is not just someting nice, experimental and inventive. It is also an area full of abuse and violence and perverse versions of the misuse of power. Are these people actually enjoying torturing?

Mette continues. ‘I’ve been gathering a lot of information on the practices of torture in exchange for valuable information, but how valuable is it in the end? It is proven to not actually work, so one tortures for a different reason. One might torture to show an example of an ideology and to brutalize as a state politics, but one might also torture to make people afraid and to feel one’s own power over these bodies. All these mechanisms around power, which have to do with demonstrating power that is somehow connected to pleasure; I find that extremely disturbing.’

One might wonder, is this a societal issue or human nature? ‘In a way, one could say that sexual violence is something that existed throughout history, so it surely is part of human nature and sexualised torture is one of the most extreme cases of abuse of power. In 21 pornographies, I work through these extremes to talk about microstructures that we live every day. The ones, that are more difficult to sense and change. My work on sexuality has been about trying to find the link between the microstructures and what we actually experience intimately with our partners. There is something that we do when we are sexually together. We practice a certain form of politics by being submissive or being in power, by being open or closed, by saying yes or no and by setting our boundaries or not. All these things we practice inside our bedrooms are what forms societal structures. I believe that power abuse happens on many levels. Now with the #MeToo Movement we’ve seen that it’s a huge topic that lots of women experience and that it’s definitely not new. It gets attention now, but it existed throughout history. I think we all can be more aware of how these micromanagements take place, and that could potentially change how politics function. In a way, it’s an old feminist stand of saying “The personal is political and the intimate is also part of how our society is functioning”, but I think it’s still a real thing how it’s connected to affect.’

What exactly is affect? Affect has to do with sensations in the body that are not being felt clearly enough to actually name them just yet. Anger, fear, happiness — those are clear emotions. Prior to that we are somewhat moved by something, but we are not quite sure what we’re moved by. Yet, we still act. ‘This grey area, this is where a lot of power structures become active. In that place where it’s difficult to define what it is doing to me. Why am I feeling like this? Is this abuse or not?’

The #MeToo Movement is in a way the biggest feminist movement we experienced until today, but in order for it to not only stay a hashtag, we need to have changes, but which ones? ‘We need to increase the number of women who are directing structures, who are politicians. Power is being distributed in a certain way and I think it needs to be seriously reconsidered. It’s a real effort, it’s not something that will happen by itself. Certain feministic issues that were brought up in the 60s, are still not completely resolved. Of course, it has improved, but it’s still not anywhere near being equal. Those are simple political questions and that’s not even going into all the details of microstructures of power. It’s bluntly out there in the open and we still didn’t manage to improve the situation. We have to address structures. Also, we have to teach girls to grow up and to have the confidence in being able to direct huge structures. That’s part of it as well. It’s a whole societal way of building confidence, of building skill, of building mental structures as well and that takes some time.’

One might want to imagine a best-case scenario, an ideal situation, but how does it look like? It would be utopian and unrealistic to imagine a world without power. Yet, there needs to be an equal power distribution, which is able to ‘shift positions’, according to Mette. ‘There’s a question of how power is being exercised. There needs to be a certain fluidity in those shifting constellations, where it’s not about certain people ending up at the top and others at the bottom, with no possibility of movement. It has to do with a world where there is a possibility of changing positions of power: between the sexes, genders, rich and poor and different races. If you believe in democracy, then you also believe in giving your power over to politicians you have elected. You think that being guided by that person, is the right way. Someone else actually decides for you and you only can agree wholeheartedly to this, if you trust in the other and in the system.’

In 21 pornographies, Mette is also letting the audience experience a roleplay of a special kind. The perpetrators in her piece are being located as members of the audience. ‘It is slightly violent to turn someone into it without them knowing, but for me it’s also a strategy of softly forcing and challenging the audience to take up these positions and imagine “What if I were this character?”. Entertain this imagination. For some people, this can be very difficult, but as it’s all imaginary, it’s also in a way a proposal of how to picture yourself in this situation, because many people refuse to think that they might be abusing power.’

Are we having blurry lines or a blurry vision? The truth is, that it’s very likely that we all come across situations where we might slightly use or abuse power, but because they at times appear microscopically, we might not be able to spot them right way. Mette gives you the chance. Are you willing to take it?

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