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Pornceptual explores the utopian potential of sex

“Experimenting isn’t about trying everything, it’s about understanding that there are more options available.”

Chris Phillips

“Can art succeed where porn fails—to actually turn us on?” So begins the About section of Pornceptual’s website. A simple yet compelling question, it embodies what the Berlin-based project is all about: the unrelenting questioning of doctrinal notions of pornography and sexuality through an all-round artistic approach to liberation.

Founded in Brazil by photographer Chris Phillips, who was later joined by Eric Phillips, Rauqel Fedato and Diego Garcia, Pornceptual’s aesthetic interpretations of erotic imagery—or vice versa—may well have graced your Instagram feed, or perhaps you’ve crossed paths with their latest 210-page magazine, and already pondered porn’s potential as a weapon of social justice. Either way, the project’s media of subversive inquiry don’t stop here.

With their legendary club night that meshes techno with art installations and a fetish sex party, Pornceptual embodies both a community and a philosophy portraying how respectful, intimate and intersectional pornography can be used as a point of freedom and sexual utopia. After our most recent, and lengthy, experience at their singular “UNIFORM” party in Berlin’s former coin factory Alte Münze, we knew we had to move our infatuation with Pornceptual to the next stage. Naturally, we hit up founder Chris, and here’s what went down.

Hey Chris! What turns you on?

I’m turned on by beauty, by truly personal connections and by an aesthetic approach to sex.

And what does “sexy” mean to you?

Sexy is to feel comfortable within your own body and to be able to express your sexuality freely. Pornceptual is a community of creatives using porn as an artistic expression and offering a platform for people not only to experiment, but to also find new ways of feeling sexy.

Aside from its artistic and erotic qualities, do you consider porn political in nature as well?

Porn isn’t necessarily political, but it can be. It has a very subversive attitude that’s able to question norms and disrupt social concepts. For that to happen successfully, however, porn must break away from its own mainstream representations that are often conservative and oppressive. Only then can it become critical whilst also ethical and socially aware.

Personally, I see the parties you throw as politically charged events as well. The dancefloor and darkrooms can become a ground for the subversion of norms and laws. For the latest edition, you chose the theme “UNIFORM”. Why was that?

The idea was to question the uniform’s role in establishing norms and thus reconceptualize the meaning behind different kinds of uniforms’ effect on our day-to-day lives. By means of performing this in a context where people can choose any possible uniform as a fetish—instead of wearing what society tells them to—the act becomes subversive.

Chris Phillips

The uniform also brings to mind a duality between laws and transgressions, between dystopia and utopia…

Absolutely. Pornceptual criticizes social standards of current dystopias and proposes possible utopias. And with the positives of hedonism, mind-numbing pleasure and self-indulgent freedom, we also invite you into a world that’s neither hell nor heaven. Our “pornotopia” is an idealised, imaginative space of pornography and all possible combinations.

Does your choice of location also play a role in successfully establishing a “pornotopia”?

Hosting our nights in an “off” location instead of a club is what makes it special. We have to build the party up and down every time, which allows us to get creative about how we use the venue. Having separate spaces is also important for our concept; we want the rooms to possess distinctive energies, from an intense techno floor to a cosy chilling area or an art installation. The goal is to combine and mix elements in a way that unites a fetish sex party, an art event and an electronic music club night.

I didn’t feel uncomfortable or unsafe at any point at the latest party. What steps do you take when building that safe space?

First, we have a strict door selection. Although we intend to keep the party as open as possible, it’s important that we only let in those guests who understand our policies on consent and safe spaces. We always communicate them in a variety of ways and anyone who doesn’t follow the rules gets banned for life. Also, we work with an “awareness team” who walk around the party to ensure that if a guest experiences anything negative during their night, a security team can act as fast as possible.

Apart from throwing legendary parties, you’ve built an entire community online. What are your thoughts on online spaces as related to sexual expression and representation? Have they aided or hindered representations of a variety of sexualities?

Yes and no. Social media has been a great facilitator for people to create their own content and share that with a wide audience. This is great in terms of sexual expression since it provides you with control over the sexual image of yourself that you create, independent from what mainstream media and the porn industry propose. At the same time, however, online spaces are mostly regulated by conservative rules that deny people the right to publish explicit content freely; it’s mostly only allowed in private online spaces. Users are punished for it by means of blocked posts or banned accounts, and hence the issue of censorship emerges. It’s something we’re also constantly dealing with on every social media platform.

The issue of censorship brings to mind the ways online spaces have the power to define sexual preferences that are seen as innate. How do you try and counter that?

While there’s nothing wrong with all of us having sexual preferences, understanding that those preferences are often connected to racist, ageist and sexist views is a critical exercise that everyone should perform. Those normative and restrictive views should not dictate how we enjoy sex. It’s important to seek other forms of body representation, to show that beauty goes beyond presented norms and that sex can be performed by many different people in just as many different ways.

We have access to an abundance of sex apps that allow us to indulge in sexual activity at literally any time, any place. Has that redefined the way we perceive porn and encounters between humans generally?

The internet and new mobile technologies have definitely given birth to a revolution in the sphere of human relationships—at no previous point in history have so many people produced and shared their own amateur porn films and imagery. Pornography is becoming a medium that generates new configurations of intimacies; it offers novel possibilities for people to experiment and engage with one another. Notwithstanding, often these relationships are fragile and unfulfilling.

What would your advice be for someone who’s seeking sexual exploration yet fears this exact fragility both on- and offline?

Keep your mind open, but don’t force yourself into anything you’ll later regret. Experimenting isn’t about trying everything—it’s about understanding that there are more options available. Also, being sexually liberated doesn’t mean being promiscuous. People should have as many different partners as they want, but only if that’s their own choice and preference. So, never feel that you have to seek different partners all the time in order to reach sexual liberation. The journey should start with you, and then evolve to meeting others.

Chris Phillips

Words by Valkan Dechev
Photography by Chris Phillips & Eric Phillips
Models: Denis Thuillé-Sommer, Michail Rozimatov, Rei Pierre