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 here. Do 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.