“For me, art is an impossibility. And if art is impossible, then artists are also impossible, and I myself am impossible. To the extent that I exist, I can only exist as a compromise, a travesty, a fiction, a fraud.”
Why Does Sharpay Evans’ Work Make Me Cry?
It’s rather difficult, my need to maintain career buoyancy when all I can think about these days is getting dicked. It’s a validating distraction, you know. Getting dicked. To be honest, I had been so incredibly busy last week with work and Uni that when it was all done, I decided to stay with my intimate partner and ‘watch movies’ rather than work on this final post. Equally cumbersome is my constant need to maintain intimacy when I want to work. The way I see it is, if I can’t have a root, at least I’d have an art practice. Of course, achieving a nice balance between intimacy and my practice has been difficult, especially in these (say it with me) strange and unprecedented times. However, this agitating desire for a harmonious marriage of the two: productivity and sexual proclivity, so to speak, I still strive for and see as essential.
As the artist and philosopher Sharpay Evans puts it, “I want the world, nothing less, all the glam and the press only giving me the best reviews. I want it all!” Much like Evans, I too, am a blonde white woman who wants it all. Yet to the extent in which Evans and I exist we can only exist as a compromise. Strides are made at the expense of loss, success at the expense of sanity, vice-versa. For Evans, this compromise meant that she was antagonised all throughout the High School Musical trilogy.
In speaking of this, I am reminded of Andrea Fraser’s Untitled (2003), a performance piece where she invited an anonymous art collector to have sex with her on camera.  The work, much like the rest in Fraser’s oeuvre, is intended as a commentary on the art market dynamic which she finds herself embedded within. Truthfully, my references to her are, in part, made out of absolute adoration. I even modelled this final entry after the above quote from her text Why Does Frank Sandbeck’s Work Make Me Cry? because I fucking love her. Aside from being driven by my fondness for her I find that Fraser, much like Evans, highlights the complicated nuances of being an artist. To compromise is to be a travesty, a fiction, and a fraud. So why do it?
Why Does Andrea Fraser Make Me Cry?
For me, this compromise almost mirrors Evans’. Through this project, I’ve found myself rekindling the identity-related dialectic I so vehemently worked to reject in my second year of art school. Allow me to explain, at the time, I had made a vow that I would not make any work related to who I was as a person. This happened just after I was recommended by a mentor to really “lean into my heritage,” when approaching my work. Refusing to interrogate myself, I rejected identity politics in favour of a clinical approach to institutional critique. Some real Andrea Fraser shit, you know. Work where identity was secondary to art world politics. I was tired of being pigeonholed as a multi-hyphenated artist. For me, art must first and foremostly, be interrogated as an institution; art cannot possibly exist outside the field of art. The production of work that did not reckon with the politics of its industry was simply not worthwhile. I did not want to be selfish. And yet, here I am today, making incredibly personal work about my sex life. Herein lies the compromise for me: every time my intimate partner and I fucked in the past month, my mind would drift into semiotic theory, the biopolitical dialectic housed in our coitus, Andrea Fraser’s Untitled. Sex was a concept. On the other side of the coin, however, every time I would sit down to write for this project, my mind would drift into a wet daydream, running my fingers across my grimey keyboard as if it were my intimate partner’s (soft and tender as fuck) hair.
I have inadvertently avoided the usual vein of institutional critique I tend to work under for a few reasons. One being, this project and this institution, quite frankly, has helped me a lot. I have nothing negative to say about my time with KINGS Artist-Run as an institution. Apart from, maybe, the fact that they are yet to follow me back on Instagram, but whatever, it’s fine, I don’t care about Instagram anyway… For the large part, this project has been extremely beneficial for the trajectory of my work as an emerging young artist. I’ll start with the obvious: I have forty extra followers on Instagram now (not that I care, though, obviously). I have to scan the streets for paparazzi every time I have to step outside my house. The fame is getting to me: I’ve started taking more selfies. I’ve started talking about my work with greater confidence. I’ve started liking my identity a bit more. I’ve started addressing every stranger that briefly makes eye contact with me as ‘my fans’.
Secondly, I have perhaps found an axis of critique better-suited for these times: myself. Remember that fucking Kitty O’Meara poem that was being paraded across social media earlier this year? I hated it so much but to be honest she kinda made some points… Indeed, did I stay home and read books, and rested, and exercised, played games, danced, learned new ways of being, the lot. I met my shadow, much like O’Meara predicted. Assessing my shadow objectively, I saw it undulate through the curves of my cracked wall. It is a product of its environment, however, it is simply a placeholder. It is not synonymous with the crevices in the wall.
A critique of the institution warrants a critique of the self. How could/should I approach this mode of work? A common thread I’ve found within the landscape of contemporary art is its obsessive need to critique the very structures it benefits from and enjoys existing within. It’s tiring though, trying to critique the very things that provide you with solace, and perhaps that is why I have avoided my usual thread of critique. What I am mainly concerned with however, is the countless times I’ve found myself coming over to my state sanctioned intimate partner’s place whenever I was feeling low. The times I’ve went over when I was on a high. The many fun conversations I’ve had with Katie over zoom. The hours listening to Madonna and dancing. The countless times I’ve exchanged my crowded thoughts for bliss.
Quite frankly, thinking critically is an exhausting feat. I’ve had a rather hard time writing this final post, and admittedly I’ve missed the (self-imposed) deadline for this by six days purely because I’ve been watching Emily in Paris. These momentary lapses in critical thinking have been a source of deep guilt for me. However, it is these very moments that have sustained me. Perhaps these moments of dissonance are necessary for our survival in these (one more time now) strange and unprecedented times.
KINGS, thanks for having me. I’ll get back to my usual takedowns of the institution soon enough. For now, I’ll be having a dance party.
There have been several, albeit rare, instances where I can sense my physical insecurities waning and decide to strategically relocate my mirror so that I am able to see my own reflection from my bed. This tends to happen in the twenty-or-so minutes after someone on Grindr tells me that they’re on their way to clap my cheeks. I think of the reasons I’ll give if said Grindr-root questions the mirror placement; ‘I’m half Chinese’, I’ll say, ‘It’s feng shui.’ The line of queries will continue, ‘Leaning your mirror against your desk is feng shui?’ This interaction, I imagine, would only work with someone white. And alas, the bulk of my flirty interactions with the LGBTQIA+ community of Naarm/Birraranga’s inner-north tend to be heavy on the white-bread side. Not by choice, though. You can count the number of people of colour present at Yah Yah’s on a Thursday night with just two hands. Perhaps I’m really just embarrassed to admit that I’m a strong proponent of the mirror as a sex toy. As a sign, the image of myself getting railed by a mildly attractive white person presented to me in the dusty, brass rimmed mirror is emblematic of the psychosexual power dynamic I find myself embroiled in. That is, the carnal act of getting screwed, and my god I’m so into it.
I fear I might bore you with the dialectics of post-structuralism which I am about to launch this short essay into, thus for antidotal purposes, allow me to introduce this essay with the personal details of my sex life. Mum, if you’re reading this, thank you endlessly for your support but please spare yourself from this entry…
Yes, I am a bottom
Although I’d say I’m versatile for political reasons, the sexual gratification of bottoming remains unparalleled for me. I take great enjoyment in having my ass slapped, thrown around, and absolutely destroyed by a consenting top. I recall a rushing sense of authority that ran through my veins when I demanded my (current) intimate partner to ‘make that hole yours (his)’, to which he then responded in a hushed but delighted whisper, ‘I’ll do anything.’ Sexual dominion demonstrates the most fundamental concepts of power. Who is really in control when I demand that I be dominated? The poet, activist, and philanthropist Belcalis Almanzar, states in her influential text W.A.P. (Wet Ass Post-structuralism) ‘Ask for a car while you ride that dick.’ What is perceived as essentially in service (riding that dick) of the domineer, becomes complicated here.
Auto-theoretical approaches to semantics, the post-structural fold, and ass slapping
As per the title, I’d like to begin this short essay by drawing a line through the post-structuralist fold as a means of differentiating the semiotic utility from the philosophy of said mirror I have leant on my desk. Utility here, focuses on a dyadic model of denotation/connotation. The denotative refers to the formal or physically evident situation at hand: someone plowing my ass whilst I’m facing the mirror leant by my desk. The connotative, then, refers to the conceptual or symbolic. In this instance, the concept being in a power dynamic manifesting at various points within my sexual interaction. This dialogue between connotative and denotative is a process in which signification or meaning is produced. At surface level, it looks like the white bread holds power over me. I liken the dyadic structure of this process to an essentialist and biodeterministic philosophy here. A brazen comparison, I know, one solely rooted in advocating for a natural order to things. This found in the binary social structures of male/female, dominion/submission, top/bottom, people-who-dislike-pineapples-on-pizza/normal people; the existence of one implying the existence of another. Power ultimately produces resistance under this framework. Yet I often find myself questioning why I love the taste of plain white bread. In other words, if I’m constantly made subject to the white ga(y)ze outside of my sexual life, must I continue this subjection when I’m horny?
For the radical post-structuralist fold, however, the nature of this process of signification is endless and nuanced. The connotative/denotative never point to a concrete signification. Instead, it only points to additional layers of language, subtext, context, text, and all factors around it. The process of this dialectic between the supposed denotative and connotative binary thus becomes arbitrary and subject to nuances within its further intertextual implications. Meaning is created in a continuum. The arbitrariness of such process proposes autonomy, particularly that of the sign in relation to reality. The sign is not a faithful representation of reality nor does it construct it. Fuck what I see in the mirror! I have sex with white people as an act of subversion, or whatever.
Since the mirror does not produce an image of its own accord, it can be argued that concrete signification is still found within the connotative/denotative binary. The mirror reflects a palpable reality: my submission to institutional ideals encapsulated in the very act of coitus itself. But mirror, in and of itself, mediates the complicated attraction I feel to the image reflected. The mirror negotiates the sado-masochistic pleasure felt when I make the vanilla white twink above me to destroy my hole. Coming to terms with this has been a rather difficult task ontologically and ethically. It must be questioned whether this is simply a way of clouding dialectics, and whether it should simply fall under the connotative aspect rather than propose a radical neologism. Am I radicalising the semiotic framework or does this simply fall under traditional structures? Is this really a neologism? Am I just another bottom? I fear I may have lost your attention by this point.
Hung up as if one were a virgin
Pivoting this essay, I’d like to recount the day I first encountered my current intimate partner. We met on the dating app Grindr. I recall a rushing sense of hypervigilance shooting through my veins when he sent me a ‘tap’ and I checked his profile; he was 65 metres away. With the occasional error in the app’s global locating system, this person may as well have been in my house. I send a short, ‘Hey.’ If he is going to rob me, I might as well have a chat with him first. ‘What’s up,’ he replies almost instantly. After some small talk, and the infamous ‘what are you looking for?’
question synonymous with the platform, we decided that I’d come over later at night for a fuck. It had been months since I was touched by another person, so I didn’t care that he was white. The interaction which ensued when I arrived at his place was awkward, and I knew he felt it too. Yet, after the mundane and anti-climactic fuck, he still had the gall to ask me if I’d like to cuddle and watch an episode of Broad City.
I stayed for four.
Whether or not it was a natural point in the chronology of a relationship, our anxieties reached a high and we both had to decide if we were exclusive intimate partners. I decided our interactions were essential and said yes to his proposal. At the surface, my white, tall as fuck, blonde and pale skinned intimate partner brings out a fair amount of guilt in me. Guilt for falling into the trap of white men. I shudder every time I interact with another queer person of colour, as if riddled with the embarrassment of my fatal attraction to white bread. Out of the total 29 people I have dated in the past 5 years, 21 of them were white, and 14 of them were blonde. I reiterate, 72% of all the people in which I have, at one point, desired to wreck my orifices, are white. I recall complaining of my intimate partner’s extreme whiteness to my friends, ‘stop seeing him then,’ one of my friends advised. ‘Yeah but he’s like, so nice to have around during this time,’ I reason with them. I was hung up.
Brief conclusions on the academe.
I make use of the mirror as a metaphor for my qualms with whiteness and sexuality for a number of reasons. Firstly, this serves to make connotative reference to my fraught relationship with academia and the institution. I’ve enjoyed the great privilege of having a platform despite having only started my professional practice late last year. I take great pleasure in being afforded a career in the arts despite the circumstances. I really enjoy what I do. Working under the institutional critique genre of art, however, is at dialectical odds with my indulgence in a somewhat narcissistic career. One where I get to yap all about myself in jargon and get paid for it. Complicit in the reinforcement of logocentrism in this field, or the privileging of theory over praxis, this is where my cognitive dissonance kicks in. The logocentrism of the ivory tower is something I am so vehemently against, and yet, I often find myself pandering to it in all aspects of my work.
And finally, my sex life
Add to this a phallogocentrism of the field, or the institution’s obsession with male theorists. Admittedly almost my entire body of research rests on these men. Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Saussure, the lot. I can’t help but feel some sort of weird attraction to these figures. I mean, fuck me, Derrida was hot. Cognitive dissonance here, resembles aporia. I love to hate it; I hate to love it. Secondly, the mirror makes direct reference to my relationship with my intimate partner. Peeling back the layers in my cognition, seeing myself get dicked through a mirror, the aporia I feel positioned in the academe returns. Like Derrida, my intimate partner is incredibly handsome for someone white. The process of signification in my sex life does not end in submission neither does it end with subversion. It is a never-ending chain of reconfigurations dependent on self-regulation.
Returning to Almanzar’s work to conclude, it must be stressed that I have never asked for a car while I rode a dick. Perhaps it is time I did.
Featuring Eloise Bagnara, Coral Guan, Vivian Lu, and Nat Manawadu.
by Ari Tampubolon
for KINGS Artist-Run
Live from the Field, Part III
facilitated and curated by Katie Ryan
About the artist
Ari Tampubolon is an avid pop music listener working under a reconfiguring of the institutional critique genre, of course, subject to institutional consent. Tampubolon lives and works in Naarm/Birraranga.
About the project
Live from the Field, a blog-style page featuring updates from invited artists. Live from the Field is intended to provide an alternative take on the rolling media style updates by tracking personal responses to the crisis in a subjective and critical manner. So far Live from the Field has featured content from Siying Zhou, Lia Dewey Morgan with a post by Jenna Rain Warwick, Aaron Claringbold and Azza Zein with collaborators. Ari Tampubolon’s contribution, “Optics, or, an introductory post-structuralist study of cognition and looking at your reflection while your ass is getting slapped: Vol. 1,” will focus specifically on the biopolitical aspects of the crisis.
I’d like to jog your memory to the scandal earlier this year which shook the artsphere to its core: Affordable Art Fair v. An Nguyen. Five months on, and I am still left wondering, “What Ever Happened to (Baby) Raquelle Azran?” Has she spent her time working from home to meditate on her deplorable racist actions? This art-world saga, for all its worth, has found itself caught rather unwillingly in a socio-political leather strapped harness. I think Azran liked the publicity though, as the saying goes, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” The careers of people like Raquelle Azran, Dana Schutz, Warren Kanders, to name a few, albeit mired in controversy, will never be disposable. Five cancellations have never stopped J.K. Rowling. Controversy is a fun little slap in the ass for people in these positions of power to play, it is anything but the end of their careers. To this day, Azran is still dealing and curating Vietnamese art. If I had as much social capital as her, I’d thrive for the controversy. Yet I digress, I am no longer as angry as I was about this situation, but I almost wish that I was. However, there are a plethora of other misfortunes our society has encountered this year to concern ourselves with, and Azran has been evicted from my thoughts.
These misfortunes (and fortunes) of society hinges, not only on the number and uprightness of its citizens, but also on the manner in which each individual makes use of their sex. Sex, here, is referred to under essentialist framework. After all, it is an essential activity. Sexual dominion provides us with the most fundamental concepts of power. And, sexual activity, under this lens prioritises its utility, thus becoming a means of access both to the life of the body and the life of the species. Sex equals offspring, something I have never sought to achieve. Sexual dominion without biopolitical repercussions, however, I am much more invested in.
In place of Azran, is my current intimate partner, living in my mind, rent-free, five, maybe six days a week. Like Azran, my intimate partner is also white, yet unlike Azran, I enjoy it when he straps me in bondage gear and slaps my ass. I’m not normally into white people. For obvious reasons, there are a slew of misfortunes that come with dating them for me; eating burgers on a date is a particularly egregious one. Oftentimes I wonder if the disciplinary aspect of interracial dating is biopolitically self-regulated, I mean, I sure liked the way my ex-IPoC (Intimate Partner of Colour) and I looked in comparison to the way this tall white man and I look when exposing to the paparazzi of sidewalk strollers. Perhaps I am overly critical of myself, fuck the haters right? Right?
To critique implies a deeply embedded involvement with the situation challenged. A critique of institution warrants a critique of the self. Perhaps this project is being utilised to consolidate and challenge the guilt I feel for having a strong attraction to blondes? It’s rather sado-masochistic, this mode of work, but I’m sure that Katie and the committee at KINGS Artist-Run will like it.
Outlined below is a rough plan of what I intend to do for Live from the Field: Part III. Please note that these are subject to change.
I don’t know how else to be personal when I myself do not know of my own personhood. This first blog post will consist of my draft plan for the project accompanied by a Zoom recording of my interview with Katie Ryan. She’s not interviewing me; we will be role-playing in a world where I call the shots.
I’ll explore these thoughts a bit further with some friends. This blog entry will include audio recordings of me and my inner-north housemates whom are all in the arts talking about optics. Sex. My work. My narcissism.
Alright, I know you like me because of my academic approaches to art, so I’ll do a short essay here. Sprinkle some humour in there to make it more accessible. Memes and whatnot. Lol.
You know what, I’m over intellectualising things. Fuck it, here’s a short film of me re-enacting one of Madonna’s Twitter videos of her workshopping her biopic at home with screenwriter Diablo Cody.
Concluding thoughts. This will probably be the only typical blog post. I’ll accompany this with a recorded performance piece of myself and my White ‘intimate partner’. This performance is to be synthesised; subject to the developments of the four previous blog posts.