Free Art Conversation

First of all, a big thanks and respect to Clea Cutthroat for starting the conversation and taking it beyond us Berlin artists and into an online forum. Please read her brilliant manifesto on free art and censorship if you haven’t already (myspace.com/cleacutthroat)

It’s sometimes unbelievable to me that in a place where women’s and men’s bodies are shown freely in public advertisement, where prostitution is legal and drug use is not heavily restricted or criminalized, where performance artists perform live sex shows, eat their own shit, pee on each other, shove dildos up their asses, take their own blood onstage (and drink it), staple playing cards into their heads, and suspend themselves with meat hooks, that anything would ever be censored in Berlin! My first night in Berlin, Krylon Superstar was asking patrons of the White Trash to eat Nacho Chips out of his asshole for the prize of one free Becks. So Why is Clea Cutthroat being censored for ripping off her cabaret costume, her blond wig (to reveal a hot shaved head and blond Mohawk), spitting (fake) blood, pouring milk on herself and hanging herself (all within a minute and a half)?

Is it because no one likes to see a pretty girl destroy herself? Is it because women’s bodies are only supposed to be exposed and manipulated in certain ways? (But what about all the gender bending queer underground artists that subvert mainstream gender images all the time?) Or is it because within certain milieus that Clea and other artists are working towards—above ground—we artists have to fit into a neat box, e.g., “burlesque dancer,” who should never destroy the myth of being a real woman, much less a real bloody bitch? I don’t know. But it certainly makes me think about the way that censorship, context, and capitalism are interrelated.

It’s almost impossible for any of us artists to escape the fact that we live in a capitalistic society, where we have to make the choice between earning our living doing something other than our art, or allowing our art to become a commodity—and a well paying one at that. Censorship is likewise locked in this capitalistic bubble. The more “controversial” the art—and not in just a sensationalistic way, but in a critical and political way—generally, the less marketable. Some of us underground artists generally don’t feel the burn of censorship because we don’t even attempt to take our art beyond the underground. We perform what we do in its purest sense in the places that will have us—alternative bars and experimental performances spaces, punk squats, apartment cooperatives, queer festivals, sex clubs and fetish parties. Some of the most “taboo” art simply does not appear in forums that cause any kind of controversy. But most artists live somewhere at the fringe between underground and mainstream (read marketable), where we live with a constant choice about artistic integrity. We are sometimes asked to compromise our shows and our full artistic visions in order to present our work in a “high profile” venue, and in these moments we are faced with a big decision—compromise and get paid, or refuse to compromise and continue waiting tables?

On the one hand, artists dealing with taboo could just stick to subcultures and their work wouldn’t be censored. In fact censorship is exactly what creates the need for underground –people that are curious will have to look harder to find the art that challenges the status quo. If art that challenged the status quo were always allowed within the “mainstream” then nothing would be quite “taboo” anymore. The fight itself—the struggle between those main voices and the voices at the fringe—is what brings attention to the fact that in every society exists other voices that aren’t funded by big companies and television commercials.

In fact, as long as mainstreamed art, music and movies are monopolized by big industry and capitalism, there is a fringe that rejects being mainstreamed and appropriated by those with money. And there will always be the simple right of a curator to choose what he or she would like on his or her stage, channel, or station. It’s this ongoing tension—everyone doing their job complaining, fighting, disagreeing, banning and breaking through. And it is a constant process of the underground moving towards mainstream, like the changing lines of the shore between margin and center. But wouldn’t it be nice if we artists who don’t have a lot of money, who aren’t controlled by money or motivated by money, could at least survive solely on what we do without having to change our artistic visions just to get by?

I am so proud of Triston (myspace.com/triston) publishing and distributing his Heaux Confessionals as an old fashioned photocopied punk ‘zine. I think “heaux nation” is a great metaphor for us as artists, especially artists who struggle to make art our work without compromising our art. We attempt to function above ground to some extent because we don’t want day jobs. We don’t want to just make coffees for the corporate world; we’d rather perform for it and therefore be part of the shaping of the new performance world. What the heaux confessionals represent to me is the ability to be proud about what we do; that we deserve to be paid for what we do— whatever it is that we do –even if it’s a voice that challenges the status quo; that we are proud of what we do; that we are not ashamed of what we do, and that we should not be told that what we do is not okay. We are wonderheauxs, caught in a web of having to deal with buying and selling.

Perhaps what concerns me most about censorship isn’t so much when the mainstream tells an alternative voice that they don’t want to be seen or heard (this is, after all, typically why we are not status quo). It is not, for example, my personal crusade to change and reform the mainstream voices that I consider to be racist, sexist, socially and politically conservative, or downright apolitical. There is so much to do with my own time and my own voice rather than spend it reforming boring institutions like reality television. I don’t so much care if I’m never on MTV or I never hear my song on a Clearchannel radio station, but I do care when I’m censored by people who say they support alternative voices, who say they believe in us, who say they are interested in promoting the underground, who say they want something alternative and different in their programming, that they want a new voice, who say that love and openness and acceptance are their game. That’s where I find that censorship gets really interesting. And I find that one of the most interesting places in this struggle is between so called “anti-porn” feminists and so-called “sex positive” feminists, how women are policing each other when really female artists should be supporting each other in whatever it is that we choose to do with our own bodies. To be continued wonderheaux!


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