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May 15, 2017 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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A pause between two periods of motion

I have a working definition of poise, which came to me looking at paparazzi pictures of Rihanna crossing an iron grate in heels. She does it, often — always captured by the press — and what is she if not poised; as in, suspended in the moment before the pounce. Poise has no uniform but it requires a balance, made all the more difficult by a pair of stilettos. If that is not a display of power then tell me what is. Poise: a woman who is not about to slip through the cracks.

Pipilotti Rist’s Pickelporno, on display at the Adam Art Gallery, begins with such an image. Silver heels, strappy, cross an iron grate, turning beam to bridge. It’s a calculated entrance, one loaded with intent; a woman dressed in yellow moves toward a man in blue. They greet one another, he hands her a rose, they fall into bed. If we think of porn, which so often insists sex take place in context — no matter how fanciful — then this is not that; it is also not erotica, which demands much of the same. No, this is sex as association.

What do you see when you see a lemon?

How does a flower fuck?

How do you feel, seeing fingers plunged deep into watermelon flesh?

What is the truth of sex, if not that it feels better than it looks it should?

Laura Mulvey insisted on the idea of the woman as bearer of symbolic meaning, never being herself alone but the carrier of a history defined by what it means to be seen. Woman is not just person, and nor is man — they can be not that but they can’t be nothing more — because unless the viewer allows for sex to be something that erases the individual, then they must be read as agents in these actions; players in a game. How can they allow that, if we assume they never have before? What I’m saying is the body is more than the means, less than the message. This is a game of signs.

In Pickelporno sensations have blurred outlines. Tactile emotions are translated into the  visual, which melts into memory — the ever unreliable — and suddenly sex looks a lot like a pile of rocks, or two birds flying overhead. This overlay of images works to create a film that extends outwards, rather than inwards: a film that is impossible to penetrate. This is what Laura Marks would call a haptic mode of looking, tending not to “distinguish form so much as discern texture.” Love, which might be defined as believing the lies you tell your lover, is coarse in texture. Like sandpaper, it smoothes rough edges. Sex has more tactile potential: the goosebumps of a lemon; a flow of lava; an orange wedged in the crease of your knee; limbs turned to liquid under a firm hand.

Poise in another sense, courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary: a pause between two periods of motion. In the film, at the point just prior to climax, things speed up. Images flash — nature, flowers, plants, bodies — then they stop. And for a moment, we pause in the shadows of a blank screen.

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