Art

From Cum Shots to Orgasmic GIFs, a Playful Take on Virtual Sex

Faith Holland, "Sub/emissions" (2015)
Faith Holland, “Sub/emissions” (2015) (all images courtesy Faith Holland and TRANSFER Gallery)

Faith Holland’s show TECHNOPHILIA at Transfer Gallery left me wanting more, kind of like I imagine a good dick pic would. Of course, like any sexualized image sent between two consenting parties, it’s not about the image — it’s about the energy activated between sender and receiver, two participants in a virtual fantasy space. The space of screens is presumed to be safe, playful, and creative, but it can also veer into loneliness, isolation, and self-reflection. To pin sexualized digital imagery onto either end of this spectrum, however, isn’t useful; in true postmodern, post-modem fashion, meaning is found in the viewer’s desire to connect, play, and be a voyeur.

In her show, Holland considers our virtual engagement with sexualized images, occupying both floors and walls of the rectangular gallery space. The largest and most arresting array of GIFs, entitled “Visual Orgasms” (2013–2015), occupies an entire wall and is inspired by the sexual imagery used in films pre-Hays Code, enacted in 1930 and not to be lifted until 1968, effectively banning visual suggestions of sexuality and lust, including sensual kissing, nudity, and suggestive dancing in favor of a more “moral,” conservative approach to gender and sexuality. As with all censorship attempts, the Hays Code led American filmmakers to become more covert in the ways they slipped in sex and sexuality, adding more dirty looks, coded language, and subliminal sexual messaging. Playing off of this, Holland arranges a variety of GIFs alluding to orgasms and loops them over and over again. We watch rockets blasting off, volcanoes erupting, bells ringing, birds ’n bees gettin’ it, fireworks blasting — but there is no end to the hypervisual images, which eventually lead to overstimulation and burnout.

TECHNOPHILIA installation view with "Rockets" (2015). All images courtesy of Faith Holland and TRANSFER Gallery.
Installation view of ‘Faith Holland: TECHNOPHILIA’

Other works in the show allow the viewer to actively engage. In “It Needs You” (2015), a bevy of Ethernet cords extend from the wall and onto the ground, like a display of hair extensions or wigs. On the ground, an oversize bottle of lube awaits, inviting viewers to literally lube up the cords — a reminder of the way these very cords are responsible for the transmission of sexualized imagery, from sex scenes in films and TV shows streamed on Netflix to porn GIFs and camgirls to pay-per-view porn. There’s no one there instructing you how to use the lube; instead, it’s just there, waiting.

Holland is perhaps best known for her interventions into the amateur porn site, RedTube.com. Here, she uses “sexy” tags like “solo girl” or “amateur” but drops videos that aren’t porn and that instead utilize pornographic visual tropes. In “Shaving Cream” we see the repetitive motion of a girl shaving her leg, calling to mind the repetitive motions of penetration or hand jobs. Similarly, in “Clit Cam” we hear the sounds of a girl getting turned on accompanied by a super zoom-in on a dizzying blur of skin and sky. The videos got kicked off of RedTube a few times, but eventually Holland got them to stay; who’s not to say that they aren’t some version of fetish porn, intervention, or perhaps all of the above?

Faith Holland, "Ookie Canvas I" from the series Ookie Canvases (2015).
Faith Holland, “Ookie Canvas I” from the series ‘Ookie Canvases’ (2015)

TECHNOPHILIA offers a playful approach to a visual internet culture that’s already full of porn-like imagery and that takes more issue with a woman posting a nude image of herself than the consumption of women’s bodies in actual pornography. Holland takes that issue to heart in the Ooke Canvases series, in which she offers people of any gender to submit pictures of their cum shots. Holland’s Ooke Paintings operate in similar ways to the Critiquing Your Dick Pics With Love Tumblr project, where people with all variety of dicks send in their images for review (private reviews are now available for $10 each). Both work with similar concepts: what is normally seen as purely sexual and objectified becomes creative, and oftentimes beautiful in its vulnerability. Cum becomes art and the dick pic is no longer some creepy thing that a guy sends out to someone, but rather an art form to consider — as if each dick pic were a David.

This is also an oddly psychosexual show — not in the variety of, say, Paul McCarthy — but rather in the way it channels the eroticism and sexualized messaging in today’s media culture, from Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” to Ann Hirsch’s camgirl performances. Ultimately, Holland’s show asks us if there’s a limit to visual pleasure, and, if so, do we need to reach it — or, like the internet, can we just keep going and going and going, till our cords literally explode?

Faith Holland:TECHNOPHILIA continues at Transfer Gallery (1030 Metropolitan Avenue, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through July 25.

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