To date, there’s been a strange disregard for BDSM and sadomasochism as a legitimate subject in institutional settings. That something so rich with potential for exploring the depths of the human condition and the systems that govern us should be ignored, says a lot about the conservatism of cultural organisations that depend on public funding. That’s not mentioning our own social conditioning and the prejudices they perpetuate, both consciously and subconsciously, even in a city like Berlin. That’s why Creamcake‘s 3hd 2021: ‘Power Play‘—now under way and running to October 31—is such an interesting proposition.
Featuring artists from the organiser’s online and interdisciplinary milieu, the month-long festival brings art, music, performance and film from the likes of Peaches, No Bra, and CHRISTEENE; Federica Dauri & Hermes Pittakos, Elle Pérez and Jacolby Satterwhite to venues across the German capital. Here, participants share their individual takes on erotic practices and role play around bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and beyond. There’s Gestalta and Dasniya Sommer‘s shibari performance activations for the ‘In Excess‘ group exhibition, where Steven Harwick‘s voyeuristic ‘RAWHiDE‘ installation also presents peepholes into intimate space. Artist, writer and dominatrix Reba Maybury‘s ‘Violation Mirrors’ turns that gaze back on her audience. Vika Kirchenbauer explores tickle torture as an analogy for the art world, and Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings interrogate exclusion and discrimination in male-only social and sex spaces. Meanwhile, Sacred Sadism questions consensual-non-consent within paternalistic human intervention on natural environments and organisms with a conceptual butt plug. As co-founder Genevieve Belleveau once told AQNB in an interview about the ecofetishist art and research project’s charming bait-and-switch aesthetics, “All I know is it does something to people where they recognize something, either in themselves or outside of themselves, that they didn’t recognize before.”
There’s another element to the timeliness of 3hd’s ‘Power Play’, at a point of rapid gentrification that’s slowly killing the city’s famous club and the sex culture. Setting up the ‘In Excess’ exhibition and temporary headquarters at the disused toy store of Park Center Treptow in southeast Berlin, it not only repurposes the commercial space’s original G-rated use to one of adults-only content, but it places itself at the centre of a debate about the role of art in triggering ‘urban renewal’. By “staying with the trouble”, so to speak, the program and its artists address difficulty and dilemma by boldly confronting challenging public discourse head on. Keioui Keijaun Thomas investigates entangled histories of labor, subjugation, and resistance for black and brown people as part of the ‘Psychodrama‘ performance evening on October 7, while FlucT’s intensely physical performances link popular culture with the violence of capital as part of ‘Switching Sides‘ on October 9. Later in the month, Young Boy Dancing Group founding member Maria Metsalu reimagines the witnessing gaze of the audience as one which has become clinical for ‘Harnessing Control‘ on October 23.
At the same time, you’ll notice that the promotion around 3hd 2021: ‘Power Play’ is replete with puns, euphemisms and double entendres. Creamcake are wise to avoid being too explicit with the language and imagery around their program, being forced to moderate their kinky intentions so as to avoid being flagged by online platforms. As Cristine Brache told writer Claudia Tilley for an AQNB essay on a culture of compliance perpetuated by ‘shadow bans’ on Instagram, “I can’t comment on how that affects my engagement other than I’ve successfully been censored by censoring my own behaviour”. The artist, filmmaker and poet presents her video in the ‘Garden of Eden‘ film program at Berlinische Galerie, where Brache’s interest in codified behaviour as a survival mechanism comes through on ‘Sequence 02 1’, along with other work by Lu Yang, SPIT (aka Marta Orlando, Clémentine Roy and Natasja Loutchko) and others.
Addressing BDSM and kink as a subject is complicated. Not only is it blighted by cultural stigma, surveillance and censorship, the choice of such a bodily subject is a particularly brave right now, where there is a lot of anxiety and taboo wrapped up in physical contact. But it’s for this very reason that the theme of ‘Power Play’ is so exciting. Never—in recent history, at least—has the body been so universally feared and our internal lives so regulated by social media’s ‘Terms of Service’. At a time when we’re being led to be even more online than ever, 3hd 2021: ‘Power Play’ asks us to step outside and away from the algorithm.**