ExA 2019 in Review: Sarah Sudhoff
February 22, 2019
A pure technologist would have been puzzled if it had walked in on Wired 2.0, a performance during Experimental Action 2019.
A woman sat on stage in a stylish sleeveless, black dress and black high heels with her legs spread. Perched on a tripod, a camera aims at her crotch. To her right, projected on a screen was a thermal image of her crotch. The blue-orange-red-yellow shapes undulated over an image of her inner thighs. A readout of her temperature was superimposed upon the image. In a column to the right, a series of line graphs fluctuated wildly. These graphs reported the subject’s biological responses, which were captured from internal sensors. At least one of the sensors, the subject reported, was inserted in her vagina.
The subject asked for volunteers from the audience. One read from a book of erotica to her. Another showed her pornographic pictures from a set of books and instruments placed on a small table. A third selected a sex toy and then ran it along her bare bicep. Someone ran their fingers through her hair. One woman spanked another with a riding crop. A couple engaged in fellatio at her feet.
During the entire period, the subject and artist, Sarah Sudhoff, sat still. Her composure was calm, even placid as the screen belied her physical responses to the stimuli. When she spoke to make a request, or to educate the audience about the fluctuations on the screen, her tone was flat, detached, almost clinical. Her temperature increased and decreased. The colors that indicated intensity expanded as the piece ran its course.
Although the title may seem somewhat deceiving, after all Wired (https://www.wired.com/) is a popular technology and cultural magazine and website, it’s perfectly aligned with Sudhoff’s body of work/art. She merges science, personal experience, and metaphor to make her art. Many of her performances become a culmination of her practice rather than a result. Wired 2.0 came from her interest in the cultural expectation that women (from prepubescent girls to geriatric women) should suppress their sexual feelings and reactions. She collaborated with renowned sexual biotechnology researcher Dr. Nicole Prause. Together, they explored the cultural and biological signifiers of arousal. Sudhoff noted that culturally women are trained to suppress their sexuality and any signs of their arousal. Many women have mastered this technique to the point that they themselves have sublimated their sexual response and become consciously unaware of their physiological responses. The Wired 2.0 performance elucidates this battle between conscious repression and subconscious, physical response.
With the assistance of Dr. Prause, Wired 2.0 visually data mapped Sudhoff’s sexual arousal. As the audience tried to turn her on in the pre-prescribed methods using tools, text, and instructions provided by the artist, Sudhoff maintained the calm demeanor that polite society requires of a woman as it assaults them with sexual imagery and innuendos in the attempt to sell them everything from diet soda to website hosting.
The piece ended not in a bang of physiological fireworks, but in the quiet of the clock running out as the audience ran through all of the prompts. No one climaxed. (At least if they did they had the Puritan decency to suppress the outward appearance of their personal ecstasy.) However, no one walked away completely un-aroused either by the idea or innuendos of the performance.
Most of all, there was empirical evidence that the artist is titillated.