In this episode I talk to Maria Pia about fluidity. As a drive, a process, a mode of experience. And all of these combined.
"It's coming particularly useful, this fluid approach to life, in pandemic times. If you think about it, reality is...we can't control it and we create an illusion trying to control it"
This is a personal story of Maria's self development and how that development has come to inform how she lives and works today.
Maria talks about using sexuality and some of its associated practices as means of changing herself - seeing her through life's transitions. She speaks on conscious kink and embodied performance. Psychomagia and symbolism. Ephiphenomenalism through the performance art of Rocio Boliver. Mummification during a time of intense grief.
A long time activist, Maria's way of fighting for matters close to her heart has changed. She tells us about her London-squatter days and how she's shifted from old school martyrdom and normative constructs toward self care and polytopes through relational anarchy.
Recently Maria ran the open call for the London Uncensored Festival. For lovers of art and pornography, and especially those who reject the distinction between the two. I wondered, what's ethical porn? And how's it different from porn that doesn't label itself as such?
Click here for the full hour of audio on Spotify
Keywords relationship, people, feel, approach, kink, porn, performance, sex, anarchy, element, sexuality, relating, embodied
Transcript Not Your Narrative Ep. 2 Fluidity and conscious kink with Maria Pia. Through and with life’s changes:
MP It's coming particularly useful, this fluid approach to life, in pandemic times.
MP If you think about it, reality is... we can't control it and we create an illusion trying to control it.
LP Welcome to Episode Two of Not Your Narrative. I'm Liv Phoinix. Before this episode, I'd been thinking a lot about fluidity. As a process, a drive, a mode of experience, and all of these combined. So I reached out to Maria Pia, someone I shared an immediate understanding with. The first time we met, we spent the evening gazing at each other, taking turns. Our bodies, inhabiting space, doing things in space. We occupied the same corner of that space for most of the evening. Flowing toward each other, but never actually touching, never speaking. On our second meeting she approached. I'll never forget that approach. We connected physically. Made signs, left marks. Only months later, did we discover each other through words. Where we found magnificent parallel. So today I'm speaking to Maria about using the body through conscious sexuality as a means of changing herself, as a way of breaking out of rigid categorizations. Structures that limit things. She elaborates on how a fluid approach has changed all of her relationships - with family, with coworkers. Still, it's not all social. Her long, entrenched political activism has shifted. Recently, she's been busy with programming for the London Uncensored Film Festival - for lovers of pornography and art. And especially those who reject the distinction between the two. So without further ado, here's Maria.
LP Hello, gorgeous
MP Hi, hi
MP Let's get started
LP Yeah, right into it. So I’m curious, what changed your relationship to work and to sensuality and to partnerships? Was there something in particular, or rather, what sort of realisations were you having, as things started to shift?
MP Well, I guess it's not a single event. For me what happened was that I had very polarised experiences. And coming to this fluidity was a way to find a balance between those two extremes.
MP I moved to London when I was 17. When I arrived I had very much a radical lifestyle. And I was involved with squatting communities, very political... anarchist. So it was more sort of the underground scene. But I guess it became almost too radical at some point. And then because of a series of events I ended up having a spell in corporate. So there were like two words, which were very much in contrast, and neither of those two worlds and suited me in terms of finding a balance and finding myself. That's more from like, how I handled the day-to-day, life and work. And when it comes to my sexuality, my first romantic involvement was with a woman, but I come from Southern Italy. And I sort I think of internalised that as it was a phase and then never spent time to really try to explore and understand my sexuality. I had this experience and then I got into a long-term relationship with a man for many years, for about 11 years. And then when I got about to approach 30, I was about 29 heading to 30, there was this moment where I felt like okay, I experienced that way of living life. I've experienced this other way of living life in terms of work or even like the day-to-day life, you know, having a very regular life. And neither of that was working for me. And I also felt this urge to, to understand really, who I was and what I liked in terms of my sexuality. Initially I got involved with the sex positive communities in the UK. It was an interesting introduction. It allowed me to understand that my liking and love for women wasn't a phase as I had sort of internalised it. But I also felt that there was something missing in the way sex positivity was approached in the community I was navigating in the UK. It was too structured, it was somehow too British you see. Like consent, for example, is very much based around verbal consent. And it felt very much like, I don't know, group sex and stuff like that, more than a deeper exploration. So I think around the time when I met you, I had just started getting involved more into conscious sexuality and conscious kink community. And for me, that was really a place where I could express myself and really understand myself because I... I could look at sexuality as a tool for personal development if you use it as a tool for personal development. And I could also experience my personal process and sexuality in a more holistic way. So using tools which are traditionally associated more to creative stuff from movement and dance and other types of stuff that is used in theatre.
LP There's a lot I want to get into in there, hope that we can get into in there in this conversation. Later, we'll get into your way of doing activism now. But I'd like to start with your personal journey, the things that brought you to fluidity. As we started, you were speaking about your previous relationship. In that you had been together for a long time, and you come to a decision to open things up. Could you talk a little bit about that process?
MP Okay, so that was that happened with the relationship after the very long term one was mentioning earlier of 11 years. I had the relationship then after with another man, which has been more of push and pull type of dynamics, a very rocky relationship. So we got together and we had a spell doing the monogamous sort of capital dynamics. And we realised that that wasn't working. We, we decided to take a break. And in that process is when I discovered open relating and sex-positive communities. So when we got back together, we tried to integrate that in the relationship, this new way of relating. And it was full of hiccups. Of course, because I was very inexperienced navigating these dynamics, he was very inexperienced as well, he never tried that before. And also I was bringing these into the game. So there was sort of an expectation that I would almost hold space for both of us, or for almost being the guide, or the one who was more knowledgeable. And we also did a mistake, which was going from a monogamous relationship to try the open relationship thing without really sitting down and figuring out and naming what were those things that didn't allow the relationship to work in the first place. So what I found out was that actually, we were bringing over the same dynamics of the previous relationship into this new way of relating, and on top of that, I found it extremely limiting to use the model of open relationship to me that still felt extremely narrow in the sense that you say with open relating, there is still very much these labelling. There is your primary partner and there is your secondary partner. And there are certain dos and certain dont's. And I realised that for me, it felt that we were replacing a set of rules with a different set of rules. And in that process, I came across what is the concept of relationship anarchy, I just felt very much that each relationship is unique. And that each relationship the people involved in the relationship should be negotiating their own sort of agreement, which are not even statics. It's almost deciding, okay, we are relating, and we want to be friends and have a romantic relationship, for example, or some sort of sexual interaction. And that's consensually agreed. And it's open to revision. So you see, like, we decided to do that but maybe six months down the line, we realised that yes, we are friends and we still maybe want to have sex but actually the romantic thing is not working. And I was reflecting on how can I find something which is less constraining, less limiting. And then I came across this notion of relationship anarchy, which I think lots of people misunderstand at times and think, you know, it's it's just chaos. It's just like, you don't have any responsibility towards the other person. You don't have mutual agreements, but actually, it's quite different. This just having, you know, what, what is that fluidity that you were alluding to before. I really feel that adopting this type of relationships, this model of relationships in my life has really enriched my life and improved the quality of the relationships that now I have in my life. I find it extremely enriching. Fully nourished by all the relationships because there are so diverse and each of them contribute to my journey in one way and I think I contribute to their journey in another way. And I think, at least for me, I'm not saying it works for everybody. But for me, it's definitely a bit model of relating that works much better.
LP So you shifted from open relating to relational anarchy, how that's enriched, so many of your relationships. Could you speak a bit more on what relational anarchy is?
MP Relationship anarchy, at least my understanding of it, because you see, sometimes, everybody like takes a theory and then applies to themselves in the way that works for them. For me relationship anarchy, my understanding, is exactly what I was actually seeking in relationships. It's the fact that there are two people or more than two people involved in a relationship. And those people consensually have an agreement of deciding what are the elements that form that relationship.
LP From the way you see it, where in lies the problem with conventional relationships?
MP Sometimes in a conventional way of approaching relationships, if there is one element of the relationship that doesn't work it seems to be staining and effecting, in a negative way, also other elements of the relationship. And I really think that this is not necessary. That we are capable of creating compartments for each element of the relationship. And if you have good communication, you can just revise where you're at in relationship to another human being and whether you still want to engage in that way, or you want to find a new way to engage, which comprises different elements.
LP A lot of elements in there. You were speaking a bit with your attraction to women before. Now it seems like you found a mode where you can live the fluidity of your sexual attraction - honestly. But still with that people are also different. And what they think of as honest communication is also so different. So I'm curious how the communication goes, have you found you're able to engage with women in a different way than you were before? And if so, how is that?
MP So okay, just to go back to the point, I only started exploring my relationship with women, again, when I got, thanks to getting into the sex positive scenes. But at the time I wasn't applying the notion of relationship anarchy as such. I want to sort of emphasise that it does not only apply in a context of a romantic or a sexual type of relationship, and it has deeply changed my relationship, not only with women, but with with human beings, essentially. In terms of your question around communication, I don't think that there is a single model of communication necessarily, because as you were saying, before, you know, each of us is different. And each relationship we create with someone is unique. And so the exciting thing, and also the sort of difficult thing, and the thing that is a bit of a challenge, the relationship is that for each relationship, then you also have to somehow work out how you communicate with them. So maybe sometimes you realise that you need to take a bit of distance to understand what's going on. Maybe in that moment in time, you don't really understand what's happening, you feel something is a little bit off, but you still cannot name it. So you may be told to the other person and you say maybe let's take some time. And then when you have it clear, you can communicate it to the other person. It depends really on the style of communication, the type of elements which are navigating with the relationship of a certain human being, whether it's a distance relationship in that moment in time, and you need to, to negotiate something with them. So I think you know, it's constant learning by doing and renegotiating. But the important thing for me is to emphasise that relationship anarchy is something that I am applying to every relationship. It came initially through romantic and mostly sexual relationships, which tend to be also the most complex one to navigate simply because of our conditioning and all that, you know, romance and sex tend to bring in terms of attachment and fear of abandonment and need of approval and all these type of things, but it's very enriching to apply it to different types of relationships. Lately, I've been developing a much more interesting relationship with my sister, for example, and it's mostly a visual relationship because I haven't seen her in ages. But I noticed that with that relationship, I was still looking at it with how you're supposed to relate to your sister given that you're an older sister, given your upbringing in southern Italy and all of that. And then applying this approach to relating, inspired to what is relationship anarchy, which is the closest in terms of concept that I found to what I'm doing, I was able to stop and say, Okay, I don't have to refrain myself to communicate certain things to my sister, or I don't have to pretend I'm something else. Actually I want her to know me. And so I started talking more to her about the type of projects or interests I have at the moment. And that's made our relationship much richer, and that sister to sister, so that's purely family relationship, essentially. But we are also developing this relationship of friendship now, which before we didn't have. And I think it is much more interesting, you know, to apply this concept through the whole spectrum of relationship. I'm noticing in the way I relate to people I work with, it's becoming extremely important for me, that it's not the standardised way of working. Serious, and we just relate professionally. That there is also an honest communication. For example, with the people I'm working with, I find it extremely important that we remind ourselves about self care that you know, you make space to check in. So you understand the emotional state of the person you're working with before a meeting and that makes conversation much easier to navigate. So say, somebody is having a bad day, if you don't give time for that, then maybe like they say something a little bit snappy during a meeting. And instead of you having that negative reaction, if you know what's happening in their emotional world or in their life, then you're able to take it with a pinch of salt.
LP In terms of their character, how would you say your current relationships differ from the relationships you've had earlier?
MP All in all I find that relationships I'm having in my life now are much more honest, are much more honest. And because of that, they're much more enriching. I don't like 'authenticity', 'authentic', because I find these words maybe have been a little bit abused, especially in this spiritual or like, personal development type of communities.
LP I hear you.
MP Genuine. Maybe genuine is more appropriate, I'm more comfortable with genuine relationships, than authentic.
LP The word genuine, it's less corrupted. Yeah these default assumptions of who we are in our relationships, and also what it means to be ‘authentic’. And then I find it relies so heavily on notions from the past, that we're constantly carrying the past with us in in the way that we're living the now and the way that we go forward. Yeah, so breaking down these boxes or this barriers of expectations... I find, it sounds so easy, but the really difficult part is actually in being and creating the new.
LP So I wonder with you, when you mentioned with your sister that you had a change in the way that you were relating to each other. Perhaps you've had that with other people as well. You said you apply this across the board, relational anarchy. But I wonder, were you afraid to share these things? Were you worried about judgement?
MP It's not necessarily fear of judgement it's more... this idea that that a relationship is for one thing, that another relationship is for another thing. And I think that's how we look at things in society, we put the hat on. Who am I in this context? Who am I when I'm in work mode? Who am I when I'm relating to my family? So I think it was more this sort of belief that one relationship had to be that way. So like, for my sister, for example, I thought I need to be a role model. And I need to speak or share what is expected of me to share with her. There's no need for me to share what I like and what they do. And I felt I had to, I don't know, agh, how can I put it....
MP So the main thing that has happened in applying the notion of relationship anarchy in my life, also exploration with conscious kink communities, is that instead of having these different hats on, I was able to integrate. I was able to integrate all these different personas. So it's not just the Maria's into the sex positive world, or into creative stuff, and then the Maria, who's the sister from the southern Italian family. Almost how can I bring all of these elements together? In order to do that I had to look inward and I had to do lots of work on myself. Because I had to decondition, let go of all the conditioning, I had to unlearn all the patterns that I grew up believing. Subconscious work. Very much going out of the comfort zone. Very often it becomes messy. And sometimes it's painful, and it can be deeply uncomfortable. But once you get on the other side, it's totally worth it. In my experience. I'm not saying it works for everybody. But for me, it has allowed me to look at my life saying, okay, who am I? What do I want? What quality of relationships do I seek? And how do I want to live my life? And so the way I approach work is changing. The way I define my sense of identity. I used to believe that you know, you need to have a specific career, this more linear way of going through life. You get a job, and you get a promotion, and you get the next promotion, and you get the better job, for example. And now it's just a much more present way of living life. It has allowed me to let go of all those fears of you know, malicious fears, which are put into our head. Like, what am I gonna do when I get old? What if I die all done alone, and I never have a career that I can explain to my parents? And so all this type of inner chattering, I was able to let go that and that has allowed me to embrace so many beautiful experiences and live a life that yes, by no means very conventional. But definitely, I'm the happiest and healthiest I have ever been really, I just I just feel content in a way that I didn't used to feel before.
LP Yeah, the shaking up of convention, from an early age, Catholicism was the water you were swimming in.
MP Oh, extremely catholic environment. Absolutely. It was a very, very religious environment and combined with loads of superstition. So it was the worst of both worlds, essentially, the catholic one and the superstitious one and southern Italy, back in the 80s, the 90s when I was growing up there, and still now, feels like they're half a century, at least, behind from even the rest of Italy, let alone any countries in Northern Europe, which are a little bit more progressive. And so it's almost like if time has stopped. The time when I was growing up there didn't used to be so much access to information as we have nowadays. Kids or teenagers these days that are trying to understand their sexuality, or maybe they feel that they're queer -there wasn't even the concept of queer so readily available- maybe they feel they like people of the same sex, and you can go online and you can find out information. And there are all these support groups where you have forums and you can have mental support. All these type of things that were not available then. So it was really, really a surreal experience growing up in that environment as a young woman. Very, very surreal.
LP Yeah, I honestly can barely imagine it mostly through Italian literature and films. I think the last Italian film that I watched was in lockdown round one about a year ago. Beyond The Clouds, Antonioni. I was just wriggling in my chair. These tropes, the push pull between men and women, the expectations. Of course, these are not unique to Italian social constructs. But it was something in their treatment that was just harrowing. People see this and they repeat it, and they perpetuate it. I find the sugarcoating really violent, especially when people internalise what they've seen these fantasies as their own desires.
MP Yes, yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
LP I also feel like sometimes with the way that very religious and more macho cultures approach relationships and sexuality is that a big part of what powers the passion there is all of the taboo around things. How was it for you, the existence of taboos within that? Do you see that as a significant part of what propelled you to come out and live differently?
MP I mean, I've always felt out of place in southern Italy. My parents moved back there when I was six years old, and I never fitted there and the fact of having a fling with a woman while you're there. I mean, that sort of puts you against the whole system. It's wrong in so many ways. I just felt very isolated and lonely and misunderstood. And I was studying foreign languages in high school. I just knew that I needed to get myself out of that environment. Because it was just either that or, or like, I don't know, my mental health, I don't think would have put up with that in the long term. And there was always this burning need of going. Running away, which is something that I've done a few times in my life. I didn't have the tools, it was more an impulsive choice, I think, a survival instinct almost than a well-thought sort of action. It was almost between running away from home and leaving. I knew I needed to leave for my well being was almost a survival instinct. That's how I felt it felt to me.
LP Where were you in your development when you first had this sexual first sexual encounter with another female?
MP Oh, quite young. I mean, I was in my early teens. It was a quite an innocent relationship, I have to say. You know, it was more like feeling in love and kissing and cuddling. It wasn't sort of a very adventurous sexual relationship. And I was 17 by the time I left, so it didn't take much, basically, in that process from me from the moment of that experience. But I wanted to leave anyway. I remember even as a child, even before this happened, I just was counting the days to my 18th birthday. And then I managed to leave earlier. I didn't even know what or where or why but wanted to go. I had always had apparently this fascination for London, which I don't know where it came from, I guess reading British literature or like listening to all the music from the UK and punk and all of that, and the Riot Girl, these type of things. And so that felt like a safe bet. And then I felt, okay, almost I was trying to find what was the almost the opposite. The thing more different to my village, which which I could access. So I almost thought which one is the biggest city in Europe? Because that's what they could afford at the time. And so London was the first choice, I guess if it was nowadays, maybe it would have tried the United States as well. But back in the days, I mean, you didn't have low cost airlines. I remember like going to a travel agent. And I had to stop in Brussels, because there were no direct flights to London. I mean, that's all in 2001. It's just things have changed so much.
LP Absolutely. Yeah, definitely the squatting scene as well, right? You were a squatter there for a long time.
MP For a few years. Yeah, for a few years.
LP And back then it was a whole different scene for that, right? If a place was empty, you could pick up a sign. Well, taken a piece of paper with you, right. And as long as you got in behind the door, you put in the sign that says 'occupied', you could stay.
MP Yeah, I mean, it was a bit of a blurry area. But essentially, I think it was something that was still staying... I don't want to get it wrong... but it was still staying from something like the Second World War when people like a lot of houses were empty, and some people were coming back from the war. And their house had been bombed or maybe like they were in the city and their house got bombed. And then the idea was, if you were finding a house empty, then you could stay in the house until the owners were not claiming property back. We're not coming back. And so there was this thing of the Legal Notice; it was very blurry, because if you were getting caught breaking in, that's illegal. But if they were realising the house was squatted afterwards, and you had your legal learning on, then they had to go through the proper legal proceedings. And so you would receive a letter, if they wanted to evict you, saying that we were supposed to go to court, usually -unless you had a project, like a social centre or something like that. If you were not showing up then they will send you a date a letter with the date when the bailiff would come. So that was a bit more the legal way of navigating that. But it was, it was something more than that. A proper community, very political, it was very creative. But there were also some self-destructive elements in there. Very much a party culture for example, and very much a way of approaching activism Old School anarchies where you don't take into account things like self care and well being. Almost this dying for the cause type of approach. Which later in life, now, right now, I feel like I'm very much doing activism in my own way, but my well being and self care comes first and foremost. You know, I don't have any more that approach we used to have in the squatting communities that is almost like yes, there is lots of anger, there is lots of anger. There's loads of extreme type of measures. Like you go and sleep in front of Parliament Square. And, you know, it was painful, it was very painful, that period. Because you almost take on board all the problems and then all of a sudden, like, you might lose perception of the beauty in life. You know, everything becomes very serious and very heavy, and you're into, you know, protesting against the war in Iraq. And then you see somebody getting killed in a protest. And I remember, like, I lived with people who got hooked on heroin and you see them overdosing and dying. And so death is present and suffering. Looking at it in hindsight it had too many commonalities with the catholic approach or the martyr you see. I don't think it's really a healthy approach. I really believe nowadays that you cannot give from an empty tank. And so if you don't look after yourself, and if you're not well, and if you don't have certain boundaries, you can't, you can't, you can't without sort of jeopardising yourself and harming yourself. It's a bit this thing of empathy. For me feeling empathy is having this approach where I can understand and hear the person, but their pain does not become mine. Because otherwise, if you have two people suffering nobody goes anywhere. But if you're able to keep that detachment, in a sense, then you're also more capable of supporting whoever you got in front of you, or fighting for whichever cause is close to your heart.
LP Beautifully said. I really often think about this morally masochistic, and self-punishing trait as something that feels a container for caring but is very self destructive. It's really heartening to hear that you can move through from that being an activist like that to how you do it now. Nowadays, you're an activist in different ways, for different causes. Could you speak about that, how you are an activist today?
MP I really believe that the change starts from within. So for me, the main thing was to really do all this work on myself and to embody what is the thing that I want to see more of in the world, I got so much within kink community, conscious kink community, and around reevaluating how I relate with other human beings. I find that so powerful, and I really feel that from that many other things can change. Everything has basically changed. And then in terms of projects, at the moment, I'm involved with a project, one of the many because you see I've also like built a life for myself, where in the same way I find that a monogamous model of relating does not work for me, right now I'm living my life between the Canary Islands and Berlin and a bit the UK, I ended up getting involved in several projects. And one of the projects I'm working with at the moment is called Uncensored. And Uncensored is a project that started in the UK a couple of years ago. They started as a festival, which was looking at the intersection between pornography, art and activism. And so basically, we are trying to promote diversity in pornography, promote a healthier industry for adult performers, and also looking at pornography as an art form. It's quite fascinating. And if you look back, there is so much. It's more of erotica, no? More of a art-y approach to sex and porn than the mainstream pornography we're exposed to today. So this is one project I'm involved with at the moment, which I'm really proud of. We are trying to apply like what we're saying, having a different way of approaching work. Embodying what we preach. So during the lockdown last year, we decided to run an open call for porn made in isolation. We sort of checked in with each other and realised that all these lockdowns and pandemic and stuff like that was completely disconnecting us from our bodies and our ability to feel pleasure and to feel joy. And so we felt that we owed it to ourselves and to our community to do something which was reminding people that, yes, things are a bit awkward and dystopian at the moment. But hey, we are still human, and we still can feel pleasure and we can still create beauty and we can still feel joy. And it was amazing. I am very proud of that process. That's when I joined the team. I wasn't with the team before the first festival but then during lockdown I joined them and it was beautiful. It was beautiful to see the quality of the stuff that people submitted, to see the humour they brought into the videos that they submitted. And how creative people got with limited resources. It was also very exciting because I feel that this whole situation of the pandemic actually brought these ethical porn/conscious sexuality communities more together. Lots of the work we screened in the final screening that we shortlisted was coming from collectives in Brazil, from collectives in Germany. Adult performers and ethical porn directors. We got our event screened on Pink Label TV, which is a production company doing sort of queer ethical porn in California. And what they did, they did a crowdfunding campaign to create a platform that wouldn't be subject to censorship.
LP Where's the censorship coming from?
MP I know lots of people have used zoom for workshops around sexuality and maybe their account got blocked. So you don't have absolute freedom to screen what you want if you use third party platforms. And there are also significant costs involved.
LP Yeah, third party platforms and the authority of what constitutes as obscenity. We're definitely living through a new era of testing ground for distribution. How did you deal with this increasing difficulty?
MP There was this sense of togetherness as a consequence of things getting more difficult. And that made me full of hope and made me feel really motivated and made me feel like, you know that there was a purpose in what I was doing, and I could see it working and I could see beauty happening to see the community coming together. And that's been super, super exciting as a process.
LP Could you describe some of your favourite submissions? What were the submissions to the festival that spoke to you most? Or made you laugh the most. You mentioned there was a lot of humour.
MP Yeah, there was one called Sex in Times of Corona, which was submitted by a collective of directors and performers of ethical porn, from Berlin. And it was like a sort of parody of how you can have sex in time of Corona - very humoristic approach. And that made me laugh a lot. And I very much enjoyed our winner of the body of work selection, which is this Brazilian collective called EDIY productions. They submitted a few shorts, mostly around masturbation, but were super creative. There was one which was more sort of eco sexual, and it was all very playful.
LP Eco sexual... like fetishism based around nature?
MP Exactly. Yeah, I mean, one of the shorts, I mean two actually have that. One is with plants and then another one is with cacti and there is this playing, like this erotic sort of play, involving plants essentially. But they're also amazing because they also do like happenings and performance and they're extremely political in their start. I really liked their approach to what they were doing. To their films and to their activism. And we all have very much an activist element. They were all were wonderful submissions and actually it was quite hard to come up with a programme that had a certain flow and also to select things. Because I mean, some things we did not select, but they were still good. And some of the stuff we screened also kept on appearing on other programmes like Berlin Porn Film Festival.
LP So where can films from the festival be seen now?
MP Unfortunately, we had just a live screening event, we were not able to do a view-on-demand type of thing. But if you look at our programmes, some of the shorts can also be available on Vimeo or they might be available on other platforms. I know the Berlin porn film festival added view-on-demand for certain dates. But I think, I think it's done for now. We did some interviews with the winners of our open call, there were three categories. And so if you go on our website, the uncensoredfest.com website, then you can find the interviews. At the end of the interviews, you've got links to the social media or websites if they have it of the winner. And it's possible that they might have also access to some stuff for free. Or paying for it.
LP Nice. So there's a pretty good overview at uncensoredfest.com So what is it that makes ethical porn ethical and contrasted to porn that isn't ethical?
MP The first thing that comes up is if you think about the condition of workers, of performers, in the adult industry film industry. It's well known that they are not the best conditions. That are cases of breach of consent, abuse. Lots of adult performers in the mainstream porn industry can have mental health issues or addiction problems. So the first point is making sure that it's possible to produce porn that actually prioritizes the well being of its performers. That takes into account all these things. So fair pay, performers regularly checkedt for STIs... so like making sure they look after their sexual health, safe sex. So in the case of the open call that we ran all the profits, were donated to a charity called Pineapple Support, which is in the United States, and they provide free support for mental health for other industry performers. The other issue with mainstream porn is that it's just a very one-way approach to looking at sexuality. It's very stereotypical. It's very heteronormative. It does not allow space for diversity. And so in the context of ethical porn, you find queer porn, you find different types of kinks, and also you can have a more art-y approach. So it's about creating beauty and art you can come up with quirky concepts. It's really essentially improving the condition of other industry performers in terms of their sexual health, their mental health, the conditions in terms of pay, and also allowing for a more diverse portfolio.
LP Sounds like it has the potential for total rescripting of everything.
MP Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, for me, the main thing is like, whether we like it or not, I mean, teenagers, they all go and look at porn. And there is this constant influx of pornographic material that they can access online. So in a sense porn also has this educational function. I find it extremely important that young people are able to see that there is not just one way of approaching sexuality. In ethical porn there is real sex and there is not the stereotypical of beauty. So if you look at mainstream porn it's very much like there is a certain type of beauty for women and usually that involves like a small waist, big, big breasts, blond hair, straight hair, you know, there are certain things which is more the doll-type of beauty. And usually engaging in sex with men who seem to be waking up and running around with a massive erection all the time. And also the sex between women seems to be just to pleasure the guy. It's very.. it's very limiting. It doesn't do it for me. And I'm not saying also that this type of more heteronormative sex should be abolished, but we definitely need to make space to show people that they're and young people that there is different way of approaching sexuality. There are different bodies sizes, for example, that's another thing you get in ethical porn, different body sizes, different colour of skin, different constellations. It could be like just women it could be a group but could be a queer group, could be so many things, so many things. And also, like, I've heard people saying, No, I don't watch porn. I don't like porn. And I don't think they don't like porn. There is a stigma around porn. Because there is just one type of porn which is out there at the moment. And if you create diversity, then everybody can find something that works for them. Something that works for them. It might not even turn you on but it allows to to see that there is different ways of approaching sex, and also to normalise our relationship to sex. So one thing that was really nice with the Uncensored was that they got support for the festival from the Arts Council in the UK. So this recognition that pornography can be seen as having also an artistic function. That was very important because then it allows to normalise. So I'm sure that some people who attended the festival were people that maybe wouldn't have been exposed to this approach to pornography if the festival did not happen and the fact that it was endorsed also by the Arts Council, maybe removed that stigma, you know, and enabled them to try it. There were also workshops happening when they did the festival. I remember attending one on making your own erotic movie run by Jennifer Lyon Bell, who runs this ethical film production company in the Netherlands called Blue Artichoke and the quality of the workshop was excellent. And also like people were not just in the sort of passive spectator role, but they could also have a more hands on approach.
LP How did that work? This hands on approach.
MP Basically in the same way you would do a workshop around writing a mini script for a short for a film, but around something erotic. I remember we were invited to think about a story and then create like a sort of storyline. And then we're working in groups to sort of test out the how this was flowing. So there was a collaborative element in sort of pinning down your your story, the story you wanted to tell. And it was a different experience also approaching porn. Because there was this sense of arousal, by creating your own stories. What I really enjoyed about the open call, the fact that people came and look at the final screening but also people were able to create their own things. We were open both to amateur and professional filmmaker. And so that's a different experience, made it very beautiful, it was very enriching.
LP The brain is the largest erogenous zone.
MP Also there are studies showing that sometimes the neural pathways that measure arousal, they basically get more lit up sometimes when you imagine something. They control of that imagination flow, more than actually when you're in the action of doing it. For example, it was around sex that sometimes you know, if I was thinking about the fantasy, and then they were measuring my brainwaves, and then you do it actually, when you are fantasising about it, your level of arousal is even higher. So I find it quite fascinating. It's like, it opens a whole new realm of possibilities.
LP Yeah, I'm just thinking of ways that I've been self stimulated through a lot of this kind of imaginative scenarios, speculative things that aren't even happening, but the thought of them is almost more exciting than the thing when it happens. It's the build up.
MP The an-tic-i-pa-tion
LP Earlier, at the beginning of the talk, you were saying a lot about performance art based inspiration, tools, techniques of the more recent sex positive scene that you've found yourself in. I think you kind of opposed it from your London experience - more of a kind of group sex, verbal-based consent structure around exploring a more open form to sexuality. Tell me more about those techniques. And I'd love to hear what the really changing ones have been for you.
MP First of all, I would like to clarify that when I talk about this performative element it's more in terms of embodied performance. So it's not the type of acting that you would do when you are acting in a theatre per se. So it's an embodied way of using these, these performance tools.
LP Yeah, it makes me think of things like warmup exercises from dance for coming into your body before you get into something like choreography or more technical kinds of things.
LP I'm thinking of Body Mind Centering, for example, or Feldenkreis.
LP So the place where you find your articulation of the bodily expression through what's inside is, as opposed to reenacting something you've seen before.
MP Absolutely a way of approaching performance, where you are not performing something from a conscious place but most of the performance comes to you in a sense. Some of the things I've been exploring lately, are very much around the notion of psychomagic from Jodorowsky, this idea of creating sort of a symbolism a scene or something like that. And through this embodied performance, which can be almost a trance like place. Then you can make sense of your reality. You can process stuff, establish a different way of interacting with the other person. And I also do that combining movement, breathing technique, and also some roleplay. And very often on top of this symbolism. Some of the tools you can find in the conscious kink communities. So you could maybe use pain or impact play as part of that.
LP That's really interesting. Could you give an example of how you've used one of these techniques for yourself?
MP I was going through a period of processing some very deep grief for the loss of someone. I decided to set an intention and have a session of mummification. It was a cathartic process. Was a way to be with what I was feeling and to let go of it. So there is very much this element of using conscious kink to using pain and using performance to work through your own stuff. To process your own stuff. To grow and to establish a different way of relating to different human beings.
LP How does your physical state relate to your mental state during and after such an experience?
MP So the way i can describe it is if you were having a psychedelic experience in those contexts I almost feel that the ego, the person who me, Maria, born in Italy, and has got this age and this female gender and all this type of thing almost becomes secondary. And there is this much more profound way which touches some subconscious element through which you can express yourself and relate to other people. And it's quite a fascinating process with that, because you can set an intention and time and the time is something very specific. Okay, I'm gonna try this kink thing to get there. Or maybe sometimes you've got your own scene. I do use these tools by myself, I basically am in that space where I'm trying to connect with myself and quieten the mind and then something happens. Recently, I was working with this very interesting artist, conceptual artist, called Rocio Bolivar from Mexico. She does lots of work around body art, conceptual work, and using also pain to sort of embody even more. Transmit whatever emotion you want to transmit to your audience. So I was having a conversation with her and trying to explain what was happening for me, in those moments where I was doing exploration. And they were saying it's an epiphany. She's like, no, she calls it epiphenomenal, in Spanish. So there is a name for that.
LP Yeah, you showed me a bit of Rocio's work, sent me a link. And I really, really appreciate. Felt so deeply for the way that she works with ugliness. A very counter normative take on the body like showing unflattering, by conventional standards, unflattering angles. Parts of the body, that if you were in a mainstream construct, you would not want to see, that you would edit out, that you would Photoshop away. And these are almost at the front and centre of a lot of her work. And on top of that, coming from this place in her work... she was a movie star?
MP She was working for the Mexican TV. She was a presenter, doing quite well with her work in Mexican TV. She she was also doing her art on the side, her conceptual art, and performances. And then she found herself in a place where she either had to drop performance art and continue with her career, or give up her career as a presenter. And so of course, as we've seen, she opted to stick to performance art. And she's been doing that for the last 30 years.
LP I find that so inspiring the way that she is embracing her ageing, like looking at the female body as it ages. Which is generally something that you know, we don't do. As we were saying earlier with mainstream porn especially. What an attractive body is, what a body worth looking at, what a body worthy of being considered sexual and sexually appealing is... it's so caged and in the way that she works you see
LP an ageing body in a way that we normally don't see it. We put it away, we put into a closet and we say oh, you know, your time has passed.
MP Yes, yes, yes, yes. And I think, especially this work around ageing, with La Concurada de ouba, that's how she got the name, the art name, I think some of the most interesting. But she's done a lot of performances and I'm still sort of delving into exploring all the works done because I mean, over 30 years, you do quite a bit, but whatever stuff I've watched from her, it's incredible. There was one which I'm trying to remember the title for that was looking at romantic relationships, but the conventional one which comes with all the codependency and unhealthy attachment patterns, but she does it through all cheesy conceptual art to the very, extremely embodied performance and is incredible, she, she's capable in the same project to make you laugh. But also like by the end, you're just like holding on your seat and you're really feeling urbane I think it's called the sea anemone and the hermit crab. And I can't remember the name of the other artists she worked with on that one, but they start like you know, like a couple. And it's all fluffy and you know, there are balloons and they give each other presents and then the whole thing starts. Seeing the power dynamics played. And because she uses pain in the her performance it ends with her putting hooks on her body. And the other artist working with her is wearing almost this fetish bracelets and belt. There are hooks on there as well and they are joined by this fish line. The end of the performance is very much this game of push and pull. As they are separating and as they're doing that and she goes for freedom. You can see of course, the hook's tearing. First you start seeing blood and then tearing skin and you really feel the pain. And I found it an extremely powerful performance. I've only seen the video, it was years back she that she did that in Los Angeles. I think it was for Saint Valentine that day. But the performance is like, and you really feel it. It's like a universal way of communicating the message. I really think with body art, when you use the pain where you can actually see the physicality of it, the way you perceive the motion is enhanced, and it becomes all of a sudden also like this universal story. Like I've been in those relationships with codependence and I've been to breakups, which have been extremely messy and painful. And there there was the symbolism that this relationship completely like destroy you. And you're destroyed by the end. It's very difficult this process of leaving, but it's necessary. And then from there, you're healed, and you grow up, and you can embrace life with learning you get from that relationship. I mean, that performance is... just thinking about it I'm getting goosebumps. I mean, there is yeah, there's this sort of really, I don't know if you know, the ne me quitte pas, the French song (singing) "ne me quitte pas"
LP Jacques Brel.
MP Exactly! And then there is the the other artist, basically just reciting the lyrics of the song. So imagine this push and pull and in going like (singing) "ne me quitte pas, je veux etre ton chien!" and you're like (gasp) so powerful, so powerful. I absolutely love her work. And it's been an extremely inspirational, humbling almost experience to collaborate with her recently for an art video. And actually, yes, that's that I would like to mention, that's going to be part of an exhibition that they're going to do at the ICA at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, and is part of this exhibition called Last Breath Society. I think it's called, by Martin O'Brien. And so there are going to be like loads of artists, and this is going to be May, I'm still not sure about the exact date and in Covid times everything is up in the air until the last minute but the intention is to have the exhibition in May.
LP Last Beath Society, you said.
MP Last Breath Society. Yeah.
LP So do you feel like seeing so much through her gaze recently, how she looks at dynamics of codependency and the female body starting to age, that it has an effect on the way that you perceive yourself, the way that you look at yourself?
MP I mean, it's been for me,to have this encounter with an artist, with an older woman who is living a lifestyle that aligns very much with the way I'm living my life at the moment, with somebody that I spend a lot of time reflecting on, researching and using it in performance... concepts that I'm barely discovering, it's been like, absolutely inspiring. I feel much more comfortable in the way I'm living my life, less alone. And I feel like there is somebody I can learn from as well. You know, if you're trying something very DIY, sometimes I do my things, and I'm like, "oh, maybe I'm losing my mind". You know, there are always those moments where you're like, maybe I'm pushing things too far. And then to realise that you're not alone. And other people have been doing similar exploration and they've actually put name to those things you've been experiencing. And, and also like the fact that I'm always behind the scene, and her work is very much putting yourself out there. I mean, she also comes from Mexico, Mexico is like southern Italy is very traditional, very conservative. And so putting your yourself in forefront doing this type of radical work. And then because of her also, like realise that there is a whole, a whole new realm which I had not tapped into yet of body art and other performance performers doing super interesting work using the body as the central element of the performance. Another one, very interesting, I've come across is called Fakir Musafar. And he inspires himself very much to rituals that were used, involving pain, that were used by the Native Americans as sort of a spiritual practice. And I found this work extremely interesting as well.
MP There was this one that was probably the most challenging maybe to watch which is 'Decendance' and which is essentially putting hooks in your body and and then hanging from those hooks and you hang from those hooks. So you pull on those hooks basically and you keep on doing this sort of push and pull thing. You're going into sort of trance like state until the skin rips off, essentially. So you got this hook and you go push and pull and push and pull. And it's almost it's rocking until the skin breaks. And that used to be used as a ritualistic practice as a spiritual practice. And it's also the other element which comes up strongly. So I have been engaging with some people very close to me. And also how I'm approaching my exploration of intimacy. Ritual is very important. So for me at the moment, I think the way I want to relate to intimacy is to explore in a ritualistic way. And I've been experimenting that with some people, we unlock an amazing, an amazing experience and amazing learning curve. Every experience, if you create a container with a ritual, and you don't go with the expectation in an encounter an intimate encounter with someone, it's incredible, the wealth and the diversity and the possibilities that you will explore in the realm of intimacy, even with the most unlikely sort of constellation. So another thing which is becoming extremely important in my life at the moment is using the ritual, something I rejected for a long time, because my understanding was, rituals is something that they do in religion, right? What you do in church, and you do the prayer, and you read the thing, and you do the communion, and you do the, whatever things they do. I mean, I'm drawing now from Christian Catholic religion, because it's what I was exposed to. And so in order to free myself from that, I became extremely rational and a fervent atheist and all these type of things, right. But that meant also that I was giving up things which actually are useful if you just remove them from the religious context, and you appropriate them for what you need. That sense of grounding. I celebrating the coming of spring, by doing my own ritual by myself. Spent a whole night doing creative stuff - movement and breathing and writing and dancing and all of that. But I don't like celebrating Christmas, I don't like to celebrate all of these festivities. But I do you think is important to have some milestones, I'm using seasons now, but you could use anything and then also to create a container of the ritual for what you do is, I think it makes the experience much more present. And then it allows you also to bring lots of symbolism in it. So it's almost as a sort of witchcraft in a sense. You try to process things and make meaning of things in a way which transcends the simple rationalisation, which is also what's happened for me in conscious kink dynamics. At times, you go through an experience, something shifts within you, and you are not quite sure what is it. And then after that there is sort of the intellectual understanding of what happened. Rather than just approaching it, trying to unlock it, just with reason you use your symbolism, you try to tap into the subconscious. You feel it in your body and then from there you can, yeah, rationalise it. Then understand it from a point of reason as well. It's almost like a shortcut. I think if you feel things through your body, using rituals using symbols, then it's a faster way to get where you want to get to where you need to get. I mean, we are made by the conscious part and subconscious part and we are a rational brain but we are also body. And then there is very much these many things in society, this duality, these oppositions. This versus the other. And actually, we're just part of the whole thing. So if you work with both sides, as if they were one, then it's more efficient. Let's put it this way. It's more efficient, it's more enjoyable and it's faster, I find it faster. Sometimes in one ritual or in one sort of conscious kink exchange, I feel like I, I go through so much stuff that probably would take six months to a year of intensive psychotherapy to get to a similar place.
LP I hear you. Sometimes I feel like I've had many lives within the span of just a few days when I've been focusing really intensely on this kind of stuff. Or one evening can feel like a week of experiences or a month.
MP Exactly. The many lives. What's happening for me really in life is like I come across some sort of observations. And then I sort of find the theory in hindsigt to support what I've been experiencing and then feeling more enabled to keep on exploring whatever I come across, essentially. So that's what's happening with me now with all this process. When I started doing these things I didn't know about Rocio's work and didn't know about this concept of Epiphenomenon and I didn't know about the psychomagic of Jodorowsky. These things started happening. And this process is probably as a result of all the other tools I've been experimenting with and probably because of relating to people who had a certain openness as well for these things to happen. Yeah, that enabled me to say, hey, there is this other way of exploring my sense of reality, and process whatever is happening for me.
LP This episode has got me thinking a lot about the complexities of consent and representation of people whose colours and desires are drowned in hegemonic mainstreamed environments. We're living with complex rhetoric and realities from the Metoo movement, Black Lives Matter and Asian hate. These are issues I'll be getting into in future episodes. Let's talk about consent. Let's talk about sexual racism. Join me, represent. Not Your Narrative is produced and hosted by me, Liv Phoinix. Music by John Abbott, Autonomic Sensations and Van Sandano. Art Direction by Ayoto Ataraxia.
Click here for the full hour of audio on Spotify