Epilogue to artbook Gartel's THE ART OF FETISH, Schiffer Pub., 2007
Epilogue to artbook Gartel’s The Art of Fetish; 4500 words
THE ART of FETISH
[Book Cover Blurb] CYBEROTICA: The erotic world, freed from the stigmas of guilt and repression, is a powerful path to self-discovery. Our erotic sexual lives are not to be discounted as nothing more than sensory stimulation, narcissistic ego gratification and manic pursuit of orgasm. It can be the road to erotic connections, psychosexual liberation, to meaningful fantasy and excitement, to the fulfillment of living our dreams – to erotic transcendence. Long after the trendy scene evolves, Gartel’s art will preserve a delightful voyeuristic reflection of the cultural fad and the fantasy as he saw it at the dawn of the 21st Century. ~Iona Miller, Futurist
Forbidden Fruits and Technoshamanism
Iona Miller, 2003
Technoshamanism is the art of altering consciousness through technology. Art is the oldest shamanic technology. Erotic transcendence can be orchestrated by artistic, psychosexual, healing and mind altering methods of ancient cultures combined with modern technologies for modulating consciousness, culture, and the holistic mindbody. Fetish culture has embraced many transformative techniques, knowingly and unknowingly – group ritual, magick, trance, dance, music, drugs, lightshows and graphic arts as well as tattoo, body modification, exhibition or performance, secretiveness and ordeals, among others. Now it meets high tek digital fine art as the artist casts his praticed eye on the subcultural aesthetic, capturing its eruptive essence. –Iona Miller, Technoshaman
Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is” man" in a higher sense -- he is 'collective man' -- one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic life of mankind.” –C. G. Jung
Beyond the Forbidden
Are there things we should not know? There are many responses to the impulse toward experience. We pass through the essential stage of experience on the way to wisdom. But it remains a stage, not an end in itself.
Religion generally answers yes to the question, while philosophy answers no. Sex, death, and religion are the three taboos to question. They are also the most interesting subjective experiences to examine, and for the artist, moreso.
Freud contrasted sex and death as Eros and Thanatos. Are there things we shouldn’t know about the erotic impulse? Are there things we shouldn’t know about the relationship of death and religion? Sex and death are givens of our existence, and so is the spiritual instinct. Experiential awareness of these domains is gnosis, direct knowing.
If no one is allowed to venture into the forbidden we cannot know what it is like. If no one is allowed to talk about, or represent it, sexuality becomes a dirty secret, surrounded by fear and shame.
Adopting this forbidden spirit, we even begin to hide this side of our nature -- our fantasies and dreams -- from ourselves. The next step is to condemn, ridicule, even fear ourselves. Then we exile ourselves from ourselves, recreating the so-called result of Original Sin – kicking ourselves out of the garden of earthly delights.
With this mindset, passion is twisted and turned toward anything around us that threatens to expose this hidden reality of who we are, what we want, how we dream, and what we desire. Is this self-denial not the true perversion of the human spirit?
Where is the freedom in sexual dictatorship, in rigid political and religious morality? There are many forms of masochism, and wherever there is a masochist there is likely to be a sadist or persecutor. We play this game with ourselves, splitting ourselves into judge and victim, repressing the exploration of our own erotic limits. How dare we even think these things?
Life becomes split in two, into false polarities and we are forced to choose sides: good/evil; proper/improper; rational/emotional; light/dark; order/chaos; Madonna/whore; heterosexual/homosexual; self/other; mind/body; sane/sick. We embrace a false self when we learn to blindly accept one or the other. To become whole we need to consciously carry the tension of the opposites.
All sexual things become polarized as we are taught to choose the approved pole over the other, once and for all. If we do, we are praised, accepted, admired; if we don’t we are condemned, ridiculed, exiled to the underworld – the erotic frontier. Shame and fear can torture as surely as any pain inflicted on the body.
It is important we hear directly from these frontiers, no matter how we react to erotic perspectives different from our own. Our minds have been programmed with toxic shame and moral strictures that seek to preserve parental, spousal, and religious power. When sexual stories are depicted accurately, we can separate the reality of erotic exploration from the confines of our cultural conditioning that reinforces our fear of the unknown.
Knowledge of these frontiers, and our personal “edge,” helps us make informed choices about our erotic lives. Since the sexual revolution, the parameters of acceptable erotic behavior have steadily expanded, multiplying our erotic options.
Yesterday’s fringe activity is today’s simple recreation, a matter of entertainment, fashion and fun, rather than perversity. There is an on-going revolution in sex-role mores. Who is to say what is a politically-incorrect dream?
The controversial sexual world becomes one where we work out our issues of power, trust, vulnerability, shame, and the nature of sensation. These issues are important pathways to personal growth and increased self-awareness. There is a thrill in moving toward our fear, toward and beyond our boundaries, shattering our cherished notions. It allows us to see and be seen in much more than a voyeuristic way.
Erotic power and trust are always the issues, whether in romantic relationships, marriage, the fetish and bondage scene, or even S&M. Love is not the only “tie that binds,” and some prefer to act out that metaphorical relationship quite literally. Perhaps they are merely “dreaming out loud” what some of us cannot even allow ourselves to consider. In that sense, they carry or embody our cultural “shadow” side, our unlived potential.
Sex (and erotic art) is always political not only because of gender issues, but also more fundamentally because of power. Political correctness aside, polarized dynamics require one another to play out. Thus, the dominator becomes essentially the slave of the submissive who is needed for the other to feel and express the urge to power. One validates the other.
Thus, not all working relationships are based on equality, but on finding a suitable match psychologically. Whether sexual preferences are “right” or “wrong” is not necessarily for others to say. Who grants or withholds the permission for such exploration and multiplication of erotic delights? Erotic play can be “edgy” without being emotionally toxic.
The erotic world, freed from the stigmas of guilt and repression is a powerful path to self-discovery. Our erotic sexual lives are not to be discounted as nothing more than sensory stimulation, ego gratification and pursuit of orgasm. It can be the road to erotic connections, psychosexual liberation, to fantasy and excitement, to living our dreams – to erotic transcendence. It may even help us heal our mind/body split.
Binding the Image
This confrontation, moving toward the fear and pain wherever it occurs, brings us close to the core of our transformative process – the essentially sacred dimension of life. The root of the word religion is “religio” which means to yoke or to bind back. Do we need to point out that this can also be another form of “bondage”?
We can bridge the archaic and modern with cutting edge science and art, which dares to trespass into the forbidden realms. We can play the human sensorium with modulated electromagnetic energy, the ephemeral medium of digital light and pure information.
Arguably, two defining characteristics of the modern age, icons of our times, are the omnipresence of the Promethean spirit and the pervasiveness of sexuality and its imagery, soft and hardcore pornography.
But even more important and fundamental is the power of imagination and passion – pathos. We can each tap the spirit of Prometheus and Promethea, grasping our share of the fire of the gods, taking a bite of the forbidden fruit.
Our modern culture is bombarded with an overload of hypersexualized imagery, both idealized and bluntly realistic. It transports us out of the mundane into the surreal. It is clearly noticeable, even raised to cult status in such subcultures as multimedia, haute couture, gaming, cyberculture, the gay community, the fetish world, and bondage scene. Sexuality spans the spectrum of highbrow and lowbrow artistic expression. We have accessorized our quest for erotic gratification.
Both sex and art have always been hot commodities. Harnessed, the erotic image becomes a potent penetrator of the neural nets of the observer, subtly affecting and rearranging biochemical makeup. This is the compulsive arousing power and penetrating eroticism of the fetish – it’s symbolic value – its fecundity or fertilizing power.
Cutting-edge art is fetishistic in that it connotes an object regarded as having magical power, eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect and devotion, even a psychosexual response or fixation. It exerts a push-pull attraction, fearsomely fascinating yet simultaneously repulsive to the conventional sensibility. Still, it has the tremendous ability to lure us.
The erotic drive challenges us boldly to go where we ourselves have never gone before – into unexplored territory. And how we yearn to be seized, to lose that emotional control, surrendering to erotic catharsis: the sense of awesomeness, ravishment, rapture. It keeps us intoxicated, coming back for more.
This fetishistic power is clearly visible in the various denominations of the virtually religious cult of the art world. Sex sells, but does it sell art? Not necessarily, even though provocative art invokes this archetypal power even more strongly than representational or “safe” art.
However, “safe art” is a bit like “safe sex” – it isn’t very “wet.” It hangs over the couch hardly worthy of mentioning. It may be easier to live with in the living room, like an old partner. Still, it lacks the seductive power, fantasy, risk, juice, tension, fire, renewal, and mystery of a new lover.
Curiously, often the less explicitly sexual an image is, the more erotic it becomes through the power of suggestion. What is important is its power to mobilize imagination, to intimate unfathomable depths, the Unknown and perhaps unknowable. Yet, often things are not what they seem. Image does not always match reality, nor should we confuse the artist and the art.
In modern parlance, we might think of playing the hot-wiring of the human neural system as “neuro-tica,” (a hybrid of neural erotica – manipulating the pleasure centers). Neuro-tica, the ambient sexual background, combines both elements of transformative spirit and the libidinous power of the erotic, our instinctual drives.
Ideally, it collapses those polarities in a powerful subjective experience. Sensory overload leads to paradoxical transcendental release.
Freud informed us that all human energy is sexual energy, and Jung expanded that notion redefining it as psychosexual energy, since the mind is the most potent of all sexual organs. In the east it has been called the life force (chi, prana) or serpent power, Kundalini, spanning the spectrum of expression from sexual to illuminative.
GARTEL’S Fetish: Through the Past, Darkly
For the digital fine artist, the technology of his craft functions like an extension of the nervous system, throug second nature rater than cognitive reflection and decision, once facility is achieved. The artworks themselves which cover the raw process of self-expression are a kind of Digital Skin that both protects and offers a medium of exchange with one’s environment.
Perhaps in the digital world, where an orgy of variations on a theme are rendered with the click of the mouse, perhaps the greatest talent is knowing when to quit, to stop manipulating the image, to not overwork, it, to let it speak for itself. Gartel considers his works detailed narratives.
Gartel’s FETISH SERIES, appearing just after the turn of the Millennium, was an exploration that pursued “an internal and external truth,” where “give me some skin” took on new meaning, clothing a raw global vision.
"What should be photographed? This question is the foundation for the entire process. What merits taking a picture? I juxtapose imagery as objects, shapes, graffiti, abstractional forms in two dimensions. The careful balance configures these objects allowing the viewer-voyeur to delight in the collaged works, similar to a listener of music who embraces a symphony. One might hear and discover unheard melodies and sounds, as hidden pictures, and imagery acting as enrichments to the investigative eye. Perhaps there might be a seductive image lying unobtrusively, beckoning to be noticed. What does it mean to the overall semblance? What spirit does it breath? Color, shape and form of any object(s) add symbolic meaning. Why wear a red shoe with sparkles rather than one of deep purple? Does one wish to express oneself as hot and excited, or subdued and contained? Why something larger and powerful rather than diminutive and unassuming? These are several techniques and insights that contribute to a "GARTEL." While abstract in nature, its structure is very real as its construction is based itself on the solid foundation of an original photograph." (Gartel: Fetish, 2001)
Perhaps nothing comes closer to emulating the waking dream than filmmaking. Gartel explored this medium for himself with his fetish documentary. Rather than just another consumable voyeuristic peek into this taboo world, his view is one for the ages – a valuable window into the soul of that world, a compassionate yet historical portrait of a subculture bleeding into the mainstream. When the scene has evolved or died out, the art will remain, a sign of the times.
Artistic Vitality in Sexually Potent Art
Iona Miller, 4-2004
“New art is always shocking,
because you don’t know what you’re looking at. . .
It’s about boundaries being permeated and transgressed.
It makes people nervous when there aren’t any boundariesNew art is always shocking,
because you don’t know what you’re looking at. . .
It’s about boundaries being permeated and transgressed.
It makes people nervous when there aren’t any boundaries.”
~Lisa Phillips, Director, New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC
“...the number of perverts involved in the field of art is probably much
greater than the average for the population in general.... It can be supposed
... that the pervert inclines in some particular manner to the world of art.”
~Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Creativity and Perversion, 1985
“With male nudes in full display, pornography a common source material,
and explicit imagery the norm in galleries and museums,
sex in art has become fun, disturbing, raunchy—even cerebral.”
~Linda Yablonsky, Art News, January 2004
Nakedness and Vulnerability
Many art forms over the centuries have centered around celebrating the body – both male and female, animalistic and spiritualized, and imaginative forms in-between. Like undertows along the shore, deep currents of eroticism have always pervaded the creative edge of the cultural ocean of art. To remain vital, art must stay in contact with raw libido, the erotic element, the ground of our very psychophysical being. To deny it, is to deny life and the vulnerability of our naked awareness.
Art gives form to the apparitions of our imaginations, and one of the most imaginative is the erotic form, expression of the erotic impulse.. Both art and eroticism are forms of the epitome of human life, core expressions of insight and deep feeling. Sexuality is one way of inducing ecstatic states that alter perception dramatically. It is simultaneously and paradoxically ordinary yet extraordinary. It embodies the very essence of dramatic tension, a finite act with infinite repercussions.
Art is the spearhead of human development, both collective and individual. It was the seminal force and vanguard of cultural advance in Egypt, Greece, Europe, Africa, and Asia; all these cultures produced some extraordinarily erotic art. While the vulgarization of art is considered a sure sign of ethnic decline (Langer), erotic or vulgar art itself appears in all eras heralding new perceptions of our erotic drive, our sexual self-images. Even if perceived as an affront, art values rather than devalues the sexual image.
More than the difference between the naked and the nude, erotic art transgresses the boundaries of outdated eras and mores, including fashionable nudity. All that is erotic is not necessarily pornographic, and what some might call pornographic is often not perceived as lacking artistic merit, even prescience, in following eras.
Artists test our social and psychic boundaries, making them more explicit. Sexual art can emulate the psychic and emotional forces at play in arousal, active engagement, and afterglow. Sexual tension has been a perennial theme in art through the ages.
What begins as shocking becomes familiar once emotional merger is consummated through suggestive penetration. Art expresses an essentially inward experience. Though for some the distinction between art and porn is not easy, explicit or compelling artistic depiction of the fringes of human sexuality is not the same as perversion or obscenity. It brings images back from the extreme edge of society to the mainstream for consideration at all levels, shamelessly chronicling the unvarnished human condition.
Shock, Shame and Disgust
Art, unlike pornography, contains an essential emotional content. It aims at stimulating the largest sex organ – the mind -- rather than just the genitals. Erotic art is always more than merely aesthetic. The function of the artist has always been to look unflinchingly into the dark heart of humanity and describe the living, breathing processes of human life as frankly as possible. The artist’s mandate is to look at everything.
Erotic art serves the same purpose as all art: objectifying self-knowledge as it springs forth from artistic imagination. Every generation has its own style of feeling, determined by forces including artists who shape that vision. Erotic art’s purpose is more than to shock, to confront, even to transgress. It explores the threshold of sanity and insanity, narrowing the definition of obscenity and expanding the definition of art as a legitimate context for sexual expression.
Each flowering of the arts, each new formulation leads to a cultural advance that signals a new way of feeling. It reeducates our vision beyond hostility to the explicit into mirroring the foresight of the artist’s eye. It transforms the worldly and mundane into a piece of imagination -- an imaginative inward vision.
Total nudity is more than nakedness; it is an imaginative state where barriers between lovers, between artwork and viewer, dissolve in a lingering encounter. Truth stands revealed, unadorned, transparent.
Fertility, Fear and Awe
Cross-cultural and transtemporal visions of sexuality have maintained persistent themes of power, beauty, and spirituality in the grossest and most carnal of human acts. The cultural trinity centers around sex, death and religion. In the Paleolithic era art was visceral shamanic fetishism, talisman creating and ritual drama.
In the Neolithic era, fetish continued as taboo. The first fully modern humans were characterized by art and symbolic thought. Then cult worship of the chubby pudenda of the Great Mother goddesses developed. Her mystery embodied the magical invisible workings of divinity through the sexual organs.
Sexuality had an important place in Egyptian myths, creation tales, and the afterlife that was not ignored in their art, symbolic and explicit. The so-called Turin Erotic Papyrus (O’Connor) demonstrates both reverence and irony in a variety of positions emphasizing the delightful fertility generating energy of the blue lotus.
In the Near Eastern and Greco-Roman pagan worlds, the wildness and soulfulness of the psyche were equally celebrated in the ithyphallic form and availability of the hetaera or sacred prostitutes, along with heroic versions of the human form. Nudity was perhaps the most important contribution of classical Greek art. The repressive early Christian era brought sublimation and transmutation of the instinctual spirit’s yearning for union.
After the near total religious suppression of Eros in the Dark Ages, the Renaissance brought a resurgence of pagan imagery and renewed interest in the vitality of the physical and psychic image. Meanwhile, Asian sexual art explored the spiritual dimension of Lingam and Yoni, jade-warrior and fleshy blossom, while African art maintained its blunt primal vitality.
Modern art began a systematic exploration of the distortions and perversions of sexuality, including impressionistic, surrealist, and abstract fetishization. Avant garde breakthroughs and revelations were conceptually daring and novel in both graphic design and ritualistic physical performance art. Now we are jaded by these socially assimilated clichés and neo-tribalism. It is a fact of post Postmodern life that all these currents still flow strongly, endlessly recycling through the depths of our collective psyches depending on where we find ourselves on the sexual evolutionary spectrum.
Sub-Culture: Power and Helplessness
Subspace. Bob Dylan said, "You gonna serve somebody" and most of us do whether we realize it or not. We are wage slaves, or slavis consumers, or capitalist tools. Human bondage extends far beyond the realms of S&M or B&D into everyone's livingroom.
The artist’s actual medium is the psyches of the public, which are confronted, massaged, aroused to curiosity, piqued, fascinated, infatuated, and sometimes emotionally terrorized by this pseudo-intimacy. The artist mounts more than his image: the viewer is intellectually and emotionally ridden at his or her pleasure. Curiously, it is not a substitute for sex, but arguably its very creative evolution. Reflective observation is more than passive voyeurism. One is changed by the experience, seeded within the dark virtuality of the unseen dimension.
Our culture’s preoccupation with sex is undeniable as expressed in advertising media, so why shouldn’t it continue appearing in our galleries, museums, music venues, and screening rooms in ever-renewing forms? Surrealism bent and stretched our notions of physical embodiment with bizarre, dreamlike qualities. Low brow art has proven that all that implies beauty and truth is not necessarily beautiful to look at in its stark reality, but worthwhile to consciously examine, nevertheless.
Today’s “Know Brow” art fearlessly stares at it all, if not in the face, where it clearly counts. Perhaps the Third Eye really lies below the waist. Why not realize that “many of the masterpieces of modern art depend on perversion to make their dramatic point”? (Kuspit) Robert Bak suggests, “Fetishism is the model for all perversions.” Still, the seductiveness of the bodies is subsumed in the seductiveness of the overall image or scene. In this context, one’s oeuvre means more than one’s fleshy meat.
Contemporary sexual identity is in flux, creating new sexual types and titillations by actively changing our psychology and sexuality. The future of reconfigured sex is pangendered – pandroGENous (P-Orridge) -- a liquification not only of the organs, but also of all the formerly presumed limitations of our biology. Visual, theatrical and biological experimentation in this area has been happening at the fringes and in the dungeons of contemporary society at least for a few decades, as people play imaginatively with their bodies and sexual personae.
Ties That Bind
Devotion to the pleasure principle often borders on religious zeal. There are echoes of ancient sacred sex traditions in the hedonistic alternative sexual practices of such communities as bondage, fetish, swinger, cyber- and gay cultures. In modern culture, bondage may be more than mere fad, fashion, or fun – it may carry a quasi-spiritual element for modern people that unconsciously parallels the original meaning of religion and yoga which meant to “bind back” or tie together.
The roots of bondage are essentially spiritual, originating within family ties and the religious urge. “Religio” and yoga imply ‘yoking’ or ‘binding back’; it is that instinct which turns us back and within ourselves seeking the divinity within and without. Spiritual devotion is not just a morph of the human sexual instinct, but a more fundamental component of the primal human repertoire of love of self, others, and world.
People can be strongly attracted for years yet not cross ephemeral boundaries, social strictures that can limit us, tie us up in knots tighter than any ligature ever could. Mainstream and subcultures have institutionalized practices that symbolize metaphorical bondage in the name of beauty, attraction and self-expression. We bind our feet, tattoo and pierce, squeeze into waist-nipping corsets, and ruin our feet with high heels.
Who can resist untying a well-wrapped package? Conversely, some want to “tie others up in knots.” The archetypal background of love can be seen in various expressions throughout history, and many of them emphasize the recurrent theme of stricture, of binding, of ties. “Tied at the hip,” and “bridled hearts” are good examples. The erotic and soulful impulses are bound together.
The bonds of love are the most indissoluble, even though they are apparently ephemeral. The most obvious is “the tie that binds,” holy matrimony, though it often disappoints and does not deliver on the expectations of its promised potential.
‘Normal sex’ has become all too familiar and boring outside of the bedroom. More than narcissistic indulgence, for today’s artist, the formerly pornographic image is just part of the artistic palette, something to be morphed and remolded in the contemporary context, sometimes hiding the explicit in plain sight. Visions of new ways of connecting are already emerging in the art world, as they always have.
“Put an artist at a drawing board and he may design new types of genitals that attach like replaceable parts, or at least move them around a bit (clitoral relocation) so that they are better positioned, or not so vulnerable (internal testicles). Genitalia could resemble the unfolding designs of a Georgia O’Keefe painting, or an element that rises indefinitely like M.C.Escher’s staircases. Genitals could be advanced prosthetics that barely resemble the parts that we have today. We could have several genitals, or none. Add an extra one for more stimulation, have none when you really want to focus without distractions.” (More, 1997)
For art to remain vital, not merely decorative and safe, it must follow the currents of the libidinous urge as it flows stronger than ever through our cultural landscape beyond simple physical sensation and somatic gender. We will always be motivated to maintain and feed our greedy sexual appetites. We will also continue craving strong cerebral and aesthetic responses, as well as somatic experiences.
So why not praise and celebrate both penis and vagina before technology and imagination make them potentially obsolete? Rather than supplanting the sexual aim, sexual art is vital -- it is preparatory…the seed of “coming attractions.” It is merciless and unrestrained cultural foreplay, designed to rouse us from our indolence, from ambivalence. Why not let it ravish us?
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