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<nettime> Enculturating Net-Porn: Interview with Libidot
Ned Rossiter on Wed, 1 Aug 2001 18:55:32 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Enculturating Net-Porn: Interview with Libidot


'Enculturating Net-Porn: Interview with Libidot'
July, 2001


Katrien Jacobs/Libidot is a Belgian academic based at Emerson 
College, Boston.  Her recent academic research and publications have 
been on internet pornography, censorship issues and Shu Lea Cheang. 
She is currently wearing a different hat at the moment, and is 
travelling in Japan, Australia, and then consolidating work in Europe 
and the US.  She works as Libidot to produce web based material that 
includes an installation recently held in Perth, a webdiary, 
interviews, imagery and writing on net/video porn artists and 
performance.  Libidot is her method of producing work during the act 
of travelling, an ongoing moody-adventurous and raw act of writing 
and gathering information that complements the unrelentless academic 
quest for publications as well as the peeking sexual drive or libido.

libidot {AT} earthlink.net
http://www.libidot.org
http://pages.emerson.edu/Katrien_Jacobs

Ned Rossiter: First of all, can you tell us what this project is about?

Libidot: The working title for this project is Porn Around the World. 
I am travelling around the world to investigate how different 
cultures interact with Internet pornography in the arts, sex 
industries, mainstream and independent media.  I am in the process of 
writing a book about Internet pornography and decided to do 
ethnographic research into communities, individuals, spaces, sites 
and how they are affected by the globalised culture of Internet porn. 
I am interested in the tension between the overly promoted lure of 
pornographic screens and consumers who embody/act out/reinterpret 
information in their actual lives, work and political environments. A 
lot of this interplay between commodified screen-fantasies and 
actuality is complex and intensely explored by media artists and 
underground performers.  I try to meet with them and learn about the 
'coming to life' of current porn fantasies.

I am also questioning and dissolving the roles of 'academic 
researcher' and his/her object of study as a 'pornographer'.  I have 
declared myself to be an 'obscene doctor' in that I am interested in 
my own mental-sexual energy as a driving force for my research.  I am 
perhaps driven by the same sort of energy that once compelled artists 
Zoot and Genant of Artporn Amsterdam to go to bed with a live octopus 
in Japan, a capricious and technology-dependent energy that has 
encouraged several generations of web-writers, nomadic researchers 
and artists to commit acts of exhibitionism.  In my case 
exhibitionism is interwoven with a diligent or driven study and 
observation of others.  I try to incorporate everyday scholarly 
activity, visiting places, meeting with individuals, and conceiving 
of ideas, as a kind of obscene consciousness that is not to be 
segregated from the daily transactions constituting Internet porn and 
art itself.  The sphere of energy that drives us disparate scholars 
to study others and describe them as 'objects of study', remaining 
behind the scenes yet getting aroused by our interconnected queries, 
that is what interests me.

NR: Porn-around-the-world: why, then, these particular countries 
(Japan, Australia, Belgium, USA)?  Is there anything special about 
these places that puts them on your itinerary?  Perhaps you could say 
something about how these places relate to your recent academic 
research on censorship issues around the Internet, and the work of 
Internet porn-artists?

Libidot: I have lived and worked in most of the countries and 
continents where I do my research - Belgium, Australia, USA.  Then 
there are the other cultures such as Japan and Slovenia where I have 
started doing work more recently and received a very good response. I 
find it to hard to find an adequate focus for my research and have 
started to adapt my identity as a 'mobile researcher' to the object 
of study.  In 1997 I moved from Washington DC to Perth, Western 
Australia, after a number of online correspondences and phone-calls 
with a university there.  It was very difficult for me to arrive and 
work in Perth and I started to develop an online identity in order to 
escape from daily boredom and stress.  To some extent, online 
searching and writing can be very enriching for the libido and I fell 
in love with a person who gave me more sexual satisfaction than I had 
ever received.  I met up with him in Brussels and we lived together 
for a while as two amorous self-absorbed geeks.  After our break-up 
in Boston two years later, I travelled to Ljubjana, Slovenia and came 
up with the idea that the law of gravity in real travel can 
positively complement romantic-nomadic-obsessive ideas and 
correspondences.  I had been struggling with an excessive desire for 
sex and discovered that the desire balanced out as soon as I started 
travelling.  I like sensing new environments and use travel, 
pragmatic searching, exhausting my body, and sharpening intuition as 
a way to construct 'peepzones' appropriate for my research.  Those 
peepzones are crafted by diverse people in existing places and thus 
complicate and complement the Internet sex drive.  I work with people 
who understand and share my mindset and want to talk to me about 
their own relation to pornography.  A lot of those people are 'porn 
artists' - i.e. artists who either work with and/or subvert 
commercial pornography, or artists who have a peculiar bond with 
sexual or obsessive-libidinal energy that is not always directly 
manifest in their work.

The censorship issues are different in every country but governments 
are mostly simultaneously encouraging and restricting online porn. Of 
course it is not really porn itself that is endangering citizens, 
except for children in developing countries whose services are 
massively traded through the Internet, but the libidinal energy that 
has infested the Internet since its foundation.  That energy that 
still zips through big brother mainframe and is used and/or purchased 
by hackers, geeks, webgirrls and academics to commit to excessive 
(rather than sexually explicit) acts of communication.  When I moved 
to Perth, I discovered some reactionary pieces of legislation (i.e. 
WA Censorship Act of 1996) that tried to argue that citizens ought to 
be very careful with this new influx of 'obscene' energy through the 
Internet.  This attitude stems from the idea that pornographic online 
correspondences or transactions, just like the glow of excessive 
advertising, may have a strong affect on individuals and their 
fantasies, turning the local or national unconscious of everyday 
educated citizens into a transnational smut-engine.

Meanwhile similar types of neo-conservative legislation have arisen 
from state and federal governments in the UK, USA, Australia, and 
France.  What gets officially scrutinised by the new pieces of 
legislation is the up/down loading by individuals and ISP's of 
sexually explicit materials depicting taboo areas of sexuality - 
child pornography, bestiality, sadomasochism.  Right now we are 
entering a second phase of Internet censorship where the 
communicative energy itself is more successfully attacked and 
obliterated.  For example, commercial portals such as Yahoo are in 
the process of trying to destroy messageboards and chatrooms 
constructed on their 'free' servers, where illegal pornographers may 
indeed arrange their transactions.  The problem is that many mundane, 
often young web-users and activists are equally hit by this 
destruction, especially since so many of them are now using the 
commercial portals for non-commercial activities.  In Massachusetts, 
for instance, it has become illegal to distribute any depictions of 
nude minors and children (including babies).  Several months before 
this law came out, a couple of online gay communities, more 
particularly urination and buttock fetishists, were hit really hard 
by this decision as their sites were aggressively removed by 
commercial host portals. The sites included messageboards where the 
new censorship legislation was actively being discussed.

You might think of this as an inevitable clash, but it would be the 
equivalent to obsessive online academics and activists waking up to 
the total destruction/removal of <nettime>.  It is for the very same 
reason that I decided to place my website <http://www.libidot.org> 
outside the boundaries of my academic institution on a server that 
agreed, after much negotiation, to support the pornographic premises 
of my work.  Even though Emerson College supports my research through 
grants for travel and web design, the libidot.org component of this 
research is something they could easily remove from their server 
without my consultation.  There is really nothing like spectacular 
porn or taboo graphics on that site, but it is a component of larger 
fringe knowledge bases (both academic and otherwise) that are not yet 
fully acknowledged as valid porn research.

NR: You began your trip in Japan. What have you been up to there? Who 
have you met, and what are your impressions of pornographic culture 
in Japan?  For instance, is there a clear distinction between 
mainstream, commercial porn, and a sort of avant-garde underground? 
How does the underground, assuming one exists, frame its concerns - 
theoretically, aesthetically, culturally?

Libidot: I first became interested in Japan through Shu Lea Cheang's 
work and her 'digital sci-fi porn' movie I.K.U.  I was invited by 
Chris Berry, Audrey Yue and Fran Martin, the editors of the 
forthcoming book _Mobile Cultures: Queer Asia and New Media_ (Duke 
University Press), to write an article about this movie in terms of 
how it depicts Japanese sexual 'underground' communities.  This was a 
difficult thing to do since I had never lived or worked in Japan. But 
then I decided I had to go check it out, so I started my quest for 
Tokyo's sexual cultures a couple of weeks ago.  I was aided by Shu 
Lea Cheang and Aky Narita, a bondage performer and old friend of 
Artporn Amsterdam, who introduced me to artist and porn producers. 
Here again, I became very interested in the interplay between erotic 
magazine (manga) and videos/game (anime) images, and how artists 
would rework them.  I noticed that women in particular had a very 
interesting way of playing with and subverting cartoon culture.  For 
instance, Minori Kitahara who owns a sex shop for women in the 
backroom of her apartment, designs very unusual dildo's as well as 
feminist cartoons that are attractive to young women (and men I 
suppose).

So this is one example of a unique peepzone for my research, as the 
sexual communities which emerge around Minori's store are not 
ghettoised nor are they as publicly visible and politically active as 
they are in western cultures.  They have a very subtle way of 
checking out the myriad Japanese porn cultures 'with a twisted mind', 
stealing bits and pieces of information and presenting it as a new 
kind of attraction.  So it is much more difficult to make a 
distinction between commercial and underground porn.  The same holds 
for the movie I.K.U. that in my opinion contains many moments of 
witty commentary on commercial live and animated porn.  However, in 
order to notice and appreciate such work as subversion, one has to 
almost be a Japanese porn or anime aficionado.  Furthermore, anime 
movies have a unique way of blending action and sex scenes that makes 
it hard to classify them as 'porn' or 'not porn'.

Then recently at Melbourne's International Film Festival, I saw 
_Tokyo Bound_, a new documentary by Susan Lambert about a mistresses 
working in Tokyo.  Just as popular striptease shows in Tokyo present 
mythic scenes with live girls being attacked by ghosts and monsters, 
_Tokyo Bound_ showed a scene in which the mistresses were dressed up 
like a lobster and a mosquito, voraciously wrestling each other. This 
is a coming to life of anime scenes.  They are hard to frame in terms 
of political or queer identity, but it does remind me of some early 
avant-garde art such as Apollinaire's play the _Breasts of Tiresias_. 
And even in early 20th century France there must have been a 
commercial cabaret or erotic culture that directly inspired the 
Avant-Garde.  It's just so dead right now in the streets of 
Melbourne, Boston, Brussels, Amsterdam, New York, where porn art is 
uncomfortably ghettoised within art institutions or feminist and 
queer activist institutions.  Younger generations especially seem to 
have lost their interest in these institutions.  I am looking at 
Japan as an example of a lively sexual universe, a good place for 
women's activism, knowing that a lot of the commercial porn relies on 
a strict division of gender roles that really pisses off Japanese 
women.

NR: Your next stop has been Australia.  You began research on 
Internet censorship issues when you were working here for a couple of 
years in the late nineties.  How, if at all, is your performance in 
Perth articulating with that aspect of your academic research (and 
perhaps before you respond to this, you can tell us something about 
the Perth performance/installation)?

Libidot: I once used to live and work in Perth and felt very 
alienated from the rest of society.  But sometimes such difficult 
periods in one's life lead to epiphanies.  I felt so cut off from the 
rest of the world that I started to work more confidently on Internet 
pornography.  Unlike some uncomfortable 'porn dialogues' with 
feminist and lesbian scholars I experienced in the USA, a growing 
institutional approval and geek existence led me into the direction 
of porn.  I also started feeling more free as a scholar to use 
different mediums of expression for my ideas, as Australia has much 
more tolerance for such audio-visual and performative research.  This 
gave me a lot of courage for my work, but I could not maintain my 
intellectual relationship with Perth without getting totally 
depressed.  So I moved in 1999 and then recently returned to Perth 
and Australia to do research for my book.  I arrived in Perth and put 
up an installation piece in the heritage listed Moore's Building. The 
installation invited viewers to go online and watch porn, print out 
images and turn them into flowers.  The flowers look like paper trash 
coming out of the printer and filling up the room.  This was a way of 
kicking off my search for pornographers in Australia, the piece 
Libidot and _Bubblejet 2001 SXY Flowers_ presented commercial porn 
and was very open to the audience's desire or interest to look at 
screen porn, the porn flowers, or add some of their own concepts.

Now I am talking to several artists, performers, sex worker's 
organizations and sex shop owners in Sydney and Melbourne.  I have 
interviewed several artists and curators who followed the Australian 
cyberarts boom very closely and are now trying to find out where it 
is going to go next: Linda Dement, Linda Wallace, Virginia Barrett, 
Sarah Waterson, Ian Haig, and many others.  In Melbourne I tried out 
a few venues from within the sex industry, but I haven't found 
anything that stimulates me.  I went to an SM play-party and did 
enjoy talking to an older 'master' who was very keen on introducing 
me to stimulation through electro-magnetic waves.  He showed me his 
'violent wand,' a seventy-year old hospital kit that supposedly was 
used on cancer patients, and is something he now uses in dungeons to 
administer little shocks.  What I liked about his wand was that it 
produced beautiful little fluorescent bolts of light - pink, green 
and violet - when held closely to the skin.  I was also fortunate 
enough to meet with J.D. Ryan of Downunder Toys, a vibrator/dildo 
manufacturer who has come up with a new line of women-friendly 
vibrators.  Some of them are shaped after native animals such as the 
koala or platypus, and they are much smaller than those designed by 
men.  Is this a revolution?  Is this a joke?  In my view, the 
vibrators are like curious little artworks and possibly some of the 
best conceived designs on the market, as J.D. Ryan strongly believes 
in online consumerism as a creative feminist mode of production.

Since many artists are also working as teachers, I ended up talking a 
lot about teaching digital arts to younger generations of students. 
Several developments are complicating this issue; first of all is the 
fact that younger people are no longer excited to learn through the 
written word.  Secondly, the collapse of liberal areas of study such 
as feminism, gender studies, queer studies.  Thirdly, the collapse of 
dotcom economy.  I personally believe that a study of pornography, 
sexuality and technology could be introduced in a fascinating way, 
but there seems to be a drift towards classical and safer fields of 
study.  I have been able to pull together some of the strands of my 
research in a webdiary.  I post a message and a picture about my work 
in progress every day.  This work mode then forces at least some 
structure on the project and is also accessible to non-academics.

NR: What sort of reaction have you had from your university with this 
project, particularly senior faculty and your immediate colleagues? 
Have you had to frame the project in such a way that makes it fit 
into target research areas - I'm thinking about funding issues here, 
and how those projects that attract funds within university settings, 
typically, are ones that articulate with the political economy of 
research?  How receptive is your university to funding and supporting 
research projects of a creative nature that do not fit the usual 
categories of academic publishing?

Libidot: Emerson College has been very supportive of my work, even 
though it involves a lot of sexually explicit materials, often 
produced by myself, and non-typical modes of academic production. 
They did know about this aspect of my work when they hired me and 
have not stopped me from thinking through the experimental nature of 
the work.  I have also started to deliver academic papers in 
performative fashion with the help of my colleague, digital sound 
designer Maurice Methot.  We select a piece of writing, which is then 
randomly sampled and mixed in with images and sounds.  Maurice and I 
did a presentation at Emerson College called 'pornography and 
indeterminacy'.  It was like an awkward jam-the-mind session and was 
received with bewilderment.  Several senior faculty members and 
administrators were in the audience and they did not discard it 
completely.  After giving such a presentation, the audience who until 
then had been observing conventional conference presentations (mostly 
read aloud from a piece of paper) became confused over what 
constitutes an effective mode of delivery.  Of course I still have to 
produce and deliver all the standard publications as well in order to 
create a space to be an obscene or whatever scholar.  It is a 
parallel existence, where the experimental work is more risky, more 
challenging and takes up more of the time.  I now know that I cannot 
proceed academically without this kind of experimental-performative 
work any more.  My own mental sanity is at stake!

NR: How do you see this project developing?

I will be developing the libidot website.  First of all (an idea 
borrowed from Geert Lovink) I want to use the site to write and 
publish several chapters of my forthcoming 'Peepzones' book, not only 
to maintain a mechanism that will hopefully inspire me to write 
regularly but also to develop a number of unconventional writing 
styles and topics.  The book is in progress, and I am trying to find 
a less academic writing style that is open to young generations. 
Secondly, I hope to start up a sexuality and technology forum, where 
writers and artists from different cultures can post their work and 
enter discussion.  At this moment it has been possible for people to 
read the webdiary, post messages and submit work, but I have to think 
about an adequate and low maintenance design for benign, obscene 
doctors to look at other people's work.  I am sure that Brian the 
Brain will be looking over my shoulder.

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