By Virginia Villari
Jonny Star conveys strength from every pore of her persona. She embodies the pure underground, punk spirit of Berlin, which informs her art from the bronze sculptures to the works in fabric. Jonny likes to investigate the relationship between art and everyday life, so sex could not be missing. Lately, she’s been using pornography in a new body of work to see if sex really sells.
Virginia: The first thing that the title of this new series makes me think is “yes it’s true!”: that sex sells it’s a fact. In what way does this body of work mean to comment on this matter?
Jonny: The idea for this series came from my cynicism and frustration. Sex is a big attraction to people and the curiosity is great, although pornographic works repels a lot of people too. Especially women, who are rarely intended as viewers, and indeed are often represented as mere objects for male pleasure. It is also a generational issue in the sense that younger generations are way more at ease with porn and this is a phenomenon we should definitely take in consideration. So there was my cynicism at the beginning and then I went off it in the process of making those pieces. It’s so great to see how something rather negative (frustration in my case) can be transformed into something positive by art. Suddenly something beautiful, humorous and strange arose.
V: Do you think sexual, sexy or erotic images in art really help to sell it?
J: No, this would be too general. Pornographic work drags a lot of attention. In different ways and forms, art that uses pornography almost forces people to form an opinion, precisely because it is so personal and it has so much to do with one’s own identity, the artist’s and the viewer’s, unlike a landscape painting. So there is a quick, great deal of attention towards pornographic works and of course attention helps the sales. As an artist working with pornography, I’m viewed from the outside in a certain way. It creates an image or an opinion about me as an artist, different to how I would be perceived if I made a lovely fairy in bronze. The art market works very strongly with the enfant terrible artist image and that’s one pornographic works help define. Its funny that I have always cursed porn stuff in the last years, I could not see porn at all, especially when used in contemporary art, and mostly it’s been male artists who have made use of porn in art and that are not my approach.
V: What I found particularly interesting in this series is your choice of placing hardcore scenes onto nice, flowery, conservative-middle class table centerpieces. Is there a message you want to convey implicit in this contrast?
J: Yes of course. Firstly, I work a lot with things from everyday life, which I put into another context, the artistic one: cushions for the wall, doilies for the wall, toys in bronze and so on. I like working with “narrow-minded” motives and color arrangements with references to the 60s and 70s, the time of my birth and childhood. Porn on the Internet today is available to a lot of people, therefore is something that belongs to the everyday life, but it still has a level of secrecy and a double moral; it’s still something hidden. I wanted to take it out of dark corner of the hidden spot and bring it to the light, but still play with its smugness. I used porn, but I was more interested in pictures of sex: photos that depict people having sex. Everyday things. I, Jonny Star, female human being, had to feel comfortable with these images. I had to have the feeling that the actors felt comfortable and I had to find those images erotic, otherwise I wouldn’t have used them. Or it had to be very funny at least and useful for a specific collage or doily. This is also why so little heterosexual material is included in this series, because women are usually not feeling good.
I had screen-captured the porn images I used. Many were home porns that already had a poor quality. By taking photos of the screen, the quality got even worse, which I actually liked: bad everyday snapshots. I have printed these photos on fabric and had individual scenes cut out and stitched as a collage on the doilies. Things like a really nice quilt, domestic work. It is so beautiful and absurd! In this way I capture the everydayness of everyday life.
V: In what way you being a woman influenced your selection of porn images?
J: I could clearly only work with images that I felt comfortable with and that I had the feeling the actors also felt comfortable in what they’re doing. This is very rarely the case in heterosexual porn. That’s why there are so many gay-lesbian scenarios in those works. In a funny way, I was busier creating a balance so that different people could enjoy what they see: straight, gay, lesbian, black, white, Asian and so on. Suddenly, I have been in the situation that I didn’t want to forget anyone because sex is so personal and everybody is looking for herself/himself in it. I opted for good collages rather than for political correctness. The images were also clearly influenced by the doilies.
V: Was there something specific that triggered the urge to include sex in your work?
J: Cynicism was the trigger. In my artistic career I have always worked with sex or eroticism too, but never with pornographic pictures. Since my work engages so much in the matter of the relationship between art and everyday life, I probably had to get to this at some point. There is always an autobiographical starting point and it’s probably important for me as an artist to work with this issue. Amen!
V: Overall, how are people responding to the “Sex Sells” series?
J: Many people are curious. There is attraction or even (less) rejection. The work is accepted very well! It is not quite clear what it is. People want to have it. And I’ve only just started it!
The Sex Sells Series will be on display at the next Jonny’s solo show in Berlin opening on May 2 at Galerie Su De Coucou, Weserstraße 202, 12047 Berlin. Stop by if you are around!
Check out more of Jonny’s work on our creamcollection