Mette Ingvartsen is no prude. Over the past five years, the Brussels-based Danish artist has been studying the orgasmic, sometimes sinister history of human sexuality. As a choreographer and dancer, she has set those inquiries into motion in an ongoing series of performances called The Red Pieces, which explores the sociopolitical implications of our most intimate acts by bursting open the doors to our bedrooms. Ingvartsen’s first work in the production was “69 positions” (2014). For that one, the artist personally took the audience through an abridged history of sexually charged performance art of the ’60s, reenacting provocative works by the likes of Carolee Schneemann and Yayoi Kusama before making her own additions to the canon (such as inviting the audience to pantomime pleasure in an “orgasm choir”). She followed that up with “7 Pleasures” (2015), featuring 12 naked performers writhing together onstage, and “to come (extended)” (2017), where 15 participants in full head-covering bodysuits simulated an orgy at varying speeds.
Ingvartsen’s most recent performance, “21 pornographies” (2017)—which makes its American debut this October at Performance Space New York—emerged from a question she gets asked time and again: Is her work itself a form of pornography? While Ingvartsen often employs nude performers, she hasn’t, until now, explicitly engaged with the topic of porn. “The thing with nudity—and with sexuality—is that people do with it what they want,” she says. In “21 pornographies,” she tries to expand the medium beyond the usual smutty associations. For this piece, she takes the stage and soon after undresses while reciting or acting out erotic excerpts inspired by the Marquis de Sade, the commercial boom of Danish adult films in the ’70s, and the carnal violence of warfare. As Ingvartsen approaches the climax of this project, she has found a new position for herself: one among pioneering feminist figures who also liberated their bodies through their art.