Let's leave the lights on and keep our eyes shut

30 Jan 2014 Alex de Vries

When we talk about love, lust and desire, every word is receptive to a play on words. An artist asking you to 'take care of their opening,' immediately triggers the mind.

The lustful people among us like to leave the lights on during lovemaking in an attempt not to miss out on any of the stimulating and exciting things to see, but as soon as the first passionate kiss is exchanged they close their eyes. As you engage in the act, you imagine something between you and your lover that is invisible, but is nevertheless overwhelmingly there. You immerse yourself in it. The lights have to be on to ascertain yourself of the fact that you're still there, not in your own body, but in your lover's. You have to surrender to eroticism, forget time and space, leave the moment and leave yourself. Before you engage it seems and impossibility, afterwards it seems like it never happened. Right before and right after lovemaking you're on your own and during the act you only exist in the other.

Art that talks about love, lust and desire is tricky, because it easily ends up being embarrassing. There's a lot that represents ultimate intimacy between two lovers that triggers the biggest disgust outside the realms of that intimacy. Eroticism and sex in art are some of the motifs that can be decisive for the quality of one's artistry. When the fascination for physical lust is proportional to the sincere depiction of it, the art can be superior. The ratio between the artist and the artwork has to be a one on one representation of what the artist feels for his or her lover. The most important aspect in that relation is the mystery of the physicality that both parties can't seem to resist. That physicality is also a matter of the mind, triggered by every physical curiosity. At the same time, physical surrendering is a complete fusion of what you can feel for the other and rational thoughts have no place in that process. In the artwork, emotions have to rule but an work doesn't come into existence without making compositional considerations, form and colour choices, without determining the motif, the concept and execution. In the end, the viewer's rational observations have to be surpassed by that representation of love. A great artwork plays with the senses, makes you surrender to them, just like physical love can do.

Chantal Breukers, En soms begrijp ik alles

Paul de Reus, Making Love, 2006
Paul de Reus, Making Love, 2006

Explicitly erotic work dealing with physical love has remained almost completely hidden in the arts. For some reason, human expressions of love are only meant to be exposed to a certain degree. That might be because a public display of love easily turns into something mechanical and shocking, as is the case with commercial pornography. That doesn't mean porn can't be exciting or arousing, but it can have a sobering and disastrous influence on the libido. This is not the case when it comes to depicting eroticism in art, because it's never simulated and is focused on the personal relation between the artist and his sensuality. Those works can expose the most awful aberrations, nevertheless irresistible in their image language. Most art works aren't explicitly sexual. If they are, they posses a matter-of-factness that can't possibly be offensive, even though there always moral crusaders offended by every genital suggestion.

In the art works that are on show in the exhibition '1001 nights, stories of Eros' we encounter the love-god in all kinds of shapes and forms: as a mythological figure, as a Biblical seduction, as character from a fairy tale, a fantasy image, as a stereotype, an invention, an everyday figure, as a perfect image, a copulation, a symbol, as 'the beast with two spines, happily rubbing each others fat' like Rabelais described him in 'Gargantua and Pantagruel,' and so on. Besides careless erotic pleasures, we see other aspects of the game love, before and after the deed. All kinds of feelings that shouldn't matter come to the surface: regret, remorse, penitence and guilt. It remains curious that to be overwhelmed by lust, to be completely focused on fulfilling one's own euphoria, seems to temporarily cancel out all of these considerations. If you don't want to be pained by them, you shouldn't get involved, but we do it anyway, despite ourselves. We can see the consequences beforehand, but they play no part during lovemaking.

We see all kinds of expressions of erotic idyll in these art works, but in reality it's never as harmless as these representations want us to believe. In the background we see sociological, politic, historic, religious, ethical, economic and philosophic possibilities and impossibilities regarding physical love. All those aspects are barriers in experiencing eroticism as a selfless love game that is not about delivering a performance for which you receive something in return, but revolves around an exchange of caresses that are given and received with equal amounts of selflessness and find their gratification exactly there.

Eroticism escapes the fleeting moment, just like art aims to be timelessness, surpass years, if possible eternity. We find ourselves captured by a longing that can only be satisfied momentarily. It is the liberation of seduction that strands on the coast of irresistible lust. But when we don't surrender to an erotic carnival, like an explosion of Patrick Süsskind's perfume, we take pleasure from the depictions of the stories of Eros, on a day hardly worth leaving your bed for, a day better spent inside with your lover, immersing yourselves in oblivion and forgetfulness. 

Willem de Lange, Zondeval
Willem de Lange, Zondeval

Toine Moerbeek,  De Madonna van het varken
Toine Moerbeek, Bruid en Muze

Jans Muskee,  De mooiste dag van zijn leven
Jans Muskee, De mooiste dag van zijn leven

This text was written by Alex de Vries on behalf of the exhibition '1001 nacht, vertellingen van Eros. Een tentoonstelling over liefde, lust en verlangen' (1001 nights, stories of Eros. An exhibition about love, lust and desire') in De Boterhal in Hoorn. For more information: visit the website of De Boterhal.