The original printer for Dark Habits refused the manuscript for this publication, writing furiously to the designer on receipt of the text, claiming that they were not prepared to expose their staff to the allegedly obscene contents of the publication. Luckily, an alternative printer was found. Ironically, too, this publication has been produced in tandem with the La Movida exhibition at Manchester’s HOME exhibition celebrating 40 years since the abolition of censorship in post-Franco Spain. It seems that censorship is alive and well in England.
La Movida was a culture-led movement, during the 1980s, in which excess, nightlife, drugs, art, pornography and sexual freedom all collided. Taking inspiration from the show and the artistic revolution at large, 19 contributors, including Oreet Ashery, Chantal Faust, Omar Kholeif, and Heather Phillipson, explore hedonism and transgression through short stories, poetry, experimental writing, and flash fiction. As Sarah Perks writes in her introduction to the book, “in these dark times, we might need even darker habits.”
HOME’s publishing team have upheld their dedication to challenging and re-positioning the traditional exhibition catalogue format with another that operates as an artwork and commission in its own right. Dark Habits is named after the Almodóvar film of the same name. The Spanish auteur’s movie follows the story of a nightclub singer who seeks refuge with a group of drug-taking, Sapphic nuns in Madrid. The nuns smoke, take heroin, write pornography, and shelter wild tigers. In her text, Mercedes Cebrián shows us a different, rebellious side to nuns who taught her at school: “Something rebellious happened amongst the reverend sisters: they decided to take off their wimples.”
A sense of time and history is halted. Through archival newspaper cuttings, Marissa Burgess re-enacts the stories of four women in Southwick in the 1880s, arrested for their public lasciviousness and sexual appetite. The stories naturally say much more about men’s hypocrisy and opinion of women, than it does about their actions. “He discovered the accused with her skirts up revealing her buttocks ‘to the world’ and the vicar, still wearing his dog collar, apparently ‘taking her from behind’.” Fast forward to the present day, Anne Louise Kershaw also uses fragments of text, instead to portray a couple of months in a contemporary artist’s life, using screenshots from Facebook statuses, text message conversations, hashtags, and quotes from meme websites. “Woken up with epic wanderlust. Want to go to Paris. Or Berlin. Yes gonna go to Berlin! #nomoney #fuckit #offigo.”
Two ‘Untitled’ works from Esther Teichmann’s 2015 ‘Mondschwimmen’ series stand out at the centre of the book. Teichmann’s striking black and white images – one depicting a seaweed whip, the other of a woman’s naked back draped in seaweed, wrapped across her flank like moist, leathery lashes – are accompanied by a text from Chantal Faust about the ‘masochistic pulse’. “She appears to be quite comfortably cocooned in this belting embrace, perhaps she has fallen asleep. The lick of seaweed is soft, familiar, knowing. It grasps her completely.” Desire is staged, before and after, pleasure and pain interlinking. Jonathan Kemp takes this further, painting a visceral, tangible portrait of a night at the sex club ‘The Palace of Wisdom’. “Troping and tripping through this rhizomatic maze of flesh.”
La JohnJoseph’s conjuration of ‘2D Joan’ is a highlight. Like a character that could have walked straight out of British feminist novelist Angela Carter’s Nights of the Circus, Joan is a silent movie star, particularly famed and desired for her ‘Rubenesque’ figure. Joan talks the reader through her celebrity status, her affair with the lesbian separatist and ‘sodomist zionist’ Brittany Bryan, and her previous sex work selling ‘bottles of piss to male models’. Joan’s straight-talking combines much of the issues at stake in Dark Habits. “There’s no difference really … between being an artiste and being a high class call girl. It’s the same arseholes you’ve got to please at the end of the day.” **