with text by Kate Meakin
30 March - 20 April 2018
Documentary, perhaps like dreaming, can be a form where the director implicitly reveals something about themselves by focusing on another subject. Erotic stories are often driven by the idea of boundaries that exist between two individuals suddenly becoming erased – individuals pushing fear, shame and inhibition aside. Two characters uncover their own desires through the vehicle of initiating sex with the other’s body. In some cases for this to happen, the introduction of a simulated boundary, such as a blindfold, needs to be introduced. An effective dramatic performance, perhaps like an affective erotic encounter, could be said to hinge on the establishment of connections between the drives & desires of disparate bodies - the actor, their character, the director.
The players of Claudia and Yash seem to experience jouissance not during their character’s love scene as 80 Ways would hope, but through their mutual relief at the performance’s closure. The most genuine connection seems to occur between the ‘lovers’ when the blindfold is removed from Claudia’s face, allowing her and Yash to share a post-coital eruption of laughter – their giggles more enthused than the shots of Yash’s hands flatly stroking Claudia’s legs - which he was instructed to ‘devour;’ kisses planted politely across her neck as if to avoid her mouth. The boundary line they drew before the scene was enacted has not been crossed – they could touch each other “anywhere but the personal parts.”
So if the actors can’t make each other cum for the camera, where can we find climax in this film? Perhaps we need first to establish its plot.
Sandy At first it was just about sex… but then [I realised] Claudia actually collects secrets from these people… Everyone has something they’re not confident about. It’s about making stories that people can actually relate to…
In 80 Ways, Ella silently watches her mother explain this to the actors portraying Claudia and Yash before the shoot commences. Ella discovered a secret at age 15 – a blog her mother authored under the pseudonym Sandy Mayflower (sourced in the conventional ‘porn-name’ tradition of combining the names of your first pet and residential street) that chronicled the adventures of Claudia. Claudia is a British environmental engineer/female Casanova who, in her international travels working on a multinational water conservation project, pursues sexual encounters with different men on every continent she visits.
For the first self-directed film project of her MFA documentary course Ella chose her mother as her subject, inviting her to make her very own directorial debut in adapting one of Claudia’s chapters for the screen.
Ella What did you think when I told you that I’d read your erotica when I was about 15?
Sandy Totally embarrassed and somewhat devastated. Really, really exposed. Even though not all of the things in my stories have I done or want to do, or need to do, but I’ve obviously thought about these things and you’re now reading them.
Ella I mean, you definitely set it up for me to find and read your stories…
Sandy How did I do that?
Ella Well you did ask me to direct your promotional video.
Sandy Oh yeah, it might’ve slipped out then. How did you feel when you first read my stories?
Ella I was very unsurprised when I found out that you were now writing erotic fiction. Your hobbies were always unusual. Drawing nudes, taking photos of nudes…
Sandy A bit of a theme there. I did have other hobbies darling… mosaics, ukulele…
Ella I was unsurprised when I discovered this new hobby of yours, but nothing could prepare me for actually reading your stories. I could never imagine how graphic they would be, or that you even knew some of those words. You taught me a lot of words. Nobody ever thinks their mother has these fantasies, but of course, most mothers do. I knew that you’d had sex and thought about sex, but reading your stories made that very real.
At the age of 10 I kept a treasured private notebook, it had a holographic cover patterned with flowers and butterflies and a Velcro seal. Playing with a friend one day we drew a series of disembodied penises and vaginas across several of its pages –genitals separate, together, decorated with flowers and stars. It had a calendar section where she wrote ‘this is the day you’ll get fucked’ on one date, and ‘my dogs dicks birthday’ on another (the actual birthday of her pet dog.) My mother later found and read the notebook and furiously questioned me about the meaning behind the illicit events scheduled. “Lilly did it” I coyly replied, afraid of owning up to something naughty.
You’re always the director of your own dreams but you don’t know it at the time – the script is often drafted from the unspoken desires of the previous day. If a dream is a film directed by our unconscious, perhaps a fantasy is a film directed by our ego/ auteur. Translating the vivid internal projections of our fantasies into equally enticing anecdotes is a difficult task – though a narrative thread might be present, the euphoric stream of endorphins one experiences during its conception is impossible to translate into words. The desire for fulfilment of one’s fantasies does not just apply to sex in this film, it applies most explicitly to art making. Throughout her life it seems Ella has been treated to watching her mother move through different art forms, hobbies, and partners even. The transience of these activities may have gifted Ella with the notion that sex and identity are always in formation – that once you discover what you desire, you also discover that you can discover new desires, make new conquests, find new ways of expressing a body in motion.
I experienced recurring dreams about pregnancy when I began my tertiary education at art school – I interpret this as my 18 year old unconscious murmuring to me that I was ready to create a new life for myself. I would dream of holding my baby bump in anticipation and fear – taking the potential of a life in my hands. Years later I shared with a friend some exciting news about an exhibition opportunity. That evening she dreamt of walking through a museum after-hours, where she discovered me regally standing amongst paintings with a swollen pregnant bulge.