Electrotica

I am implicated by Oksana's breasts.My coarse language can't begin to describe her soft beauty. I am looking at a photograph of this woman taken from her torso up. She's nude, laying on her back, looking sideways at the camera with a gaze that utterly melts me, a gaze made of equal parts affection and aloofness. Her auburn hair is swept back. Her light complexion radiates an innocence only sharpened by the snow-white photographer studio backdrop.Underneath this photo is a quote from her: "In my nude work/erotic art I feel a freedom to express myself in a way that is different than any other. It is a challenge not to have clothing, props, etc. to hide behind. In a sense, my body becomes my artistic canvas with which I convey an idea, a thought, a passion, a desire, a fear."A worthy challenge, to be sure. But I'm not going to kid you, dear reader. It is not what Oksana's form conveys that I ultimately appreciate. It is her hooters, her knockers, her jugs.Art? This is pornography that dare not speak its name.Such typifies my relationship with Web erotica -- an affair, like so many others, that begins so naively and yet somehow gets so entangled in conflicting emotions.I was introduced into this arena by Jeff Alexander, who edits LibidoArt (libidoart.com), a biweekly e-zine that reviews Web erotica sites. I knew Alexander through the Pitch Weekly, a Kansas City, Mo., alternative weekly where he works as a production assistant (and for which I used to write). It is the Jan. 21 edition of LibidoArt that featured Oksana's photograph.When Alexander first e-mailed me on the subject, he bordered on the evangelical about his love for erotica and the artists who create it. Here were people who, through photography, painting, writing, or other forms of art, shared their sexuality, their fantasies, themselves. They had a kinder, gentler approach to the body than the clinical fetishization of the average smut mag.In a subsequent phone conversations, Alexander expounds further. These sites, he says, are a breath of fresh air, for it was upon discovering them that he first started to realize his tattered relationship with his own sexuality. As he now sees it, he was-like most of us-victimized by advertising, which "externalizes our natural-born rights to pursue our individual desires." These ads, be they in print or on television, attempt to instill the idea that we need this car or that brand of toothpaste to be sexually attractive. The ads play on our insecurities. We are driven apart by the dollar.It is erotica that reconnects us, Alexander argues. It suggests possibilities beyond the standard sexual narratives handed to us by advertising, or by the porn industry or by Hollywood, for that matter. It speaks of sharing and mystery. It directs sexuality back out into the real world, oozing into regions us prudish Americans don't want it to cross.So I looked around at some of the sites Alexander had mentioned. The best ones seemed to have a dual edge -- both erotic in their own right and wryly commenting on what turns us on. There was Kris Hoglund's surreal treatment of appropriated pornography photos (Surreal Pop Erotica: www.weepingcherry.com/Erotica). There was Heather McKinney Chernik's pinup art of women in gas masks (Gallery Green: www.hmcstudios.com/green).But after enough surfing, the old questions started haunting me -- the same ones that guilt-trip any average, somewhat sensitive modern male leafing through a copy of Playboy: Isn't this the same sort of objectification (and perhaps exploitation) of the body that ultimately drives the sexes apart rather than brings them together? Doesn't erotica ultimately alienate us from intimacy by setting up false ideals? And while the artists may be concerned about matters of technique or form, their audience's enjoyment of the work may not be so abstract?Then again, am I just too uptight to enjoy a nice pair when I see them?I ask illustrator Deanna Clemmons, who has a series of busty portraits online (Anna's Erotic Art: www.annasart.com), for her take on the difference between porn and erotica. "Generally speaking, artists leave more to the imagination, there is a certain romantic nature left to the work, even when it is of a graphic nature," she e-mails me. As for difference between erotic art and, um, nonerotic art, Clemmons says, "Let's face it, a landscape or a still life won't usually bring up erotic ideas. But seeing a reclining nude, looking relaxed and dreamy, can fill the viewer's mind with all sorts of imagined ideas of what the woman might be thinking."As for Oksana, my sweet Oksana ... well, I went to her site (Oksana: The Face of the New Millennium: www.geocities.com/FashionAvenue/Mall/1234) to learn more of this mysterious London-based model/artist. I never found out what she was thinking. But I did find out that, for only $35, I could join her appreciation society. I'd get a calendar, an autographed photo, a newsletter, and access to a "special member's [sic] only Web page."Gosh, It's great to see such support of the arts on the Web. Or erotica. Or commerce. I'm still not sure which.Reach Joab Jackson joabj@charm.net

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