The Sex Salon & the Web Jam

Rediscovering the Value of Social Ritual

by Ebon Fisher
(Utne Reader, Jan-Feb, 1995)

It was the beginning of 1990. A bunch of creative tinkerers who met regularly at the Bog found ourselves shuffling over to Epoche, a tender little hole of a Brooklyn warehouse under the Williamsburg Bridge. Epoche was supposed to be some kind of exhibition space, but no one was sure what the end of the century required of artists. But we had to do something. There was no money around for movies and professional art careers. Manhattan, sealed tight in its cellophane of avant-gardeness, high rent, and old-boy communications patterns (Soho to the Village Voice in an endless loop), wouldn't have us. Besides, we just wanted to talk. We wanted to see if there was any possibliity for something weird to happen. Meeting after meeting, names and phone numbers were collected and a dialogue began.

After a few arguments pertaining to what was phenomenal, what was relevant, and whether or not media was a four-letter word, we finally came to an ancient conclusion: Let's put on a show! And a theme? Sex, of course, the great glue. The method? Total salon. All media. No curators. "Hang your stuff. Read your stuff. Play your stuff. Project your stuff. GET INVOLVED," read the poster.

And it seemed to work. That is, if one were to measure the subjective pulse of the thing. Who knows if the art was any good? It didn't matter. We had lost any criteria for that anyway. What we had for sure was a really kinky party. Three weekends of open mikes, dancing, lugubrious films, sculptures all over the place. Arlena Torres dangled a can of oysters up in the rafters. Kit Blake set a moaning machine into motion. I hung a three-foot-long electromyrograph of an orgasm. Ethan Petit hid in dark corners and grabbed people with some kind of message in mind. We hung out, danced, watched films, drank beer. Affairs began. A few ended.

In the years that followed, numerous collaborations bubbled up out of the streets and non-profit galleries of North Brooklyn: the Cat's Head, the Weird Thing Zone, the Flytrap, the Green Room, and Organism. Although each of these put a different spin on the formula, all we've really done is rediscover the value of social ritual, one that is grounded in a local environment. Of course our neighbors had the concept nailed long before we gypsies arrived, but the creative community had been educated poorly. We had learned nothing about life and too much about Alexander Calder. When our art training sent us off in a robotlike quest for newness, we noticed that no one was really following. It was time to come home. But instead of seeking a brainless, Confucian center, many of us have been shuffling about for a different kind of center, one that not only reflects community, but creates it. There is a huge pool of talent growing here, balancing hysterical interactivity with shared responsibility. It's like a giddy swarm of chattering chipmunks.

And yet there is a terror I sense as the well-funded arms of Manhattan and Europe reach out over the waters, plucking my friends from our shared ecology and transplanting them into the void of cultural commerce. Can our tender webs survive such colonization? Will we remember our scrappy visions of psycho-bio-electronic mutuality? I am induced to cough up a hairball from our last huge multimedia conflagration, Organism. Here in all its naivete I fling a piece of Web Jam theory:

Let us jam in the web, fellow animals! Let us be symbiotic and connected. Let us induce high-density confluences: wailing multispecies, multilanguage, multipurpose throngs. Let us pull every kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species into the oil with us. Let us jam with our neighborhoods, our satellites, refridgerators, insects, rickshaws, and meteor showers. Let us protrude into the common wilderness, the radical center of mutual survival. There let us lay web upon web, inject system into system, inducing vital rituals of mongrel possibility. Let us liquidate being and coil into the nervous suction of life.