Nudity, nudity, nudity… Art or pornography?

So today we found out that, for reasons outside our control, our performance at the Corn Exchange has been cancelled.

This has got me thinking about my work as an artist and the way it has been clashing with mainstream ideologies outside the artistic world of late.

In 2005 we toured a piece entitled White Out Conditions that featured a very stylized simulated sex scene. For me this was not alluring in any way: if anything it was grotesque and that was what I was interested in. It was also very sad, as it alluded to the inability to intimatelly connect with another person. But one of the theatres we toured to labelled it ‘perverted sex’ and attempted to get out of paying us the agred fee for the work.

Then in 2009 my work Involuntary Dances (where I attempted to induce an epileptic seizure) generated a very polarised opinion in the media world-wide, with epilepsy charities, individual people and the shadow government calling for it to be cancelled.

Now one of the planned performances of When Night Falls has been cancelled because it features nudity.

The ‘controversy’ associated to these works always came as a surprise to me. But now, on reflection, I find myself more and more thinking about the gap between a certain liberal ideology that we as artists share, and more mainstream ideologies which tend to be much more conservative. For me the difference between pornography and art is clear, but I have to conceed that for the mainstream public this is not so.

It is not that I was not aware of this before, but I never make an active decision to consider how my work was perceived outside experimental art circles whilst making it…

And so now I am considering it… Not that I have an intention to censor myself… But ultimately as an artist my role is to communicate, and the more I consider the different ideologies that people bring with them to my work, the better it will communicate. I think… Still thinking… What do you think??

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6 Responses to Nudity, nudity, nudity… Art or pornography?

  1. Kira O'Reilly says:

    Hello Rita,

    These are some thoughts, incomplete and full of holes (as I type Antony on my iTunes sings Epilepsy is Dancing).

    I’m about to begin the second of three days performing a 3 hour work naked in a chilly disused bomb shelter that has been reappropriated as a gym, here in Kuopio, Finland for ANTI Festival. The performance is in almost entire darkness, the audience are the barers of the only light source, tiny, not very good torches. It means that they are pretty obscured by the light as I am revealed. It means they can be somewhat hidden, and their looking can be scrutinising, lingering, touching, anything really that they want it to be. As it’s Finland I found myself reassured that it is a culture where there seems, for the most part, to be a candid frankness about nudidty, the social sauna, shared across gender and ages seems to facilitiate a pragmatic approach to bodies. However of course a public is not a public, it is textured, made up of various and many.

    Although none of my work has ever been cancelled because of the lack of clothing, it has drawn unfavourable commentary from the mainstream media, as well as the other components of the works, ie. dead animals, blood etc. Who can blame them, written like that, it sounds cliched, reductive and sensational.

    I found yesterdays experience of performing shockingly exposing, layers of strength and vulnerability interweaving and it certainly gave me much to contemplate in terms of nakedness and nudity. And to conclude, yet again, that for this piece, despite the coldness and discomfort, it is the right choice and one I would defend as a strong decision, artistically, ethically and morally. It occured to be that the audience shrouded in dark was no different from the conventions of traditional theatre as I played with trying to meet their gaze. The LED beams became their eyes, to peer into.
    I wondered if I could trust their scrutiny, as I rolled feet over head, revealing my most private parts. I realised yet again that their interior thoughts were their private space. I found many shifts of becoming in my physicallity as I moved, animal, again various, textured, varied, spider, sloth, unselfconcious, watched as a non human animal might be, in the dark, for that moment and time my habitate. It occured to me that much of the influence of animal studies and how closely I have thought and read about nonhuman animals was informing the thought patterns and my experience of unclothedness.

    I am not convinced there is such a clear boundary between art and pornography. For myself, the smudges and non clarity are where it becomes apparent that the body mind Cartesian split is a cultural construct, that language, image and emdodied affect sashey inextricably, wantonly and indiscriminately. However your point is I think that nakedness is oversexualised and sexual imagery is collapsed and reduced to singular readings of pornography, titilation and arousal rather than strategic, selective deployments.

    And a public are many, various and varied. In the UK the dominant media present an idea of a homogeonised public, that lacks initiative, intelligence and awareness. For the vast majority, but certainly not entirely, it is guilty of journalistic incompetance and dumbing down.

    I would also suggest that a venue, commissioning body like a gallery or theatre have a duty to take tremendous care with marketing and press, to facilitate works with nudity, to ensure that a public and a press can find ways into the subtleties and nuances of the proposed art works.

    So I’m going to think about warming up, preparing.

    My apologies for my typos, and I think we might have some tremendous discussions on this topic, and many others, I look forward to it.

    My best to you, and anyone who reads this,


  2. ritamarcalo says:

    Dear Kira,

    Thank you so much for your reply to my posting…

    I wish I could be there and experience your performance… I was interested when you spoke of how you found it ‘shockingly exposing’ and that you felt ‘vulnerability’. This is also what I am interested in in this piece…

    In the piece I am naked and I spend the whole time crawling on the floor, whereas the audience member is fully clothed and can choose where to go and what level to stand at. I am hoping my vulnerability is something which is felt both by myself and the audience member… I am hoping that it appears to both of us an imbalance of power, where all the power lies with the audience member… Then, what will they do with it?

    And nudity (in this case) is part of my way of achieving this vulnerability, this (apparent) disempowerment. I say apparent because of course power is never this simple…

    Looking forward to meeting you one day…


  3. ritamarcalo says:

    Oh I love that song…

  4. themofman says:


    I’m a 2D visual artists not a performance artist but I have a strong appreciation for the performance arts.

    Thanks for your description in your reply to Kira, that’s what’s helping me to answer the questions in the title and last paragraph of your entry. The short answer is no, your performance doesn’t seem to be porn; neither softcore nor hardcore, and for the long answer here’s exactly why ( In there, I’ve also addressed that “boundary” that Kira refers to in her sixth paragraph.

    In your second-to-last and last paragraphs you indicate that you are a responsible and considerate artist. I have to thank you for that because as a visual artist I too have had to make considerations for not even displaying nudity but merely mentioning the potential of it in writing; see here (

    Yes, it really is an interesting world we live in. The best to you and your art!

  5. Rita Marcalo says:

    Dear Allan,

    I never replied to your comment at the time but I just wanted to say that I have very much enjoyed reading your thoughts in your website. I am currently writign a paper on the idea of nudity in performance and might refer to your writing and your work, if that is ok with you…


    Rita Marcalo

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