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Irreverent Knowledge for a Feminist Toolkit

by Marie Muzerelle

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Although we did not directly affirm any feminist commitment, the beginnings of somme toute1 today seem to me to be indissociable from the political effervescence that followed #metoo. I had been reading Les luttes des putes2 at the time that we were drawing up the statutes of the collective, and thanks to this book I began to realise the extent to which the issues facing sex workers resonated with those facing art workers. Of course, whereas the former activity is deeply stigmatised and rendered economically precarious and physically dangerous for those involved by repressive legislation, the latter – though also precarious – is symbolically legitimated by art schools, public institutions, and an outsized, overheated and irrational market. Both, however, challenge the very definition of work by questioning how labour time and intensity can be quantified, and both are characterised by a certain porosity between personal and professional identities thanks to the intermixing of relational and emotional aspects. It was in this context that the event “Majeur Mouillé”  [“Wet Middle-Finger”] was inaugurated in 2019 with an exhibition of work by Maïa Izzo-Foulquier alongside a concert by her alter ego Zelda Weinen as well as K's Khaldi ? LaMaDâMe?, and Moesha 13.


Four years later, the desire to address feminist issues once again, and after our middle fingers, it was another digit’s turn. “Index Insolent” was the second edition of somme toute’s “Festival Irrévérencieux”, and was less a politely raised finger than an invitation to point the way and show us where and how to look. 


The day began with a workshop on consent culture led by La caravane des sexualités joyeuses3 and a discussion on sexist and sexual violence in festive environments facilitated by Sironastra, co-organizers of the festival who had programmed the evening’s concerts. We then gathered in the theatre of the Lieu-Dit for a performative lecture by Robyn Chien, who makes porn films with her production company Puppy Please4.


“It’s one of the first times that I’ve done this without one of my official crushes in the audience, so I can’t help but think, wow, OK, so this is being a professional.”


I smiled. I had been following Robyn’s work on Instagram for about a year, and I find her account thrilling: it consists mostly of advice for better managing your working hours alongside explanations of anti-abolitionist arguments.5 Robyn transforms her job into a story about herself, or at least about her artistic persona. In front of her Canva slideshow (think PowerPoint, but sexier and more entrepreneurial), she recounts her journey as an art and porn professional across these two domains that are both characterised by the porosity between the pro and the amateur. It’s a theme that is also present in the film Lullabyebye a peur pour son cul [Lullabyebye’s Watching Her Ass] that she shot with her collaborator, performer Lullabyebye. Together they revisit the trope of the casting couch, a classic of gonzo porn which is shot from the point of view of a director or agent as he meets a (naïve and horny) porn debutant. Here, Robyn plays the role of a producer who tries to extort a range of practices above and beyond what had previously been agreed upon from Lullabyebye, who meanwhile plays with a sex toy whilst calling for viewers to protest against a law whose name is bleeped out (Avia, perhaps?6 SESTA-FOSTA?7 The criminalisation of clients? Or just any one of the many laws passed that look to break apart the social contract?). I oscillated between anger at the faux producer and everything she embodies and the laughter, excitement and activist joy prompted by Lullabyebye’s performance.


After a short pause, Rachele Borghi took to the stage. She introduced herself: a white European woman, an activist, a tenure-track academic, a hardcore fan of Monique Wittig and bell hooks, and “porno-ringarde”. Without wanting to invalidate Rachele’s last self-identification, which might be translated as “porno-loser”, I would see her more as a “ringard” in the literal and nominal sense of the term, which designates a tool used to mix or stir materials as they fuse together. This, at least, is what came to mind when she asked “How can we radically betray our race?” She invited us to follow the indigenous media action collective and to shift from being allies to being accomplices by using our privileges to dismantle racist structures from within. In the academy, she works as a porno-activist to take care of the things that are considered obscene within the field of legitimate knowledge. A horizon emerges from her action, namely the pulverisation of the university and its singular, supposedly universal knowledge that could open up space for a “pluriversity” full of situated and hence multiple knowledges, critical of the centre and encompassing the margins. Rachele related anecdotes from her life as an activist and the blood vessels at the edge of my eyes started to crackle. The performance ended, Keny Arkana chanted LA RAGE, loud enough that the bass vibrated through my body which was still stuck to my seat, immobilised by the power of Rachele’s words and of those that accompany her. To set our bodies in motion, we were invited to learn the dance of decoloniality set to Shake It Off by Taylor Swift: a world-famous white American pop star and billionaire, fighting against the music industry to recover the rights to her songs, which she lost when her former production company was bought out.


To cite Rachele and her détournement of Audre Lorde’s words: “Though we can’t destroy the master’s house with the master’s tools, we can still throw them in his face.”

Notes

  1. somme toute is a collective made up of thirteen volunteers who are all more or less artists, curators, art works, actors, musicians, graphic designers, greeks or carpenters. They have a space at 13bis rue Neyron in Clermont-Ferrand where members work, invite people to visit, and organize events, exhibitions, performances, concerts, workshops, screenings, talks, and residencies. See https://www.sommetoute.cf/ and https://www.instagram.com/sommetoute/
  2. Thierry Schaffauser, Les luttes des putes, Paris, La Fabrique, 2014.
  3. La caravane des sexualités joyeuses is a popular education project led by Chouette and Paillette. See https://www.fresque-du-consentement.fr/
  4. See https://puppy-please.com/.
  5. In the field of sex work, abolitionism refers to the position which holds that all sex workers are victims of a system of prostitution that must be eradicated. This position is broadly criticized by sex work activists since it fails to take into account the multiplicity of their situations and confuses sex work with human trafficking. 
  6. In 2019, when the film was shot, the proposed Avia law against hateful online content included an amendment which extended the law to encompass other infractions such as aiding and abetting procuring. Since procuring or ‘pimping’ are subject to a very broad legal definition in France, activist content produced by sex workers could have been criminalized by this amendment, which was eventually withdrawn in January 2020.
  7. In the United States, SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) were laws that claimed to seek to eradicate sex trafficking, but which did so by holding legally responsible for trafficking any websites that hosted content relative to prostitution. More generally, these laws attacked sex work by equating it with prostitution and sex trafficking. 




Index Insolent 

Second edition of the Festival Irrévérencieux by somme toute
Organised by somme toute and Sironastra
2nd December 2023 
With La caravane des sexualités joyeuses, Robyn Chien, Rachele Borghi, Clitosaurus and Tendresse Violence
Lieu-Dit, Clermont-Ferrand 




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