Arts & Entertainment
1 min

Ropes, dildos and porn

Archiving Public Sex features hundreds of pieces by nearly as many artists

An image from Toronto photographer Geoff George, part of the Archiving Public Sex exhibit at Contact. Credit: Geoff George

“Expansive” is an often over-used word when it comes to describing art exhibitions. But in the case of Archiving Public Sex, it’s more than appropriate. Featuring more than 100 pieces by nearly as many artists, the collection of photographs, videos, posters and prints was compiled largely from material from the University of Toronto’s Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies.

“Because people often don’t think about collecting or preserving physical materials that document sex, it’s very easy for it to become erased from histories,” curator Nicholas Matte says. “The targeting of gay, lesbian, kinky, trans and queer expressions of sexuality in public is an important theme that shouldn’t be forgotten. At the same time, it can be strange to realize just how quickly things have changed in terms of what’s permissible.”

The exhibition includes works by Playboy Playmate turned photographer Carrie Leigh, eco-sexual art couple Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, and Toronto photographers Geoff George and Jearld Moldenhauer. In addition to more conventional pieces, there are numerous physical objects displayed, including ropes from the annual Nuit Blanche Morpheous’s Bondage Extravaganza, a dildo from feminist porn maker Tristan Taormino, and a stack of old pulp novels exploring intergenerational sex and kink fantasies from the pre-porn era. In keeping with the centre’s historical and educational mandate, there are also a large number of clippings and articles documenting legal battles over sexual expression. 

“Every item in the show really has an incredible back story, and they connect to each other in such interesting ways,” Matte says. “Some artists are totally anonymous, like the photographers who’ve documented the Feminist Porn Awards over the years, and I hope that through the show we might meet and connect with people as they see their work in our collection. You might even find yourself in the exhibition.”