Sidewalk Sex Clinic - Norway
Our “Free Sidewalk Sex Clinic” in Stavanger, Norway turned out to be the Love Art Lab’s most challenging and inadvertently provocative project to date. Commissioned by the art organization Tao Scene, it went down on June 14, 2008. [read more below]
For the Sidewalk Clinic our plan was to have five sex educators generously offer the public free expert sex advice from various kinds of sex experts on Pedersgata Street for four hours (June 14, 2008.) As it turned out, we landed smack dab in the middle of a heated anti-porn battle being waged by a small but very vocal group of local “feminists.” Even though our event was not porn related the press did numerous headline stories about us, which were ridiculously sensational, and extremely erroneous. For example they said we were “offering free sex” leaving off the word “advice.” True, we were scheduled to hold our Clinic in front of the “Love Shop,” the city’s only adult film and sex toy shop. The shop is owned and run by a very nice, rather shy guy for over twenty years. The anti-porn feminists (their group is called OTTAR) said they were opposed to our clinic project because it is funded by an art organization, which they felt gave cultural credibility to the Love Shop. The Love Shop, they exclaimed, “sells porn that exploits and victimizes women some of whom are trafficked.”
Another odd thing the press did was to call me, Annie Sprinkle, a “fallen porn star.” True, I used to be a porn star, and I am proud of it. But if “fallen” is having a Ph.D., traveling the world doing art commissioned by excellent art organizations, being in a great relationship, owning two houses on prime real estate, being an educator, and feeling good about myself is “fallen,” then what is success? Perhaps they were referring to my being older and rounder as “failure.” Then many people have fallen lower than porn star status.
A day before our scheduled event, we met with the leaders of OTTAR and a concerned local church group. They urged us to cancel our Free Sidewalk Sex Clinic or at least move it away from the Love Shop. We thought long and hard about how to move our Clinic without it seeming like we were caving in to the pressures of OTTAR, whose political approach and ideology we simply don’t agree with. We created a perfect solution-- we moved our Clinic a block away to the old location of the Love Shop, now an storefront with only a sign hanging above the door that says Love Shop. The artist group SVOP/T who had set up shop there, generously agreed to share the storefront with us. Just perfect!
After all the insane sensational press, and the threats of protest, we couldn’t find a single Stavanger sex educator that would sit with us at our Clinic and offer sex advice. This has never happened to us before—we have done a good dozen Free Sidewalk Sex Clinics. So we had to fly in our friend, sexpert and artist, Tom Garretson from Oslo. He could also double as a bodyguard. Right when we opened our Clinic thirty or so angry “feminists” marched up the street carrying picket signs while screaming into bullhorns. For about an hour we just tried to ignore them. Some brave souls came inside to greet us, and get some sex advice. More people stopped by just to lend us some support, and some others wanted to discuss the controversy.
Finally we decided to try an art/life experiment. The three of us, Beth, Annie and Tom, would go outside and join the group of angry “feminists” while wearing our white lab coats and holding little flowers. (We are feminists too.)This totally confused everyone. It was really exciting but also nerve-wracking! Soon after, they dispersed. The irony is that the women of OTTAR claim they want to help women. Shutting down a performance art piece that offers women free expert sex advice seems counter productive.
We never expected what happened next. A tall man wearing a scary black ski mask walked up to our windows and spay painted a star of David and the word “JUDE” (Jew) in blood red spray pain. This was Beth’s first personal encounter with what we think was Neo-Nazi hatred and it happened fast and was upsetting. Some people around us were stunned and others seemed to pay it no mind. The only person who did anything was a beautiful young Italian architect (and new mother) Simona Ferrari who ran down the street after the guy, then called the police who said they were “too busy” to come. They were probably a bit intimidated by the TV cameras in front of our Clinic. Simona’s partner Trond Kasper Mikkelsen was kind enough to scrape the evil graffiti from the window with his knife while Sigrun Vik Olsen babysat their newborn. We half expected other extremist groups to attack us any moment. It was a crazy, scary, witch-hunt kind of a day, which made for a hell of an exciting performance art piece.
The next day we did our tour of Pedersgata. About 35 people showed up for what was became a two-hour tour. We pointed out phallic and vulvu-like shapes everywhere, and as our tour-goers caught on, they chimed in as well. We pointed out voluptuous clouds, trees in bondage, extraordinarily sexy pink flowers. Beth highlighted a crack in the cement she felt was super erotic. There was the bad replica of Michelangelo’s David statue with a price tag stuck to his penis in a shop window. The only truly obscene thing on the street was the price of gas. We told made up stories of the sexual history of the street; of jealous lovers, wife abusers, secret lesbian romances, gay cruising spots. We pointed out the best places to kiss and demonstrated. There was the mysterious building #69. We invited our touristas to sniff and lick a grassy knoll, to savor an apricot from a Lebanese food shop, and take in the scent of an ancient public toilet, which had been closed to the public for decades. We stood for a moment of silence at a spot where an actual rape had recently taken place.
One of our tour’s highlights was taking people into the Love Shop, all of whom said they had never dared to go in before. Among the usual blow up dolls, dildos and porn DVDS we pointed out some romantic Chinese vases, hand carved African masks, and kitsch masturbating clay statuettes from Latvia. The Love Shop has been a big bone of contention for some of the townspeople. So we presented a special award to the owner of the shop for hanging in there in spite of the unreasonable, misguided (we feel) attacks he’s endured. Hey, its only sex.
Towards the end of our tour it started to rain, so we gave everyone white plastic hooded ponchos, which made us all look like a load of sperm swimming down the street. Our tour climaxed with a lovely woman architect showing us a model of the city and speaking proudly of the future city plans. We then said our goodbyes.
On our last night in Stavanger, Tao Scene hosted a gala reception party with an incredible gourmet dinner feast for all the artists who had created tours of Pedersgata and for the community. The talented chef created a desert in our honor that was absolutely orgasmic. It was a dripping wet pudding, chocolaty with strawberry compote, absolutely mouth watering, to be eaten with our fingers. We were delighted that we inspired the best desert ever made. (Our highest compliments to the chef.) During the eating of the desert, the curators played the Beatles song, All You Need Is Love, which was very moving. We needed some love.
Throughout the evening people came up to us to apologize for the rude behavior of Stavanger’s press, the neo-Nazis and OTTAR. We didn’t know what to say except that we hoped that other artists would further the conversation about the important issues that surfaced after we were gone. Because Pedergasta is for lovers. At least it was for us, and we hope it will be for lovers in the future.