Last week I showed an installation at NSCAD’s Micro Gallery that was designed to generate interest in the Pleasure Movement. It consisted of a text piece explaining the ideology of the movement alongside a small, gold bullet vibrator that was trapped in a crochet web. The show was called Solid Gold Vibes, and was meant to function as a reference to Sophia Wallace’s sculpture, Solid Gold Clitoris.
While planning the show I struggled a lot with finding a way to represent my take on sex-positivity without unintentionally glorifying sex and the orgasm. My sister Rachel has a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies from Western University and has been an invaluable resource for me while developing nearly every aspect of the Pleasure Movement, so I had her sit down with me to discuss my show and the possible implications of using a vibrator in an installation intended to critique the idealization of the orgasm. I hope this interview will help to clarify the intent of the piece and dissect any problematic aspects that may have come up for individuals who saw the show. Here is an excerpt from our conversation:
Rachel: What was the idea behind choosing a vibrator as a response to the Solid Gold Clitoris?
Elysse: I decided to use the vibrator in my installation because I wanted to use an object related to sexual pleasure and cover it with crochet to symbolize the ways in which our ideas about sex are entangled with ideas about pleasure. The crochet web represents the complex ways in which sex is interwoven into our daily lives and how that affects the way we seek pleasure in other aspects of life. The vibrator is also closely related to the clitoris for obvious reasons, so that along with the gold colour are references to Sophia Wallace’s piece.
I’m concerned about the use of the vibrator and the implications of that. The phallic shape, for one, and the way that it potentially mimics Sophia Wallace’s argument by suggesting that all we think about when we think of sexual pleasure is male pleasure, or pleasure as related to the phallus. Yes, the vibrator is a tool of female, and male, self-pleasure, but how does your use of it differ from Wallace’s decision to confront the ways in which female sexual pleasure is ignored?
The piece is definitely intended to mimic Sophia Wallace’s Solid Gold Clitoris. If I had the opportunity, I would have loved to use a smaller replica of her gold clitoris sculpture and cover that in crochet, but the vibrator came to me as a related symbol that was easily accessible for the time frame that I was working with. I basically wanted to take her whole ideology and show how it is trapped in the perspective that all sex should result in orgasm and that this is the only way to approach sexual experiences. The phallic shape is an added bonus, in a way, because it references male sex organs and orgasm as well as those of females.
That makes sense.
It was difficult to come up with a way to represent sex without glorifying it. I wanted to use sex to generate interest in the piece. As we all know, sex sells, but I wanted to take advantage of that in a positive way to get people to react and think about the piece and its adjacent text installation. The textile component is meant to reference the textile piece that I ultimately hope to create as part of the Pleasure Movement, and although my ideology is focused on validating sexual and non-sexual pleasure, I felt that it was also effective in representing how entangled sex is in our understanding of pleasure, which is something I want to address in my writing throughout the project.
I didn’t fully understand that the vibe was a stand in for the clitoris, and that this installment was a way of visually demonstrating how much the ideology that Wallace is working with is still enshrouded in misconceptions of pleasure and climax-focused representations and understandings of sex. And although the vibe is a phallic shape, bullet vibrators are mostly used for clitoral stimulation, thereby displacing and standing in for Wallace’s clitoris
Exactly. The title of the piece is Solid Gold Vibes, so for anyone who is familiar with Wallace’s sculpture I thought that was a fairly clear reference. For those who are not familiar, I hoped that they would be interested enough by the show and the use of the vibrator to read my blog and learn more about her work and how it influenced my project.
I think I was interpreting the crocheting as being a web from which the vibe is attempting to escape, rather than something that is meant to represent how almost willingly trapped it is.
That’s a good point. I didn’t consider that when I made the piece. I did add the text behind the object that said “Detangling sex and pleasure” to hopefully clarify the intent.
Why is it gold? Or why is Wallace’s gold? What does ‘gold’ mean for access to certain pleasures?
Mostly it is gold because of the connection to Wallace’s piece. I’m not sure why her sculpture was gold aside from perhaps glorifying the clitoris and its potential for orgasm. For me the colour gold also represents the commodification of sex and orgasms due to the colour’s connection to currency and consumer value. Another thing I hope to explore in my blog is why we invest so much value in the orgasm when there are so many other ways to experience pleasure, and different kinds of pleasure. I have been thinking a lot recently about how the orgasm is the “currency” of sex for many people. I had an experience not too long ago where I had a sexual encounter with someone who achieved orgasm and I did not. I remember feeling at the time like I had provided something of value to my partner and didn’t get a fair exchange, and that prompted me to think about why that would be. There have also been a lot of articles popping up online recently about whether or not individuals, especially women, should require or expect to receive orgasms from their long- and short-term partners. I don’t have an answer for that, but that is another aspect of sexuality, sex-positivity, and Feminism that I hope to investigate more over the course of my work.
Excellent. That cleared a lot of things up.
If you have any questions about Solid Gold Vibes or the Pleasure Movement, please feel free to submit an Ask Me Anything or e-mail me at email@example.com. In the near future I hope to generate more discourse by incorporating a comment option to this blog as well as a forum for discussion about topics related to the Pleasure Movement and sex-positivity. Until then, please contact me with questions and ideas, and stay tuned for more articles about the new pleasure! -Elysse