Vex Ashley’s erotic lockdown film explores a different kind of connection, using the artist’s own body as a pornographic canvas.
While many porn companies seek to innovate video conferencing in order to create new content, Four Chambers director and performer Vex Ashley instead takes inspiration from erotic art from the past. In Carolee Schneeman’s 1964-7 moving image artwork Fuses, the artist used distortion and celluloid collage to represent the hot confusion of intimacy with her partner. Ashley takes this layering approach and applies it to group interaction, creating an intriguing, beguiling film.
The 7-minute film opens with Ashley in darkness, naked but for reflective glitter that outlines her shape to the viewer as she dances and touches herself. She is presented as an otherworldly creature – a biophilic humanoid with a strong sexual energy, like the dark, alluring beings in Annihilation or Arca’s Thievery music video – writhing to a pulsating Bjork-like track.
Visions of this creature are interspersed with the main scene, an empty room filled only with a naked [human] Ashley, covered in projections of other solo performers (Vanniall, Koras, Kali and Io). Like many of Ashley’s films, the room’s sparseness creates a feeling of loneliness and secret self-exploration, but this time she is not alone. As the figures in the projections move she mirrors their movements, touching herself in tandem. Occasionally their bodies align – her face sitting under theirs – their hands reaching down between her legs together as the track sings ‘I am the connector’. More often Ashley allows the images to land on her body at random, creating beautiful and confusing superimpositions: a serene face on her chest, a hand on her vulva, a back arching in ecstasy on her rear as she begins to use a fuck machine.
The scene becomes an exercise in mental eroticism – familiar images are layered and become less or more erotic depending on how your brain processes them. It’s confusing, and all the more thrilling because of it. Where Schneeman’s original film obscured much of the image through painted film and blurred red focus, Ashley’s instead creates confusion through explicit juxtaposition.
This is an alien dream and it feels like we, the beings that oversee it, are there to watch, learn, and absorb human sexuality, as an essence rather than a roadmap. As the distorted sounds of multiple orgasms mingle with the music and Ashley and her alien counterpart reach ecstasy, the overwhelming feeling is indeed that of mutual pleasure.
This is lockdown porn is created with the acceptance of our loneliness and our need for sexual connection, rather than fighting against it, and is all the more engaging and emotional because of it.