My Hugh Hefner Sex machine fantasy comes true.
June, 15th, 9.45am, 2004, LAX
So here I am in LA, with a suitcase full of sex machines about to go through customs…I am nervous, I am starting to feel slightly sick. It looks really suss, I’ve got, a suitcase full of plastic and sex toys packed to the brim. This is LA, the mecca of porn, a multi billion dollar industry that exports to the world, but here I am trying to import some fuck machines, disguised as art. Americans are weird like that, as much as they ‘are’ the sex industry they have hang ups about acknowledging it, this is after all one of the most conservative countries in the world. I don’t feel like an artist today, I feel like a pornographer with a suitcase full of sleazy shit. A huge customs official beckons me forward, I just know they are going to want to open my suitcase….
How did I get here? In 2003 I made some sex machines made from household appliances and exhibited them at Sexpo in Melbourne to an enthusiastic crowd, hardly anyone from the art world came to see my work at Sexpo. After all, Sexpo is a bit crass isn’t it? This is the weird thing with the art world, it pays lip service and ‘deals with pop culture’ in the gallery, but the minute you do something in ‘pop culture’ (and I am not talking about site specific art events, which function as an extension of the gallery) but pop culture as pop culture, it’s somehow not the same thing, somehow pop culture in the safety of the white cube under halogen lights is ‘critique’, where as stuff in pop culture is somehow not critique, this is very dumb, but who said the art world was smart.
Mike Kelly says that art has nothing to do with culture and that culture is things like Disney and that art is this activity that runs parallel to culture. I tend to agree with this. I also think you could say that pornography and the sex industry and Hollywood is ‘culture’ that is culture as defined as something experienced on a day to day basis by millions of people, not as an exclusive activity, which is how culture is thought about. I hate the term pop culture, it’s a term used by dumb art curators and academics who are outside of pop culture, so they have a name for it, naming this thing ‘pop culture’ implies that you are somehow above it and better then it, I’d like to think I am not ‘dealing with pop culture’ I am pop culture, which ultimately at the moment a more interesting, perverse, stranger and radical place to be then contemporary art.
I love LA for precisely the reason everyone seems to hate the place, its crass, its superficial, its morally bankrupt, it has no soul, its polluted, its one big suburb, but most of all because it supposedly has no culture. Contrary to what people think you don’t need a car in LA, in fact you haven’t experienced LA unless you take the bus everywhere. Catching the bus in LA is my all time favourite thing to do, as only the minorities, the disabled and freaks take the bus, a thousand psycho dramas unfolding everyday day…but I am here on a mission, to show my sex machines at Erotica LA, the annual industry show for the porn world in this city of dreams. So I do manage to get through customs, after they examine my machines. I pathetically say I am an artist, making work about the sex industry, they look confused but let me go. My first port of call is to try to introduce my work to Larry Flynt, I catch the bus down Wilshire boulevard with my suitcase of sex machines, to Flynt HQ, and meet with Larry’s assistant, she gives me Larry’s personal email, but I never hear back from him.
At my booth at Erotica LA, like Sexpo there’s lots of confusion, is this art or sex toys? Am I an artist? what is art? do these things work? will they make me cum? why am I exhibiting them? or the ultimate statement, ‘what’s the point of art if I can’t fuck it’. I enjoy this confusion about the work, this ambiguity about art, my intentions and its place in the world, its like art and commerce, high culture, low culture, art culture, fuck culture all collapsing in on itself. It reminds me of what’s interesting about art, what made me want to be an artist. It’s not about some stuff in a gallery, with a didactic panel explaining the work, and some catalogue essay that validates it all as a worthy experience, but art as something that fucks with your brain, confuses you, causes you to loose your balance on what is art, what is life, what is culture.
Back at Erotic LA, a Japanese Porn producer wants to use my work in a porn movie, the producer from Ghost Busters wants to do something, as does the art director from Deuce Bigalow 2, Playboy TV want to do a spot with some playboy bunnies caressing the machines. I fantasise about being invited to the playboy mansion and introducing my machines to Hugh Hefner, none of which happens, but in a way it doesn’t matter, its all just a weird extension of the work. The whole ambiguity of the work, extends to me, I really don’t feel like an artist, I feel like a salesman, hocking my wares to whoever is interested. I no longer feel part of the art world but inside a big machine called porn.
Someone from the Erotic Museum in LA drops by and wants to exhibit the work in the Museum on Hollywood boulevard for a few months. later when I am back in Melbourne I hear Hugh Hefner really does drops by the museum with some playboy bunnies to donate one of his dressing gowns. He stops by my exhibit of futuristic sex machines and smiles while he takes another sip of his bourbon and coke.
Kelley, Mike, Foul Perfection, Edited by John C. Welchman, MIT Press, 2003