Currently reading : Sex Shop at Transition Gallery
Sex Shop is the titilating exhibition currently on show at Hackney’s Transition Gallery and it showcases the work of 50 artists and designers surrounding the theme of ‘sex’. Originally on display at Folkestone Fringe last year (think of the seedy seaside town sex shops), each participating practitioner has created a prototype of their desired sexual or fetish object; the responses are all profoundly personal and one experiences a sense of voyeurism with the intrusion into their (usually private) desires.
Sex Shop is indeed a shop, all of the objects involved are for sale, though the exhibition reads more like a cabinet of perverse and perverted curiosities than a standardised retail practice due to the subverted nature of the sex objects on display. We spoke to one of the curators, Jack Stokoe about the exhibition and its objects within.
Where did the idea for Sex Shop come from?
A few years ago, Sarah Gillham, Darren Narin and myself all worked together as art lectures at a college on the outskirts of London. We used to discuss each other’s practice during spare moments as respite from the coalface of teaching. We quickly realised that, if you were to draw a Venn diagram of our interests as artists, ‘sex’ would be the central overlapping area of concern. But we each approached it from a different perspective: Sarah was interested in the psychoanalytical and feminist discourse around female sexuality and desire, Darren had a background in queer theory, and I was interested in the Sadean territory of perversion and nihilism. So between us we had most of our bases covered.
Initially, the idea of doing a sex-based exhibition, as part of the Folkestone Fringe at the next Triennial, was Sarah’s. She had grown up in Folkestone and had wanted to do a project there for some time. Darren and I were keen to be involved, and like Sarah wanted to establish a curatorial framework through which the sex theme could be approached playfully and intelligently, without lapsing into overly familiar territory. After some discussion, we decided that we would rent a vacant commercial property and turn it into a temporary Sex Shop, featuring a range of sex and fetish objects created by artists, designers, and other creative people, whose work we found interesting.
How did you go about selecting the artists and designers involved? And was there anybody in particular whose involvement was inaugural, and why?
One of the most important things was to ask people that we were genuinely interested to see what would come up with. We also felt it was important to ask people who dealt with sex explicitly in their work as well as people who didn’t, but whose work exhibited a latent sexuality, for example through the fetishisation of materials. As curators we hoped to arrive at a selection which included both craft and design based pieces, as well as responses that were more conceptually orientated.
Were there any specifications or requirements for the objects to have to be considered?
We were open to responses across a wide variety of media, and actively sought to involve artists whose practice was interdisciplinary, as well as commissioning responses from people outside the sphere of contemporary art. Consequently, the exhibition features everything from 3D maquettes and 2D visualisations, to audio-video and text based responses. We set a size limit of 12 x 12 x 12 inches on each piece, partly for practical reasons – when you’re working with around 50 artists, in a space that was unlikely to be confirmed until a few weeks before the opening, this seemed sensible – but also because we hoped that the size constraint would lend a greater conceptual clarity and visual unity to the exhibition.
I’ve read about the link between its initial showing at Folkestone Fringe and the relationship between the seaside town and sex, its seedy underbelly. Why is it now exhibiting in Hackney? Does the location have as much as a narrative as it did when it was on show in Folkestone?
Sex is a pretty universal subject, and I’m sure it takes place in Hackney just as frequently – and seedily – as it does in Folkestone. It was always our intention to tour the exhibition to Transition gallery, but we obviously realised that the seaside town framing wouldn’t translate to the new context. We also had to let go of the commercial trappings of the previous space, such as the mirrored walls and till point, which had previously been so successful. However, I think that the white cube format, combined with our decision to separate the show into two halves, does have the advantage of focusing the viewers attention on the core premise of the exhibition; which was for each artist and designer to develop a prototype version of their own sex or fetish object. Hopefully, what has been sacrificed in terms of narrative has been compensated by a greater clarity in relation to the sex and fetish objects themselves.
What’s your favourite piece on show?
Well, the diplomatic answer is that there are many! Conceptually, I really like Joey Holder’s piece. Her practice is concerned with biological and digital systems, and the overlap between the two. For the exhibition she made a 3D print of a Bean Weevil’s penis, which was a really nice playful response synthesizing these elements of her practice. I also really like Jorge de la Garza’s agalmatophilia porn film, which features found documentary footage of ancient Greek sculptures overlaid with a psychedelic red and blue 1970’s style porn filter – both of these elements are identified by the artist as being things that turn him on – and it’s beautifully realised.
-Jack Stokoe is one of the curators of Sex Shop, along with Sarah Gillham and Darren Narin.
Sex Shop is currently on show at Transition Gallery, Unit 25a Regent Studios, 8 Andrews Road London E8 4QN
Part One runs until the 14th March and Part Two runs from the 15th-29th March
The new issue of Garageland, the ‘Sexuality’ Issue will be launched on the 29th at the Gallery
More information can be found here.
Nick Fox , Lure