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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Love, Sex, Porn, and Family: Femina Potens' ASKEW Film and Performance Festival

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 10:30 AM

down_the_rabbit_hole_by_madiso_young_courtesy_madison_young_thumb_565x395.jpeg
San Francisco has a long reputation -- sometimes deserved, sometimes not -- of being the place to come to if you want to do all the things that mom, dad, and your teachers told you not to. The right wing might like to point to us as an example of everything that's un-American, but the truth is, you can't get much closer to the heart of the American myth than San Francisco: This is where people come to reinvent themselves from the inside out.

The ASKEW Film and Performance Festival, starting at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Thursday, Sept. 13 should be a great place to see some of those visions of identity. Produced by acclaimed art gallery Femina Potens, the festival will be three nights of film, dance, and readings about queer identities, family, and community. If you've ever thought that we live in an enlightened age where the only things that need to be settled about alternative sexualities are what safewords to use and whether same-sex couples can have their picket fence too, just look at the schedule that ASKEW has set up for the next three days.
 

Madison Young, the founder of Femina Potens and curator of ASKEW, spoke to us about the festival, the performers, and balancing being a porn star with being a new mom.

There's a lot of sex-based art in San Francisco, and we've got a great history of it. What do you see as unique in what ASKEW is presenting?

Well ASKEW is not a sex-based performance festival. It's an intergenerational interactive festival that no-holds-barred dives into the conversations that are missing from our community. Some of the presentations explore the identity of sex workers, some delve into the invisibility of aging women in our culture, one involves movement-based dance performance and film from a woman whose fingers and feet were amputated after a bacterial infection -- she performs brilliant performance-based work on stilts that reminds me of some of the well-known feminist art works of iconic artist Rebecca Horn. The one thing that all of the pieces have in common is an honest, deep look into the interweaving of our identity and how that plays into our culture, work, and the way the world perceives us (and how we perceive ourselves for that matter).

There's a lot of visions of identity and sexuality in these pieces. What's changing in the way people are building sexual identities, and which issues seem to just keep coming back to us?

I think all of us have really unique journeys through life and that these artists have found really brilliant, brave, and original ways to address different transformative moments in their lives. Imagery that is different from what we might associate with major life changes. Sadie Lune's piece that addresses fertility shows footage of her transgender boyfriend birthing an egg from his vagina. Yes, there have been dozens of pieces addressing fertility presented before, but none that I have seen from her unique and queer perspective. Dylan Ryan presents an incredibly powerful work that addresses mental health and wellness and its intersection with sexuality. I found this piece incredibly powerful not as a sexual person, but as someone who has suffered severe anxiety attacks for the last 14 years. It was very intense and beautifully done and really serves as a catalyst for some important conversations. And Midori ... well, I don't want to give away anything. But her performance is pretty much as visceral as you get. Flesh will be torn, I'm not saying whose. It's the most unique, fearless, and sensory-filled performance addressing the aging woman that you will ever witness.

Tooth and Nail by Dylan Ryan - COURTESY OF ROZEN DEBOWE
  • Courtesy of Rozen Debowe
  • Tooth and Nail by Dylan Ryan

What are some of the major challenges to increasing visibility in communities?

I would say that our biggest challenges in increasing visibility in communities lies in financing the programming to provide greater visibility of marginalized communities. Funding in the arts has been slashed and nonprofits are struggling to provide programming right now. It's tough. Many arts orgs and queer orgs are losing spaces. Femina Potens is restructuring our programming to fit the economy with pop-up art galleries and pop-up programming, including ASKEW. I also find that by diversifying our curatorial staff and our board of directors, we are able to continue to provide visibility and space for the our communities' diverse stories to be told. The Invisibility evening was an evening of programming that I felt really passionate about and it's in the works to develop into a visual art exhibit as well.

Your own entry covers motherhood and sexuality, using the theme of Alice in Wonderland. What's the first year of motherhood been like for you, and why are you comparing it with a trip down the rabbit hole?

Alice in Wonderland was a story as I see it about the awkward transitional period of puberty. It's a time where your body doesn't fit, your nose is bigger than the rest of your face, you're covered in zits, you're too tall, or too short, you're not an adult, but not a child. Your hormones are raging and you feel like sobbing all the time or in fitful rage. Your breasts appear out of nowhere and you don't know what to do with them. You are in a race to prove yourself and to discover who you are, hoping to emerge from the rabbit hole with some knowledge and confidence. 

Postpartum is not all that different. All of a sudden you appear with breasts that are three cup sizes bigger than before, you have birthed a child but still have an inflated uterus and forty pounds of extra weight along with tiger stripes of stretch marks on a body that you don't recognize. You're scared, your child is scared and no one gave you a manual. I started performing in porn just four weeks after birthing my daughter. It took courage. It took a lot of self-love and reclaiming of my awkward body. I had to stop and pump in the middle of the shoot because I was leaking. The first year of motherhood has meant a lot of changes. I still direct porn and occasionally perform in it. I still teach sexuality classes and travel for work. I still manage Femina Potens. But my priorities have changed. I used to live for work. Work was quite simply my life. Now I have a life worth working for. I'm still a workaholic but I'll drop all calls and meetings to tuck my daughter in bed and read her Goodnight, Moon

How many of the challenges of being a sexual parent are universal, and which do you think are specific to building a queer family?

All parents have some form of sexual identity and enjoy some type of shared intimacy either with themselves or partners, lovers, etc. I think my challenges are very universal. I think that the greatest difference is the ridicule that I've received due to the social stigma and shame that many associate with documented expressions of sexual affection. But I think all moms can relate to finger pointing and fearing being perceived as a "bad mom." One thing I'm sure of is that I'm an awesome mom. I love my daughter and I teach her how to share love with others. She is an amazing human being and I'm so happy to have her in my life. Many of the experiences in my film relate to all mothers, really letting the audience into a very honest and vulnerable time in my life, it's emotional and tender and humorous. It's a piece I'm really proud of ... and it's my birthday weekend, so I expect all of my friends and community to be there to show their support.

ASKEW runs Sept. 13-15 at YBCA, 701 Mission (at Third St.), S.F. Admission is $8-$10.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
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Chris Hall

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