Policemen circled on Segways and protesters clutched anti-abortion signs while a virtual who's who of artists and patrons crowded the front door of 501 King St. for Re-Nude: Celebrate the Body. The following night in a different, less visible part of town, a smaller crowd gathered in the secluded, intimate confines of Outer Space for The Queer Show. Although the two events were in different locations, the goal was the same: to talk about sex. Salt N' Pepa would have been proud.
Featuring artists working in "time-based media exploring queerness, sexuality, and queer identities/experiences," The Queer Show put on a provocative night. Jenna Lyles and Caitlin O'Reilly-Green of the Charleston Women's Collective planned the weekend-long event meant to "raise community awareness" about LGBT issues.
Interpretations of sexuality were explored through dance, installation, and video. Dancer Caroline Marcantoni moved cautiously on a tightrope of blue masking tape; stepping onto one side or another, her movements varied in speed and form to reflect opposing masculine and feminine energies. "I want to show both power and vulnerability and how that binary functions in sexual relationships," Marcantoni said of her performance.
Clutching a knife in her hand, Marcantoni's movements were at times jerking and erratic; her emotions alternated between pleasure and pain as the audience, pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, looked on.
Another compelling performance involved a woman wearing a question mark around her neck who stood mute as others held a mirror to her face, each time causing her to wipe and reapply makeup. Her facial expression changed repeatedly — sometimes it was a look of satisfaction, other times a blank stare — illustrating, perhaps, the often dangerous power of judgment.
Meanwhile, over at the Re-Nude show, the Garage Cuban Band rocked a packed house as enthusiastic patrons sipped wine and gazed at variations of the naked body on the walls. "Nude art sells," organizer Leila Davenport Ross said about her idea for the Re-Nude exhibit. More than 50 local artists were selected in a juried process in which 50 percent of proceeds went to Planned Parenthood.
Educational statistics about human sexuality flashed on a screen behind the band, creating a powerful, evocative environment. An advocacy table with Planned Parenthood staffers offered brochures, condoms, and information about increasing access to reproductive healthcare through the Prevention First Movement. The varied collection was not lewd or distasteful, but a celebration of human sexuality.
Some of the more openly sexual pieces in the show were Karen Ann Myers' hand-pulled screen prints. Hidden in the textures, patterns and pastel colors of "Sea of Love," "Come Here Boy," and "The Perfect Fit" were naked men and woman having sex.
Another thrilling piece came from former shark hunter Michelle Barnwell, who presented a painting of a redheaded woman wearing only a pair of boots and straddling a shark.
Tim Hussey, who said the event was a "good excuse to do something different," showed large charcoal, pencil, and gouache drawings and photographs of a nude woman. The pool of talented artists was deep and included works like Karen Silvestro's surrealistic oil paintings, Leslie Pratt-Thomas' realistic nude, geometric sculptures by Jeff Arnold, Charles Ailstock's figures, and large-scale oil paintings by Kristen Moran, among others.
As the inspiration for art and a vehicle for communication, the theme of sexuality proved to be quite successful in Re-Nude's sleek, professional, and hip exhibition, as well as The Queer Show's less sleek and clumsier, but emotionally raw event. What united these disparate venues was the desire (and need) to talk about sex.