Avantocore – Sexually Explicit Experimental Films explores the intricacies of sexuality and the history of its representation in New York's avant-garde, underground and experimental film from the 1960s to 2003. The films curated explore a variety of sexual tendencies, experiences, fantasies, and reflections of personal visions.
One of the earliest explicit sexual films by a woman is Barbara Rubin's double screen projection/happening film Christmas on Earth. J. Hoberman characterized the film as "an essential product of one of the richest periods of New York underground filmmaking…far and away the most sexually explicit film to startle the pre-porn avant-garde." During the late 1960s, Rubin was a ubiquitous presence within the New York underground scene. Rubin introduced Andy Warhol to the then-unknown band, The Velvet Underground and participated in and largely engineered the Andy Warhol Up-tight multi-media rock concert. The concerts evolved into the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a notorious road show of movies and music that Rubin, Warhol, the Velvets and other Factory regulars toured to various college venues before it disintegrated in 1966.
Another pioneer woman artist is Carolee Schneemann whose masterpiece of experimental film Fuses (1964-68) is considered the first explicit feminist erotic film confronting traditional sexual taboos. An homage to a relationship of ten years filmed by Schneemann while participating in the action – it's a film which breaks the barriers between private and public subject matter.
"In her attempt to reproduce the whole visual and tactile experience of lovemaking as a subjective phenomenon, Schneemann spent some three years marking on the film, baking it in the oven, even hanging it out the window during rainstorms on the off chance it might be struck by lightning. Much as human beings carry the physical traces of their experiences, so this film testifies to what it has been through and communicates the spirit of its maker. The red heat baked into the emulsion suffuses the film, a concrete emblem of erotic power."
— B. Ruby Rich, Chicago Art Institute
An important masterpiece of erotic cinema in the late 1980s is Abigail Child's Mayhem. Abigail Child is a filmmaker, poet (with four published books), and a film professor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. She has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a Masters degree in Design from Yale University. She has written numerous articles, essays and criticism on film. Mayhem (1987) is part six of a film series titled "Is This What you Were Born For?" This project was conceived as a way to bracket Child's ongoing film investigations in the context of the aggressions of the Twentieth Century: the title is from an etching by Goya, part of the "disasters of War" series. The work is in seven detachable parts, each of which can be viewed by itself for its own qualities. Each chapter has a different sound/image relation and each explores the social landscape from a different focal point.
Peggy Ahwesh's Color of Love is a recent classic of erotic cinema. The Color of Love (1994) was a found-footage porn film from the 1970s that was given to her. She optically printed and hand-tinted the imagery, giving the film a stained glass effect. The film deconstructs the original film narrative, and at times abstracts the imagery and the body. Peggy Ahwesh is an experimental filmmaker and teaches film at Bard College in upstate New York. She has received numerous grants for her work including Rockefeller and Jerome grants. The Whitney Museum held a retrospective of her films in 1997. She has been making avant-garde films since the late 70s dealing with sexuality, the home, theory and film history. She's also completed a series of works dealing with George Bataille's writing and theories, most notably The Dead Man and De Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom. Her most recent video is She Puppet.
Other interesting films featured in the program include Pillowbook (1995) by Joel Schlemowitz which is an erotic flip book of sorts, a cameraless film made with 35mm material cut in a paper cutter to 16mm width and perforated with a splicer, contact printed to 16mm, with the sound of the printer jamming on the soundtrack. The Dance (1992) by Jim Hubbard is an intimate portrait of songwriters, performance artists and lovers Dan Martin and Michael Biello. This beautiful hand-processed film explores the interconnectedness of Dan and Michael's domestic life and art work, and their selfless devotion to a community of artists they have helped to create and support.
Jacob Pander's The Operation takes place in a cold operating room, where a surgeon clad in a protective Ty-Vek suit, goggles and tight rubber gloves demonstrates her skill before a group of observers. They scrutinize the eerie coupling between the surgeon and patient, whose bodies merge like molten lava. Explicit radioactive sex draws the viewer
into an erotic experience that probes beneath the boundary of skin.
Avantocore also includes two amazing cut-out animated films: Lewis Klahr's Downs Are Feminine, which unveils a kind of rainy, indoor, peaceable kingdom of desultory and idyllic debauchery, masturbatory reveries and hermaphroditic transformations, and Spiders In Love: An Arachnogasmic Musical (1999), which displays Martha Colburn's customary pleasure in perversity. The only video in the program, I Love Jesus (2003) by Annie Hanavan, is a powerful auto-erotic self portrait of the artist. High tone natural light with clever editing set to a classic punk soundtrack makes this piece the quintessential post-modern porn.
Carolee Schneemann: Fuses, 1964-68, 22 min
Abigail Child: Mayhem, 1987, 17 min
Jim Hubbard: The Dance, 1992, 8 min
Louis Klahr: Downs Are Feminine, 1994, 9 min
Peggy Ahwesh: The Color of Love, 1994, 10 min
Joel Schlemowitz: Pillow Book, 1995, 4 min
M.M. Serra & Jennifer Reeves: Darling International, 1999, 22 min
Martha Colburn: Spiders In Love: An Arachnogasmic Musical, 1999, 3 min
Anne Hanavan: I Love Jesus, 2003, 3 min