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Uncensored: sex-positive festival on pornography, ...

Uncensored: sex-positive festival on pornography, art, activism

In May 2019, London hosted the first edition of Uncensored, interdisciplinary festival on the intersection of pornography, art and activism, that brought together more than 35 artists, sex practitioners and activists from the UK and abroad, in 3 different locations.

This article wants to give an overview of what happened during an immersive three-day fest of events, screenings, performances, exhibitions, workshops, a party and talks about the present and future of porn in a country (the UK) and a historical and cultural time when the censorship by the law, on the one hand, and by the web platforms, on the other, appears to threaten the freedom of expression in the production of visual contents intended to represent, interpret and tickle all the shades of human desire and arousal.

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Mixed media exhibition  Egodystonic & Egosyntonic by Ruben Esposito and Simone Lezzi


Thanks to the vision, passion and energy of Lidia Ravviso – tireless artistic director of the festival – Uncensored turned East London’s creative hub Hackney Wick into a free space where different kinds of alternative and independent pornography were able to be expressed and discussed to investigate some questions:

What’s porn? What is extreme porn? What is obscene? Is there a line between porn and art? What’s the role of porn in our society? Can porn entirely replace sex education? Is there such a thing as ‘good porn’/’bad porn’? What’s acceptable/not acceptable in porn?

We often hear talking about the pornification of culture, pervasive porn that’s able to reach every corner of the net and deviate unaware young people’s minds as an initiation into sex – mostly violent – that replaces any other form of sex education.

UNCENSORED-porn-film-festival-proiezione-dirty-diariesScreening of Dirty Diaries, collection of 12 porn shorts relevant for the history of feminist porn

Truth is, the free explicit material you find on the net, so-called mainstream, is just a type of porn. And a rather stereotyped and exclusive porn showing only certain types of bodies, sexualities, genders, fantasies, practices. It’s a kind of porn that lost track of storytelling and just throws genital and sexual acts onscreen, completely out of context.

Outside the well known tubes, there’s an entire alt and indie production experimenting with languages, images, messages.

Uncensored hosted a kind of porn that wants not only to arouse people but also to convey a political, social, cultural, artistic message.

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The festival opened with a retrospective of the Danish pioneer of adult cinema Ole Ege whose work contributed to the abolition of censorship in Europe (starting in Denmark in 1969) and America. The Erotic Film Society – British organisation aimed at celebrating the work of film-makers and performers who shaped erotic cinema – presented his 1971 film Pornografi – En Musical, a compilation of porn short films to the rhythm of classical and jazz music.

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Then, moans and ambient sounds took the place of music in a completely different porn: the contemporary feminist and ethical porn of Erika Lust, who presented Female Pleasure Circle, a homage to female sexuality inspired by an anonymous confession in which the writer praised her experience of guided group masturbation. It’s a medium-length film divided into two parts – a documentary part and a performative part – released for free in May 2019 to celebrate masturbation month (by leaving your email address, you receive a link to the movie).

Uncensored and Hot
Uncensored hosted Uncensored and Hot, a marathon of short films selected through an international open call, that opened with the British premiere of Fisting Club Ep. 01, directed by Shu Lea Cheang. LINK to the list of all the films.

During the three days, the festival also hosted the fetish porn by Itziar Bilbao Urrutia – dominatrix, artist, producer and activist who won a legal battle threatening to censor her website The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell offering content of a BDSM and erotic female supremacy nature; hardcore porn of Misha Mayfair, performer and former cam girl who’s flipping the typical male gaze of gonzo-style porn.

But our greatest appreciation goes to the magical realism porn by Vex Ashley, performer and independent producer who founded her project Four Chambers exploring the aesthetic and conceptual potential of pornography and sexuality through the production of shorts where lights, movements, music, breaths, ambience sounds melt in a perfect synchrony which results in a cinematographic work of art of outstanding quality.

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Vex Ashley presenting her ‘magical realism porn’ project Four Chambers

Vex Ashley’s films are musical videos telling stories about the great variety of bodies, genders, gestures, acts, all blended in a unitary artistic aesthetic. No matter how much you’re into the performers or the kind of sexuality depicted, each video directed by Vex Ashley is beautiful to look at and able to build up arousal and visceral engagement. Plus (round of applause), each of the videos ends with a few gorgeous behind-the-scenes shots showing the performers and the crew on set: a few seconds of laughs, hugs, jokes and some work on the scene, that replace sexual tension with sweetness and relief; a few shots that (more importantly) give a context to porn, outlining a scenario where the respect and the attention to safety and consent for all people involved are the foundation of the whole production process.

Here below there’s a teaser video from Red shift, one of the shorts screened during the festival, but the video I invite everyone to look at is Behind the scenes and in between: a four-minute video of life on set [spoiler alert: it contains nudity and a massive dose of humanity].


red shift // tease from Four Chambers on Vimeo.

Four Chambers was originally launched of Patreon – crowdfunding platform born to fund the projects of independent creatives and artists – as one of the first projects using explicit sex that contributed creating a community for other sex workers and porn creators. But after four years, Patreon changed its policy and asked Vex to remove any connection between the website and pornographic content.

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With Vex Ashley

The same happened with Tumblr, where Vex started out as an alt porn model, stripping and masturbating on webcam, and other people found a space where to feel free to share a sexuality that was not fit for mainstream porn.

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Not all the explicit contents are meant to arouse. During the festival, performers Lina Bembe and Bishop Black presented the sex education project Sex School, a Berlin-based platform of explicit sex education films addressed to people aged 25 to 45. The videos have an educational purpose and are developed out of the knowledge of sex workers, therapists and coaches.

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Lina Bembe and Bishop Black, two of the founding members of Sex School, a Berlin-based sex education project

The festival talks were occasions to discuss the legal and cultural context that surrounds the production of pornography in a country with a long story of censorship and defence of morality. Porn in the UK was not legalised until 2000. Then, in 2014, the British government banned a series of sexual acts (like spanking, fisting, facesitting, female ejaculation) from content produced and sold in Britain. Finally, in February 2019, they made legal to watch, possess and distribute all kind of porn as long it features consenting adults, invalidating the old bans. However, new laws are threatening the future of porn by introducing a mandatory age verification system (through SMS, credit card, passport, or driving licence) for all pornographic websites accessed from the UK.

A person who has campaigned against censorship in the UK is Myles Jackman a.k.a. ‘obscenity lawyer’ who has dedicated his whole career to the recognition and rights of the BDSM, LGBTQ, Adult-Industry and Sex-Work communities, lobbying for freedom of sexual expression for all consenting adults and the right to privacy. He took part in the festival to discuss the recent and forthcoming changes in the UK legislation.

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Obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman, dominatrix Itziar Bilbao Urrutia and performer Misha Mayfair

Uncensored hosted various performances using the languages of dance, theatre, cabaret to explore gender, sexuality and body.

The most eclectic, exuberant, unclassifiable artists were certainly Mouse – with 50 shades of trash, an unpredictable, provocative, ironic, hardcore, outrageous, disturbing and incredibly trash performance – and Marnie Scarlet, “the scarlet diva of fetish cabaret” using her body and a fetish pop aesthetic made of colourful latex to blur the outlines of gender and sexuality.

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Mouse during her performance 50 Shades of Trash

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Untitled nudes – performance/life drawing session with two trans/non-binary life models

Many of the performances took part on Saturday night during the ‘Cum as you are’ party, a welcoming sex-positive and safe space for all, where everyone could feel free to express and celebrate themselves, that felt like being at a proper fetish club (Torture Garden, anyone?).

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A variety of participatory workshops allowed the public to become an active part and engage body and mind – to imagine and design their own erotic/porn movie, for instance, or to explore BDSM practices and free their dominant self. Valentine aka Fluida Wolf, self-defined trash-drag-bitch who’s considered one of the greatest experts on female ejaculation in Italy, brought her workshop Ejaculation for C*nts that’s not meant to build an army of squirting cunt-having people but rather to make people gain control of a part of their bodies that has been oppressed by western culture for centuries, breaking down myths and taboos.

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Uncensored team: Olivia Carr-Archer (Executive Producer), Natalia Damigou-Papoti (Press & communication) & Lidia Ravviso (Artistic Director)

Great credit is due to Lidia Ravviso and the whole team who designed the festival to be a truly sex-positive, free and inclusive space able to promote – throughout every detail, from the spaces organisation to the selection of artists, performers, speakers – fundamental values like consent, respect and a sexuality free from any sort of conditioning, boundary, barrier.


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