Sex Bodies© Guido Castagnoli
SEXBODIES, contrary to what the name might suggest, is not interested in sex per se, and does not focus on the carnal conception of physical bodies. No, SEXBODIES outstrips the normative narrative of sexuality, its identities and all its bodies. SEXBODIES is not about the disrobing of clothes, but rather about the removal of stigma, the undressing of calcified stereotypes and the exposure of centuries of sexual institutionalisation. Although presented as static images, behind each and every photo lies a performance, an act, a behaviour and a ritual that tells a story as loud as the photo itself. In SEXBODIES Guido Castagnoli wants to unearth the raw, neutral and decidedly unsexualised nature behind the sex-positive community in Berlin, a city with a rich history of sexual openness that is now renowned for its queer culture and all-welcoming techno nightlife. SEXBODIES, comes as the result of the intersection between these two scenes which Castagnoli previously explored in his eponymous project BODIES THAT MATTER, referencing Judith Butler’s 1993 book on queer theory, and TECHNOBODIES a photographic outlook into the world of Berlin’s club kids.
SEXBODIES sees Castagnoli immerse himself into these interconnected Berlin scenes in both an explorative and extroverted way as he approaches the subject as an outsider but also, and most importantly to him, as an introspective and subjective body that observes, captures and discovers reality from within the shield of his large-format analogue wooden camera. Castagnoli only takes two shots. Two clicks. He does so after disappearing behind the thick black curtain of his camera, allowing for a slow, contemplative process that inevitably allows both the sitter and the photographer to feel comfortable within their intimacy and space. To Castagnoli, photography is already an abstraction. A fiction. A way to shape and alter reality. If he were to take multiple shots, repeatedly penetrating the vulnerability of the sitter, the result would look very different as we’d be getting further and further away from the neutrality of the first shot. Castagnoli believes taking multiple shots, to then choose one amongst the thousands, is like adding fiction upon fiction. By only allowing himself and the sitter two shots, his portraits acquire an air of neutrality and a specific kind of rawness that beg the viewer to explore beyond the simple captured moment and inquire deeper into what sexuality is, who it empowers and why it matters.
What does sexuality mean nowadays? Does it mean feeling comfortable in one’s own body or rebelling against the biological determinism that shapes us? Do we see it in glossy magazines and porn websites or do we find it in the live feeds of our social media accounts? In The History of Sexuality, Foucault proclaimed that sexuality was about discourse, power and knowledge: those in charge controlled how we spoke about sex, and consequently had power over the kind of knowledge we had about it. Have we reclaimed that power from the establishment or do heteronormative practices still hinder sexual exploration and an individual’s sense of sexuality? In a world that has lost its zeitgeist to the hashtag or to the latest trend - can the previously suppressed now find a collective voice? In Berlin, when the imposing wall came tumbling down, so did a lot of prejudices and bigotry. In the rubble and ashes of its past, Berlin built a fertile culture of inclusivity, positive sexuality and freedom that culminated in its early 90’s techno and queer scene that has now sprung and blossomed into one of Berlin’s defining characteristics. This hedonistic feeling is still very much present in Berlin but has been refined, with time, not just as a display of self-indulgence and absolute freedom but rather as a philosophy for the appreciation of life in all its shapes, colours, sexualities and beliefs. Here, Berliners feel empowered by their differences, their apparent weirdness and by their sense of alienation towards mainstream society. Here, the pejorative meaning of queer, meaning strange or peculiar is used to empower oneself. Now, queer means being in control. It means beauty. It means non-normativity. It means going beyond what is prescribed by mainstream society, social media trends and pervasive ideological practices. To be queer means to have the power and agency to change things by openly standing against common thought and prejudice in order to be the one solely in control of their body and mind. Queer does not simply mean thinking gender as fluid and masculinity and femininity as social constructs. Queer is not only tied to sexual orientation. Queer is a way of life. A state of being. And a way to claim ownership over one’s own body.
To be sex-positive one must first be body-positive. Mainstream society plays a defining role in how we see, interact and discover our body. How should we dress it? Who can undress it? Where should we carry it and with what should we control it? We are defined by how we choose to use our body and it talks to people without us even having to utter a word. Our society is obsessed with it and we allow this body to be mutilated by the looks, beliefs and opinions of everyone else but ourselves. To be body-positive in the age of hypersexuality augmented reality, plastic surgery and 24/7 live feeds, means learning how to detach yourself from all the negativity to re-evaluate what it means to be in charge. The techno and queer scenes have been instrumental in helping the body regain some authority over itself, this is because these scenes are characterised by a profound sense of acceptance and solidarity that sees people reach out to one another, feel safe and recognise that we’re all different and that it’s these very differences that make us human and above all humane. The techno queer community brings together the littered remains mainstream society discards with the label ‘not normal’, ‘strange’ or ‘dangerous’ and skillfully collects the pieces, un-labels them and gives them back to the human being as something they should be proud of. There’s a difference between revealing the body as an act of power and revealing the body as a means to an end, and this body-positive community aims at restoring the way we see ourselves and others. It is right here, in this intersection of techno, queer and body-positive Berlin that sex-positivity emerges and with it SEXBODIES.
Sex-positivity is showing that you respect your body, that you cherish it and that you want everyone else to experience it too. It means being part of a family that accepts all the differences and uses them to create a powerful united voice. Sex-positivity stands above all for being proud and this transcends past the body, it's biological gender or inherent or performed sexuality. It allows people to come together to celebrate the body, in all its imperfections and all its strengths. The portraits you see before you in SEXBODIES are the result of an open discourse, meaning freedom of expression. They are the product of a powerful embodiment, feeling proud of one’s own body. They mean knowledge and the awareness that this body and this mindset can be used to bring change into the world. Yes, Foucault was right, sexuality is all about discourse, power and knowledge, but it is up to us to learn how to use it. These portraits in SEXBODIES teach us how to.
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