Monday, 28 January 2019

Interview - Drawing my Orgasms at London Short Film Festival



Film still: Drawing my Orgasms - #2 The Great Plateau

Earlier this month I was invited to screen Drawing My Orgasms at London Short Film Festival. The first four episodes featured in 'Drawn by Desire: Women's Animation on Sex', a fantastic programme curated by Duncan Carson of Nobody Ordered Wolves. The other films in the programme were amazing and you can see the list of works hereDo check them out if you can.

Duncan interviewed me about Drawing my Orgasms and my answers will feature on the London Short Film Festival website, but for now here they are:

DC - You're mostly known as a dancer and choreographer. Where did the idea to animate your orgasms come from? 

ES - The idea came from masturbating in the shower! It came from a question I had: doesn't something this good deserves more airtime? It also came as a response to a view I kept hearing, that orgasms are mysterious, ethereal things; that they are indescribable, indistinguishable blackouts... la petit mort. I always found this description inaccurate and kind of sad. I had always experienced orgasms as moments of great clarity. At the time I was having incredible, varied, distinct and anatomically fascinating orgasms on my own, and zero orgasms in the company of all the cis men I was having sex with. There were many reasons for this, but the main reason was that my orgasms were viewed as mysterious and therefore impossible to talk about. There is a widely held belief that clitoral orgasms are as easy to obtain as pots of gold at the end of rainbows (i.e. impossible), and this is part of a wider, socially entrenched belief that women don't have, aren't expected to have or don't deserve to have, a good time during sex. This causes all sorts of problems. I wanted to somehow describe my orgasms, to make them tangible, and animation seemed like the most interesting way to do that (much less cringey than a dance or a song). Animation, as a form, allowed me to work with shape, flow and dynamics (which was useful when dealing with physical sensations, blood flow and erectile tissue), and it also allowed me to work very directly with my imagination. Very little got in the way.

The animations also emerged directly from my performance making. A few years ago I started making lists of bad 'sex things'. It was a disparate list of unpleasant incidents (passing comments, harassment, attacks). It grew over time and I was able to trace patterns within it. I threaded together a massive web of misogyny and abuse that I had experienced. It was nothing exceptional, it was stuff that most women/femme/trans people have experienced, but it was shocking and clear. It's a body of material that I am still working with and through. In 2016 I made a solo performance (a mix of dance/stand up comedy/music) called 'Comebacks I thought of later' which was a direct way for me to address and frame some of these experiences - especially those related to harassment and contraception (why do men not wear or buy condoms? WHY?). The show includes a fairly slapstick song about masturbation and lots of people, very openly, started telling me about their masturbation habits and about their orgasms. I decided that this particular subject was something positive that could be expanded upon.

DC - What do you like about making work about sex and sexuality?

ES - I like that everyone has a way to relate to it. The response to my show from many women was: 'This also happened to me'. The response from many men was: 'Is that true? That's shit'. This combined ubiquity and invisibility made me sad but also thrilled - I felt like I had crossed a line in terms of what is acceptable to talk about in public, and I had found a huge common experience. This was exciting for me on a personal level - I felt less alone in my traumas - and also on an artistic level - I had somehow found a way to talk about personal experiences which was not alienating.I think when an individual is open about how they have sex, it does two things - it exposes sameness ('omg, that happened to me') and it exposes difference ('omg, you did what?'). The Drawing my Orgasms series allows me to frame sex in my own way. The animations depict a sexual act (masturbation) but they are not about fantasy, relationships, kink or porn (even though I love those things). Instead they are about sensation, anatomy and blood flow. They are about me touching myself and how that makes me feel, about how clitoral stimulation affects my whole body, how it affects my period pain, how I can have a dozen orgasms in a row and how they change in intensity, how I can masturbate and happen to be thinking about DIY (or some other dull thing) at the same time and that orgasm will be as intense as any other. I think people are sometimes surprised by this matter of fact-ness, but to me it feels like I am claiming ground back from everyone who has ever told me that my own pleasure is too complicated or elusive - it's not, it's right here and it serves me well.

DC - How do you go about the process of animating itself?

ES - I bought a small light box from Argos, lots of paper and some pens. I went on a self-organised solo residency (basically I got a cheap airbnb in Barnsley), and I spent a week in a tiny room drawing, drawing, drawing. It was very therapeutic. I then took photos of the drawings and edited together the animations. I don't know anyone in Barnsley but I went to visit my grandmother in Leeds when I got bored. I plan to keep making more animations for the series, I just need to book another week away in a small northern town.

DC - I'm guessing that this part of your practice comes from the difficulty of shaping sexual experience into art, but are there pieces of art you think represent sex and sexuality well? 

ES - Actually, this part of my practice is about insisting that it is not difficult to shape sexual experiences into art. It is about getting rid of the mystery around sex. Mystery and spontaneity are so often assumed to be what makes sex 'special', but in my experience, mystery has only served to silence me and spontaneity has manifested in unwanted surprises and lack of consent. So I appreciate other art things which are also direct and frank. I love Chloe Cooper's 'A Facility for Fluid Sharers', which is a sex education/paper marbling workshop. I love the work of Giorgia Ohanesian Nardin whose practice incorporates heritage, performance, body, consent and desire in a way in which all become as important as each other. I am yet to see but already love Slug Horizons by Florence Peake and Eve Stainton which explores intimacy, touch and collective reclaiming. I love the work of David Bloom who makes porn films with dancers and dance films with porn actors (see his Sex Space Trilogy). And I am excited about, but yet to see, (W/HOLE) a film by AORTA films & the A.O. Movement Collective.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Drawing my Orgasms returns

Back to the drawing board.
For more films and info about this series of animations see here.


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Why it’s never ok to say, "but he was drunk"

I don’t think this one needs much explaining.

Obviously, being drunk should not be a valid excuse for anything other than pavement pizzas and loud declarations of undying love. It is not an excuse for violence, abuse or violation. So why do women (people) still hear it said about men (people) who have mistreated them?

“But he was drunk”. Sigh.

I hadn't heard it in a while (it's had such bad press) but someone said it to me last week. The 'incident' had been relatively minor but it had upset me. It involved a male colleague, physical touch and me having to explain in plain words to him the definition of 'violation' and why he couldn't just decide to disagree with the definition if he didn't like it.

The next morning, over breakfast, I explained what had happened to some colleagues/friends and one of them said, "but he was drunk". I replied that obviously that's not an excuse. He said it again a bit later in the conversation. I replied the same again. Then he finally agreed that, no, it's not an excuse.

I realised that my friend was not trying to give the guy an excuse for what he did, but rather he was trying to comfort me. He was trying to reassure me that a) the guy didn't mean to do what he did, that b) it wasn't because of me that he did it, and c) I shouldn't take it personally.

However, I don't need comforting and:

a) If he didn't mean to do what he did then that implies he thought he was behaving just fine. Which is worse.

b) I know it wasn't because of me that he did it. I don't blame myself. It wass because of his own misunderstanding of how to treat people.

c) I don't take it personally. I take it globally.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Hairy Summer

Hey, how's your day going?
I'm just reading a book on the beach.

How the world taught me what to think about my own arse (and other stories).

This article was first published in BELLYFLOP Magazine in April 2015.
~
It’s 1993, I am five years old. I’m in a school playground, standing in line ready to return to class. It’s winter so I’m wearing woollen tights that keep sliding down around my child-hips and dragging my knickers down with them. I try to pull them up through my clothes but really the easiest way to adjust them is to lift my skirt, get hold of them directly and yank them up to my waist. So, I do so, without thinking much of it – it is quick and efficient and I’m five years old, so who cares? But the girls behind me laugh at me for it and I learn for the first time that my arse, even in tights, is not to be seen in public and that I should be embarrassed.
_
I’m in the back seat of the car with my sisters after a family day out at the Eureka! Children’s Museum in Halifax. I’ve had an exciting day – exciting because I have learnt about water displacement and other such things through the medium of interactive displays and high-tech apparatus that have astounded my TV-deprived sisters and me.
I also feel sentimental and nostalgic about yearly holiday patterns, probably more than I should as a seven year old, and a half-term daytrip with Grandma in tow makes me feel rosy.

I am on top of the world, sitting in the car and occupying myself with filling in a questionnaire from the museum that is making me feel hugely grown up.

Name: Ellie
Surname: Sikorski
Age: 7
Sex: …

I’ve never had sex.

“Mum, what does it mean by sex?”
“It means whether you are a boy or a girl. Female or male.”
“oh, ok”

Sex: Female
Skin colour: Pe…

“Mum, how do you spell ‘peach’?”

My sister answers for her, “No, Ellie, you are white. It doesn’t mean your actual colour it means whether you are white or black. You are white.”

“Oh, ok”
Skin colour: Pe White
_

Aged ten, returning from a regular day at school, I declare “Dad, today I realised I have these lumps in my chest and they are like mini knee caps because they move around under the skin when I do this with my fingers.”
“Yes, Ellie, those are your breasts growing.”
“Oh, right.”
_
My friend Caroline tells me that her sister puts hot wax on her legs to get rid of her hair. We think that is gross and weird.
_

I’m thirteen and I rush down from my room in a navy leotard and pink tights, my jeans pulled on and my hair pinned into a bun. I sit at the kitchen table to scoff some tuna pasta.
As I’m eating my mum speaks, gently, “Ellie, did you ever think about shaving your arm pits? Do you want to? Catherine can show you if you want to?”

“Um… I don’t know, I didn’t think about it. Is there time before ballet?”
“Yes, do it quickly.”

It’s not an awkward exchange, I am, in fact, chuffed at the idea of my big sister showing me something new, something that marks growing up. I love growing up. She shows me how to make a soap lather and use the razor. I do it looking in the mirror trying to avoid getting my leotard wet. She tells me that normally you can just do it when you’re in the bath, it’s easier that way.

I transition from being hairy and unembarrassed to hairless and aware – I now feel older. I possess one more of the magical secrets that must be acquired in order to belong to the exclusive club of grown-up women (the first secret being that since my twelfth birthday, every month, lots of blood comes out of my vagina and I have to wear big sanitary towels to absorb it).
_

Aged seventeen, I want to put gender equality into practise so I stop shaving my legs.
_

In my early twenties I sleep with a guy who adores my arse. Really adores my arse. He makes my arse (and me) feel powerful and I become aware of it as a shapely thing that is different, and even sometimes superior, to other people’s arses. But when we have sex I want him to look into my eyes and adore me while I look back at him. Instead he turns me around and looks and my arse and I feel like a lemon.
_

Aged 22, I want to put gender equality further into practise so I stop shaving my armpits.
_

Last Sunday night at a quarter to midnight in South London two guys passing on a scooter shout at me (something about them wanting to ‘steal that’) so I flip my finger at them. It’s a casual assertion, but they immediately do a u-turn and drive back, straight at me. They are shouting, threatening (to smash my face in, break my glasses etc) and calling me a bitch etc etc. My head is full of words and things I could and want to say to them, but I don’t make a sound. I stay still, apart from making a few small I’m-not-going-to-do-anything shrugs. I stay silent, partly out of fear and partly because I don’t think they are in it for the conversation.

They are masked.
They both get off the bike and one comes towards me as though to hit me.
I step back and say (I like to think venomously), “Don’t fucking touch me”. Then I am silent again.
They posture for a while longer (delivering more threats to smash me and general instructions to not fucking move, bitch.)
I have no idea if they are going to hurt me or not. They are pumped and I am fucking scared.
They eventually drive off.
I go home to my sister and cry.

I spend the next 24hrs running through the encounter in my head and imagining what might have happened if I there hadn’t been another guy at the bus stop to witness it (there was a man who, incidentally, did nothing during the event and afterwards, instead of asking if I was ok, suggested that maybe I shouldn’t have flipped my finger… but y’know, at least he was there).

I glimpsed the masked men’s fearlessness and sense of possession of me and the streets. They were power-tripping. I was vulnerable but at the same time so sure of myself. Oh, how easy it would be to be terrified into never asserting myself again. I wonder how many people have always too terrified.

(FYI, I memorised the number plate and reported the incident to the police.)

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Drawing my orgasms

A few months ago I began to create animations that visually describe my orgasms. The short films do not describe what my orgasms look like or what I fantasise about to reach them, but rather what they feel like.

The process is an attempt to destigmatise sexual pleasure, to articulate variety and nuance and to simply celebrate masturbation.

It is also an exploration of the 'blank wank': the experience of masturbating without a specific fantasy or erotic picture in mind, instead focussing simply on the physical sensation of self-touch. It is during a 'blank wank' that I can trace the sensory shape of my orgasm or a clear descriptive image (generally non-erotic) might come to mind.

Here are the first three animations:





Also available on my Vimeo channel.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Losing yourself in the moment. Or not.


This article was first published on noraresearches.com in March 2017.
~
If we study film, do we ruin all future cinema trips?

If we study dance, can we ever really let go on the dance floor?

Spoiler alert: I studied dance.

I don't think studying somethings ruins it (and conversely, I have no problem letting go on the dance floor), but it's a question which, in its various forms, deserves air time.

I made a note on my phone last November which reads a bit like this (I have edited it slightly to make better sense):

"As with any training or study, practising performance and opening oneself to being watched can make one more aware of being watched at all times. In everyday life do I become more self conscious in a way that might stop me from doing certain things? Does it force me to always be in response to gaze? Or can this awareness give me the capacity (skill?) to be aware and to be accepting of it and respond with choice and agency? Does it in fact give me more choice in each (social) situation?"

I am pretty sure I was thinking about sex when I wrote this (when am I not?) and specifically the notion of 'losing yourself in the moment', which is often lauded as the ultimate goal for sexual activity. I think I am not very good at 'losing myself in the moment', but I wonder if that's partly because I seem to have spent the last several years of my life working out how to be engaged in complex, varied, highly physical activity (dance) whilst still being super aware of exactly where I am, who is watching me, what has happened before and what is coming next.

Would I have more fun in bed if I wasn't so friggin' aware of everything all the time? Maybe. Or maybe not... I reckon awareness also helps when it comes to sex.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The patriarchy in hiding

If a man harasses me on the street I confront him.

Occasionally, when I feel unsafe, I let it slide, but so often, when it happens in the light of day in full sight of many, I take the opportunity for a face-off.

I do it out of principle, but I also do it for pleasure. Calling someone out for misogyny can be thrilling. That moment - when the cat-caller thinks I am going to walk away, but I don't, and they don't know where to look or what to say - is satisfying and it can heal the wound that they might have inflicted upon me in the first place.

Confronting an aggressor can be bitter sweet. If I challenge a man who has called out, touched or threatened me, it is a reclaiming of power and ground. It feels good. However, I still wish for a world where I don't have to fight for space and respect.

I also have begun to realise, in my growing confidence, that there is another tone to the bitterness of these encounters. Not in the shape they take, but in who I am confronting.

The true patriarchy is rich, white, privileged, in power and guarded.

The men I confront on the street are, most often, poor, brown, un-priviledged, marginalised, immigrant, homeless... etc.

This doesn't feel good.

Picture me, a white woman in a busy street, shouting down some guy who has, his whole life, been violated by society and has in turn violated me with his words. Meanwhile, the real patriarchy rolls by, behind shaded glass windows of chauffeured cars.

We are all pawns.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Humping

I love the word 'humping'.
There is something energetic and sweet about it.
It's the word I would use to describe the first sex dream I remember having, aged around 8.
I was on the patio at the back of my house with a boy called Laurie from my primary school. He was skinny and badly behaved.
We were both naked and we humped.
It was definitely humping (rather than, say, shagging, boning or fucking) because it was all about the bumping action. There wasn’t anything more anatomically specific going on. Just us bouncing our pelvises together. I’m pretty sure I initiated it and was on top.
It was totally great.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Trying on a different hat.




I am a straight woman (am I?)

I’ve only ever been in love with men and I have never been or wanted to be in a relationship with a woman. I do, however, want to have sex with women; I have snogged women; I watch lesbian porn; I have crushes on women; and I would definitely be happy with having someone’s vulva and clit all up in my face (that’s supposed to be the ultimate test, right?).

So I am also a lesbian

My desires around women are mostly sexual. Let’s say I am bisexual. Bisexual. Whatever. Who cares?

Recently, I was thinking a bit about how I might go about having sex with a woman, like, just practically, how I would find someone to have sex with.

Then I was thinking about how, or whether, it would shift my experience or perception of the world if I were to ‘position’ myself as bi or pan sexual, rather than straight (as I have always done). I tried it out. I told a couple of people that I was bi and I ticked a few different boxes in the ‘sexuality’ section on various, unimportant, forms. The biggest shift, however, was just going around with a different line in my head: ‘I fancy women’.

I learnt two things:

1) I realised that I considered the action of fancying a woman to be a ‘male’ one. Meaning, I felt a bit like a man. What was that feeling? I don’t know… a bit thigh-rubby, a bit covert. Not great.

I felt 'male', but I was also me, so I was a male who was incredibly empathetic to the female experience and was therefore felt the weight of all of the patriarchy’s sins. I was aware of how women are over sexualised and how, by fancying them, I was inevitably in line with that groove, rather than being able to subvert it.

2) Women are represented in society as being kind, gentle, submissive, caring, maternal, soft etc. The consequence of this is that it it a fucking joy it is to be attracted to them. It’s so easy! Women are lovely and not threatening. They are also, by default approachable and available.

Gender is so polarised in our society that all women carry with them the burden of being labelled ‘female’, as all men carry with them the burden of being ‘male’ (dominant, threatening, hard, unkind). Female bodies are sexualised in the media to the degree that every woman I see is, by association, sexualised. There I was, sitting on a train, looking at women and feeling like I was violating them just by dint of finding them attractive.

Then I realised a third thing:

3) For most of my life I have felt to be, and positioned myself as, straight. Whenever I meet a new man I will check him out as a potential mate (yes, no, yes, no). It always seemed simple enough. However, now I know, more consciously, what it is like to fancy women (clue: very easy, because society tells us so). Now I realise that fancying men is actually really complicated. When I am checking out a man and deciding whether I want to have sex with him or not, I am also encountering his male-ness. The same maleness that has assaulted, harassed, shamed, threatened and oppressed me throughout my life. Inevitably, these two simultaneous and opposing reactions of attraction and fear collide with each other. I process this information whilst also taking in other factors that might give me a clue as to what to do i.e. is it dark? Are you alone? Did someone introduce you to this guy or did he just start talking? Did his hand brush you because he was trying to squeeze past, or did he just touch you for no reason?

There is a lot going on. No wonder women, me included, have experiences when these opposing things get confused: when you want your lover to choke you; when you are turned on by street harassment; when you use your sexuality to prove a point rather than to pleasure yourself; when you hide your sexual fantasies deep in secrecy to counter the otherwise public sexualisation of your body; when your body is both your source of pleasure and also a hardened, battle weary defence ship.