Agnes attendees invited to talk about sex

New exhibit aims to normalize all things sexual

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On display until December 1, Let’s Talk About Sex, bb—guest curated by Carina Magazzeni and Erin Sutherland—focuses on questions of sexual identity, orientation and expression. 
 
This exhibit features the work of 15 artists, whose pieces are arranged throughout the Samuel J. Zacks and Contemporary Features Galleries. 
 
Written on the wall across from the entrance to the Samuel J. Zacks gallery is the title of the exhibit, Let’s Talk About Sex, bb
 
Pulled from a Salt-N-Pepa song—though ‘baby’ has been changed to a more text-slang version, ‘bb’—the lyric gives viewers an invitation to talk about all things sex with the artists. 

Part of the exhibit is strictly observational, but another part is intensely interactive. 

One room invites viewers to walk up to a large screen and watch a video recording by artist Vanessa Dion Fletcher of a series of cervical self-examinations. 
 
The video was made by attaching a small camera to a speculum (used to perform cervical exams), showing the menstruating subject’s cervix. Throughout the video, the subject talks to a group of friends gathered in the room with them—not shown in the video—about what they’re seeing and why it’s a taboo or shameful topic of conversation. 
 
Fletcher says of the recording, "The audio is sourced from recordings of many people doing their own cervical self-exams. I took those recordings and edited them into one conversation. Two of the people I invited to help me make this work chose to do their self-exams at the same time, so they were in a room together, but other than that everyone did their self-exams individually. I sat outside and posed questions that are not in the audio, [and] I was alone when I shot the video."
 
Those questions never reveal a definitive answer, but the point is that they’re breaking silence around the topic. 
 
That’s where the exhibit title comes in. Let’s Talk About Sex, bb simply encourages people to open up about their sexuality. It disregards shame and convention through a matter of fact approach.
 
This is apparent upon entering the gallery room. The very first thing viewers see is a leather BDSM mask. 
 
The artist, Dayna Danger, made the mask as well and the photographs that hang above, showing a friend, Adrienne Huard, wearing it. Agnes director Jan Allen explained that Danger considers this mask to be a gift to both its wearer and all the Indigenous women who helped to create it.
 
In the room, a voice recording plays of a conversation between Danger and Elder Marlene Kayseas, who are trying to create words for BDSM sex in their Indigenous language, Saulteaux—which aren’t currently part of its lexicon. As of now, words for this kind of sex don’t exist. Their conversation is one not just talking about sex, but creating a way for people to talk about sex in the future. 
 
Many of the installations have a similar theme of connecting friends or family through honest and open conversations. 
 
Another piece, made by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge and her niece Vivienne Shaw, a trans woman, is called her
 
This piece—made of mirror mylar, fishing line, and plastic sheets—has text printed onto it reading “himhimhimhimhim,” and “herherherherher.” 
 
The piece brought the aunt and niece together to explore the ways in which a transgender person’s transition can affect a family dynamic. 
 
The text is simple, but it shows Tiffany’s acceptance through a dialogue change that acknowledges Vivienne’s gender identity. 
 
Throughout Let’s Talk About Sex, bb, each exhibited piece depicts a separate exploration of sexuality. In turn, they all encourage viewers to “talk about sex.” 
 
Some pieces that incorporate dialogue into the viewing experience encourage this more than others. Along with the video of the cervical examination, there’s another work that requires active viewer participation. 
 
Behind a black curtain, two chairs are positioned next to each other with a radio between them. A recording of two women talking plays on a loop the voices of the two artists who made the piece, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan. 
 
This piece is called I believe in Miracles. 
 
The whole room smells of chocolate and the walls are painted brown. 
 
It’s unclear why the room smells like chocolate. It has nothing to do with the conversation that’s playing—but, nonetheless, it’s comforting. 
 
The women talk about aging, lesbian sexuality and how crucial lesbian women have been throughout history in progressing the women’s rights movement. 
 
The conversation is unapologetic and unfiltered. The setup of the room, the scent, and the tone of the conversation all contribute, inviting viewers to participate in the experience.
 
Some pieces are more explicit than others—like the menstruating cervix and the Inuit stone-carved butt plug on display. 
 
Regardless, every installation invites viewers to talk about sex, but the emphasis is placed on completely removing judgement or shame. 

Corrections

This article was updated with an emailed statement from Vanessa Dion Fletcher, one of the artists whose work is in the exhibit. It clarifies a vague description of the work in question's creation.

The Journal regrets the error.

This article was updated with an emailed statement from Carina Magazzeni, one of the exhibit's co-curators. It clarifies some vague details surrounding Dayna Danger's works in the gallery. 

The Journal regrets the error.

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