30 april 2010
Seattle Erotic Art Festival: tough, tender, witty, kitschy, for adults only
Seattle Erotic Art Festival offers visual art, installations, performance and more.
By Michael Upchurch
Seattle Times arts writer
The biggest item on display in this weekend's Seattle Erotic Art Festival may, ironically, be a closet — or, rather, a cabinet.
It's the creation of Seattle stage designer Jennifer Zeyl (who just did big, knockout work for "West" by "Awesome" at On the Boards), and it's the key prop in "a colorful, glittering tale of erotic liberation" by New York writer-director Roger Benington.
"Cabaret de Curiosités" concerns a certain Buttons Du Preez, "a shy postal worker with an unusual fetish for fishy-eye buttons." When performers of various sorts start emerging from an old cabinet he inherited from his aunt, Buttons finds himself better able to embrace "his inner burlesque artist."
The performers include Dirty Martini, Waxie Moon, Miss Indigo Blue, the Shanghai Pearl and other luminaries of the local burlesque circuit, and the score is by John Woods of Vancouver, B.C.'s wittily prurient Wet Spots.
But while "Cabaret de Curiosités" is the headline event, it's only one small part of the three-day festival. Puppeteer Brian Kooser, "burlesque clown" Queen Shmooquan and aerialist Elizabeth Rose (introducing "a new sculptural aerial apparatus") will all be performing. And visual art and installations abound.
Cartoonist Ellen Forney and interdisciplinary artist Jacob Peter Fennell have come up with "Love Note": an enormous, pillow-strewn bed that will serve as a love-letter exchange.
Half-a-dozen artists also toy with a bed theme in "The Beds," which invites attendees to "lounge, interact ... and explore some erotic tension." (Kevin MacDonald's has a gong and abacus built into it to help you celebrate, and keep track of, your between-the-sheets shenanigans.)
There's also a film-shorts program curated by Jason Plourde of Three Dollar Bill Cinema.
Still, it's the painting and sculpture — much of it strictly X-rated — that dominate the show. The work ranges from sensual to sadistic, tough to tender, witty to kitschy.
About 60 percent of it is photography. Nudes by three locals are particularly striking: Russ Morgan's "The Dreamer" (two male nudes superimposed, in different tints, on one other, creating a shadow-streaked floating effect); Almendra Sandoval's "Andi" (a red-hued, smiling hermaphroditic figure who, as in the work of photographer Joel-Peter Witkin, raises questions as to what, exactly, we're seeing); and four studies, all titled "Blue," by Christian French that set feet, torso and limbs into motion with a kind of underwater weightlessness.
Gender is bent with unsettling results in the self-portraits of San Francisco artist Michael Thomas Ford ("The Beauty," "In the Dark He Doesn't Notice Anymore") and in a crisper, more enigmatic fashion in Seattle artist Laurie Clark's "Reed," a color/black-and-white diptych in which the sex of the model is, to my eyes, completely indeterminable.
The most striking photographic offerings from out of town are Dutch artist Gert-Jan Van den Bemd's "underneath" (a floor-level view of bedsprings that's potently suggestive even though there's not a body in sight) and Florida artist Allan Teger's carefully staged "Seagulls," "Farmlands" and "Buddha," black-and-white shots in which fleshly curves are transformed into idyllic landscapes.
The wittiest entry comes from Seattle trickster-provocateur Charles Krafft, famed for his porcelain "Disasterware" and ceramic weaponry. In "Phallus Chalice," he mulls over the tradition and technology behind circumcision, again in beautifully crafted Delftware mode.
There is, it has to be said, a lot of dreck on show, too. But the best pieces need no apologies, and almost all are on sale for bargain prices.