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“So much of our highly valued culture was acquired via sexuality.” Sigmund Freud
“One cannot understand the essence of a country or society without understanding the web of sexual relations of those that built it. Responsible for the birth, the splendour, the decadence, and the fall of the greatest civilizations, nobody can ignore the profound impact of sexuality on the visual art and stories of nations.” This is the creed which prompted Argentine author, Federico Andahazi, to write ‘Pecar Como Dios Manda’, the sexual history of Argentina.
It is therefore unsurprising that he appeared alongside ‘sexologists’, film directors, artists, models and shop owners in September 2009, at Buenos Aires’ first ‘Festival de Cultura Erotica’. The festival provided a glimpse into a lesser known facet of the city’s cultural offerings. Conceived of the sexual and characterised by the sensual, Buenos Aires’ mundo erotico is a pulsing hub of art, literature and performance. It is a world which, according to Andahazi, is alien to many porteños, yet inexorably linked to their heritage and identity.
Erotica versus Pornography
‘Erotica’ is a portrayal of human anatomy and sexuality with high-art aspirations. Strictly speaking, a notion of erotica in Buenos Aires should not be pegged to its red light district, telos (pay-per-hour hotels), or sex shops and strip clubs. A distinction is often also made between erotica and pornography, which serves solely as sexual entertainment. The ‘Festival de Cultura Erotica’ therefore bore its name in the loosest possible sense, hosting big names in the Argentine pornographic industry.
However, artists have wrestled with the line between the two for decades, and one person’s pornography is another’s erotica. It was clear that the festival intended to encompass a multitude of expectations, satisfying both artistic curiosity and a more libidinous agenda. Torn between subtly titillating, creative finesse and brash, concupiscent entertainment, Buenos Aires’ cultura erotica was presented as a mixed bag.
Erratic erotica: ‘Festival de Cultura Erotica’
The three levels of the Palacio Alsina showcased everything from nude figure paintings and photography to heavy-duty sex toys; from provocative lingerie to conferences on ‘Erogenous Psychology’ and ‘Making a Porno’. Live performances oscillated from the thrusts of oiled strippers to a complex balletic duet involving melted wax and bare torsos. The festival’s headline act was Sonia Baby, Spain’s most celebrated vaginal acrobat.
Amongst such entertainments was an array of oddities. The hedonistic atmosphere conjured by the champagne bar was diluted somewhat by the kebab stand. Bikini-clad models posed suggestively for photos, but also gave out pens advertising good nutrition. The guests were a selection of old and young; couples and groups; those with an interest in the artistry, and those who became publicly amorous around 10pm. The festival seemed confused; as though obstinate that erotica held an important position in Argentine culture, though unsure of its exact location.
The art of the act: Paola Kullock
One of the most interesting additions was psychologist, erotic masseuse and general ‘sexpert’: Paola Kullock. The charismatic speaker presented an excerpt from her weekly stand-up show. Taking to the stage at her regular Friday evening gig, Kullock teaches “the professional techniques and secrets of great sex”. Through audience participation and pop-aided borderline-risqué demonstrations, she presents the sexual act as an art-form which can be mastered.
“The problem with a lot of women here is that they feel it’s unimportant to make time for their own pleasure,” she explains. “Argentine women are practical and often busy with their kids, husband or home. I do this because I want to help them find time for themselves through sexual enjoyment, whether with a partner or alone. To me, this is the art of erotica: the art of exploring and understanding your carnal and emotional desires.”
A whole new world
Kullock gives personal classes at her ‘Escuela de sexo’, which – like her show – are well attended, primarily by women in their late 30s. However, she admits: “People in Buenos Aires are still bewildered by erotica. What I do is less taboo than when I started, three years ago; and nobody would bat an eyelid at sex-shops or pornography. But although they are considered normal, they are not commonly used. There is a huge erotic scene in his city, but a lot of porteños don’t know what to do with it.”
Federico Andahazi agrees. He was struck by those at the ‘Festival de Cultura Erotica’ who seemed, “totally alien to the world of erotica”. He asserts that guests were astounded by the wealth of artistry: “It was so new to them. I’m sure these people watch porn, and that’s what they were expecting of an erotic expo. I actually think there is a false dichotomy between eroticism and pornography. There are good and bad versions of both, as was exhibited at the festival!”
Sexual ‘Appetite’: Erotic art in Buenos Aires
With reference to the pornographic yet highly wrought literature of Georges Bataille, Andahazi concludes that whether erotic or otherwise, people always appreciate creative skill. Acknowledged as one of history’s earliest artistic expressions, depictions of carnal pleasure abound in primal cultural production. At a recent exhibition, it was clear that such traditions are not facing extinction in contemporary Argentine art.
‘Sex and Violence’ was held at San Telmo’s Appetite gallery. The space was crammed with photography, sketches, paintings and sculptures, featuring scenes of nudity, sex, masturbation and sado-masochism. The pieces were experimental, combining a range of materials with a kaleidoscopic palette. Around 100 young artists were exhibited, selected by Appetite director, Daniela Luna. The sheer volume of guests at the inauguration verified the profound interest aroused by such work in Buenos Aires.
Many pieces were permeated with evident references to Argentine culture. A naked female figure was superimposed with the comic-strip character, Mafalda; and graphic flyers for Constitución prostitutes hung from meat hooks, alluding to Argentine beef. Lucía Harari, one of the exhibited artists, states: “This art is part of our identity. Through exploring eroticism alongside our heritage, we truly discover who we are.”
The sexual identity, history and politics of a nation
Argentina’s cultural and historical identity pervades Federico Andahazi’s sexual philosophy. He claims that ‘Pecar Como Dios Manda’ was an accidental conception, stumbled upon while researching the country’s colonial history. “Argentines habitually question the impact on our identities of where we are from. I was tracing Argentina’s origins, and realised then that there was no written chronicle of our sexual history: the crux of our origin, the creating force.”
Andahazi charts the sexual relations of key Argentine figures, from the country’s colonial origins to the May Revolution. He encountered some negative reactions from extreme political groups, enraged at suggestions of their heroes’ foul practice. “In Argentina, sex provokes varied reactions, whereas politics provoke stronger reactions. When you deal with both, then it gets complicated!” Yet Andahazi maintains that he cannot separate them. Sex is the organising paradigm of humanity and of Argentina’s heritage. Although still foreign to many, Buenos Aires’ mundo erotico is a rich artistic scene, embedded in its culture.
For more information on Paola Kullock, and to reserve a space at her show, visit www.pkescueladesexo.com.ar.
For more information on the work of Federico Andahazi, visit www.andahazi.com
Admission to Appetite Gallery is free, and it is situated on Chacabuco 551.