Inspired by the characters of the raconteuses in the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom and the extinct pornographic literary form of the whore’s dialogue, this piece is an immersive multi-channel video installation that enacts a ritual of the transmission, through language and the expertise of performance, of sexual knowledge between women.
The Whore’s Dialogue was installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver in 2013 in conjunction with their program series Feminism & Co: Art, Sex, Politics, curated by Elissa Auther and Gillian Silverman.
The whore’s dialogue is an extinct genre of written pornography. Popular throughout Europe from the 1300s to the 1700s (and some people think earlier), it would take the form of a conversation between an older sexual libertine; and a young protege, often a daughter. The experienced whore would hold forth on sex and seduction (obviously), but also human nature, politics, provide social commentary and tips on survival; the daughter behave as the foil, her rather bland dialogue inciting the whore’s juicy next line (“oh how interesting, tell me more!” etc.)
I came to this Whore’s Dialogue through the characters of the raconteuses in 120 Days of Sodom. In the Marquis de Sade’s novel, four corrupt nobles stage a violent orgy with an assortment of virginal victims whom they despoil and ultimately destroy.
The nobles also hire four aged madams whose role it is to narrate the orgy; de Sade makes clear that these women, the keepers of stories, are the most important ingredient; the party cannot happen without them. I found the idea of this role—the older woman as the taxonomist of the perverse, relegated to the role of language, to be a provocative container for my own ambivalent and conflicted investigations of sexuality and gender. Pornography makes the intimate political, by putting private or secret acts into language. The position of speaker is both one of power and impotence. The piece meditates on the experienced performer, our sometimes unwilling immersion into the rituals of sexuality, and the corruptions underlying our complicity in all such rituals.
The text combines diverse sources: memoir, news stories of violent and complex sex crimes, hooker blogs, etc: the differences between pleasurable consensual sexual encounters, pornographic fantasy, and acts of violence are flattened out. The experienced woman is divided into three aspects: the Mother, who offers advice, tells jokes, and models sexual interaction; the Anima, who can only speak in the voice of the person who is not her in the sexual act; and the Wife, who suffers. The Daughter, whom we never see, responds at the end with her own response to the lessons learned. (2012)