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Sex, power, art

INTERVIEW. Sexy sex! Berlin’s notorious for its pairing of sex with art and on Fri, Mar 27, artist Avi Berg shares his contribution at Sprechsaal with four other like-minded artists in "Sex Macht Gut". It kicks off with a pole dance.

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Are you repressing your natural sexuality? Probably, according to Avi Berg. His collaborative show Sex Macht Gut: Über den erigierten Geist, opening at Sprechsaal on Friday March 27, focuses on our relationship with sex.

Berlin-based Israeli artist Berg has been exploring perceptions of sexuality via photos for a long time, but this is his first exhibition in 21 years. In the past two decades, Berg took a break from art, and also discovered (while married, with kids, at age 35) that he was gay. Discovering and expressing sexuality is the focus of his Sprechsaal show, the title of which translates to “Sex Does Good/Sex Power Good: About the erected mind”, playing on the double meaning of Macht. Co-curated with Lars Dreiucker, the show features four other international artists, also working mostly with photography: Irineu Destourelles (Cape Verde), Rinat Schnadower (Israel; photo is from her Nobody’s Coming series), Andreas Fux and Susanne Schleyer (both from Germany). Text, video and pole dancing make appearances as well in this multifaceted exhibition that will make you rethink how you think about sex – gay, straight or otherwise.

Tell us a bit about What do we look at and what do we see – when we gaze at gay porn portraits, the work you’re showing in this exhibition.

I’m showing part of a series that I did which is based on pornography blogs, in which people – not necessarily professional models – post photos of themselves. With these found photos, I did a simple technical exercise which changed their whole nature and the way we look at them: with each portrait, I created two. I took the head off from the main portrait. So you see one portrait, which is just a head portrait, you look at it and you don’t necessarily see that it has any sexual, erotic context. Then you see the other half of the portrait, which is all the rest without the head. And it’s interesting to see both of them. The Gestalt, the joining of them, can only be made in your mind. You cannot see them together. It raises a lot of questions: What is eroticism? What is pornography? How do we relate to sexuality, in our lives?

Although we are living in a quite open and – we would like to think – liberated society, in which we are tolerant of all kinds of genders and sexual practices, we are still lost in a situation where this coin has two sides. In addition to openness, we still assign some negativity and some shame to sexuality. Even when we exercise it freely, we do it in dark spaces, and we hardly ever talk about it openly with other people. This has some consequences on our sexuality. 

What are those consequences?

We feel some degree of shame, sometimes even almost guilt, when we engage in sexuality. Although sexuality is such a natural resource, you know? We are born with it, and it is such a rich means of expression which could give us a lot of joy and fulfillment. Because of this hypocrisy, we are not exploring sexuality in a more free way, a more joyful way. This is the theme behind the exhibition.

What motivated you to choose amateur models for this series, rather than professional ones?

Because for me it’s really interesting: Why would people like you and me choose to set themselves in pornographic or erotic contexts, have it photographed, and then upload it to the internet? What does this action mean? Professional people, okay, they get money to do this. But the fact that even everyday people – who might be clerks during the day – come home and find the need to upload erotic images of themselves is intriguing for me. So this is the reason why I turned to non-professional images. And the idea: what is the difference between erotic images and pornographic images? What do we need to call something pornographic? My idea is that when you label something as pornographic, it’s usually in order to label it in a somewhat negative way. But erotic can still be something more positive. There’s not a lot of people who would stand up in public and say, “Yes, I enjoy watching pornography, this is something that I feel is good for my soul.” So the choice to call these images not erotic but pornographic shows the complex approach that we have towards our body and our sexuality.

Is there any other info you’d like to share about the exhibition? 

Another thing that I want to say is that we issued a call for texts – we asked people on Facebook, and via email, to send us texts about sexuality, their own take of what sexuality is for them. These texts will also be hanging in the gallery during the exhibition. And at the opening we will gather some more of that, because it interests me to see how people choose to write about sexuality. A lot of people respond, “Oh, it’s so hard for me to write, to think about my sexuality,” and this is also indicative of the phenomenon that I’m trying to describe in the exhibition.

SEX MACHT GUT: ÜBER DEN ERIGIERTEN GEIST Fri Mar 27, 19:00 – Fri May 22, Wed-Sat 14:00-22:00 | Sprechsaal, Marienstr. 26, Mitte, S-Bhf Friedrichstraße