By Frank Moore, Saturday, August 21, 1999. Published by Lucid Moon #36, August 1999.
For most of my life, I was searching for a method to work with people in an intense, direct way. Ever since college days, I had been writing nonsense scripts dealing with nudity and non-sexual eroticism. Also during my college days, I read such books as Toward a Poor Theatre and The Theatre and its Double. But it was not until I and my communal family took a very intense film-making course in Santa Fe in 1972 that I was able to put my weird ideas into performance.
We made films of rolling nude down a hill, smearing bodies with baby food, nursing by a sexy woman. But when the film course was over, I did not have money to make films. I could not see putting my energy into getting money to make films, could not see putting up with the compromises and outside control involved in an artistic context requiring big bucks. For me, the act of breaking a taboo is what is magical, what effects change…not someone seeing it in a film.
This not having money, this not wanting to be controlled and limited by money, was what sealed me into a performance life.
So I started looking for a way to work with people. I wanted to see people nude, and touch them, and to create an intensity between us.
I had been painting oils for years, painting with a brush strapped to my forehead, painting nudes from magazine photos. One day, a rich woman asked me to paint a nude of her. My wife set me and my paints up in the fancy living room as the woman undressed. On that day I realized how art can give people permission to do what normally is forbidden. It gives a frame that switches realities from the narrow normal reality to the freeing altered reality of controlled folly. If you go up to a stranger on the street and ask him to show his body to you, you will be lucky if he just walks away and does not hit you. But if you sincerely (and sincerity is a key) ask him to model for a painting or be in a video that involves nudity, there is a high chance he will do it because you are offering him a key to a new, different, and temporary reality. When I go up to a person on a street and ask him to be in some project which may contain some nudity and physical play, the nudity and physical play as an idea in this context is a great tool to get under the polite chatter surface to the more meaningful stuff — which is, after all, the aim of the piece.
People always say they like the work because it is strong, but I should get over my obsession with sex and nudity, and get on to more important issues; I should not get “stuck” in one vision. What they do not realize is what they like about the work, the strength, comes from being committed to a single vision, no matter what the current trends and fashions are. I cannot imagine more important issues than sex and freedom symbolized by nudity. But these are not my ultimate focus. Sex and nudity are powerful digging tools to reach the intimate community. By limiting the tools of art, art itself is limited. And a part of my job both as an artist and as a shaman is to fight such limitations.
I have debated with myself about stopping resisting the label SEXUAL. By insisting what I am doing is not sexual, I am opening myself up to people questioning my honesty and integrity. If I accept the sexual label, people would just have to decide whether or not they like sex in art — decide whether it is art or not. That would be the depth of the questioning. They may feel uncomfortable seeing sex as art — but that uncomfortableness would be just from breaking the taboo of sex — which would not be that big of a deal. What I am doing is taking nudity and acts that are usually considered sexual and giving them a new, non-sexual context. That creates a tension, a conflict, an examining, a leap into something new. That is what I am after. This leap into newness is why people who are normally comfortable with casual nudity and casual sex sometimes get very uncomfortable with the nudity and erotic play in my work. By taking “sexual” acts and sincerely putting them into a different context, it creates another reality, another way of relating. It also creates conflict with the normal reality — and that conflict may change, in an underground sort of way, the normal reality. I think art — or at least this kind of art — should create conflict and change. And I like relating with people in the “unnormal” way in this different reality. This is why I do performance.
And besides…I like nudity and erotic play! So let’s take off our clothes and play!
By Frank Moore, September 29, 1997. Published in The Affiliate, Canada, January/February 1998.
I do have sexual fantasies. And like a lot of people, I never reveal them because frankly they would get me into a lot of shit. But since you asked…and if you don’t tell…
I have a dream that one day people who are now called in the current p.c. lingo “sex workers” will be seen (especially by themselves) as sexual healers, sexual teachers, and sexual artists. No more mutual use/abuse of each other (just a whore/john) as objects to avoid unwanted reality with illusions of power and of “just doing it for the money”.
In my dream, teenagers of both genders would come to the sexual healers/teachers to learn the art of using sex wisely in their lives, their relationships, and in their creative and spiritual quests. People in relationship would come together to the sexual teachers to deepen what they have and do with each other. The sexual healers would work with both the abused and the abusers…and the would-be abusers…releasing sexual repression, restoring trust and vulnerability, and teaching more humane ways of relating. The sexual healers would go into hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, etc. to give aid and comfort, to lay on of hands (and of bodies). Lonely people would come to the sexual healers not only for human body contact, but to find out how to change their lives to have/give what they need and want.
I have a dream that those who practice this sexual work would finally utterly reject the system of guilt, shame, sin, submission, dominance, and power instead of smugly playing with it. This system has its roots in The Dark Ages when it was the twisted version of the power system known as The Church. This twisted version was designed to keep the pleasure underground within the unseen control of The Church….
Mmmm……I said too much, revealed too much, about my sexual fantasies. I am probably in hot water, in deep shit. But I can’t help it. I’m a dreamer. And I have a dream. And I see some signs that my dream is coming into reality…maybe not in my lifetime…but who knows!
By Frank Moore, December 28, 1996. Published in P-FORM Number 43. Also published in Open Forum #13, Greece, and The Cherotic (r)Evolutionary #7, both in 1997.
I suppose this is a review of sorts. Two things evoke this review. First Martha Wilson of Franklin Furnace asked me to comment on the Furnace’s plans. The second event was our going to a Karen Finley reading [which cost $3 as opposed to $30 for a Finley performance….which I could not afford].
I have to start by saying I consider both Wilson and Finley powerful voices of the avant-garde. When other performance galleries were making artists create “acts” that would fit into “avant-garde” cabarets…fit in terms of both time and fashionable subject matter…Wilson at the Furnace was giving both artists and the art absolute freedom to perform magic…until THEY shut the Furnace down for “fire violations”. Karen and I were among the artists who enjoyed this freedom.
In other reviews, I have likened Karen’s poetry to Ginsberg’s, and her performances to Lenny Bruce’s in their intensity and laser commentary on the social injustices. Her poetry makes me cry. Her passions within her performances have transported me into very deep states of reality.
So it is always tragic to see figures like these get sucked, seduced, absorbed, tricked, bribed into “the mainstream”. It is tragic not only in personal terms for the individual artists, but in terms of the big picture. When an artist sets herself up as being an artist who goes beyond the normal frame, who tells the hard truths, who explores the unknown…not to be hip, or controversial, or to be interesting…but because that is how our tribal human being evolves, so it has to be done…when that kind of artist then goes after money, personal fame, and/or glamour while still claiming to be doing avant-garde art, it is denying society the real evolutionary function of the real avant-garde. It tells people, audiences and artists alike, that the avant-garde is just a branch of the entertainment complex with the same rules, goals, reality as television, rock music, Hollywood, and sports. This is like telling people a can of Slim Fast is a balanced meal of real food. It is a lie. And the scary dangerous thing is artists are buying/selling this lie.
Why am I on this rant? About a year or two ago, Wilson sent out a mass mailing in which she defended art [maybe to funders] as a profitable industry which pulls money, people, and jobs into cities. [True…if you want to make a lot of money, buy property where artists live/create now to sell to the yuppies when they discover the area!] This logic is a very steep, slippery slope indeed. The first glaring danger of this commercialized logic is art, according to this logic, which is not profitable or sellable is not and can not be successful worthwhile art! [Hey, ain’t that the American way?] I am sure Wilson does not believe this.
Although another mass mailing I received from her in November [I have been mulling it over until now] makes me wonder if she has fallen down that slope into believing the lie. Avant-garde art is art that tells the truth, explores the taboos, pushes the limits. Obviously this kind of art, if it is honest, can not be focused outwardly. Historically, often “The People” [who are not the same thing as “the mainstream”] have identified with the avant-garde because it was telling the truth about their lives. The focus of the avant-garde should always be on telling the truth, not on popularity polls and bottom lines. The focus of the avant-garde has been, and should be, on doing art that is as “pure” as possible…not on mass media entertainment of reaching as many people as possible by shaping “the product” to that goal.
In her letter, Martha refers to the avant-garde art as “once unpopular work…formerly at the non-profit fringe”…art that Franklin Furnace, according to the letter, has groomed for 20 years to get it ready for the mainstream…and now “Franklin Furnace is in a position to lead the avant-garde into the mainstream…” This hurts my head and heart. It is as if Martha does not see her own historical contribution of giving daring art a home. Instead, she tries to take credit for gravity and decay. The mainstream entertainment, by it sheer mass, has always sucked artists out of the fringe, the underground. That is just gravity. In reality, it takes a lot to enter, and to stay in, the underground. The underground is where the real freedom and the real ability to change society are to be found. This is why artists CHOOSE the underground instead of the mainstream. This is also why, when an artist is pulled into the mainstream, this freedom and ability decay. In my own career, I have worked very hard to stay in the underground…this work has been hard precisely because some of the pieces have turned out to be “popular” [whatever that means!]…attracting the mainstream sharks.
The mainstream has always tried to create a fake avant-garde with fake controversies, fake taboos, fake “hipness”, etc. to give the marks a controlled fun-ride through a Disneyland to keep them away from the real edge of life. This is because the powers-that-be can not control or exploit what is in the real avant-garde.
All of this is business as usual…and doesn’t scare me.
What does scare me is that someone like Martha bought into it and is becoming a producer of it! Her letter read like a bad Saturday Night Live skit. She is selling Franklin Furnace to get money to match a $100,000 N.E.A. challenge grant. With this money, and by teaming up with the corporate and media America, Franklin Furnace will be a “content provider for new media” that sniffs out “emerging alternative artists”. [Emerging from where to where? Alternative to what?] These artists and their art must be suitable to be packaged as “alternative comedy [a.k.a. performance art]”. The letter tells us this new alternative comedy will be “funny, yet provocative”. There will be a half-hour t.v. show of this. Plus they will produce short pieces to be aired “through” Saturday Night Live [as if that show has been cutting edge, or even funny, in the past 15 years] and MTV [with its history of censorship!]. Moreover they are seeking other ways of giving “audiences a glimpse of the avant-garde world” [whatever the hell that is!] “in an entertaining and easily consumable fashion”…like avant-garde artist trading cards…funded by Philip Morris Companies!
The marketing phrase “alternative comedy [a.k.a. performance art]” is very damaging to performance art because it trivializes art. In fact it avoids “art” all together, selling “alternative comedy” as a weird, consumable form of entertainment which will give you a laugh for your buck. This is not what performance art is. Performance art is the performing/doing/experiencing the act of art. It is going on a physical journey into the unlimited realm of art. Sometimes this journey may be funny or entertaining. But these are not the true goals or rewards. The suggestion [promotion] that these are the rewards of art results in denying people, including the artists, the real full freeing experience of art.
All of this is selling the art, the artists, and the audience way short. I am not questioning Martha’s personal commitment to the real avant-garde art. But realistically such art can not exist in such an environment that she is envisioning. Moreover it is misunderstanding the new media such as the internet and zines. In these media, artists can relate to their audiences directly without middlemen, without compromises, without limiting concepts such as “mainstream”…all for very little money…so why sell out?
But this concept of “alternative comedy” is disturbing. I guess the Karen Finley reading was an example of alternative comedy. She read from her parody of Martha Stewart [why bother?] which she obviously wrote just to fulfill a book deal. The reading was empty schtick, a passionless exercise in cleverness with no content or message. The audience responded with reflex laughter, like a laugh track. The problem was Karen was trying to be an entertainer, a comedian. Karen is not a comedian or entertainer. That is not her function. Her function is to inspire, confront, transmute…to tell the truth with passion. That is why people come to her. When she does not do that, the people are not fulfilled. When she ended her act, the people just sat there numb. Then I asked Karen to read her very deep, very moving poem “Black Sheep”… I just happened to have a copy of it with me. As she read it, magic, life, and power started flowing through her body and out into the audience, uplifting them. When she finished reading, people stood up and clapped…because this was why they came.
Oh, by the way, do you consider yourself mainstream? Do you want to be?
By Frank Moore. Written for and published in The Act in 1989.
I always have a problem when someone who has not experienced one of our performances asks, “Well, what was your performance about?” Within this question, there are a number of concepts about performance which are undermining limitations.
I became sucked into performance not to tell stories, not to paint pictures for others to look at, not even to reveal something about myself or about the state of things, and certainly not for fame or fortune. It was simply the best way that I saw to create the intimate community which I as a person needed and that I thought society needed as an alternative to the personal isolation….
O.k. Let’s cut the b.s. The above is true, but boring. In a lot of my performances, I spend the first hour boring people, usually by asking what each person does, how did he hear about the performance, etc. I drive in my wheelchair up to each person and tap out these questions slowly on my letterboard. Talking to this strange person in this strange way may be interesting as a confrontation. But listening to trivial chatter between this disabled man and each person in this “painfully slow” way can become an active boredom in a room which looks as if nothing else will ever happen. This active boredom is a slow increasing shock that makes people who want quick-paced, high-energy entertainment suddenly bolt out of the door.
This is one of my screening processes for the audience. This active boredom is actually a light trance in preparation for the altered reality which will be created within the piece. This trance is an active linking of the people into one another in the room. This causes those who are not ready to put aside the passive programming to leave.
I am not t.v. I am not the show, art should not be a show. There are a million shows from t.v., movies, school, sports, music, theatre, the stock market to the news and politics…all with the illusion of participation, but with the reality of grand passivity and short attention spans.
What I am as an artist is a channel through which a whole host of factors actively can mix together, creating a performance, creating a community, creating change. I do not see the performance as my own. Many artists get overwhelmed by taking on the whole responsibility of the performance, by thinking the performance is themselves. They get pumped up when a piece succeeds; and they get crushed when a piece bombs. They get boxed in by fear of failing, blocked from experimenting. It is similar to a spiritual healer who forgets that he is not the one who is actually doing the healing. The magic usually leaves him.
I recognize I am only one factor in creating the altered reality which is a performance. If a piece is a dud, I first look at if I could have done things differently to be a better channel, to provide a safer environment for magic. In this way I become a clearer performer. But I next look at if the audience took its responsibility. Was it lazy, wanting just to sit back and be entertained, not wanting to risk, to become involved? The performance is a community effort, and the audience is a big part. If the audience does not work, the piece will not work.
I next look at the cast’s function in the same way. Were they vulnerable enough? Were they personally connected together?
There are times when everyone has done his best, but the magic just is not there. There are many unknown and unseen forces at work in a performance. Frank Moore, the performance artist, is in reality a fictitious front man for personalities and forces that really create performances.
When a performance succeeds, I look at it and examine it in the same objective way. I know it was not I who did it. This has given me a great freedom.
Being in a non-normal body has made it clear to me that life is a process of performance. My body and my attitudes toward life break taboos and change things even by my just sitting in a fancy restaurant. A sexy woman (my wife, Linda) is feeding me, laughing, having a good time. Peas and beets and mashed potatoes are running down my matted beard. For me and Linda, it is just everyday life. But for the up-tight, high-class society lady at the next table, it is a terribly gross, disgusting attack on her neat clean reality. I cough, loud and long. A knife cuts the normal world. A young homely girl at another table thinks, “If he can have fun, why can’t I?”
In this way, I have always been a performer. But I started dabbling with formal performance in the early ’70s by dancing with a rock band, risking being called a freak, having fun; doing political pranks, like rolling into the Marine recruiting office to join, wanting to push “the button”.
But my first major performance began in a spiritual commune in which I lived. This commune was itself a liminal altered state in which 350 people went around doing their everyday duties, but talking about who they were in past lives, going into trances, channeling spirits and other things that I, as a skeptic, thought were weirdnesses better suited to cheap horror movies than to real life. But the people would not listen to me when I tried to tell them this spiritual business was spacing them out of this human life. But then one day, when I was typing, a spirit who later introduced himself as Reed, came through me, typing, “You are not typing this, Frank.” At the beginning, I thought I made Reed up to get the people to listen, to get the woman of my dreams, and to start creating my ideals in the world. But I may have been taking more credit than I deserved because Reed and two other spirits/characters/persons took on reality for themselves. People waited for the next “lecture” to come through. The spirits talked to people, guiding them (and me) to create a new personal community. Even when I left the spiritual commune, reading the new lectures for the people around me became performances aimed at them. People started seeing Reed and the others in their dreams. The question of whether Reed is “real” is not a useful question in shamanistic performance–that is, performance for change. Reed is real whether he is a spirit floating around somewhere, or my alter-ego, or a conning fiction which I used as an invisible puppet. His reality is the change he created in the outer world.
Reed lasted for three years as an active performance. He as a performance contained the qualities which shape all my work. It was aimed at building a personal community which by its very existence threatens the established order of isolation and fragmentation. Its parts, the lectures, used the people around me to get to universal concerns. Reed was a framed process running parallel to, but braided with, my normal life.
During the last year of Reed, I was searching for a method to work with people in an intense, direct way. Ever since college days, I had been writing nonsense scripts dealing with nudity and nonsexual eroticism. Also during my college days, I read such books as Toward A Poor Theatre and The Theatre And Its Double. But it was not until I and my communal family took a very intense film-making course in Santa Fe in 1972 that I was able to put my weird ideas into performance reality. We made films of rolling nude down a hill, smearing bodies with baby food, nursing by a sexy woman. But when the film course was over, I did not have the context to do these magical acts. I did not have money to make films. I could not see putting my energy into getting money to make films, could not see putting up with the compromises and outside control involved in an artistic context requiring big bucks. For me, the act of breaking a taboo is what is magical, what effects change…not someone seeing it in a film.
I had been painting oils for years, painting with a brush strapped to my forehead, painting nudes from magazine photos. One day, a rich woman asked me to paint a nude of her. My wife set me and my paints up in the fancy living room as the woman undressed. On that day I realized how art can give people permission to do what normally is forbidden. It gives a frame that switches realities from the narrow normal reality to the freeing altered reality of controlled folly. If you go up to a stranger on the street and ask him to show his body to you, you will be lucky if he just walks away and does not hit you. But if you sincerely (and sincerity is a key) ask him to model for a painting or be in a video that involves nudity, there is a high chance he will do it because you are offering him a key to a new, different, and temporary reality.
This began my street series. I sat on the center plaza, “selling newspapers”. But selling papers was only a context. The context for me was an excuse for watching people, talking to people who had the slowness and the insightful curiosity to stop and talk…a way for me to ask them to model for me. These special people were my real targets for my street pieces. They saw past the mask of the cripple. The masses used the mask of the cripple to relieve their guilt, to reinforce their fragile superiority of being “normal”, to make themselves feel better by throwing money (up to $20 a throw) at the less fortunate at whom they would not even look. The third type of person was made up of the poor and the kids who gave money as a pure spiritual act. When the special person stopped to talk, a crowd gathered around to listen. Money fell on my board when I was asking the special person to model.
The newspaper selling quickly fell away. All I had to do is sit there on the sidewalk, being available to talk. It did not matter that I dressed fancy, or had a sign saying “I don’t want money; I want you.” The money kept falling. But I did discover that there are special spots and special ways of sitting which attract people. Sit at a slightly different angle, or on a spot a few feet away from the special spot and you become invisible.
I have done these street performances across the country. I have gotten tickets to the Joffrey, filled a couple of workshops, got my cameraman for one of my films, all from the street pieces. I almost caused a riot in front of Caesar’s Palace in Atlantic City, N.J. The crowd did not take kindly to the casino guards trying to push me away because I was taking Caesar’s money.
I painted a lot of the special people from the street performances. I noticed the changes in the people when they took off their clothes; how they relaxed, how they started talking on a deeper level about important personal things. After I got a taste of direct inter-personal acting out of erotic dreams, painting became too static. I began a series of private performances called nonfilms. I asked the special people from the street performances to come to my home, into my study which was my first cave. Within this cave, cut off from the normal reality, we created scenes which no camera would shoot, nobody would see.
Within these scenes we explored a nonsexual eroticism. By using a seemingly contradictory term, it opened up another reality. Within this altered reality, intense emotions could be released, intense acts could be performed, outside the normal slots. The person started crying, or laughing, or telling deep personal secrets, or started intimate sensual acts, safely beyond sex. I never knew what would happen when I entered the cave-room with the person. This not knowing keeps what I do exciting and new for me, keeps me flexible and vulnerable. Within the cave, I began to see dramatic changes taking place within the person’s body and emotions. But I was shocked when people started to come back to say that somehow the nonfilm reality powerfully affected their normal reality and relationships in ways we did not understand.
These private performances became the backbone of what I do. What the public comes to see, what is usually thought of as “the performance”, is in reality only the tip of the monster, the magic, the work, the vision that is controlling me as an artist. It is one dream which is growing, developing, evolving in a braiding pattern through private and public performances. In this way, I have been doing the same evolving piece for years. I am not in control of the art. I don’t have a choice what the art is like, can’t change it to suit the art fashion to keep up with the times. It is a living monster pulling me along in its zigzag evolution. Real art is like that. Art is a calling, not a career.
The nonfilm pieces were active physical mutations of the psychic, literary lectures of Reed. Both the Reed lectures and the nonfilms were created around the particular people in my life to call forth an alternative reality to the normal one. I do not function all that well in the social, political, casual, sexual, economical, competitive world. So I look to performance to create a world of community, intimacy, and human intense interaction. For me, art is a matter of survival.
But I began to see the nonfilms were magical intense nonsexual one-night stands which were not building a sense of expanding community, the heart of the vision that controls my art.
I somehow stumbled upon a book, Environmental Theater by Richard Schechner, a book about a theater of active involvement and participation, of nudity and intimate physicality, of risk-taking and change. It was right up my alley. Richard’s insights and experiments were inspiring to me.
But it seemed to me the performance group of Richard’s was not well-versed in, or committed to, a living communal intimacy, so they retreated from the edge when they were expected to live the personal vulnerability and inter-personal intimacy they were acting out. The book fit so well with my own experiments, philosophy and vision, it became a base of the next stage of the work.
I used my communal family of four as a core to start a weekly drop-in workshop held in a Santa Fe pre-school. I never knew who would show up each week. People from my street performances, free-spirits who heard rumors about this naked happening, a Wait Until Dark cast of straight actors whose director required them to come, all were thrown into this crazy experiment. I never knew what I was going to do because I never knew whom I would have to work with, or what I would have to deal with. This madhouse gave me a flexibility and a trust that the vision would guide me to create a temporary communal reality from those who were there. But the casual drop-in format placed a limit on how deep the intimacy could get. In my communal family, we were creating a way of being which was an underground base for the art. This base was a powerful influence. But it wasn’t yet the clear focus of the work.
In May 1973, the end of this stage was a twenty-four hour performance. I became aware of the magical quality of extended time lengths when I attended an all-night peyote ceremony of the native american church in Taos. Time was as powerful as the magic medicine in creating a group reality trance. To try this time factor, I took my cast to Albuquerque to do what amounted to a 24-hour performance. For the first six hours, we approached people on the campus of the University of New Mexico, people with whom we would like to play, inviting them to an audition that night in the college art department for a happening. Then, after dinner, we did the workshop exercises with the 12 people who showed up. Slowly taboos were broken, a community of performance magically appeared…which was lucky because I could only book the room until midnight. Then I had to truck the performance across the city to the University of Albuquerque. The sense of community was strong enough that everyone came along. At dawn, as we stepped out of the studio, there was the crisp feeling of being born into a new world.
Our communal living situation, the nonfilms, the outrageous events of the workshop, and my physical visibility all created a mysterious, kinky, threatening reputation in the small city of Santa Fe, which made it increasingly hard to get new people for projects. I could not tame the art down because I knew this reaction was telling us what we were doing was right. So eight of the cast decided to move to N.Y.C., a big city with a lot of people on which to draw. One of our fantasies was to charge admission to our everyday life. (I now am playing with the idea of selling tickets to my natural death.)
We set up a workshop space in our loft at 32nd and Fifth. This time, the workshop was closed and committed, lasting several months. I got some actors from auditions. But most came from my street piece, people ranging from an ex-hooker to an angry cabbie/comedian. While failing to develop into a true community, this group performed at a ballroom a ritual I created from two of Schechner’s exercises. Again, we got our audience by approaching people in the village and inviting them to that night’s event. At this performance, I began a practice of screening the audience at the door because of the intense, vulnerable, and erotic nature of the work. It took me a couple of years to realize that people will not do what they cannot handle; so there is no reason to shield them. Moreover, there are better ways to handle sleazy people. Boring them is one way. There are other ways.
The only person that night whom I felt I should not let in was, to my chagrin, Schechner, my hero and artistic father, playing a dirty old man. Against my better judgment, I let him enter. Sure enough, in the middle of the piece, he set his sights on an actress, convincing her that if she left his side, he would die by stopping breathing, which he did when she tried to leave him. Showing a weakness in my workshop discipline training, she bought into it and would not follow the ritual or my directions. There was a part in the ritual where everyone lies down, eyes closed. When this point was reached, I took my cast, except the woman, out into the lobby for a huddle. In the script, there was a point when everyone was to be frozen, then to be unfrozen by a kiss. I told my cast just to not kiss Schechner and the woman until the end of the play. But they would give the two a loving massage. With this plan, we went back in and continued the performance. Schechner was amazing as the frozen figure, the ritual flowing uninterrupted around him for over two hours. I think I passed his test to see what I was made of and to see how flexible I was.
We did this performance, Inter-Relations, on a Thursday and a Friday. The trance of the temporary community was so great that the same audience came back for the second night. This often happens in my work.
Inter-Relations was focused on clothes…undressing, dressing, exchanging clothes, using clothes to tell your life story. After I did it a number of times, I began to realize that I could never predict what the performance would be like. The cast, in street clothes, came in with the audience. Every one sat on the floor, so that there was no way to tell who was the cast and who was the audience. So when the cast started to do their unspoken ritual, members of the audience slowly copied the actions, even undressing in slow motion. I began to think that this merging into one group was the natural beginning of the ritual; that is, until one night I stupidly left a piece of carpet on a part of the floor. The real audience crowded onto the carpet, leaving the actors the bare floor. So that night, the audience watched from the rug a boring ritual…boring because there was no magical participation by the audience. I learned the hard way that everything in the performance reality is important, even a rug!
Even though this was a scripted ritual, there were parts which could change the whole night depending on how they were done. For example, when each person, one by one, re-dresses, he describes each item as he is putting it on. There are many ways of doing this. When the first “real” person said: “This is my red sock,” I knew the piece would be short and shallow, because all the real audience members would follow the short pattern. If, on the other hand, if the first real person said: “This is the slime green shirt that Bobbie left when we broke up…,” I knew we would be there for hours because each person would bare his soul. I learned how to pick the right first person, someone who was sensitive. For some reason, it didn’t work to pick a cast member for the first person. These are the kind of secret things the artist only learns by doing one piece over and over.
I was not satisfied in N.Y.C. I never broke into anything. The permanent community as a lifestyle did not spread from my New Mexico group into the workshop. In the summer of 1975, I moved with the five original New Mexico members to Berkeley to be joined by two others coming from New Mexico in Berkeley, I met Linda Mac and Nina Shilling. With this core communal group as a base, I started developing very quickly. I got a Baptist seminary to give me a room where I could conduct workshops and talk to people.
Evolution is not a straight line up, or even the up-and-down line of the stock market. Instead, it zigzags all over the place, weaving seemingly unrelated things together, sort of like this article. To use evolution, the artist has to not only be willing to fail (failing is vital in creating anything worthwhile) and to risk, but he has to be willing to not know how he is getting to where he is going. At the start, my art was based on private performances such as Reed and the nonfilms. Through the workshop, the focus shifted from private to public performances to such an extent that the truly private pieces all but dried up.
But in Berkeley, that suddenly changed. A fellow, who did not want to do my workshop, demanded that I meet with him in private sessions, to talk, to guide him, to play with him, to do anything with him…and he, would pay me for these private sessions. Being flexible, I giggled, rubbed my hands, and said, “Why not?” This fellow turned out to be a psychic teacher whose students, when they heard that he was coming to me, wanted to come for private sessions as well as do the workshop.
The private sessions were a combination of Reed and nonfilms in which I allowed myself the freedom to say and do whatever came to me, no matter how off-the-wall and outrageous it seemed. I used nonsense, blatant insults, humor, the holy obvious, nudity and eroticism to break into the altered reality of controlled folly. It was not a professional therapy where a serious listener nods and grunts, or a spiritual trance in which an americanized guru sits aloof, spinning truisms. I was a person who wanted to mingle his life intimately with their lives, using a bigger-than-life mask-character of the trickster shaman to reach this end. This intimate focus trimmed the original flood of people over a two-year period down to 30 people who seriously wanted a community of intimate relationships. By combining these private individual “pieces” with the workshop, the communal spirit began to flow from my core family into the group.
The heart of the workshop was demanding in various different forms. The only things out of bounds both in the workshop and the group were actual sex between non-mates and harming violence. This created a safe environment in which people could allow one another to trust, to be demanded of. In the workshop, I picked a person to make a demand either on a particular person, on whomever he picked, or on the whole group. The demanded one must satisfy the demander. The demander must stay with the demand until he is truly and fully satisfied. This puts both the demander and the demanded under the pressure of honesty and vulnerability. I never had any idea whom I would pick for the demander until the workshop. This forced a rugged spontaneity. Some of these lasted for weeks, some for a minute; some were ruthlessly silly; some were intensely personal. Because actual sex was off limits, the demands could be erotically free and wacky. The demands as private performances revealed secret, over-the-edge characters, hidden fantasies, and other silliness which once released, seeped into normal life. One week, we played war games as kids, using Berkeley as our battleground. Next week, we buried one of us alive in a coffin to have a rebirth. A third week, we had a gross-out contest, the winning act of which was someone drinking his own piss. All of this outrageousness was made possible by being in the state of innocent play together for over three years. From this altered state, households and businesses began to form. (The Berkeley fashion boom came from this workshop.)
Public performances naturally evolved from what was created from the workshop. The first major public piece was a fantasy costume parade through Berkeley, flaunting brightly painted skin and see-through costumes of net and lace. The parade ended up with a free punk concert in the park. I have talked about how my art is not made of separate public pieces but is an evolving monster; for example, in this parade, an inner character of one of the cast members, Diane Hall, emerged. This character was a middle-aged, middle-america-on-acid, fast nonsense talking, dizzy dame in a skin-tight Frederick’s-of-Hollywood gown, long fake eyelashes, and a two-foot bee-hive bleached blonde wig with blinking christmas lights. This creature grabbed the mike away from the hippy M.C., Wavy Gravy, and started hosting the concert. A year later, when I needed a bridge between a wacky stage show and the audience, I brought back this Woolworth babe.
After a second parade had gotten out of hand and turned into dulling sleaze, I organized an indoor multimedia carnival in a large San Francisco warehouse, The Farm, where adults could play like kids in a safe environment. Providing adult playgrounds is one of the basic goals of my work. Since I think playing is a safe, mind-altering drug, I called my carnival The Erotic Test after the acid test of the Merry Pranksters.
In order to do more public pieces, I moved the performance work into a Berkeley storefront. A major public performance in the space was Glamour. I based this environmental play on actual strippers in a divey North Beach joint. I used this play as a process to get one of the actresses to become a dynamic performer. As part of the rehearsals, I had the actresses work 8-hour shifts at the real joint with the real girls whom they were becoming. As another section of the bringing out of a dynamic star, I put her into a 24-hour nightmare inside a cold swinging box. This nightmare again revealed the magic of extended time.
For the play, I turned the storefront into a copy of the dive. The play surrounded the audience, making them play the role of the joint audience. On the nights that the actors didn’t create the realism, I would stop the play, give the audience their money back, and invite them to return the next night. They did. I am ruthless in pursuing the inner quality I seek in people.
During the rehearsals of Glamour, when the strip joint got unbearably boring after hours upon hours, I took a walk along Broadway, into what then was the west coast hardcore punk center, the Mabuhay Gardens or the “Fab Mab”. Since I did not have anything else to do, I asked the gruff manager if I could do my next production at his club. To my surprise, Dirk Dirksen was a visionary who, instead of seeing a crip asking for a hand-out, saw me somehow as a misfit artist perfect for his new wave cabaret. Dirk gave me a sheltered theatre for six years, with complete artistic freedom and moral support. The first production was a raping of a high-brow comedy, Meb, which I turned into a multi-media farce, full of camp, nudity, sex, violence and rock’n’roll. The straight playwright walked out in horror, the club owner wanted us out, and only a handful of people came. But Dirk wanted to extend the run. He loved it.
An important character came out of this play. She is Dotty. She was created when an actress just could not remember her lines, cues, or anything. Finally, I made her a mentally retarded free spirit, wandering around in slow motion wherever she pleased, doing whatever she pleased. Dotty (played by different people), has been climbing over my audiences ever since, playing with them.
A few years ago, I was sitting in a cafe…a coffee house…I spend hours sitting in coffeehouses, playing cards…anyway, this older political-type woman leaned over from the next table and asked if I had been involved in an East Bay theatre group about six years ago. She had seen something that I had forgotten ever having done. After Meb I started directing Lysistrata. I had always wanted to do it because it is lewd and bawdy…I even rewrote it to get back to the original dirt. I cast it with a mix of workshop people and new people. I also had Barry and Peter, who are in wheelchairs, play regular, normal, traditional characters. We did it in the same over-the-edge style as Meb. One rehearsal night I decided we needed an audience, so I took us to the Berkeley UA movie theatre which has a great outside foyer. There were long lines for four movies. There we rehearsed. As the woman in the cafe six years later described it, these people were talking funny, in Greek style obscenity…pretty girls humping guys in wheelchairs right there next to the movie lines. This was at the height of the disabled human rights movement…we crips had sat in at the San Francisco federal building for a month, blocked buses, picketed Jane Fonda’s movie, Coming Home…this woman was aware of all of this…then she comes to a movie (she can’t remember what it was) and she sees women and crips doing strange, obscene things. She said for her, the piece made the disabled movement more human and added humor to it.
I don’t think you have to worry about making a comment on the social, political, or whatever condition. I don’t think you can help making a comment. It is automatic. What you do is always colliding with what is going on.
What impressed me about the woman in the coffeehouse is that she remembered five minutes of obscene silliness after six years. I hadn’t remembered it.
I never staged Lysistrata because what was supposed to be a one-night semi-real take-off of a beauty contest transformed, right before my eyes before the first show had ended, into a tacky, wacky stage revue which caught the imagination of the press. We did this show for three years, usually once every week, but often twice a week. The Outrageous Beauty Revue looked like tacky entertainment performed by untrained people just for fun. This was how my cast also thought of it and of themselves. One of my major failings was that I didn’t pass on the deeper purposes, magical influences, and hidden dimensions of our performance work.
I quickly saw that the O.B.R. was the apex of my work until then and of three years of work. In the ritual pieces and in the workshop, we were battling the social fragmentation and isolation by underground channels, avoiding standard rules and criticisms and values. But by using an entertainment channel to subvert entertainment, we broadened the attack and our vulnerability to attack.
It looked like entertainment; but it really was a medium to spread the playful communal spirit which we had worked years on fine tuning. This underground spirit of communal fun, of playful folly secretly sucked in the audience. This spirit allowed us to do things, which would normally be violent or sexual, in a freeing, playful innocence. This became obvious when I tried to let non-cast people do acts in the show. They never reached the intensity or the tightrope edge which the cast took for granted.
The tacky, wildly colorful, loud show of bad taste was really a cover, a distraction of the audience’s attention, so that the hidden magical trance could take them over. A trance can be cast by showing them something out of their reality. Little kids often become frozen on the spot when they see me, my special body, in a cafe. We just greatly magnified this trance process in the show by throwing out many of these trance inducing images of taboos, of crip rockstar, of pregnant nudes, of silly sex and violence. Then the real show happened within this inner trance.
There was a vision in the show…the vision that has led me throughout my work. Art comes from the soul that anyone can tap into. I created the show from modules that I could combine in countless ways. Each module was a fantasy either of mine or, more often, of the person in the act. I worked on a module just enough to make it performable. But I would not allow it to be polished, refined. I wanted a module to grow and change in performance so the performance and the audience would get the full evolving magic. I kept changing the order of modules to encourage fresh evolution. I took modules in danger of becoming polished out of the line-up, putting them into an ever-growing module library to be pulled out when the need arose. In this way, the show was always evolving into something new while remaining what it was. I have used this module structure in my recent ritual work, giving me the ability to do complex rituals lasting from 5 to 48 hours without killing myself.
There was tremendous pressure on me to polish the show up to make it more sellable, more entertaining. This pressure did not just come from the critics, but also from friends and cast members. “Add rim shots, tighten it up. Then the show will be a commercial success.” “We should rehearse more, then we could be good theatre, good music.” But the vision was not about commercial success, nor reaching alot of people, nor about good entertainment, nor art. The vision is to create trances and realities which will bring change. This is my vision. The vision has me. I am its tool. If I had not stayed within the vision, I would have been lost within the artistic pressures. Art should be a vision quest.
Other kinds of pressures were to change the content, the tools, and the focus of the work. People always say they like the work because it is strong, but I should get over my obsession with sex and nudity, and get on to more important issues; you should not get “stuck” in one vision. What they do not realize is what they like about the work, the strength, comes from being committed to a single vision, no matter what the current trends and fashions are. I cannot imagine more important issues than sex and freedom symbolized by nudity. But, as this paper shows, these are not my ultimate focus. Sex and nudity are powerful digging tools to reach the intimate community. By limiting the tools of art, art itself is limited.
Rawness in itself is threatening because it opens the way for everyone to express their feelings directly. Rawness inspires. It breaks the chains of the rules.
The show was in bad taste, was called “exploitive”. What made it thus was not just what was done, but who was doing it…crips, women and other “untalented” unfortunates. The first assumption of the people who were offended was that these were able-bodied actors making fun of crips; then, when it became clear we were real crips, the leap into dumbness was that someone was exploiting us. When they got it into their heads that we had created our own acts, the new way to deny our power was to say we were exploiting our own bodies. Forget nudity. Forget being sexual. Just by getting up onto the stage we were exploiting our own bodies. Women share this hidden yoke of suppression. By breaking this yoke, by offending a lot of people, the show released, inspired, and liberated a lot more. Artists and musicians come up to me today and say they saw the O.B.R. when they were kids and thought if we could do that, they could do what they dreamt.
But my cast saw none of this because I could not impart the vision to them. They saw the show as an outlet for their fantasies and creativeness. It was not very good theater that they did for fun. It was something that could be left behind because it was not important. This lack of a bigger vision of both the historical roots and the magical social impact spelled the end of the community.
During the time of the O.B.R., I felt the need to go back to the core of the ritual work. I started creating 48-hour pieces. These created an altered reality around one person who undertook this journey to obtain a list of life goals. I was his guide in this. I had a team of assistants known to the pilgrim. But I also had actors, unknown by the pilgrim, whom I placed in the normal world to interact with the pilgrim. By saying, “I have planned everything you (the pilgrim) will experience during this process as well as everyone whom you meet…but I may be lying,” it melted the normal reality with dream reality to form a liminal state. In this liminal state anything was possible and anyone could be a conspirator in this dream production. This was not true only for the pilgrim, but for everyone, including me. Real waiters, whom I had never met before, acted as if I had paid them. This liminal force occurred even before the actual process. For an example, I was painting a woman the day before a process. She turned out to be the pilgrim’s girlfriend (one of many) whose very existence he had been hiding from me. To his shocked amazement, she appeared in an erotic scene in his process. I had to be flexible and open enough to use everything and anything that the dream gave me.
Within the liminal state, what usually is unbelievable, corny, tacky, suddenly becomes extremely powerful. Pilgrims not only swore I made beautiful women appear out of thin air, they gave me power to make the women disappear back into the same thin air, even though that was not a part of my trick. Things like water became potent magical drugs just through words. Within these temporary living myths, time became very plastic, as did other forms of reality. In these trance myths, I could use a wide range of ritual from smearing mud-food mixtures on nude bodies to high tech audio-visual spectacles. Another tool I discovered in these prolonged spells is to hide the powerful erotic rituals from the pilgrim audience by performing them inside a locked box, hidden cave, or secret tent. In this way, the unseen ritual affects the audience on the feeling level directly, without being filtered by the mind. But I was serving two masters in these 48-hour dreams: the dream’s vision and the pilgrim’s goals. This became increasingly uncomfortable for me because the dream’s vision would lead us into a much deeper, richer soil of realities than the goals would allow.
So when the group, with the exception of my intimate family, broke up in the early ’80s, I went back to the trance rituals out of which I had begun my evolution. With the help of Linda Burnham, I began to meet artists such as Paul McCarthy and Karen Finley, who also use trances to break taboos and to subvert reality. I also rediscovered the Living Theatre, Grotowski, and others. This community of weird artists as a security blanket helped me regain the wider context for my work.
I returned to the small channels, as opposed to the mass channels, of communication. While my intimate communal family was still the base of my art, only Linda and I did the performance work. I went back to the private performances to create a special language for the altered reality of physical trance. On the surface, it appeared that these performances were not affecting the world because they were one-on-one. But in truth, these hidden performances had magical effects on every level, effects that continue today.
This is also true for the series I did at U.C. Berkeley for three years. Tom Oden, another of those visionaries, brought me to U.C.B. to give students mind-expanding, mind-exploding experiences similar to drugs. This was my mandate. So two nights a month, students in the hall on their way to class would get detoured by a smell of incense, or a strobe flash, or a sight of nude skin, or strange music from a classroom. When they entered the classroom, it turned out to be a magical tent where nudes smeared chocolate and whipped cream on one another, or people were getting wrapped in cellophane and foil, or a weird nude guy just lies and moans at them. When the student stepped out of this crazy room, he was back in the college world. Usually about five people came in. Sometimes none came. Rarely there was an audience of thirty; but often I considered these nights as bad because the audience would just want entertainment.
I never canceled any of these performances because too few people came. It was a lab where new modules could be born, where magical energy could be released, without pressures of money or judgment. I was back to not knowing who would show up, cast or audience. So I could not really plan anything until I got to the room and saw whom I had to work with.
I was happy with this smallness. After every piece, Linda and I would walk home, talking about what amazing things happened, what worked and what did not, who came. From the outside, it looked like nothing was happening. But in these small events, I explored the trance inducing gestures of rocking, of wrapping bodies…I cannot list all of the discoveries of smallness. Recently, while I was lecturing at U.C.L.A., I was shocked at how many students were afraid to try their ideas out because they might “fail” or be a “mistake”. These small pieces gave me freedom from this deadening, unnatural, unhealthy weight put on creativity. But I have always taken this freedom to make mistakes, to fail, as my birthright as an artist.
I would have been content to remain in the smallness. But the smallness created channels which have allowed me to perform five-hour pieces all over the country, using combinations of the modules developed in the U.C.B. Series. If touring had been my personal goal, I would never have done the U.C.B. Series because I would not have seen how that would have gotten me to my goals, or even how it was linked to them. But by following blindly the zigzagged, braided path of evolution, led from one step to the next, guided by one inner vision, I can actively watch the whole, large performance unfolding.
That leaves me in the present. More than ever, my public performances are just fragments of a larger performance. The main form that the public pieces take is long rituals which create a temporary physical community by using physical trance. An intenser version of this is a semi-private all-day dream, before which I hand-pick the audience, making sure each person is willing to go into controlled folly deeply. There are signs that this performance wants to be extended from 12 to 24 hours, because plastic time has the nasty habit of shrinking in the trance. There is a much shorter ritual of rocking and wrapping which we have slipped into various different formats, including singing gigs at punk clubs. At one moment, the audience is being “entertained”; the next moment they are literally wrapped up in ritual.
But these are just reflections of a larger performance. The search for community has led me to set up a shamanistic performance school, the University of Possibilities. This presently contains ten apprentices who have signed up to train for a certain amount of time. The focus of this school is to create a mythic life as an alternative to the world we see around us. The mere existence of this mythic life will subvert, change, the normal world. Creating this mythic life is done through performing privately. This school has already deepened my public pieces.
People sometimes ask, “Where is your work heading? What do you want to do next?” It is not my work. It is not my choice. For me, it is not a question of a next thing. It is a growing, evolving vision. I am carried along in this vision. A performance does not have a beginning or an end. It is just a tiny bit of the vision. The vision is like this essay. It braids around itself, flowing on. I do not know where the vision is taking me. I have not been down this vision before.
One thing’s for sure. We humans are not the end of evolution.
“This is a ritual, a magical ritual, a ritual of Gestures which will open up a physical, magical force within those who choose to participate. At times the ritual will be very silly. At other times there will be a raw vulnerability, an intimacy that is not limited by social taboos, not framed in by romance or sex.”
“This magical ritual operates on the random principle. Magicians and mystics have used the factor of chance throughout the ages to get past the rational, the logical, the linear, to get to inner knowledge or to universal wisdom. Shuffling the tarot cards and the throwing of the yarrow sticks for the i ching are but two examples of this random principle. In this ritual, the random principle, pulling gestures out of the box, will direct the ritual. Some gestures are silly. Some gestures are intense and intimate. The random principle makes each gesture equal. The random principle will remove the linear limiting taboo, sexual, romance context.”
“Linda will now pair people … to do the gestures.”
The Chanter waits until Linda finishes pairing. Then the Chanter sings:
“Slowness is important and the quiet gentle sounds and laughter will help the magic. Watchers should refrain from talking during the ritual.”
“Each gesture has a special time length. You should keep doing one action until Linda sings the next gesture.” “You will start releasing the physical force of eroplay in your bodies. This ritual will take eroplay out of social, moral, sexual, and romantic contexts, so that the focus will be on the pure magical fun and pleasure. It is important that each act be done gently, slowly, softly, completely.”
The Chanter quietly exits. Linda takes over.
“ART EVOKES CHILDHOOD…HIDDEN PLACES WHERE YOU CAN PLAY AND EXPLORE…IT IS THE KIDS’ UNDER-THE-COVERS WORLD, THE PLAYHOUSE, THE TREEHOUSE, THE CAVE, BEHIND THE BARN, PLAYING DOCTOR, CARS AT DRIVE-INS BEFORE GOING ALL THE WAY, HUCK FINN’S RAFT, TEPEES. PEOPLE ARE AFRAID OF THIS AREA OF LUSTY EXPLORING THAT THEY THINK THEY HAVE OUT GROWN…BUT THEY ARE SUCKED INTO IT.”
“WE ARE IN THE CAVE OF DREAM. WE ARE IN A BATTLE OF AN UNDERGROUND WAR AGAINST FRAGMENTATION. ART IS WAR AGAINST FRAGMENTATION. THE BATTLE IS ON ALL REALITIES. THE CONTROLLERS HAVE ALWAYS TRIED TO FRAGMENT US. FRAGMENT US FROM EACH OTHER. IMPRISON US IN ISLANDS OF SEX, COLOR, RELIGION, POLITICS, CLASSES, LABELS, ETC., ETC., ETC., ETC., ETC. THEY FRAGMENT OUR INNER WORLDS, THEY BLOW OUR INDIVIDUAL REALITIES APART, AND PLAY THE PIECES AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. THEY ARE US, OR A PART OF US.”
“THEY ARE THE CONTROLLERS, THE POLITICIANS, THE SEXISTS, THE WOMEN’S LIBBERS, THE PORNOGRAPHERS, THE CENSORS, THE MORALISTS, THE CHURCH, THE MEDIA, THE BUSINESSMEN, EDUCATORS, THE VICTIMS AND THE POWERFUL.”
“THEY ARE US. THEY HAVE DIVIDED US FROM OUR POWER, FROM OUR BEAUTY, FROM OUR LUST OF LIFE AND PLEASURE. THEY HAVE DIVIDED US FROM MOST OF REALITY…DYING FROM LIVING…SEX FROM LIVING, SEX FROM PLEASURE. WE ARE KEPT IN BOXES OF FEAR, OF MISTRUST. WE ARE KEPT WAITING…KEPT WAITING TO DO WHAT WE WANT…WAITING FOR ENOUGH MONEY, ENOUGH SCHOOLING, FOR EVERYTHING TO BE RIGHT. WE ARE KEPT WAITING AND PROTECTING AND HIDING AND SUFFERING.”
“TIME TO DO BATTLE WITH THE BOXES.”
“OUR TOOLS ARE MAGIC, OUR BODIES, AND DREAMS.”
“IN MAGIC WORDS HAVE POWER. TO CREATE A WORD FOR SOMETHING IS TO CREATE THE POSSIBILITY FOR IT TO EXIST IN OUR REALITY…FOR IT TO HAPPEN.”
“EROPLAY IS A MADE-UP WORD FOR INTENSE PHYSICAL PLAYING AND TOUCHING OF ONESELF AND OTHERS. EROPLAY IS ALSO THE FORCE OR ENERGY WHICH IS RELEASED AS THE RESULT OF SUCH PLAY.”
“IT WAS NO ACCIDENT THAT THERE WAS NO WORD FOR EROPLAY. IT IS IMPORTANT FOR THE PLOT OF FRAGMENTATION TO KEEP THE SPECIAL POWER IN THE ORGASMIC SEX ACT. SO IT WAS HARD BEFORE THE WORD EROPLAY TO TALK ABOUT IT CLEARLY, TO THINK ABOUT IT CLEARLY, AND TO EXPERIMENT AND PLAY WITH IT WITHOUT SEXUAL UNDERCURRENTS AND FEARS CREEPING IN. THIS WAS BECAUSE WE HAD TO USE WORDS LIKE LUSTY, SEXY AND EROTIC TO ATTEMPT TO TALK ABOUT IT. IN OUR LANGUAGE, ALL OF THESE WORDS HAVE SEXUAL CONNOTATIONS. IN MAGIC WORDS CREATE. SO IF YOU USE SEXUAL WORDS FOR A NON-SEXUAL PLAYING, THE SEXUAL WORDS WILL SET A FALSE SEXUAL CONFUSION. THIS IS WHY THE WORD EROPLAY ITSELF IS IMPORTANT.”
“EROPLAY IS NOT FOREPLAY, EVEN THOUGH FOREPLAY IS EROPLAY.”
“KIDS PLAY VERY PHYSICALLY BOTH WITH THEIR OWN BODIES AND OTHERS’ BODIES. THEY GET TURNED ON BY THIS PLAY, TURNED ON BOTH PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY. THIS TURN-ON IS NOT SEXUAL IN KIDS. STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT BABIES WHO ARE HELD, TOUCHED, AND PLAYED WITH ARE MORE HEALTHY AND ALERT, WEIGH MORE, AND HAVE A LOWER RATE OF DEATH THAN BABIES WHO ARE DENIED THIS EROPLAY. STUDIES ALSO SHOW THAT OLD PEOPLE WHO LIVE ALONE, WHO DON’T GET PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL CONTACT, ARE LESS HEALTHY AND DIE SOONER THAN PEOPLE OF THE SAME AGE WHO LIVE WITH OTHERS AND GET THAT PHYSICAL CONTACT.”
“WHEN WE GROW UP INTO ADULTS, EROPLAY IS LINKED TO SEX, MAYBE TO ASSURE PROCREATION. BUT THERE MAY BE DIFFERENT RESULTS WHEN EROPLAY IS NOT CONNECTED TO THE SEXUAL ORGASM.”
“FOREPLAY IS EROPLAY, BUT EROPLAY IS NOT FOREPLAY. WE NEED A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF STRAIGHT EROPLAY (NOT CONNECTED TO OR LEADING TO SEX) TO BE AS HEALTHY AS POSSIBLE.”
“FOREPLAY LEADS TO ORGASM…EROPLAY LEADS TO BEING TURNED ON IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS AND IN ALL PARTS OF THE BODY. IT CAN BE DIFFERENT EVERY TIME.”
“SKIN TOUCHING SKIN SEEMS TO BE WHAT RELEASES THE FULL IMPACT OF EROPLAY.”
“EROPLAY CAN BE INTENSE. IT IS LIKE WHEN YOU RUB A PUPPY ON ITS BELLY AND THE PUPPY GOES INTO A STATE OF RAPTURE, BOTH TOTALLY TURNED ON AND RELAXED. TO USE SOMETHING THAT IS NOT NORMALLY CONFUSED WITH SEX, EROPLAY IS THE BLISSED OUT, WARM, RELAXED, TURNED ON, TOTALLY SATISFYING FEELING OF A GOOD HEAD RUB.”
“THE SAME FEELING COMES FROM PLAYING WITH EARS. EROPLAY IS THAT INTENSE FEELING THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE BODY.”
“SEX IS CONNECTED TO MATING; WHEREAS THE COMBINATION OF BOTH PHYSICAL AND PSYCHIC FORCES RELEASED DURING AND AFTER EROPLAY ARE CONNECTED MORE TO COMMUNICATION AND ATTRACTING PEOPLE TO YOU.”
“WHAT STOPS MOST PEOPLE FROM PHYSICALLY EROPLAYING WITHOUT CONNECTING IT TO SEX, WITHOUT SEXUAL UNDERCURRENTS OR EXPECTATIONS, IS THE INABILITY TO SEE WHERE EROPLAY ENDS AND SEX BEGINS. FOREPLAY IS EROPLAY, BUT EROPLAY IS NOT FOREPLAY. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOREPLAY AND PURE EROPLAY IS ONE OF INTENT…PHYSICALLY THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. BUT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE PHYSICALLY BETWEEN EROPLAY AND SEX. EROPLAY IS SATISFYING IN ITSELF, IN RELAXING INTENSITY. THERE IS NO BUILD UP OF PENT-UP ENERGY IN ONE CLIMACTIC ACT. IN SEX, HOWEVER, THERE IS A POINT WHERE FOREPLAY (EROPLAY) CEASES TO SATISFY AND ENERGY GETS PENT UP AND BUILT UP TO BE RELEASED IN THE SEX ACT. THIS BUILD UP IS A CLEAR AND BROAD DIVIDING LINE BETWEEN THE TURN ON OF EROPLAY AND SEX.”
“EROPLAY STARTS WHEN THE POSSIBILITY OF THE PHYSICAL EROPLAY ARISES…THE POSSIBILITY OF THE BREAKING OF THE NORMAL RULES, SOCIAL CONVENTIONS AND MORALITY.”
“THE TALKING AND THINKING ABOUT EROPLAY WILL EXCITE, WILL TURN YOU ON, EVEN PHYSICALLY. THIS SEEMS TO BE A NATURAL PART OF EROPLAY, AN INNATE PART.”
“BREAKING TABOOS HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PART OF ART…AT LEAST THE AREA OF ART THAT SEEKS TO CHANGE CONSCIOUSNESS, CHANGE MORALITY, CHANGE REALITY.”
“THE WAR IN THE CAVE OF DREAM IS NOT A WAR OF HATE, PAIN, KILLING, DYING. IT IS A WAR OF LAUGHING, LOVING, TOUCHING, DREAMING, OF PLEASURE, OF BREAKING TABOOS. IT IS NOT A MASS MEDIA WAR. IT IS AN INNER WAR, A PERSONAL WAR. IT IS A WAR OF FUN.”
“EROPLAY IS FUN. EROPLAY IS FUN. EROPLAY IS FUN.”
“EROPLAY IS INNOCENT AND CHILDLIKE.”
“EROPLAY’S FOCUS IS ON PHYSICAL ENJOYMENT AND PLEASURE FOR ITS OWN SAKE. THIS IS ONE REASON WHY EROPLAY IS TABOO IN OUR SOCIETY WHERE RELIGION TEACHES PHYSICAL PLEASURE FOR SELF IS BAD.”
“EROPLAY CONNECTS YOU MORE WITH YOUR OWN BODY AND WITH OTHER PEOPLE. IT DECREASES ISOLATION AND ALIENATION. IT INCREASES SELF-TRUST AND TRUSTING OF OTHERS. IT MAKES YOU HARDER TO BE CONTROLLED. THIS IS ANOTHER REASON WHY EROPLAY IS TABOO.”
“BECAUSE THE AFTER-GLOW OF EROPLAY ATTRACTS PEOPLE TO YOU, YOU GET MORE OPPORTUNITIES IN ALL ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. AND BECAUSE EROPLAY RELAXES YOU AND GIVES YOU MORE ENERGY, YOU ARE IN A BETTER POSITION TO USE OPPORTUNITIES.”
“BECAUSE EROPLAY IS NOT FOCUSED ON GOALS OTHER THAN PHYSICAL ENJOYMENT IN MANY WAYS, AND BECAUSE IT DOES NOT LEAD TO A MATING LIFE, EROPLAY WOULD BE MUCH HARDER TO USE TO SELL PRODUCTS THAN SEX. THIS IS A REASON WHY EROPLAY IS TABOO.”
This is one of the many ritual “modules” that Frank created for his performances.
We are going on a journey to Lila. Lila is an inner island. On Lila there is no isolation or competition or fear. But to get to Lila, we have to let go of our personalities and fears and inhibitions. We have to pass through the transition that is death, through rebirth, through losing our old personalities in the form of our clothes, then going playfully through all the stages of evolution until we are reborn on the island of Lila in the bodies of babies who will grow up slowly into teenage Lilans, and then will do rituals of play. Death is not something to fear. It does not hurt. It is not an end.
But this journey is only for heroes…only because heroes are the only people crazy enough to make this journey. Heroes think that only by risking, they will find the hidden treasures and the hidden meanings of Life. Heroes actually think taking risks and going beyond limits is fun! Sane people do not think like this.
We will now divide the ritual community into those of you who think of yourselves as heroes and those of you who think you are sane. The heroes should sit in the middle of the ritual space, and those of you who are sane should sit against the walls. The heroes will actively take this journey both for themselves and for the sane people. As heroes, you will go on an adventure of risk and vulnerability. As heroes, you will be stripped of your old personality and approach death in nudity and vulnerability. You will have personal guides who will move you into death in a soft and gentle way, into the floating reality of between lives. You will then experience the evolution of life.
Those of you who are too sane to be heroes, please sit against the walls. You are now the watchers…which may be much more risky. As the watchers, you should just watch. Please do not talk.
Now, you heroes, lie down on the mat and close your eyes. Lila is an inner island, warm and green. The people are playful. They know no isolation, no fear, no violence. Lila is cut off from our world by death…so, to reach Lila we have to die. Death in itself is not painful, it is not an end. It is a transition. Soon the guide of death will come to help you through the transition.
Now those who are along the walls make soft sounds, gentle noises to help the death process. The guides should gently lift the heroes/spirits into a sitting position. The guides should hold the heroes/spirits and rock them. Melt into one another as you rock. When the heroes/spirits are melted, both the heroes/spirits and the guides should stand up. Because we are now beyond time, there is no reason to rush. To prepare the hero for death, the guide will take the old personality in the form of clothes from the hero, slowly undressing the hero and then will lie him back down.
Now Death is approaching…quietly, gently. It is like a soft, warm blanket. It will slowly cover you. It will start at your toes and travel up your body like caresses. When it reaches the top of your head you will be in an in-between state where you will not have either your old body or old personality. Enjoy floating. Some of you are floating in a cozy dimension. Explore that bodiless state. Do not try to get up because there is no up. The floating is the womb of life, all life, all matter. You are all life, all matter.
Now, keeping your eyes closed, roll in slow motion towards the center of the room, stopping only when you are surrounded by a web of warm soft skin.
You are now parts of a huge rock. Act, sound, move, and relate as parts of the huge rock. Most people think the inorganic is not aware. We now know different.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are now parts of a single-cell organism. Act, sound, move, and relate as parts of a single-cell organism.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
The single-cell is now dividing. You are now cells in a multi-cell organism. Act, sound, move, and relate as cells in a multi-cell organism.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are sea weed. Act, sound, move, and relate as sea weed. Open your eyes.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are snails. Act, sound, move, and relate as snails.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are a school of fish. Act, sound, move, and relate as a school of fish.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are dolphins. Act, sound, move, and relate as dolphins.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are jellyfish. Act, sound, move, and relate as jellyfish.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are frogs. Act, sound, move, and relate as frogs.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are snakes. Act, sound, move, and relate as snakes.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are ants. Be, act, sound, move, and relate as ants.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are mice. Be, act, sound, move, and relate as mice.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are birds. Be, act, sound, move, and relate as birds.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are vegetarian dinosaurs. Be, act, sound, move, and relate as vegetarian dinosaurs.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are kittens. Be, act, sound, move, and relate as kittens.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are chimps. Be, act, sound, move, and relate as chimps.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
Close your eyes. You are newborns on Lila. On Lila, there is only one family. All are brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. You are in a playpen. Act and sound and be newborns.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are now six months old.
But even at six months old, you will notice the difference from the old life. There is no violence or competition on Lila. Act and sound and be six months old. Open your eyes. What cute babies!
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are now one year olds and the differences are more obvious. Be and sound and act and relate as one year olds on Lila. But stay in the playpen of the mat.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are now two year olds. Not the terrible twos you vaguely remember but the fun, playful twos of Lila. Be and act and sound and relate as two year olds.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are now five year olds. Act and be and relate as five year olds.
Time freezes. Time flows by.
You are now sixteen years old and it is time for the ritual of eroplay and becoming a full member of the Lilan community. You will always be sixteen years old on Lila even after this dream has faded. Now for the ritual. We will now do the eroplay ritual of Gestures.
This was published as the “Introduction” in the book, “Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants” by Frank Moore, published by Inter-Relations in 2014.Frank originally wrote this piece in 1994 for a 24-hour workshop with a San Francisco bisexual performance group, BREATHE. It was read aloud at the beginning of the workshop.
by Frank Moore, 1994
This is not a logical, linear, or rational process towards some fixed set of goals. It is instead a mystical experience, a dream which will be created by various rituals…some silly, some intense. The dream experience will be different and unique for each person here. But the dream will include healing by ecstasy. It will be about performing passionately, and living fun. It is about creativity as channeling…creating as something which you open yourself up to, instead of something you do.
The rituals of this dream will probably seem to be unconnected fragments that I pull out of the air. These fragments will dance around, not making any sense at all. But slowly they will end up as a whole jigsaw puzzle. This may be a dramatic event or a small but important insight. This coming together of the fragments may occur days after we leave here.
We are leaving the world of time, of taboos, of reason. We will visit birth, childhood, playhouse, the dark side. It may be overwhelming in the normal reality. But this will be the magical state of all possibilities in which you can let yourself be carried away. In this realm, you can be that trusting…trusting yourself, trusting others, trusting the magic.
This is a gateway. This is a beginning. Once you have passed through this gateway, it is up to you where the path leads.
As published in Shades of Grey (1985) & Smut (1991).
Eroplay in Life and Art
A WORK IN PROGRESS
Frank Moore, 1983
Eroplay is a made-up word for intense physical playing and touching of oneself and others. Eroplay is also the force of energy which is released as the result of such play.
Our mind needs labels, words for something to be able to think about the thing clearly. There is such intense physical play, and such a force of energy, which I have labeled eroplay. But before this, there has not been a word for it. Usually the word sex has been the catchword for people to dump on almost everything sensual, romantic, physical, or showing more skin than usual. Cars are called sexy. Poses that do not show the sex act are called sexual. Wearing certain things, moving certain ways are all called sexual even when it is not leading to the sexual act … even when there is no intent to have sex.
In magic, words have power. To create a word for something is to create the possibility for it to exist in our reality … for it to happen. Even for us who intellectually knew eroplay existed as a separate thing from sex, it was hard before the word eroplay to talk about it clearly, to think about it clearly, and to experiment and play with it without sexual undercurrents and fears creeping in. This was because we had to use words like lusty, sexy and erotic to attempt to talk about it. In our language, all of these words have sexual connotations. In magic, words create. So if you use sexual words for non-sexual playing, the sexual words will create a false sexual confusion. This is why the word eroplay itself is important.
Eroplay is not foreplay, even though foreplay is eroplay.
I have a somewhat good idea of what eroplay does to and for people. But the causes of the results are untested theory.
Kids play very physically both with their own bodies and others’ bodies. They get turned-on by this play, turned-on both physically and mentally. This turn-on is not sexual in kids. Studies have shown that babies who are held, touched, and played with are more healthy and alert, weigh more, and have a lower rate of death than babies who are denied this eroplay. Studies also show that old people who live alone, who don’t get physical and emotional contact, are less healthy and die sooner than people of the same age who live with others and get that physical contact.
When we grow up to adults, eroplay is linked to sex, maybe to assure procreation, but there may be different results when eroplay is connected to the sexual orgasm. We may need a certain amount of straight eroplay (not connected to or leading to sex) to be as healthy as possible.
Foreplay leads to orgasm … eroplay leads to being turned on in many different ways and in all parts of the body. It can be different every time.
Skin touching skin seems to be what releases the full impact of eroplay.
Eroplay can be intense. It is like rubbing a puppy on its belly; the puppy goes into a state of rapture, both totally turned-on and relaxed. To use something that is not normally confused with sex, eroplay is the blissed-out, warm, relaxed, turned-on, totally satisfying feeling of a good head rub. The same feeling comes from playing with one’s ears. Eroplay is that intense feeling throughout the entire body.
Sex seems to be connected to mating; whereas the combination of both physical and psychic forces released during and after eroplay seems to be connected more to communication and attracting people to you.
What stops most people from physically eroplaying without connecting it to sex, without sexual undercurrents or expectations, is the inability to see where eroplay ends and sex begins. The difference between foreplay and pure eroplay is one of intent … physically there is no difference. But there is a difference physically between eroplay and sex. Eroplay is satisfying in itself, in relaxing intensity. There is no build-up of pent-up energy in one climactic act. In sex, however, there is a point where foreplay (eroplay) ceases to satisfy and energy gets pent up and built up to be released in the sex act. This build-up is a clear and broad dividing line between the turn-on of eroplay and sex.
Eroplay starts when the possibility of the physical eroplay arises, the possibility of breaking normal rules, social conventions, and morality.
The possibility of physical eroplay is enough to start releasing whatever chemicals and other forces that physical eroplay will continue to release. Talking and thinking about eroplay will excite, will turn you on, even physically. This seems to be a natural part of eroplay, an innate part.
But the turn-on of the possibility of breaking the taboos, rules, and the common morality is not a natural part of eroplay. It has been added on to eroplay by social repression. Anytime you break a social taboo, there is a release of energy that may feel good, almost like a high. But sooner or later you have to go back into the system where that taboo still exists. Then, more often than not, you will get a backlash from the breaking of the taboo. This backlash may take many forms; it may come from inside yourself or from others who have not been in the uncommon experience. This backlash may overwhelm you. This is the only bad side effect connected to eroplay. If you can ride out this backlash – if you have it at all – you will be a stronger person and you can modify the moral system to fit how you want to live. This has more to do with breaking taboos than it has to do with eroplay itself.
But breaking taboos has always been a part of art … at least the area of art that seems to change consciousness, change morality, change reality.
The breaking of taboos ideally should not be a part of everyday eroplay, but it is. Art can slowly take eroplay out of the taboo area. This is one of the functions of art.
Eroplay is fun. This is the most important statement in this outline.
Eroplay is innocent and childlike.
Eroplay’s focus is on physical enjoyment and pleasure for its own sake. This is one reason why eroplay is taboo in our society, where religion teaches physical pleasure for itself is bad.
<Coming soon to this spot: a brief history of the western romanticism and the anti-pleasure morality … what eroplay is up against.>
Eroplay connects you more with your own body and with other people. It decreases isolation and alienation. It increases self-trust and trusting of others. It makes you harder to be controlled. This is another reason why eroplay is taboo.
Because the after-glow of eroplay attracts people to you, you get more opportunities in all aspects of your life. And because eroplay relaxes you and gives you more energy, you are in a better position to use opportunities.
Because eroplay is not focused on goals other than physical enjoyment in many ways, and because it does not lead to a mating life, eroplay would be much harder to use to sell products than sex. This is another reason why eroplay is taboo.
Most of the so-called sex problems in sexual relationships have to do with trying to do with sex what eroplay can do, trying to fill needs with sex that sex can’t fulfill. This leads to the downward spiral of frustration, self-doubt, trying too hard, and blame. Even legitimate marriage and sex counselors advise more play which does not lead to sex as well as more foreplay with sex.
Since eroplay may release certain chemicals in the body, to get familiar with what eroplay itself does, not adding other chemicals will help.
Since in a sexual relationship there is always the possibility of sex, eroplay is always different in a sexual relationship than in a nonsexual relationship, even when the eroplay does not lead to sex … because, as we have seen, possibility is an important factor. So eroplay in a sexual relationship is always in relationship to the possibility of sex.
Since eroplay is not mate-originated, it is possible to have a relationship with a friend in which eroplay is an important part, but in which the possibility of sex and romance is very clearly excluded. This kind of relationship will have good effects on your other relationships.
To illustrate both what eroplay can do, and the difference in effect of eroplay and sex, I offer a page out of my life. In the ’70s, I had a group of about thirty people. It was fairly clear to us that there was a difference between playing and sex. It was not as clear to us as it is in this paper. We saw that it has something to do with sex and “marriage” (the word “marriage” is another word that has negative connotations hidden within it), so we decided to commit ourselves to having sex only with those to whom we were married. But we eroplayed with all of the people in the group. The eroplay became more intense, more playful. We as people got wackier, more physical. It gave us a greater freedom not only within our group, but in the general society as well. By eroplaying intensely, but playfully, it released a certain creativity which we used in many ways. Successful businesses were established. We did several public performances, a stage show that ran for three years, and a wealth of wacky private performances. All of these had the vital energy of eroplay, of unlimited possibility. We were kids playing together even though we were adults. Even though the eroplay could become very intimate, physical, soft, and sexy, there was no jealousy or possessiveness because it was clear that sex would not be involved. This went on for three years.
But … you have been waiting for this “but” … at a certain point, we started questioning the concept of marriage: What was the difference between what we thirty had together and being married? We did not see any difference. (We were using the misleading word “marriage”. I see now that we should have used the word “mating”, which does not refer to child-bearing, but to bonding.) Not seeing any difference between marriage and what we had, the next logical question was, “Why not have sex?” So we started to have sex outside marriage within the group. Almost immediately changes appeared in the group. Jealousy and possessiveness appeared. The playful creativity which came from eroplay dried up. Playing and the physical freedom between the people quickly ceased to be. The spark of our show was not there anymore. The group as a group quickly began to fall apart.
This is why my interest in the difference between sex and eroplay has increased and formalized in my art … why I long to tap again into intense, pure eroplay with people, then use the resulting creativity in art without being derailed by sex.
Which brings us to eroart.
Thanks to the repressive, sexual, anti-pleasure morality, romanticism, and pornography, the traditional area of eroart – art that uses nudity, physicality, and/or sex to turn people on to life – has been ripped off by pornography.
Almost everyone is against porn films. Almost everybody in his right mind. But everybody isn’t in his right mind, which is why there is porn anyway.
But it is fashionable to be against porn. There are many good reasons to be against porn. Fashion is not one of them.
The anti-sex, anti-pleasure, anti-nudity morality is not one of the good reasons to be anti-porn. This kind of repressive morality was the main reason why during the nineteenth century kinky violent porn caught on.
What I am interested in is art that creates in people the desire to go out and play with other people, and to enjoy life. This is the art of eroplay. Historically, one of the tools of this art has been the sex act. But sex has only been a tool, not the goal. And it is just one of many tools. Isadora Duncan is a person whom I would call an artist in the eroplay tradition. She used nudity (especially at private parties where she could dance without feeling moral judgments) and movement to turn people on physically to their own bodies and to passion for life. This is the true goal of eroplay art, which has been called eroart. Most books on eroart miss the true purpose of such art. There has always been sexual erotic art. This kind of art is universal and can be traced back to the caves and beyond.
<Coming soon to this spot: a brief history of erotic performance art.>
This is not true for what is defined as porn. I am trying to define eroart. We are forced to separate it from porn, and rightly so.
It is fashionable to be anti-porn. But it is human to be anti-porn because porn is anti-human, not only anti-female. It is violence between individual people. At times, this violence is graphic. It is personal and intimate violence in a hostile and impersonal form. I hurt you to make me feel turned-on because I cannot get turned-on in any other way because I cannot feel … besides, you like being hurt … if you don’t … who cares …. This isn’t the symbolic or surreal violence in other kinds of films.
Porn is also anti-human because it creates a picture of what sex should be that is unreal and boring. It creates pictures of what you should be like … pictures which are hard to live up to … and if you do live up to them, you will be a big-dicked jerk or a big-titted bimbo.
These are the fundamental reasons why to be anti-porn.
But face it, the main reason that most people are anti-porn is because porn is boring and dumb. The people who make porn (I am talking about straight porn now, leaving the kinky, violent porn in the trash can) think that the main reason why people go to see porn is to see tubes going in and out of holes. So they cram in as many tubes going in and out of holes as possible in ninety minutes … and as close-up as possible. This may be true for some people, but for most people, it gets boring once curiosity is satisfied, curiosity about what it looks like, and once the possibility of seeing everything is fulfilled.
It is fashionable to be anti-porn. But it is not fashionable to offer an alternative to porn. It is not fashionable to admit that people like seeing other people nude, seeing other people getting turned-on and being turned-on. It is not fashionable to admit people are curious to see other people’s bodies, to see what they are really like under those clothes. It is not fashionable to admit people feel cheated whenever the camera moves away, fades away, when the people on the screen are getting intimate. It is not fashionable because it would be putting yourself, your body, and your emotions where your ideals and your politics are.
To make videos that satisfy that child-like need of seeing nude bodies and seeing people playing, making out, and having fun is not as profitable as either what Hollywood does or what the porn-makers do. This child-like need is the healthy human desire that is perverted in porn.
The time is right for an art form that addresses this healthy desire. The women’s movement has changed people’s standards with regard to sex and the quality of relationships. This is true of both men and of women. They have scrapped, or are scrapping the old sexist ways and attitudes, and now they find the old-style porn disgusting … but more importantly, they are finding porn is not meeting their needs and desires. They want to be turned-on in a way that is not sexual; they want to see nudity without stupidity; they want to see new ways of relating between humans both in and out of bed. Eroart in all media can show this way of relating … can show both purely nonsexual eroplay and eroplay as foreplay in sex.
Film and video can do this. But the producers of porn haven’t the foggiest idea of this, and have a vested interest in the meat approach. In its broadest definition, erovideo could be any kind of film – westerns, thrillers, science fiction, etc. – in which the unwritten rules are not followed. The camera doesn’t fade or cut away from erotic scenes before it is logical to do so … bodies wouldn’t be cut off. Cable has made porn so available that it has removed the glamour of the forbidden. As a result, porn has to stand on its lack of merit. As a result, the sales and rentals on adult tapes are going down, and the adult cable systems are going out of business.
The desire to see nudity and intimacy and to be turned-on is not being satisfied. Hollywood is caught between being ruled by taboos and being in the business of teasing. Andy Warhol once said Hollywood has been doing a forty-year striptease, showing a little more each year to get people to come back. The closest Hollywood comes to the erotic/sexual (except for a few maverick directors like Roeg) is the sex-exploitation and youth exploitation films. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if it is sexy-sexual-nude, it has to be dumb. Hollywood does exploitative films because they make money. They make money because they are the closest thing to the erotic/sexual that is offered. But sitting through a dumb movie to see nude bodies of dumb people is not worth it. Hollywood, however, will not take risks.
Hollywood will not make such a risky, daring product as a truly erotic film mainly because of the high money stakes involved. The pornographers will not do it either because of their lack of skill, insight, and morality, or because they too are ruled by money, and by criminals.
But breaking taboos has always been a part of art, at least the area of art that seeks to change consciousness, change morality, change reality. The breaking of taboos ideally should not be a part of eroplay for everyday life. But it is. Art can slowly take eroplay out of the taboo area. This is one of the functions of art.
Here is where art comes in. As I have said, this kind of art creates a kind of bubble in which the forbidden can be done with immunity, releasing energy of the broken taboo … energy which then affects society as a whole. Art makes a clear circle of difference between this bubble and everyday reality; it is a kind of safety valve for society … much as dreams are to the individual. According to the book THE PAINTED BODY, the caves where the first artists did their work where no one could see were such bubbles, as was body painting. Performance art is this kind of consciousness-altering art. It creates a special time and place where taboos can be broken, where new ways can be introduced into the society.
The other way that art can make it easier for us in everyday life, and at the same time fight against the anti-pleasure, anti-human morality, against sexism, against pornography, against romanticism, is by showing us eroplay, both with and without sex, and getting us acquainted and comfortable with eroplay. This can be done in all media. Enter erovision. Erotic projects could be made on half-inch videotape by individual artists to be sold directly by mail from the artist to the individual viewer. This would avoid the power structures that grow up around big money. Half-inch video, home video, is cheap in materials, editing, and post-production, and distribution is much, much cheaper than in any other format. The technical quality is acceptable, and free from the comparison with film or professional three-quarter inch video. Home video is the workable channel for any product that the establishment will not touch … or that you don’t want the establishment to touch, hence control. Such is erovideo.
Whether we as artists do eroart to release magically eroplay into the air (such as through performance art) or to show the non-sexual way of relating that is eroplay (such as through video or film) … whether we choose to use the sex act or not in our eroart … we must not let our work be defined in relation to pornography. There has been a huge amount of time and energy wasted trying to define and ban pornography. The best way to undermine sexism and pornography is to create an alternative to them. Take back nudity, pleasure, sex, and eroticism from pornography. Show pornography up as being drab, inhuman, unfun by creating a fun, human, happy alternative. Create eroart! This is overstating the case somewhat because you cannot do good eroart if it is in reaction to porn … only if it comes from some warm and playful place, can it be good eroart. Unless we put ourselves – our creativity, our minds, and, yes, our bodies into representing eroart as the humanistic alternative, the pornographer, the sexualist, and the moralist will win by default.
Some of the accompanying photographs are of acts within a performance/exhibition called “The Outrageous Beauty Revue”, conducted for several years by Frank Moore in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
This essay was also included in “Caves: a book for a performance tour” for a performance tour in the Spring of 1987, which included performances in Denver, New York City and Philadelphia. It is included in the first edition of “Cherotic Magic” published in 1990 by S/R Press, and also in the revised edition, “Cherotic Magic Revised” by Frank Moore, published by Inter-Relations in 2015.
December 11, 1996. Published in Open Forum #13, Greece, in 1997, and in Lummox Journal in February 1997.
In June 1988, Annie Sprinkle put out a call and some of the leading artists who use sex in their work came together in Veronica Vera’s N.Y.C. apartment to sign a manifesto which talked about an art movement which “celebrates sex as the nourishing, life-giving force” which these artists use, in the self-empowering “attitude of sex-positivism” to “communicate our ideas and emotions…to have fun, heal the world and endure.” This was a declaration of war against the censoring forces of anti-art, anti-human, anti-sex, anti-fun, anti-love, and truly anti-life…forces of darkness in power in the world today. We called ourselves Post Porn Modernists. This was very limiting because it linked us not only to dying deadening porn, but to the glum post modern art movement, setting ourselves up to be just a reaction, just the limb of a dead tree. We needed a name like Living Pleasure Artists…or Eroartists! By using the word “porn”, it wrongly suggested that eroart somehow came out of what is very sloppily called “porn”. Historically, there has always been eroart…and if truth be told, most artists have done at least some eroart. Eroart celebrates sex, love, the body, and the human passions. But porn was born in the Victorian Era with its repressive anti-sexual/anti-pleasure morality. What we eroartists were trying to do was to get back to the healing liberation of eroart.
What we are interested in is art that creates in people the desire to go out and play with other people, and to enjoy life. This is eroart. Historically, one of the tools of this art has been the sex act. But sex has only been a tool, not the goal. And it is just one of many tools.
Isadora Duncan is a person whom I would call an artist in the eroart tradition. She used nudity (especially at private parties where she could dance without feeling moral judgments) and movement to turn people on physically to their own bodies and to passion for life. This is the true goal of eroart. Most books on eroart have missed the true purpose of such art. There has always been sexual erotic art. This kind of art is universal and can be traced back to the caves and beyond.
We artists who signed the manifesto wanted to offer alternatives. We wanted to do art that would satisfy people’s natural desire to see other people nude getting turned-on…to satisfy their child-like curiosity to see other people’s bodies, to see what they are really like under those clothes. These are healthy human desires.
The time was, and is, right for an art form that addresses these healthy desires. The women’s movement has changed people’s standards with regard to sex and the quality of relationships. This is true of both men and women. They have scrapped, or are scrapping, the old sexist ways and attitudes. People want to see new ways of relating between humans both in and out of bed. Eroart in all media can show this way of relating.
Unfortunately, in recent years many eroartists have embraced the label of PORN…which is like embracing the label BAD COMMERCIAL ART. It is unfortunate because labels affect both the art and the artists. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “porn”, my mental pictures are…big-dicked jerks and big-titted bimbos fucking bored, unreal, dumb…tubes going in and out of holes…as many tubes going in and out of holes as possible…as close-up as possible…without any real human passion. This picture sets up undermining blocks for eroart. Eroart aims to liberate people. This picture makes the artist forget the idealism and importance of the eroart…“oh it’s just porn.”
This effect of the label of PORN can be seen on many of the female sex artists who have come on the scene since we signed the manifesto. The sex world has become in-grown. There is even a level of not liking/enjoying sex in this circle. Sex has become again the means to power, fame, money…and the means to avoid relationships, intimacy, needing other people. At a recent party of famous sex artists, one woman actually said, “I don’t like sex, I like faking it!” Most of the people just nodded their agreement. Just shows the gender of the pornographer doesn’t affect the porn!
We need to get back to the idealism of eroart…get back to changing/liberating society through eroart. Breaking taboos has always been a part of art, at least the area of art that seeks to change consciousness, change morality, change reality. This is one of the functions of art.
An email conversation published in P-FORM Number 42.
Thu, 30 May 1996 From: Frank Moore To: Frank Moore’s Esalon
Well, gang….I’m blown out, am cracking up…I have heard everything now. I recycle my writings…cut them up to use the ideas. Remember that I sent out THE COMBINE PLOT 96 a few months ago as a response to the telecom bill? It was really a part of a larger piece. I cut out the last half of the old piece…in that half I talked about how a certain asshole director of a performance festival was trying to force me to mutilate/censor my performance…yeah, right! I finally did the performance there uncensored…and THE COMBINE PLOT was published in a lot of art magazines. That was ’90.
Guess who called today. The asshole! Guess why he was calling. He is creating a website for the festival…and he wants to put THE COMBINE PLOT, along with “other scholarly papers”, on the site!
Here’s the second half. Can you tell me why he wants to put this on his site?
I am a slow typist. As I write this, events have overtaken me. The combine has struck again with its remote control of fear and with its drugs of bigness and money. The Cleveland Public Theater Performance Art Festival had invited me to do my Journey to Lila ritualistic piece with audience participation. Two weekends before I was to perform, the city’s vice squad sat in on the festival’s show of Annie Sprinkle and made it clear that if she did certain things which are regular parts of her art, she and the director of the festival would be arrested. For personal, practical reasons, Annie decided to change her act.
We should be outraged that the vice squad came. We should be outraged against the government undercover spying on art and theater, against the use of a bad law in a manner it was not intended, against what makes it impossible for us to see truly free art and theater in this festival. There was a lot of pressure on me from the festival director to not be unreasonable, to give up control of the art over to some political game.
(I need to make a distinction between the festival and the Cleveland Public Theatre. The festival is an event that takes place at the theatre for two months, once a year. The festival director, Tom Mulready is not a regular member of the theatre organization’s staff. Any references here to the festival and/or its director refer only to the festival and its director and do not reflect in any way on the Cleveland Public Theatre or its director and staff. I found the Cleveland Public Theatre Director and staff to be a great example of what a group of people can do when they are committed to art.)
The law was used in a very strange way. The law says performers and their audience cannot touch one another on certain so-called erogenous zones. In ritualistic audience participatory performances in general and in my work in particular, this prohibition destroys any hope of doing the work. As I write this, I do not have copies of all of Cleveland’s laws that are wrongly being applied to works of art. I do not know if there are laws in Cleveland against nudity in performance. But it is clear it is not possible for me to do the art without getting arrested or seriously compromising the integrity of the art. I am not willing to do this. I am willing to be arrested for the art.
I would understand if the director did not want to get arrested along with my company. After all, the curator in Cincinnati is facing a possible five-year sentence for having the Mapplethorpe exhibition. Most people do not have that kind of courage. If that was the fear, I would have created with the festival an artistic protest against the law that would have neither broken the law nor compromised.
But it was not fear of arrest, but the fear of losing funding, fear of how the festival would look, fear of inconvenience. The focus was how to protect the festival, its size, its importance, its financial health. What was right for the art was forgotten. In fact, both the art and the artist became nuisances to be dealt with, to be sacrificed. After all, it was stated by the director that he, Mulready is not Martin Luther King. King, Jefferson, Gandhi, and all of the artists and just plain folk who broke unjust laws in order to evolve things to a better place are turning over in their graves. This is one of the main functions of art. It was stated by Mulready that it is impossible to present in Cleveland what is presented in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco…but we have also done the same performances in small cities such as Denver, Buffalo, and Rochester.
He said it as if this situation is acceptable, if regrettable, in the Midwest. This attitude places the festival in the role of being the agent of the established order, rather than on the side of change. I was told by Mulready that this kind of art would be shown privately in Cleveland. But the festival could not be remotely linked to it unless the art is mutilated to fit the status quo. I kept being told to think of what the festival gives me and the other artists in terms of money and exposure. I should not blow it. What is forgotten in all of this is if the art is not intact, if the content of art is not firmly in the hands of the artists, then artists, art festivals, art galleries and theaters, and even art itself will become just window-dressing for the established order. I am thinking of the artists. If I gave up control of the art directly or indirectly either to the vice squad or this festival, I would be putting a frame of untruth around the artists and the audiences of the Festival. I will not do that.
After two days of pressuring me to change my performance, Mulready suddenly reversed his position. He did not do it from a flash of integrity, but because he was getting pressure from both inside the Cleveland Public Theatre and the national art community. I did the performance as it was originally created without incident.
The combine plot has Mulready hooked on the drug of bigness, on the funding habit. In our talks on the crisis over my performance, things were talked about in terms of how big the festival was, how the funding could not be risked now that the Festival has reached this level of size and importance. Hidden within this is the pacemaker of fear that the combine can use by remote control. This drug of bigness is why, to get N.E.A. money, artists are signing what amounts to a loyalty oath to the established order, agreeing to not do patently offensive work.
It is easy to get hooked on the drug of bigness, as I found out when I received an N.E.A. fellowship for $5,000 in the early ’80s. I had been doing art, performance and theater for about ten years with little or no money. So the N.E.A. money was just extra money. I soon noticed the work shifted from human-intensive to a more money-intensive focus. This shift was slight because I work on a small grassroots scale. But the scale began to expand. In a way, this expanding scale was fun, exciting, glamorous. But the change did not organically come from the art. Moreover, as my N.E.A. year drew to a close, I became more and more anxious about where I would get more money, thinking about applying for more grants, worrying about what I could not do if I did not get more grants. All of this took away from the art. It made me much more vulnerable to compromise, much more likely to become a part of the combine. The old richness of possibilities and alternatives began to dry up, being funneled into a possibility of grants. One day I began to wonder how I could have done art for all those years, and now I was full of fear. I decided to not play the grant game.
If this addiction can happen to an artist like me, who operates on the small scale, I can only imagine what a temptation of addiction someone like the festival director, Mulready, has to cope with. But when the drug of bigness and fear of losing funds compromise art, it is time to protest … it is time to bring it all back down to the basic core of the artistic experience which is the art coming directly through the artist to the society without any censoring influences, so that art can cause evolution in the society. It is extremely dangerous when artists sign loyalty oaths to the established order to become paid agents, when art festivals and galleries find it acceptable for vice squads to spy on art and theater, to use blue laws to forbid art.
To fight back this full-scale attack on creative expression, the attack that may surpass that of the McCarthy era, we artists must be willing to make sacrifices to become independent of the combine. Many galleries and performance companies have died when their grants were cut. This is because bigness and money-intensive art which grants promote drain possibilities from us, blind us to the possibilities that are outside the combine. It has become increasingly important for us artists to start devolving art back to the human personal scale and away from high-tech mass bigness. This devolution will create alternatives that our society needs, and which is the function of art.
I usually perform at grassroots spaces which have created independent alternatives to the combine. For example, Karen Briede ran a multi-level visual and performance gallery in Denver. She brought in nationally known but controversial artists by using the money she made in her hair salon. She was always selling art to her hair clients. She now is having nationally important exhibitions in her apartment in Chicago. In Seattle, A.F.L.N. (A FLIMSY LACE NIGHTIE) is doing the same thing by being a coffee house during the day and a gallery by night.
In these and other similar small places, cutting-edge art finds homes because people like Karen personally take risks for the art. But as Martha Wilson of FRANKLIN FURNACE has shown, it is possible for established galleries to show controversial art. It is extremely important that both artists and art administrators be willing to lose everything, including funding, in order to save freedom. This is the only way we will win back our full freedom from the combine, take back our full range of possibilities.
I want to close this by quoting from a letter from Kyle Griffith, an author. The Combine “is counting on the majority of creative people to stay on the sidelines until the anti-art movement gains real support among the general public, saying ‘Well, my work isn’t that controversial, so why should I take the trouble to support a bunch of really hardcore people who are deliberately asking for trouble from the blue noses, anyway?’” The combine plot “encourages consumer art while discouraging all art forms that turn the consumers of art into artists themselves. What people like you are REALLY being attacked for is drawing the audience, the art consumer, into the creative process.”
Date: Fri, 31 May 1996 From: Barbara Golden To: Frank Moore
WIGband found out years ago, that there was no use applying to play in major art venues, and have to defend our work, it was much easier to rent a space and have total freedom, then we got asked a bunch of times to do openings and so forth, but the act of having to write a proposal to do our performances was anathema to us.
Date: Tue, 4 Jun 1996 From: Keith Hennessy To: Frank Moore
I’ve been enjoying your e writings and have been sending them along to other freedom spirited artists and activists. I’m disappointed that you’re calling Thomas Mulready an asshole. He is no big art dealer. He’s produced all of the controversial artists he can afford including many of our visionary kinky taboo breaking friends. Including me and you. He is making different choices than you or I about how to survive during this anti-art wartime. And he may play some games that you think are more destructive than healthy. In my opinion he’s more ally than asshole. Not just an ally of mine but of performance artists in general and controversial sexual liberationists most of all. When I was in Cleveland, most of the African-American theater’s staff (Karamu house) wanted to close me down before we opened because in my show about racism and homophobia I pulled a text — inside a condom — from a naked man’s butt. A white queer writer from the alternative press called me a racist colonialist because I was going to collaborate with a black gay man from Cleveland. I felt severely unwelcome. Thomas backed me all the way. I changed my piece because I went to Cleveland to be in a conversation with a community of people. I ignored the petty attack by the writer and focused on meeting with the mostly Christian black staff at Karamu. Several of them came to my show because I took out the nudity. I am a community-based artist who makes site specific work. In Cleveland the site included the community I was performing in. I adapted my work to the environment. I told the audience during the show about the changes I made and why I made them. I challenged the edges and my work changed people. It was a major personal success for me. Thomas sat with me in intense meetings. He never asked me to back down. He tried to protect his ass and he respected every move I made.
That is my experience and I respect Thomas for all that. And I just wanted you to add this story to your accumulated information about him. Thanks for reading.
Date: Tue, 04 Jun 1996 From: Frank Moore To: Keith Hennessy
i just call ’em as I see ’em.
Date: Fri, 07 Jun 1996 From: Frank Moore To: Keith Hennessy
Keith, more thoughts:
Maybe the bottom line reason why I don’t let outside forces/pressures dictate the form or the content of the art is because I do not see myself as the creator of the art, but the servant to the art. One of my functions as a servant is being the bodyguard to the art. I am just following the evolution of the art. I don’t really know what an element, image, aspect magically does. I trust that each is there for a host of reasons. So I sit back and watch the interplay and the organic change in the art. I don’t feel it is my place to tamper with the art out of reasons of convenience or politics. This is just my personal philosophy of art.
But on the practical level:
It is one thing to create a performance especially for a certain site, event, or audience; or change the performance within [and based on] the dance of you, the art, the audience, the space, and whatever else.
It is a totally different thing to change a piece because of pressure from a censor, an offended person, or a timid producer. The changing of a piece under pressure sets up all kinds of bad and very dangerous precedents, and sends all kinds of bad, dangerous, misleading messages. It says a piece of art is not a united whole, but just a collection of bits of business not really important; so there is no big deal in taking some of the bits out. This is like saying a poem is a collection of words so you can take out the certain offending words and read the poem. It is no longer the poem [probably not even a poem]. People, the community, have been denied the real poem, the real experience. And they are being denied the knowledge of poetry/art.
Moreover, if we change art because of outside pressure, we are saying people have the right to not be offended, to not be made uncomfortable; that it’s bad and harmful when art and life offends them. This so-called reasonableness and being careful and staying within the lines becomes the standard order: “be reasonable, change the art!” And then we wonder why someone like Jesse Helms gets started! It seems to me that one of our functions as artists is to make it clear that people can live without censoring limits.
Finally, I have never found that the offended people and censors represent the community. They really look down on the community. In Cleveland, after I spent a week in an intense fight to get the actual performance to the community, the community was hungry for it! It was my largest audience for that kind of long ritual performance: over a hundred people who very actively participated, causing the performance to last over six hours. The censors always sell the people short, looking down on the people. I think artists should keep the control over the content and the form of the art within the art; not surrender the control over to the government, the galleries, the backers, or any pressure group. We as artists owe that to the art, to the people, and to other artists.
Date: Sat, 8 Jun 1996 From: Keith Hennessy To: Frank Moore
Thanks for excellent articulation.
I am inspired by your commitment to the art, the image, the magic. I too see myself as servant to the image and to the audiences/communities/peoples.
Censors and producers and leaders in general are more conservative and afraid than the people they (claim to) speak for. Nonetheless there are many people who identify with the censors. I think that artists can make choices about who they are including within the sphere of influence of a given work. Collaborating with the fears and projections of a community is like a risky dance on shaky ruins. The potential for beauty is everywhere and inviting.
Like most body-based artists I work the edges, not the centers. I seek the “resilient edge of resistance”* the place where stretching or reshaping the boundary is possible. This is, of course, located differently for different folks.
All power to the sensualist neo-shaman anti-fascist magicians all power to you and me and performance artists everywhere.