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Culture

Artifacts of pleasure

Jia Jia Liu
Four items from the project that's asking women what they think is erotic and why

Two days after we’d set up Artifacts of Pleasure, a project exploring what erotic pleasure means to women, my collaborators and I were in a dilemma. We’d uploaded some of our own artifacts which, to our surprise, included everything from the beauty of other women to the scene from Star Wars when Vader lops off Luke’s hand and declares, “I am your father” (our reasoning: “Luke is devastated, BROKEN. Beneath all that invincibility, he’s vulnerable. And that’s tantalising.”)

We then started receiving entries that expanded the conceptual boundaries of what ‘erotic’ can be even further, and we wondered if we should be more specific about what we were looking for. Thankfully, however, we came to our senses. Because for pretty much the entirety of history, women’s sexuality and bodies have been defined and confined to sex, pornography, commercial imagery. We’ve been objectified to the extent that the complexity of our inner lives, of what we find erotic, has been overlooked.

We’ve been having a fabulous time exploring this incredibly diverse inner space. Here are some of the entries we’ve received.

1. “Mini mozzarella balls at a dinner buffet”

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Freud and Lacan would have a field day with this. I find it reassuring that I’m not the only one who gets a frisson from touching certain inanimate objects.

 “There is nothing like perforating the ball on the platter, raising it to your lips and keeping it there for a while before slipping the mozzarella off of its toothpick and secretly playing wild fantasies with it.”

2. “Being a warrior woman”

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Maybe it’s narcissism, maybe it’s solidarity. Either way, there are few things sexier than being in the presence of other awesome women.

 “While women in precolonial Philippines were often designated to the venerable position of the babaylan, it was not an uncommon occurrence for them to pick up arms and become warriors.” – Perry Gil S. Mallari, The Filipina as Ritualistic and Warrior

3. “Transgression”

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There’s nothing too taboo for eroticism. Instead of repressing that, we hope that some entries in the blog will provoke reflection and acknowledgement of the complexity of human desires.

“Transgression and decadence. Both sexual and moral, wrapped up in aesthetics. As depicted in Liliana Cavani’s 1974 film The Night Porter, about a concentration camp survivor who runs into her tormentor after the war and resumes their ambiguous sadomasochistic relationship.”

4. “Beast’s transformation in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast”

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Erotic Disney is probably one of the more comforting yet vaguely unsettling discoveries in this project. Once the Beast artifact had been posted, a group of us confessed that we’d been turned on by everything from The Little Mermaid to The Lion King.

I think I must have had my first sexual awakening at 9 years old the moment he opened his eyes and they were bright blue surrounded by blonde hair. Rewound and watched this bit secretly too many times to count.”

Where to from here?

The roots of the project extend back many years to when a group of friends and I were complaining about the lack of pornography geared towards women. We talked about setting up a porn network for women that would produce explicit material with strong stories and deep emotional tensions, which got us thinking about the boundary between pornography and eroticism.

While the porn business never materialised, the need to articulate a more complex expression of desire remained. We thought about researching it, talking to experts, doing deep ethnographic study, but instead of analysing the subject, we wanted to provide a platform for women to express what they find erotic.

That’s what led to the idea of the blog. At barely two months old, Artifacts of Pleasure is still in its infancy. Already it’s been so rewarding for us to see the emergence of an endlessly imaginative emotional and sensorial landscape. We hope that the project strikes a chord with anyone who identifies as a woman.

Send in your artifacts of pleasure here

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