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Eronostalgija vs Pornivora – Erotic and pornographic discourses in 20 century

Eronostalgija vs Pornivora – Erotic and pornographic discourses in 20 century

A messenger once asked a noble lady, he knew, if she wanted him to deliver some of her letters to her husband, who had been far away from home for a long time serving as the ambassador of their republic. “How can I write to him”, she said, “when he took his pen with him, and left my inkwell dry?” That was a wise and praise worthy answer.

Poggio Bracciolini, Facetiae

The exhibition Erostalgia vs. Pornivora1 is an ambiental photo-installation. The photos belong to the collection of Miloš Jurišić who is a collector and photographer of the Museum of Science and Technology. The photos of anonymous models were taken by an also anonymous photographers from the last decade of the 19th century to the 60s of the 20th century. They were not intended for public distribution but were made for private use. Their function at this exhibition is to illustrate the topic within whose framework it will be, after the introduction, discussed the similarities and differences between erotic and pornographic elements in popular and mass culture of the modern and contemporary age (which inevitably overlap with certain aspects of what (remains) of elite culture).

The photos compose a frieze, that is, an arrow which at one ends points towards a white canvas with a peephole, emblem of (elite) culture, through which one sees the oldest photo from the collection and on the other side towards a digital print of one of the latest photos behind whose peephole the same white canvas is seen but of significantly smaller dimensions. This presentation is intended to show interdependence and the ambivalent, historically contingent relationship between erotica and pornography, as well as the change of cultural mentalities through history. Namely, up to the middle of the 19th century erotic and pornographic elements were not strictly separated and sexually explicit contents were often blended into the cultural idioms of different kind like political satire, religious pamphlets, pedagogical texts, comedies and similar. The sexual explicity in such contexts was not an end to itself but its function could have been to educate, reveal or mock the moral unsuitability of the person in question. With this in mind, it was nevertheless, implicitly, a period in which sexuality was observed through a “peephole” of culture in the narrow and broader sense, that is, through the prism of eros, although it was only in the middle of the 19th century that first attempts were made that the mentioned two fields be separated in such a way that eros was valued as a positive, aesthetic principal but pornos as its darker, anti-aesthetic reverse side. From the end of the sixties of the last century up to the present, it look like that in their mutual competition it was pornography that prevailed and it is through its “peephole” or prism that we observe contemporary (mass) culture. In other words, a sort of inversion has taken place – from the allusive, secretive sexuality or eros controlled by (elite) culture to a marginalized, “secret” culture controlled by an unambiguous sexuality or pornos.

As previously mentioned, up to about the middle of the 19th century, there were no precise criteria for separating the erotic from the pornographic. Thus, every cultural artifact, gesture or work of art that appealed to the senses could have been considered acceptable (e.g. instances when the order of society was turned upside down as during holidays or carnivals) or obscene and pornographic.