In the land of glee and goad, superficiality so thick it comes out the other side, it seems to hide an uncanny human stratum of insecurity; in this land that thirsts and wallows in the physical, Steven Vella’s Black Porn tries to pinch the cheeks.
Held in Shadow Lounge, Paceville, Steven’s photography seems to bask in the loud, pulsating throbs of the local club district. There were two kinds of work: big photographs of floating nudes revisiting the Genesis, that despite being quiet, peaceful pictures manage to co-exist in the flashing and the beats; and small hedonistic polaroids that fit right in the environment, even exult in it.
Floating as if in water, the large nudes have something of the ephemeral in them. The bone-whites figure are tapered off into contorted watery limbs and then blackness. Like mermaids, fish of the neverwhere, the black presses on them, limns them brightly. The connection to the Genesis is perhaps allegory, but in dividing the exhibition in two distinct sections Steven might have managed to make two states co-exist: sexuality in a state of innocence and sexuality in a state of sin. It’s also perhaps a transition, given the experimental quality of the polaroids.
Although I am not interested in the allegorical aspect of the work, the exhibition’s attempt to deal with sexual liberation proved to be praise-worthy. And since one might be dubious about the venue’s viability as an exhibition space, it is worth remembering that for most of us Paceville is just where we experienced sexual liberation, myself included. The venue then becomes a ground for the sexual—as it is for us revellers it also is for the pictures of us in revel, almost inviting a re-enactment. Even the actual models for the photographs were present, literally lying about in poses.
So while the lighting might seem terrible, because of all the reflections, the cacophonous flashing as part of the pictures do make sense. There’s a new layer of reflexivity for both the viewer and the work itself, seeing one’s self, the room, the colours reflected on the photograph; however much you strain the photograph can never be unblemished.
Despite the subject matter of sexuality is not new and I wasn’t much impressed by it per se—the 90s and Nan Goldin are well behind us—it is exciting to see it tackled so explicitly in Malta, even if a little too stereotypically so. The repetitive nature of the polaroids also diminish the effect of rawness, the ‘living in the moment’; the polaroids still end up looking stagey.
Kudos goes to Steven for the subject matter, the use of the venue as stage, and the interactivity, but I hope for sexual liberation to be less exclusive than Shadow Lounge.