UK Art Institute Hosts Conference on Pornography

Jeff Berg
LONDON — The Institute of Contemporary Arts, known for its commitment to avant-garde work, began a two-day conference on Monday focusing on pornography’s role in contemporary society, featuring performances by burlesque ensemble the Whoopee Club and Mr. Teds, a performer described as a half-pig/half-woman who wears tassels and dances on ice skates.

The conference, called ErotICA, also features several discussion sessions on how to start a porn magazine, the future of sex in the high-tech age, and “why the British are so bad at pornography.”

“While the French indulge themselves in a literary-erotic renaissance and the Americans use handheld cameras to democratize the business of pornography, the British, in thrall to lame innuendo and shivering readers’ wives, remain enthusiastic amateurs,” wrote James Harkin, the Institute’s director of talks, in a commentary published Monday.

“The idea is to give a voice to an underground experience which is creeping through London and burgeoning,” an ICA spokesman told the Times Online Sunday. “This goes for burlesque in particular. It’s time it was brought into the public consciousness and given a proper space in terms of the theory and the practice.”

The ICA, which receives more than £1.1 million from the United Kingdoms’ Arts Council each year, has come under fire recently for its performance programming. Even though the Council did not mention the two-day pornography conference, it did express concerns about the ICA’s content last week.

“The challenge now is for the ICA to be more than the sum of its parts,” an Arts Council spokesman told the Times Online. “It needs a clear vision for the future.

According to the ICA, though, their conference is meant to be a serious, scholarly affair.

“We at the ICA take sex seriously,” the event’s website reads. “The first decade of the 21st Century will be seen as the decade in which erotica emerged from its hiding places and moved deftly upmarket.”