Pornography panel speaker profile: Sarah Harman
December 6, 2012
Issue 9 | December 2012
December 8, 2012


By Diarmuid Hester


This Saturday, 8th of December at 2pm One+One: Filmmakers Journal with the London Underground Film Festival presents “New Adventures in Pornography,” a screening and roundtable discussion on contemporary theories of the pornographic. All this week we’ve been finding out about our speakers and asking them a few questions. To irreverently recap: we began on Tuesday with Dominic Fox, illegitimate love child of Andrea Dworkin and Alain Badiou; on Wednesday Alex Dymock enigmatically characterized porn’s best and worst qualities as “a hyperreal camouflage for the realities of desire, its associated responsibilities and consequences”; and yesterday we profiled Sarah Harman who, it seems, has a penchant for the porn parody. And who would blame her.
In the last of our profiles, we speak with Frances Hatherley, who’s writing a PhD at Birkbeck on grotesque, formless and sublime femininities in contemporary art and visual culture. She has published work on surrealism and the subversive female grotesques of Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet and David and Al Maysles’ Grey Gardens, and is planning a book on representations of class and corpulence in visual culture. She also runs a blog called The Red Deeps where she talks about her work and (prolifically) writes articles on topics as varied as Billy Liar, Marina Abramović and Paris is Burning. Frances’ doctoral research seems to attempt a critical engagement with notions like ugliness and the grotesque as they circulate within contemporary visual art and art criticism, and as they orbit representations of femininity in particular. Her writing on the blog is provocative and super fucking smart, funambulating between affirmation and critique and tethering her ruminations to critical analyses of the work of artists like Jenny Saville and Melanie Manchot. Her research, she says “is concerned with art works which attempt the negation of the negation of the Western beauty standard; with images that transcend the often misogynistic presentation of the ugly woman, through a subversive, transgressive representation of bodily abundance that could provoke delight and visual pleasure for all.” We cannot wait to read more.


One+One: What is pornography?
Frances Hatherley: In terms of popular mainstream porn, it is a strange mix of opposites: something really happening that is also a fiction; unsexy sex; something that’s actually messy being represented clinically, but with added bursts of surplus “mess”…in the wrong place.
One+One: The worst thing about porn is…
FH: It doesn’t seem like it is really for us – that being all of us. It creates a false language and codes that, when you don’t speak them, or you refuse to, is disappointing on both sides; but perhaps that is something people grow out of. Again, speaking of young people, I think porn teaches or illustrates the general mechanics of sex; but what it includes is often unhelpful, and what is leaves out is usually the most fun or interesting things about sex.
One+One: The best thing about porn is…
FH: Pornography put in the service of things other than wanking can be interesting. Porn in the service of obscenity, profanity, subversion and transgression can be interesting, say in the case of the Marquis de Sade or Georges Bataille. The “unshowable” is still ultimately…unshowable – but most pop-porn isn’t interested in that in any case. I think a “best” porn has yet to be created – maybe we aren’t ready for it yet. Perhaps when real equality between genders and sexualities happens, then we’ll arrive at something resembling something I could call the “best”.
One+One: Who’s your favourite porn star?
FH: I don’t have one! My favourite real sex scene in a film is the two old ladies in Nitrate Kisses [above]. They look like they are *really* enjoying themselves and each other! Also, the fact of their age adds to the frisson: it’s exciting to see something you’ve never seen before, and two women in their 60’s/70’s who are so clearly enraptured by each other, who are not ‘watching themselves being watched’, is incredibly erotic, touching and sweet.
One+One: Who’s your favourite porn theorist? 
FH: Firstly my divorced parents of porn-theory: Angela Carter and Andrea Dworkin – they don’t get along but I love them both equally. Then, Linda Williams, Laura U. Marks, Nina Power and of course Dominic Fox!


Come to see Frances and our other speakers tomorrow, 2pm sharp at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury. Tickets are £5 on the door.