But entirely suitable and fascinating for makers of artworks, it would appear… A new show at the Galerie Andreas Schmidt in Berlin features four artists who engage in different ways with the adult material’ that is such a significant and pervasive element of internet culture. We interviewed co-curators Schmidt and David Evans.

Appropriation as an art strategy appears to be growing exponentially in the digital age. What are the most interesting developments from the practices of, say, the Pictures Generation? 

By the early twenty-first century the internet has become both resource and platform for many artists who work with the photographs of others, often without permission. There is an abundance of neologisms that seek to characterize these activities. Mashup, remix and sampling are some obvious examples, registering the influence of DJ culture on contemporary art. In addition, though, there is a regular use of older terms like collage, photomontage and the readymade, associated with the historic avant-gardes in the first half of the twentieth century.

And the term appropriation is particularly common today, signalling an ongoing interest in the so-called Pictures Generation that emerged in New York. Continuities thenbut also breaks as photography, past and present, is redefined and reworked in the context of digital, network culture. Creative engagement with online pornography is one instance of a new development.

Has artists’ treatment of pornography changed in other ways?

In the 1960s and 1970s it was often argued that war and pornography were flip sides of the same coinboth violent and exploitative. A classic instance is J.G. Ballards novel The Atrocity Exhibition (London, 1970), published in New York a couple of years later with the more politically explicit title Love and Napalm: Export USA. Or Klaus Staecks book Pornografie (Frankfurt, 1971), a relentless presentation of found imagery of corpses, police violence, torture instruments and the like. The equation of war and pornography was given a new lease of life in 2004 with the release of digital photographs taken by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib jail, Iraq, that often depicted sexual humiliation of detainees as a form of punishment. The images quickly traversed the worlds media, and have been regularly appropriated by artists. However, the emphasis of our exhibition Adult Material is different.

How did you select the artists in the show?

Eva Stenram was the starting point. Quite recently, she discussed her work with photography students at the Arts University Bournemouth. In pornography/forest-pics (2004-12), she selects imagery from hardcore websites in which the models have sex in forests, and then digitally deletes the bodies. Drape (2011) is a related project. Based on pinups selected from sixties mens magazines bought on eBay, the images are edited in such a way that studio drapery is given the prominence usually reserved for the model. In each series, Stenram encourages the viewer to oscillate between absence and presence, or background and foreground, and to fill in the blanks in ways that are more inventive than the clichés of mainstream pornography. She surprised many by saying she wasnt for or against pornographyshe just wished it could be more imaginative. Our other contributorsChristopher Clary, Mandukhai Kaylin, Leah Schragershare this attitude, we feel.

Three of the four artists in the show are female. Does that reflect a wider trend? Are women artists better placed to deal with the pornographic gaze? 

Perhaps the four artistsincluding Christopher Claryare helping to unravel the limitations of the male heterosexuality that informs mainstream pornography.

Are criticality and pornography easy bedfellows? Is there any danger that some of the work delivers voyeuristic titillation? Would it be a problem if it did?

Adult Material aims to stimulate.

Adult Material’ runs at the Galerie Andreas Schmidt from 8 October to 22 December; www.galerieandreasschmidt.de

Leah Schrager
Christopher Clary
Mandukhai Kaylin
Eva Stenram
Leah Schrager
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