Jennifer Lyon Bell and Stoya Talk “Blue Artichoke Films Presents: Adventures In Intimacy” (and Sex Positivity)
Taking place on Friday, February 28th in Amsterdam (or via a live stream near you), “Blue Artichoke Films Presents: Adventures In Intimacy” will be, according to the event’s press release, “a celebration of sex-positive, p*rn-positive, queer-friendly culture as explored by p*rn performers, scientists, and sex educators in their own work.” Organized by the feminist force behind Blue Artichoke Films (which will simultaneously celebrate its platform launch) Jennifer Lyon Bell, the evening’s quartet of speakers, including the host herself, are an international array of notable thinkers on the subject of erotica in cinema. The Netherlands Ellen Laan, a sexologist and “pleasure activist,” will be joined by performers Bishop Black (Berlin-based by way of the UK), and the US’s own high-profile Stoya.
Both award-winning filmmaker Bell (who was crafting “ethical porn” long before that was a thing) and prolific sex writer Stoya (“Philosophy, Pussycats & Porn”) found time to fill us in on what to expect.
Filmmaker: So Stoya, why carve time out of your busy schedule to travel all the way to Amsterdam and take part in this event?
Stoya: It’s a bit of a saga. I have this adult entertainment project called ZeroSpaces. We do some stuff that is definitely porn, some stuff that is in and around porn, and some stuff that may or may not be porn.
I’d reached out to Jiz Lee about doing an ICON piece (for ZeroSpaces.com) on explicit sex film legend Candida Royalle; Jiz then forwarded me to Jennifer Lyon Bell, who I never would have had the confidence to reach out to on my own, and Jennifer wrote us an amazing piece. During the negotiation, Jennifer suggested that we do a trade where she gives us a discount rate in exchange for my Skyping in to the Adventures In Intimacy event. But since I was going to be in Europe just beforehand anyways, here we are.
I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing about how beautiful Amsterdam is, so instead I’ll talk about the organization of the Red Light District window workers, their occupations of their workspace in the face of window closures, and the Museum of Prostitution. The sex work and sex positivity in the air makes it a comfortable place to visit.
Filmmaker: And Jen, why host this event? It looks to be more than just a launch party.
Bell: Originally I just wanted to introduce people to the new Blue Artichoke Films platform. I created it as a safe place to not only stream/download my handcrafted films, naturally, but also to read sex-positive pop culture tidbits, and to discover film screenings, talks and erotic parties where you can meet likeminded people.
That was my vision as to why the platform is special — it’s a place to safely experiment with what turns you on, and to let you connect with erotic culture in other ways that might be interesting and entertaining for you. Then I realized how cool it would be to help illuminate other areas of erotic culture by introducing our audience to some of our many friends and colleagues who are creating other facets of this very same culture. We’re a diverse bunch, but we share similar principles and values about creativity and sexuality. Why not make an entire fun evening of it? Then it all started to come together. If part of Blue Artichoke Films’s goal is to create real-life spaces where people can learn about and enjoy sexuality together, why not start with our erotic platform launch?
Filmmaker: Stoya, could you give us the scoop on what exactly you’ll be speaking about, and/or what you’re looking forward to hearing from the other participants?
Stoya: I’ll definitely be speaking about some of the infrastructure difficulties that shape how porn gets made and distributed. Otherwise, it’ll be up to what the moderator finds interesting. I’m generally looking forward to hearing the perspectives of the other panelists, whatever they may be.
Filmmaker: The evening’s speakers include not only performers — Stoya as well as Bishop Black — but also Ellen Laan, who’s a sexologist. So Jen, how did you choose the participants? Do you feel a need for more dialogue between art and science in the erotica world?
Bell: Definitely. I think in many fields there’s a gap between academia and practice. When I did my masters in film theory, I was always attracted to cognitive film theory because it approached analyzing the creative medium of film with both philosophy and with science. That’s pretty rare in the film theory world.
Ellen Laan is a trailblazer of sexology. She is serious about studying desire from a scientific perspective, but she’s also very conscious of the ways in which society sends messages that impact our perception of our desires, and of what is actually possible for us. Not only that, she’s a sexologist who takes porn seriously. Her groundbreaking experimental research about women watching porn, and gauging the physiological element of their arousal, was so inspiring. I wrote about her work in my masters thesis, so it’s a particular honor to have her speak at Adventures In Intimacy.
Sexology has so much to teach erotica, and vice versa. I enjoy being invited to speak at sexology conferences, and introducing clinical practitioners to the concept of alternative erotica. They’ve usually never heard of it and are surprisingly enthusiastic. Just this past November my film Adorn was the first erotic film to win the Dutch Scientific Sexologist’s Sex & Media prize for its positive contribution to sexual culture. It was a huge honor, and the win says a lot about the increasing overlap in erotic art, activism and science.
I admire Stoya and Bishop tremendously as performers and creators, so I’m thrilled they could both come and share their work. Stoya’s book “Philosophy, Pussycats & Porn” is a revelation. Her honesty about relationships, daily life and sex work is both amusing and deeply poetic. She has a great way of capturing the depth of sexuality, and she is great with the written word. I’m an advice column addict, and I’ve really enjoyed her advice in Slate’s “How To Do It.” I think it’s worth talking about how porn/erotica can become a multidimensional medium via the kind of context that someone like Stoya is a natural at providing.
Bishop — what can I say? Not only is he the star of the highly entertaining adult sex-ed collective Sex School, which is my new obsession, but I love working with him. He recently starred in my virtual reality movie Second Date, and he was so great to work with — sexy, vulnerable, honest — that I simply had to bring him in again to star in my newest film with Kali Sudhra. He’s a performance artist and a dancer, and his queer attitude toward sexuality reflects how I also see the world. Sexuality is rich, complicated, and deeply creative.
Filmmaker: Jen, you mentioned, your site isn’t just a place to watch films, but also to learn about the wider erotic film community — festivals, workshops, etc. — and even about representations of sexuality in pop culture. So who is your target audience? Are you hoping to preach beyond the converted, so to speak?
Bell: Yes! I keep forgetting how much I take for granted over here in my sex-positive Amsterdam world. I’ve met so many great erotic artists who believe, like I do, that sexual representation matters, that sexual arousal can be inspiring, that sexual diversity means that peoples’ real life experiences contain so much more than what fits into existing pigeonholes.
Yet at every speaking event I’m overwhelmed by how many folks are so relieved to hear that these concepts are possible. I want to be an evangelist for sexual pleasure and sexual creativity. I think everyone needs to hear this. Blue Artichoke Films seems to attract a pretty wide range of viewers — all genders, all orientations, all ages — and I just want to keep getting the message out.
Filmmaker: Stoya, you’ve likewise been involved in the world of adult cinema for quite awhile, for over a decade, and according to Wikipedia, been exploring technology even longer, since you were a toddler! So do you have any final thoughts as to where tech will be taking erotica in the years to come?
Stoya: Ha. My learn-how-to-read program was only accessible through DOS. Technology was sort of just always around, which is normal for the younger millennials. I think we’ll see more tools for sharing intimacy — more teledildonics. I think we’ll see those tools used to bolster romantic/recreational connections, and to add layers to online sex work. I think we’ll see further blurring of the barriers between public and private. I hope someone will make a beautiful, sweeping VR narrative with sex in it. Mostly I want everyone to take a minute and realize how fantastically futuristic things already are. Any adult performer with a cell phone can make their own content and distribute it almost instantly. That’s a huge change from when I started performing. It really puts power into the hands of the workers.