Semen And Blood IIIDeep ThroatVietcong execution

Taboo: Art & Film Censorship

Art has always been provocative, though modern and contemporary art often pushes at the limits of taste, decency, and even legality. Social taboos surrounding death, sex, and blasphemy have been challenged by artists, photographers, and film-makers who explore the boundaries of abjection and obscenity. Examination of artistic taboos necessarily involves describing controversial and shocking art, and this discussion will include artworks which have been censored or banned due to their offensive imagery.


Religious organisations are amongst the most vocal pro-censorship pressure-groups, and art depicting irreverent images of religious icons attracts sustained controversy, though legal suppression on the grounds of blasphemy is surprisingly rare. Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses (1988), for instance, resulted in a fatwa against the author following worldwide Muslim opposition to the book's thinly-veiled depiction of Mohammed. The international Muslim community also protested against the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which commissioned twelve Mohammed caricatures in 2005, prompting other newspapers and magazines to print further Mohammed cartoons in solidarity. Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French newspaper, reprinted the Jyllands-Posten caricatures and also produced several of its own front-page Mohammed cartoons, most notoriously a Charia Hebdo edition featuring Mohammed as its guest editor. The newspaper's offices were attacked by two armed extremists in 2015, and twelve people were killed; a defiant Charlie Hebdo published a new front-page Mohammed cartoon only a week later.

In 1989, Nigel Wingrove directed an erotic film inspired by the sexual fantasies of Saint Theresa, a 16th century nun. In the film, Visions Of Ecstasy, Theresa writhes on top of an unresponsive Christ while he is nailed to the cross. Wingrove submitted the film to the British Board of Film Classification, seeking to release it on video. However, the BBFC refused to classify the film as they considered it potentially blasphemous - despite having passed Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988), with its dream sequence featuring sex between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, uncut the year before. Wingrove took their decision to be a violation of his freedom of expression, and appealed to the High Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Neither appeal was successful, though the film can now be distributed without fear of prosecution since the UK blasphemy laws were repealed in 2008.

Jens Jorgen Thorsen's Jesus Vender Tilbage (1992) is another film representing Jesus as sexually active, and in Matthias von Fistenberg's Passio (2007) Jesus is depicted as gay. Christ also appears in the gay porn film Him (Ed D Louie, 1974). Bill Zebub's exploitation film Into Thy Hands (2004) was promoted with the alternative and self-explanatory title Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist, and Zebub portrayed Jesus in a similar fashion in his equally self-explanatory The Worst Horror Movie Ever Made (2005).

In 1976, Gay News published James Kirkup's poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which describes a Roman centurion's sex with Christ. Mary Whitehouse, who led a Christian pressure group campaigning for morality in the media, brought a private prosecution against the magazine, accusing them of blasphemous libel. The editor, Denis Lemon, was found guilty and given a suspended prison sentence. After an appeal to the House of Lords by Lemon and his publisher, the sentence was overturned though the conviction was not, and a subsequent appeal to the European Court of Human Rights was also unsuccessful. The poem finally became legally available only after the repeal of the UK blasphemy laws. Its final stanza is as follows:

"And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit's final seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth -
he crucified me with him into kingdom come".

Death & Taxidermy

Arguably no-one has done more than Gunther von Hagens to confront society's death taboo. He was the inventor of 'plastination', a chemical process enabling corpses to be preserved without their skins. These plastinated corpses, with their internal organs fully visible, were displayed in von Hagens's extraordinary touring exhibition Korperwelten in 1997.

Gunther von Hagens's stated aim was to educate the public about human anatomy, though his showmanship cast aspersions on the purity of his motives. He disputed that his work was art, though his exhibition was held in art galleries and his corpses were posed with props. In 2009, he even posed two corpses in mid-coitus. When Korperwelten reached Britain in 2002, von Hagens, ever the sensationalist, performed a public autopsy for visitors to the exhibition, which was televised by Channel 4. His exhibition was also featured in the film Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006).

Joel-Peter Witkin is arguably the most famous photographer of death. Witkin, who specialised in photographing corpses in Mexican morgues, treated the bodies he photographed as still-life objects, often surrounding them with the tropes of still-life painting such as bowls of fruit, though also producing more elaborate, fetishised, and carnivalesque tableaux. His use of dead bodies as props to be manipulated extended to a successful request for the decapitation of a male cadaver for his photograph Man Without A Head (1993). Thomas Condon also photographed corpses in a morgue surrounded by objects, though he received a custodial sentence in 2001 for the crime of 'corpse abuse'. Japanese photographer Tsurisaki Kiyotaka specialised exclusively in corpse photography, photographing accidents, crime scenes, and morgues.

Andres Serrano, who has confronted every taboo discussed here, including sex (A History Of Sex, 1998), bodily fluids, and violence, has also produced a series of photographs with a death theme. His Morgue series (1992), depicting corpses on morgue slabs, is as glossy and alluring as his other work, another box to tick on his check-list of tabooed subject-matter. The most effective images in the series are those of partially-covered bodies whose external injuries are not displayed. Like Gilbert and George's microscopic fluid abstractions, the abject nature of their subject-matter is revealed only by the titles of the images.

Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook has produced a series of contemplative video works in which she is seen reading aloud to shrouded corpses in a morgue. Her videos include Reading For Three Female Corpses (1997), Reading For Male And Female Corpses (1998), Pond (1998), Lament (2000), Reading For Female Corpse (2001), Chant For Female Corpse (2001), Three Female-Scape (2002), Conversation (I-III, 2002), Thai Medley (I-III, 2002), Wind Princess White Birds (2002), Sudsiri And Araya (2002), I'm Living (2002), Death Seminar (I-II, 2005), and The Class (I-III, 2005). Her video In A Blur Of Desire (2007) records animals at the point of death, as does Adel Abdessemed's video from the same year, Don't Trust Me.

For his Natural History series, Damien Hirst preserved various dead animals in formaldehyde, the most famous example being The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living (a shark, 1991). Hirst's animals in vitrines have been criticised as the epitomy of the 'sensationalist' nature of modern British art, though in fact they're incredibly moving and even profound. Hirst was the leader of a new generation of Young British Artists, whose provocative works were presented in the iconic London exhibition Sensation (1997). Influenced by Hirst and the YBAs, Polly Morgan (Psychopomps, 2010) led a taxidermy revival that blurred the boundaries between interior design and fine art.

Canadian artist Rick Gibson is responsible for one of the most offensive artworks ever created. After exhibiting Human Ear-Rings (1987) - two aborted foetuses, worn as ear-rings - he was prosecuted for outraging public decency.

Spunk Blood Piss Shit SpitKorperweltenEating People

Mondo Cinema

Death - the ultimate taboo - is the subject of an entire cinematic sub-genre: Mondo documentaries (or 'shockumentaries') featuring compilations of tribal rituals and other sensationalistic material disguised as ethnography. The trend was influenced by exploitative travelogue films such as Karamoja (William B Treutle, 1955).

The most successful Mondo films were those directed jointly by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, who founded the sub-genre with their Mondo Cane in 1962 and later directed the more explicit Africa Addio (1966). George Franju's Le Sang Des Betes (1949), a documentary filmed in a Paris slaughter-house, is a less exploitative Mondo production. There are also slaughterhouse scenes in two non-documentary films: Rainer Werner Fassbinder's In Einem Jahr Mit Dreizehn Monden (1978) and Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation (2006). The autopsy art films The Act Of Seeing With One's Own Eyes (Stan Brakhage, 1971) and Le Poeme (Bogdan Borkowski, 1986) were also influenced by Franju's poetic documentary. Hollis Frampton's films Apparatus Sum (1972) and Magellan: At The Gates Of Death (1976) also contain images of bodies in morgues, and his film Autumnal Equinox (1974) was filmed in a slaughterhouse.

Two famous deaths were captured on film in the 1960s: a presidential assassination and a Vietcong execution. The assassination of John F Kennedy was filmed by Abraham Zapruder in 1963; infamously, in frame number 313 of the Zapruder footage, a bullet dislodges part of Kennedy's head. The footage was released commercially in 1998 as Image Of An Assassination: A New Look At The Zapruder Film, and was featured in the films JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991), In The Line Of Fire (Wolfgang Petersen, 1993), and Story Of The Eye (Andrew Repasky McElhinney, 2004). The execution of prisoner-of-war Nguyen van Lem was photographed by Eddie Adams in 1968. His photograph, capturing the split-second when Nguyen Ngoc Loan's bullet was fired, became the defining image of the Vietnam war.

Mondo-style autopsy footage has occasionally been included in narrative cinema: Superbeast (1972, a horror film by George Schenck), Providence (1977) by Alain Resnais, and the horror/exploitation film Buio Omega by Aristide Massaccesi (1979) all feature brief footage of real autopsies. Juan Logar seemingly concocted the plot (and title) of Autopsia (1973), in which a traumatised Vietnam veteran feels compelled to attend an autopsy, purely as an excuse to insert extensive footage of a real post-mortem.

Two music videos also feature real autopsy footage: Hijokaidan's Live And Confused (1990) and SPK's notoriously offensive Despair (1982). Suicide's music video Frankie Teardop (1978) includes footage of a cadaver in a mortuary. The music video for Motorhead's Sacrifice (1995) includes footage of dead and mutilated war victims.

Thriller: En Grym Film (Bo Arne Vibenius, 1974), Philosophy Of A Knife (Andrey Kisanov, 2007), and Unrest (Jason Todd Ipson, 2006) have all used human cadavers as props, and human skeletons were used as props in The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975). It's also rumoured that real skeletons are featured in Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982) and Poltergiest II: The Other Side (Brian Gibson, 1986). The Stranger (Orson Welles, 1946) was the first narrative film to include footage of Holocaust victims, and similar footage was later featured in Judgment At Nuremberg (Stanley Kramer, 1961). Brian DePalma's Redacted (2007) concludes with a photographic montage of Iraqi war casualties, and Narciso Ibanez Serrador's ¿Quien Puede Matar A Un Nino? (1976) opens with a short compilation of war footage featuring dead and dying children. Footage of Mitr Chaibancha falling to his death in a fatal accident was included in the final sequence of the film Insee Thong (1970); Mitr, who also directed the film, was killed while performing a stunt suspended from a helicopter.

Snuff films, according to the urban myths surrounding their origins, are recordings of murder-victims being killed, and are rumoured to be distributed by organised criminals. The makers of the patently simulated 1976 horror film Snuff (Michael Findlay and Carter Stevens) attempted to pass it off as a genuine Snuff movie in order to generate publicity. The Islamic terrorist videos posted online following the 2003 war in Iraq, in which hostages were beheaded, represent the horrifying reality of death on film and could arguably be described as Snuff movies.

In 1985, Japanese director Hideshi Hino set out to emulate as closely as possible the tropes of a Snuff movie. The result was Chiniku No Hana, released as part of a video (or V-Cinema) series called Za Ginipiggu. Chiniku No Hana depicts the protracted dismemberment of a kidnapped woman. The Za Ginipiggu series is perhaps the first example of 'gorenography', otherwise known as 'gorno', a sub-genre of horror cinema in which violence reaches pornographic levels of explicitness.


Moral panics manufactured by tabloid newspapers and pressure groups ensure that otherwise unremarkable horror films are given disproportionate media coverage, and every year another new film is breathlessly described as 'the most violent film ever'. The most outrageously violent films, such as Braindead (Peter Jackson, 1992), are rendered funny rather than scary precisely because of their unrealistically explicit violence. (Braindead predates Edgar Wright's Shaun Of The Dead (2004) as a 'rom-zom-com' romantic zombie comedy.) There is, however, a select group of horror films vilified even by the genre press for their extreme violence, such as the Spanish necro-horror Aftermath (Nacho Cerda, 1994), the faux-Snuff August Underground's Mordum (Fred Vogel, Jerami Cruise, Killjoy, Mike Schneider, and Cristie Whiles; 2003), and the self-styled Vomit Gore film Slaughtered Vomit Dolls (directed under the pseudonym Lucifer Valentine, 2005).

The world's most extreme cinema currently emanates from Asia, especially 'category III' films such as TF Mous's unrelenting Hei Tei Yang 731 (1987), which includes the dissection of real human corpses and other atrocities. The violent excesses of 'category III' also extend to the over-the-top splatter of Takashi Miike's Koroshiya I (2001).

The work of some contemporary Chinese artists is particularly confrontational. A group exhibition in Shanghai, Bu Hezuo Fangshi (2000), included artists such as Xiao Yu, Sun Yuang, and Peng Yu, whose work incorporated bodily fluids and human cadavers (the head of a foetus grafted onto the body of a seagull, for example). Bu Hezuo Fangshi can be seen as a direct and more extreme successor to the British Sensation exhibition, and if Damien Hirst was Sensation's main attraction then Zhu Yu was his Chinese Bu Hezuo Fangshi equivalent.

Zhu's contribution to the exhibition was Eating People, a series of photographs documenting a performance he gave at the Shanghai Biennale. During the performance, titled Shiren (2000), Zhu cooked a baby in a microwave, brought it to the performace area on a plate, and then ate it. The Eating People photographs of this event circulated on the internet, and caused revulsion and scepticism in equal measure, with many who saw the images doubting their authenticity. Zhu was interviewed on British television in 2003 (Channel 4's Beijing Swings, by Martin Herring), thus reigniting the controversy. In another case of extreme yet unverifiable performance art, John Duncan claimed that he had intercourse with a female corpse in 1980, though the performance, titled Blind Date, was recorded only in audio format.

In the 1970s, a brief series of cannibal films was made in Italy, beginning with Umberto Lenzi's Il Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (1972), followed by Ruggero Deodato's Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (1977), Sergio Martino's La Montagna Del Dio Cannibale (1978), and Lenzi's Mangiati Vivi (1980). These films were made on location in the Amazonian jungles, and any wild animals encountered during filming (including musk-rats, turtles, and monkeys) were killed for the camera. Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1979) and Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox (1981, advertised as 'banned in 31 countries') are the most notable films from this sub-genre. They are also the nastiest of the videos prosecuted for obscenity in the UK. Aside from its inexcusable animal-killing, Cannibal Holocaust is a surprisingly sophisticated film. It contains a complex 'film within a film' narrative and it intelligently subverts our notions of verisimilitude and authenticity. Sandeep Singh captured real cannibalism on film in Feeding On The Dead, 2005.

Surprisingly, many narrative films feature the killing of animals, including Michael Haneke's Benny's Video (a pig is shot, 1992), Le Temps Du Loup (a horses's throat is cut, 2003), and Cache (a chicken is decapitated, 2005). Other films with unsimulated animal deaths include: Scott Sidney's Tarzan Of The Apes (an out-of-control lion is killed, 1918), Jean Renoir's La Regle Du Jeu (rabbits and pheasants are shot, 1939), Sergei Eisenstein's Stachka (cows are killed in a slaughterhouse, 1925), Marian Dora's Melancholie Der Engel (several animals, including a pig, are killed; 2009), Mariano Peralta's Snuff 102 (various animals, including a pig, are killed; 2007), Eloy de la Iglesia's La Semana Del Asesino (cows are killed in a slaughterhouse, 1972), Luis Bunuel's L'Age d'Or (a rat is killed by a scorpion, 1930), Roberto Rossellini's Paisa (an eel is killed, 1946), Barbet Scroeder's Maitress (a horse is killed, 1976), Gaspar Noe's Carne (a horse is killed, 1991), Juzo Itami's Tampopo (a turtle is killed, 1985), Walter Hill's Southern Comfort (a pig is killed, 1981), Robert Bresson's Mouchette (a rabbit is killed, 1967), Thierry Zeno's Vase De Noces (a chicken is decapitated, 1974), Ted Kotcheff's Wake In Fright (kangaroos are killed, 1971), Fred Vogel's August Underground's Penance (a live rat is fed to an alligator, 2007), Ermanno Olmi's L'Albero Degli Zoccoli (a pig is killed, 1978), Rene Cardona's Tintorera! (several sharks are killed, 1977), Fernando Arrabal's Vibe La Muerte (a bull and a lizard are killed, 1971), Brad F Grinter and Steve Hawkes's Blood Freak (a turkey is killed, 1972), Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (chickens have their heads shot off, 1973), Cornel Wilde's The Naked Prey (elephants are shot and eviscerated, 1966), Bert I Gordon's The Food Of The Gods (rats are killed, 1976), John Cardos's Kingdom Of The Spiders (numerous tarantulas are killed, 1977), Jean-Luc Godard's Week End (a pig is killed as an act of anti-bourgeois revolution, 1967), Tinto Brass's Salon Kitty (more pig-killing, 1976), Peter Whitehead's The Fall (a chicken is killed, 1969), Catherine Breillat's Une Vraie Jeune Fille (a chicken is killed, 1976) and Une Vieille Maitresse (another chicken is killed, 2007), John Waters's Mondo Trasho (chickens are decapitated, 1970), Adam Simon and Darren Moloney's Carnosaur (yet more chickens are decapitated, 1993), Jose Mojica Marins's O Exorcismo Negro (a woman bites a hen's head off, 1974), Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (a buffalo is sacrificed, 1979), Elwood Perez's Silip (a buffalo is killed, 1985), Kim Ki-Duk's Seom (flesh is cut from a live fish, 2000), Lee Kang-Sheng's Bangbang Wo Aishen (a carp is eaten alive, 2007), Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (a horse is killed, 1966), Jorg Buttgereit's Nekromantik (a rabbit is skinned, 1987) and Nekromantik 2: Die Ruckkehr Der Liebenden Toten (a seal is killed, 1991), Robert Bierman's Vampire's Kiss (the eating of a live cockroach, 1989), Herb Robins's The Worm-Eaters (worm-eating, 1977), Rui Zhang's Dao Ma Zei (a lamb is killed, 1986), Crispin Glover's What Is It? (snails are killed, 2005), Jiri Menzel's Postriziny (a pig is killed, 1981), Herman Yau's Yibola Bing Du (chickens and frogs are killed, 1996), Hyeon-Il Kang's Mago (frogs are trampled on, 2002), Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy (a live octopus is eaten, 2003), Monte Hellman's Cockfighter (cockfighting scenes, 1974), Naomi Kawase's Futatsume No Mado (goats have their throats slit, 2014), and Bernardo Bertolucci's Novocento (a pig is killed, 1976). There are unsimulated whaling sequences in Down To The Sea In Ships (Elmer Clifton, 1922) and Moby Dick (John Huston, 1956).

No animals were actually killed in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974), though several roadkill animal carcasses are used as props, included a dead armadillo. A dead rabbit appears in Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965), its gradual decay symbolising the psychological deterioration of the central character. Peter Greenaway's A Zed And Two Noughts (1985) features periodic footage of a decaying swan and zebra. A dead cow's eye is sliced open in Un Chien Andalou (Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, 1928). A sheep's eye was used to represent an android eye in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), and Scott used animal intestines when creating the special effects for Alien (1979). Two wolf carcasses were used as props in The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2012). A dead horse is seen in Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg (1977). A joint of beef is featured throughout Robert Wilson's short art film Steve Buscemi (2004). A sheep's head is eaten in Baltasar Kormakur's Myrin (2006). A horse's head is featured in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972). A pig's head on a pedestal appears throughout the short film The Loneliest Little Boy In The World (Mike Dereniewski, 2000). There are flayed and crucified lambs in Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain (1973). The mutant baby in David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) is rumoured to be a dead calf foetus, though the director refuses to discuss it. Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) features a menagerie of stuffed animals, including a swordfish and a tiger. A character visits an anatomical museum in Lionel Baier's film Garcon Stupide (2004). Taxidermy sculptures were created as props for Jonathan Parker's film Untitled (2009).

With their mechanical reanimations of dead animals (including ripping apart a pig in their 1986 video The Virtues Of Negative Fascination, directed by Jonathan Reiss), it could be argued that the Survival Research Laboratories group owes their existence to a pioneer of early animation, Wladyslaw Starewicz, who used stop-motion to reanimate dead beetles, grasshoppers, and ants. Starewicz's films include: Lucanus Cervus (1910), Rozhdyestvo Obitateli Lyesa (1911), Veselye Stsenki Iz Zhizni Zhivotnykh (1912), Prekrasnaya Lyukanida (1912), Mest Kinematograficheskogo Operatora (1912), Strekoza I Muravey (1913), and, most famously, the feature-length Le Roman De Renard (1937). Similarly, Jan Svankmajer has animated slabs of meat and disembodied body parts in Tichy Tyden V Dome (1969), Meat Love (1989), and Sileni (2005).

Two avant-garde films, Stan Brakhage's Sirius Remembered (1959) and Paul Kocela's The End Of One (1971), both depict dead or dying animals. Brakhage filmed his pet dog in various stages of decomposition, moving his camera violently and looping the footage. By contrast, Kocela's work is a graceful film depicting the slow, quiet death of a seagull. Neither of these art films sensationalise their subjects, and both were intended as tributes to the tragic animals they depict. The same could be said of Denys Colomb de Daunant's Corrida Interdite (1958), which conveys the choreography and violence of a bullfight.

RosieThe Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone LivingCharlie Hebdo


The Lord Chamberlain's role as British theatre censor ended in 1968, though it took thirty years and a Dutch theatre-company - Toneelgroep - to bring unsimulated sex to the stage. Toneelgroep toured Britain with their 1992 play Liefhebber (directed by Gerardjan Rijnders) in 1998, a monologue in which a redundant theatre critic rails against the blinkered pretension of contemporary theatre. Attempting to attract his attention, his wife and son perform increasingly explicit acts. A kettle was placed on a stove, and Fred Goessens, playing the son, timed his orgasm with the whistling of the kettle: a genuinely taboo-breaking moment in an exciting and energetic play. (In 2009, when The Pied Pipers Of The Lower East Side was performed in New York, actor Matthew Pilieci always performed one nude scene while aroused.)

The only comparably explicit theatrical performances are those of the lesbian band Rockbitch, who were often prevented from performing in Britain. (They released a live video in 1997, titled Bitchcraft.) With the abolition of central regulation in the form of the Lord Chamberlain, censorship of the stage became determined on a local basis by town councils, thus Rockbitch could perform in some towns yet not in others. It was this inconsistency which led to the group retiring from live performance in 2002.

Some performance art events have been enlivened by the projection of sexually explicit material, notably two performances from the same year (2002) by Ron Athey and Tadasu Takamine. Athey's performance Joyce included a triptych display projecting three scenarios: the artist pleasuring himself in the shower, the artist fisting a woman representing his mother, and a man slashing his arms with a razor. The footage was projected below a stage, also segregated into three sections, on which Athey and his entourage dangled naked from ropes and swings.

Takamine's performance Kimura-San featured footage of the artist relieving the sexual tension of a paralysed friend. Takamine extended the boundaries of traditional 'personal care', and in presenting it to audiences he challenged the stereotypical equation of disability with asexuality. As the footage was projected, Takamine strapped his head into an ergonomic metal cage, smashing panes of glass with his head and grinding the shards with his forehead.

The multi-media spectacle XXX (2002) by the Spanish theatre-company La Fura dels Baus, is another example of a live performance accompanied by explicit video footage. In XXX, directed by Alex Olle and Carlos Padrissa, the live performance of simulated sex is supplemented by footage of psychedelic disembodied erections, hardcore shots filmed in extreme close-up, and even a few seconds of internet-sourced footage featuring a woman and a horse. An equally brief equine clip was included in Robinson Devor's documentary Zoo in 2007. Finally, the comedy show Kim Noble Must Die (2009) featured video footage of Kim Noble's orgasm.

Nick Zedd published a manifesto calling for a new kind of taboo-breaking cinema which he named the Cinema of Transgression. The 1985 Cinema Of Transgression Manifesto was originally attributed to Orion Jeriko, Zedd's pseudonym. Zedd started making underground films in the early 1980s, though his most extreme production is the confrontational, hardcore short film Whoregasm from 1988.

In art photography, sex is most explicitly represented by Jeff Koons, whose narcissistic Made In Heaven series (1991) features the artist having sex with his then-wife, former porn model Ilona Staller. Koons's photographs are perhaps the most provocative works caught up in the long-running debate surrounding the division between art and pornography.

Koons's photographs can be seen as glossier versions of Man Ray's Printemps, Ete, Automne, and Hiver (1929), published in Louis Aragon and Benjamin Peret's book 1929. The series depicts the photographer and Kiki de Montparnasse having sex, and the book was banned in France upon publication; it was also banned in Britain when it was reprinted in 1996.

Made In Heaven appeared uncensored in a Jeff Koons monograph published by Taschen in 1992, and Taschen have since become synonymous with explicit art books. They excelled even themselves with Forbidden Erotica (2000) by Mark Rotenberg and Laura Mirsky, a collection of Victorian hardcore images distinguished as perhaps the only book in Britain with an uncensored hardcore photograph as its cover image.

Robert Mapplethorpe's acclaimed X Portfolio photographs depicting gay sex achieved worldwide notoriety when American senator Jesse Helms criticised the state funding of a Mapplethorpe retrospective in 1989. Helms came to epitomise the reactionary, religious, and conservative contempt for any remotely challenging artworks. A lavish monograph of the photographer's work (Mapplethorpe, 1992), featuring many of the X Portfolio images, has twice been seized by police in Britain, though has never actually been prosecuted for obscenity.

Mapplethorpe's most controversial photograph is Rosie (1976), a portrait of three-year-old Rosie Bowdrey in which her dress does not quite obscure her nudity. Rosie was seized by the police from London's Hayward art gallery in 1996, and several other galleries have refused to exhibit it on police advice. Indeed, any art exhibition featuring photographs of naked children, regardless of the context, is liable for prosecution in the current climate of moral panic.

Nude photographs of children by Graham Ovenden (1993 and 2009), Ron Oliver (1993), Will McBride (Zeig Mal!, 1974), David Hamilton (The Age Of Innocence, 1995), Nan Goldin (Klara And Edda Belly-Dancing, 1998), Tierney Gearon (2001), Annelies Strba (2002), and Richard Prince (Spiritual America, 1983) have also been seized by UK police as potentially obscene. In America, the FBI investigated photographers Jacqueline Livingston (1978) and Jock Sturges (Radiant Identities, 1994) though ultimately no charges were brought.

Surprisingly, the most graphic sex ever seen on British terrestrial television was broadcast on the mainstream channel BBC1: An Everyday Miracle, an episode of the science documentary series The Human Body (Christopher Spencer, 1998), illustrated the process of human fertilisation using microscopic cameras. Two climaxes were shown, in extreme close-up, the first time such footage had ever been transmitted on TV. It was almost a decade before comparably explicit material was broadcast again, when Channel 5 filmed an internal orgasm in A Girl's Guide To 21st Century Sex (2006).

Perhaps the world's longest artistic ban was that of John Cleland's erotic novel Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure, also known as Fanny Hill. It was banned in the UK in 1749, the year of its original publication, and was also banned in America upon publication in 1821. The novel was republished in both the UK and the US in 1963, leading to obscenity trials in both countries. It was convicted in the UK, though it was subsequently republished in 1970 without further prosecution. In the US, it was also convicted, though the verdict was overturned on appeal.

The publication of material with a tendency to 'deprave and corrupt' public morals was curtailed in the UK by the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. The popularity of sensationalist 'pulp fiction' novellas from America led to many prosecutions under the Act, and thousands of convicted titles were listed in an annual (and highly classified) Blue Book issued by the Home Office during the early 1950s. In the same era, over a hundred 'saucy' postcards were also declared obscene, including many by the artist Donald McGill. The Act was revised in 1959, introducing a defence of artistic merit, which lead to the acquittal of Lady Chatterley's Lover the following year. DH Lawrence's novel, originally published in 1929, was a watershed for British society, the first in a series of liberal milestones throughout the 1960s. Later obscenity charges against novels (Hubert Selby's Last Exit To Brooklyn in 1968; David Britton's Lord Horror in 1991) were overturned after appeals, as was the conviction of the underground magazine Oz #28 in 1971. Radclyffe Hall's Sapphic novel The Well Of Loneliness, convicted in 1929, was republished in 1949 with no subsequent prosecution. Henry Miller's Tropic Of Cancer (1934) was published in the UK in 1963 without incident, despite its high-profile US obscenity trial. Visual art was still targeted, however: prints of Aubrey Beardsley's Lysistrata illustrations were seized by Scotland Yard, twenty paintings by Jim Dine were confiscated, and Gustav Metzger was prosecuted for his Destruction In Art Symposium, all in 1966.

The Obscene Publications Act was extended to include films in 1977. This extension of the Act's remit would become most evident in the 1980s, when films were released on video. Technology is always ahead of the censor: satellite television enables foreign channels to broadcast pornography across the airwaves and, in the virtual world of the internet, legislation is anathema. Similarly, domestic video cassettes were introduced before any thought was given to the regulation of their contents. Thus, films banned from the cinema suddenly became available on tape. The press (especially the vitriolic Daily Mail) began campaigning for legislation against these 'video nasties', dismissing them as 'gore' and 'splatter' films, 'slice-and-dicers', and 'stalk-and-slashers'. The Director of Public Prosecutions was urged to act.

In 1983, the DPP issued a list of thirty-nine objectionable videos which had either been successfully prosecuted by regional police forces or were deemed "suitable for such prosecution". Most of the videos were convicted under section three of the Obscene Publications Act, meaning that they were subject to indiscriminate seizure by police and prosecution by a magistrate. Prosecution under section two, requiring a jury trial, was less common, and the verdicts of such trials were inconsistent, with juries in different regions returning different verdicts. Some of the most prominent 'video nasties' included Nightmare (Romano Scavolini, 1981; released as Nightmares In A Damaged Brain), Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara, 1979), and Lager SSadis Kastrat Kommandantur (Sergio Garrone, 1976; released as SS Experiment Camp).

Porno Chic

Sex and the cinema have a long relationship, first demonstrated by the production of pornographic Stag reels ('blue movies', 'cooch reels', 'beaver reels', or 'smokers') from the 1890s onwards. A landmark American ruling in 1957, that nudist films were not obscene, led to a flood of softcore 'sexploitation' films variously termed 'roughies', 'kinkies', 'ghoulies', and 'nudie-cuties', the first being Russ Meyer's The Immoral Mr Teas (1959). Sexploitation became increasingly explicit and violent following Herschell Gordon Lewis's gory Blood Feast (1963), until eventually even hardcore pornography gained mainstream recognition.

Porn (or 'porno') was brought from the back-streets to the mainstream in the early 1970s by two directors: Alex de Renzy and Gerard Damiano. The former directed several ground-breaking documentaries on pornography, including A History Of The Blue Movie (1971), which featured uncensored clips from Stag films. Walerian Borowczyk made a similar compilation in 1973, titled Une Collection Particuliere, as did Michel Reilhac in 2002 (Polissons Et Galipettes). When Borowczyk showed his film at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, he added graphic footage of a woman having sex with a dog.

Alex de Renzy's documentaries, mostly focussing on the landmark legalisation of hardcore by Denmark in 1969, emphasised pornography's historical and cultural significance, and porn came to be recogised as a subject for study and discussion rather than prosecution. However, de Renzy was at heart a sensationalist. The documentary nature of his films was a convenient excuse to distribute hardcore porn under the guise of respectability, and his influence on the intellectualisation of pornography was accidental rather than planned.

Deep Throat (1972), by Gerard Damiano, became porn's cross-over hit, as Damiano recognised that, with changes in structure and publicity, hardcore content could be rendered acceptable to a wider audience. Inside Deep Throat, a documentary about the film's unexpected success, was directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato in 2005. Unlike most previous porn films, Deep Throat was feature-length, with a script and a plot, its sex scenes thus being presented within a narrative context. The film played in mainstream cinemas, with its success being dubbed 'porno chic'. A similar trend existed in Japan, initiated by Tetsuji Takechi's taboo-breaking Pinku-Eiga film Hakujitsumu from 1964, which he remade in 1981.

The success of Deep Throat also led to a number of experimental hardcore films - including Jean-Francois Davy's 1975 documentary Exhibition, and Bo Arne Vibenius's self-explanatory 1974 rape-revenge production Thriller: En Grym Film - playing the 'midnight movie' circuit, occupying spots usually taken by softcore exploitation films. This cross-over was not always successful, as the films, such as Thundercrack (Curt McDowell, 1975), were often too graphic for the arthouse audience and too avant-garde for the porn market. In an infamously unsuccessful example of porn cross-over, acclaimed actors such as John Geilgud and Malcolm McDowell appeared in the Roman epic Caligula (1979) and later disowned the film when its director, Tinto Brass, inserted six minutes of hardcore pornography.

Though largely removed from public cinemas, pornography is now ubiquitous online and on video. John Stagliano's The Adventures Of Buttman (1989) video led to the Verite-style Gonzo sub-genre. Porn has been appropriated by the Hip-Hop performer Snoop Dogg for his video Doggystyle (Michael Martin, 2001), by Dance-Metal band Rammstein for their video Pussy (Jonas Akerlund, 2009), and by Dirty Stop Out for their video Cuntro Classics I (2009).

In 1998, Pierre Woodman's porn film The Pyramid (1997) was submitted for classification to the British Board of Film Classification. The Board did not censor the film's hardcore footage, and gave it an 'R18' certificate. This was something of a landmark decision, as it marked the first occasion on which hardcore pornography was legally available in the UK.

The BBFC's decision in this case was especially extraordinary as they had not consulted the Home Office prior to making it. Consequently, the Home Secretary ordered a reversal of the new policy. The BBFC relented, and resumed their previous position, removing all hardcore footage from the porn films they received. The distributors, pleasantly surprised by the BBFC's liberalism and frustrated by its swift reversal, launched a legal appeal. The appeal was successful, and the government was effectively over-ruled, making consensual hardcore material permitted in 'R18' films.

Though the BBFC does certify material at the borderline between erotica and pornography, or pornography and arthouse, it rejects blatantly exploitative material. There are a handful of exploitation directors who specialise in particularly graphic combinations of sex and violence, and the most notorious is Aristide Massaccesi, who always directed under pseudonyms. His Emanuelle In America (1972), credited to the pseudonymous Joe D'Amato, was released in the UK only after its scenes of horse-stimulation were removed; later, Tom Green pleasured both a horse and an elephant in the 2001 comedy Freddy Got Fingered. Ian Kerkhof's The Dead Man II: Return Of The Dead Man (1994), which begins with a graphic 'Roman shower' sequence, has never been submitted to the BBFC, although a film with a similar sequence - Lukas Moodysson's Ett Hal I Mitt Hjarta from 2004 - was approved ten years later. Michael Caton-Jones's Scandal (1988) was cut by the BBFC to remove brief hardcore footage from its orgy scene, and Joel Schumacher's Hollywood thriller 8mm (1999) was cut by the Motion-Picture Association of America for the same reason.

Arthouse Hardcore

During the 1960s, several artists produced short, experimental hardcore films, the most famous being Carolee Schneemann's Fuses (1965), Andy Warhol's Fuck (1968), and Barbara Rubin's Christmas On Earth (1962). Helmuth Costard's short propagandist film Besonders Wertvoll (1968) features a close-up image of a phallus which ridicules the German government before climaxing towards the camera. Later, artists incorporated footage from pornographic films into their work, as in Peggy Ahwesh's The Color Of Love (1994) and several films by Tony Wu (Making Maps, 2003; More Intimacy, 1999).

The first time an aroused phallus appeared in a non-pornographic, commercial, narrative film (as opposed to experimental films or pornography) was in 1966, in a split-second shot at the start of Ingmar Bergman's Persona. Since then, this forbidden image has been permissible in numerous arthouse films.

In the 1990s, European (and particularly French) art cinema became noticeably more explicit, with brief, contextualised hardcore sequences incorporated into an increasing number of films. In Gaspar Noe's Seul Contre Tous, for instance, the central character visits a porn cinema (like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver) and we view the sex film with him. Later, the film teases the audience with a caption warning that those of a nervous disposition have thirty seconds to leave the cinema, evoking the 1950s gimmicks of William Castle. Noe also directed a short hardcore sex-education film for French television (Sodomites, 1998), and a hardcore 3D film (Love, 2015). Catherine Breillat has directed several explicit French studies of sexual politics, including Romance (1999) and Anatomie De L'Enfer (2004). Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac (2013) was released in two versions, and was split into two volumes and multiple chapters, an approach that the director called 'digressionism'.

The portmanteau film Destricted (2005) addressed the issue of arthouse hardcore head-on. Its raison d'etre was to explore the outer limits of sex in narrative cinema, and it consists of seven short films: Balkan Erotic Epic (Marina Abramovic), Hoist (Matthew Barney), Sync (Marco Brambilla), Impaled (Larry Clark), We Fuck Alone (Gaspar Noe), House Call (Richard Prince), and Death Valley (Sam Taylor-Wood). Tom Hingston attempted a similar exercise with his book Porn? (2002), in which he commissioned several fashion/art photographers to produce a series of images exploring the nature of pornography. The gay short film compilations Boys On Film II (2009) and Boys On Film VI (2011) also include brief hardcore scenes, the former featuring Julian Hernandez's explicit Bramadero (2007).

Thunska Pansittivorakul, an independent Thai director, has produced several sexually explicit short films. Sigh (2001) includes double-exposed, out-of-focus images of two men having sex. Vous Vous Souviens De Moi? (2005) includes scenes of a man with an erection. Voodoo Girls (2002) features online porn footage. Endless Story (2005), a slideshow of the director's snapshots, includes pictures of hustlers posing naked and aroused. This Area Is Under Quarantine (2008) features close-up footage of two men having sex. In the split-screen Unseen Bangkok (2004), a profile of a male hustler, the subject is shown stroking himself in close-up and, in a covert porn video, a man pleasures himself while taking a shower. In the tender Middle-Earth (2007), two nude men sleep next to each other, and, in the film's playful conclusion, one of the men slowly becomes erect. A similar sequence depicting gradual tumescence appears at the start of Matthew Barney's De Lama Lamina (2004), and such a transformation is the central feature of John Broughton's short film Hermes Bird (1979). Thunska's first feature-length narrative film, Reincarnate (2009), is also his most explicit work; it was followed by The Terrorists (2011), which combines sex wih footage of state-sanctioned violence. His short film 2060 (2012), an extract from the feature-length Supernatural (2013), ends with photographs of Thai military massacres.

The following non-pornographic films include hard-core images and have received either mainstream or arthouse distribution:

  • Oh Dem Watermelons (Robert Nelson, 1965)
  • Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
  • Flesh (Paul Morrissey, 1968)
  • Dom Kallar Oss Mods (Stefan Jarl and Jan Lindkvist, 1968)
  • TOUCHING (Paul Sharits, 1968)
  • Stille Dage I Clichy (Jens Jorgen Thorsen, 1970)
  • WR: Misterije Organizma (Dusan Makavejev, 1971)
  • Il Decameron (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1971)
  • Cry Uncle! (John G Avildsen, 1971)
  • Apres-Ski (Roger Cardinal, 1971)
  • Pink Narcissus (James Bidgood, 1971)
  • Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972)
  • Storie Scellerate (Sergio Citti, 1973)
  • Il Fiore Delle Mille E Una Notte (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1974)
  • Flesh Gordon (Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm, 1974)
  • Sebastiane (Derek Jarman, 1976)
  • Through The Looking Glass (Jonas Middleton, 1976)
  • Ai No Korida (Nagisa Oshima, 1976)
  • La Derniere Femme (Marco Ferreri, 1976)
  • L'Ange Et La Femme (Gilles Carle, 1977)
  • Kleinhoff Hotel (Carlo Lizzani, 1977)
  • La Svastica Nel Ventre (Mario Caino, 1977)
  • The Forbidden (Clive Barker, 1978)
  • Immagini Di Un Convento (Aristide Massaccesi, 1979)
  • Cruising (William Friedkin, 1980)
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980)
  • Prostitute (Tony Garnett, 1980)
  • Barnens O (Kay Pollak, 1980)
  • Spetters (Paul Verhoeven, 1980)
  • Die Alptraumfrau (Lothar Lambert, 1981)
  • Les Fruits De La Passion (Shuji Terayama, 1981)
  • Taxi Zum Klo (Frank Ripploh, 1981)
  • Not A Love Story: A Film About Pornography (Bonnie Sherr Klein, 1981)
  • Scandale (George Mihalka, 1982)
  • Fanny Hill (Gerry O'Hara, 1983)
  • L'Homme Blesse (Patrice Chereau, 1985)
  • The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 1995)
  • Il Diavolo In Corpo (Marco Bellocchio, 1986)
  • She's Gotta Have It (Spike Lee, 1986)
  • Mon Bel Amour Ma Dechirure (Jose Pinheiro, 1987)
  • Hotel St Pauli (Svend Wam, 1988)
  • Two Moon Junction (Zalman King, 1988)
  • Annabelle Partagee (Francesca Comencini, 1990)
  • The Adjuster (Atom Egoyan, 1991)
  • Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf (Leo Carax, 1991)
  • No Skin Off My Ass (Bruce La Bruce, 1991)
  • Topazu (Ryu Murakami, 1992)
  • L'Amant (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1992)
  • Cling Film (Anna Thew, 1993)
  • Super Eight-And-A-Half (Bruce La Bruce, 1993)
  • The Soft Kill (Eli Cohen, 1994)
  • Angels And Insects (Philip Haas, 1995)
  • Hustler White (Bruce La Bruce, 1996)
  • La Vie De Jesus (Bruno Dumont, 1997)
  • Assassin(s) (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1997)
  • Seul Contre Tous (Gaspar Noe, 1997)
  • Idioterne (Lars von Trier, 1998)
  • Fiona (Amos Kollek, 1998)
  • Head On (Ana Kokkinos, 1998)
  • Extension Du Domaine De La Lutte (Philippe Harel, 1999)
  • Skin Gang (Bruce La Bruce, 1999)
  • Les Terres Froides (Sebastien Lifshitz, 1999)
  • Pola X (Leo Carax, 1999)
  • La Donna Lupo (Aurelio Grimaldi, 1999)
  • Guardami (Davide Ferrario, 1999)
  • Romance (Catherine Breillat, 1999)
  • Subconscious Cruelty (Karim Hussain, 2000)
  • In Extremis (Etienne Faure, 2000)
  • O Fantasma (Joao Pedro Rodrigues, 2000)
  • Presque Rien (Sebastien Lifshitz, 2000)
  • IKU (Shu Lea Cheang, 2000)
  • Scrapbook (Eric Stanze, 2000)
  • The Atrocity Exhibition (Jonathan Weiss, 2001)
  • La Pianiste (Michael Haneke, 2001)
  • KI (Karl Lemieux, 2001)
  • Intimacy (Patrice Chereau, 2001)
  • A Ma Soeur! (Catherine Breillat, 2001)
  • Investigating Sex (Alan Rudolph, 2001)
  • Hundstage (Ulrich Seidl, 2001)
  • Hatuna Meuheret (Dover Koshashvili, 2001)
  • Baise-Moi (Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, 2001)
  • Le Pornographe (Bertrand Bonello, 2001)
  • Ken Park (Larry Clark and Edward Lachman, 2002)
  • La Novia De Lazaro (Fernando Merinero, 2002)
  • Le Loup De La Cote Ouest (Hugo Santiago, 2002)
  • La Chatte A Deux Tetes (Jacques Nolot, 2002)
  • Les Diables (Christophe Ruggia, 2002)
  • Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, 2002)
  • Lucia Y El Sexo (Julio Medem, 2002)
  • The Last Great Wilderness (David Mackenzie, 2002)
  • Choses Secretes (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2002)
  • Sud Sanaeha (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2002)
  • The Principles Of Lust (Penny Woolcock, 2003)
  • Bodysong (Simon Pummell, 2003)
  • The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)
  • Rossa Venezia (Andreas Bethmann, 2003)
  • The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003)
  • Nine Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004)
  • Antares (Gotz Spielmann, 2004)
  • Garcon Stupide (Lionel Baier, 2004)
  • The Raspberry Reich (Bruce La Bruce, 2004)
  • Anatomie De L'Enfer (Catherine Breillat, 2004)
  • Story Of The Eye (Andrew Repasky McElhinney, 2004)
  • Karlekens Sprak 2000 (Anders Lennberg, 2004)
  • Nacktschnecken (Michael Glawogger, 2004)
  • All About Anna (Jessica Nilsson, 2005)
  • Batalla En El Cielo (Carlos Reygadas, 2005)
  • Princesas (Fernando Leon de Aranoa, 2005)
  • Inside Deep Throat (Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, 2005)
  • Kissing On The Mouth (Joe Swanberg, 2005)
  • Lie With Me (Clement Virgo, 2005)
  • Puffball (Nicolas Roeg, 2006)
  • Glue: Historia Adolescente En Medio De La Nada (Alexis Dos Santos, 2006)
  • Taxidermia (Gyorgy Palfi, 2006)
  • Der Freie Wille (Matthias Glasner, 2006)
  • Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
  • Otto, or Up With Dead People (Bruce La Bruce, 2007)
  • Puffball (Nicolas Roeg, 2007)
  • Bramadero (Julian Hernandez, 2007)
  • Ex Drummer (Koen Mortier, 2007)
  • Import/Export (Ulrich Seidl, 2007)
  • Kuaile Gongchang (Ekachai Uekrongtham, 2007)
  • Nessuna Qualita Agli Eroi (Paolo Franchi, 2007)
  • Water In Milk Exists (Lawrence Weiner, 2008)
  • Les Plages d'Agnes (Agnes Varda, 2008)
  • J'Ai Reve Sous L'Eau (Hormoz, 2008)
  • Serbis (Brillante Mendoza, 2008)
  • Tropical Manila (Lee Sang-Woo, 2008)
  • Greek Pete: A Year In The Life Of A Rent Boy (Andrew Haigh, 2009)
  • Bruno (Larry Charles, 2009)
  • Infideles (Claude Peres, 2009)
  • Enter The Void (Gaspar Noe, 2009)
  • La Sangre Y La Lluvia (Jorge Navas, 2009)
  • Hollywood, Je T'Aime (Jason Bushman, 2009)
  • Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
  • House Of Boys (Jean-Claude Schlim, 2009)
  • Zivot I Smrt Porno Bande (Mladen Djordjevic, 2009)
  • Kynodontas (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2009)
  • Killer Bitch (Liam Galvin, 2010)
  • Bedways (Rolf Peter Kahl, 2010)
  • LA Zombie (Bruce La Bruce, 2010)
  • Insects In The Backyard (Thanwarin Sukhaphisit, 2010)
  • Q (Laurent Bouhnik, 2011)
  • American Translation (Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr, 2011)
  • Skoonheid (Oliver Hermanus, 2011)
  • The Bunny Game (Adam Rehmeier, 2011)
  • Jagten (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)
  • I Want Your Love (Travis Mathews, 2012)
  • Starlet (Sean Baker, 2010)
  • Chroniques Sexuelles d'Une Famille d'Aujourd'hui (Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr, 2012)
  • Paradies: Glaube (Ulrich Seidl, 2012)
  • L'Inconnu Du Lac (Alain Guiraudie, 2013)
  • Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)
  • Peter de Rome: Grandfather Of Gay Porn (Ethan Reid, 2014)
  • Love (Gaspar Noe, 2015)

Jyllands-PostenPaysage FautifMade In Heaven


Gilbert and George created giant, garish photographs of bodily fluids. They used microscopes to photograph the individual cells and particles of their fluids, the resulting images being surprisingly beautiful abstract patterns resembling mosaic fractals. So enchanting are these alchemical images that the only indication of their baser origins comes from their titles. Their Spunkland (1997) resembles Richard Hamilton's collage Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? (1956) in its trepidatious/celebratory depiction of a new Eden; more directly, it's an homage to Marcel Duchamp's literally seminal Paysage Fautif (1946), a small sheet of card stained with seminal fluid.

Andres Serrano also took a series of abstract photographs of bodily fluids: his Semen And Blood (1990) is a swirling, polymorphous mass of red and white translucent liquid, a startlingly beautiful and luminescent image. Again, the title is the only clue as to the true nature of the photographed fluids. He also photographed human and animal excrement, for an exhibition titled Shit (2008). Serrano's Piss Christ (1987) generated intense controversy, it being a photograph of a statue of Jesus immersed in a tank of urine. US Senator Jesse Helms was predictably outraged, though the urine's opaque, yellow glow resembles amber resin, giving the statue the reverential appearance of a fossilised artefact, an interpretation clearly oblivious to the fulminating Helms. (Piss Christ was the central focus of a right-wing backlash in the early 1990s, when Helms and other American senators criticised the National Endowment for the Arts and its funding grants.)

Piss Christ's literal and linguistic combination of the sacred and the profane - Jesus and urine - was subtly echoed by Chris Ofili's The Upper Room (2002), a group of thirteen paintings of monkeys, each one a different colour. The animals were positioned to represent Christ and his disciples at the Last Supper, and were decorated with discreet lumps of elephant dung. Animal dung also features in Pink Flamingos (1972), the underground film by 'Pope of trash' John Waters, in which it is consumed by Divine.

In her music video Firecracker (2003), Roxy Saint is seen bathing in her menstrual blood. Slayer's video Live Intrusion (1995) includes footage of Mike Meyer carving the band's name into his arm and burning the bloody wound. In Nico B's 1998 film Pig, the film's title is carved into a man's chest. Blood is extracted with a syringe, decanted into a glass, and consumed in Alejandro Jodorowsky's film Fando Y Lis (1968). For his art video Sick Film (2006), Martin Creed filmed people vomiting against a plain white background. The films of Joe Christ (such as Communion In Room 410 from 1988 and Sex Blood And Mutilation from 1995) depict scarification and blood-drinking. Even the silent classic La Passion De Jeanne d'Arc (Carl Theodore Dreyer, 1928) features a blood-letting sequence.

Body Art

The singers GG Allin and Genesis P Orridge specialised in a more profoundly chaotic appropriation of bodily fluids. Allin, lead singer of The Murder Junkies, was repeatedly arrested due to the obscenity of his stage act; he was profiled in the documentaries Hated by Todd Phillips (1994) and Affliction by Mark Hejnar (1996). Orridge, from the band Throbbing Gristle, performed various scatological acts, and these confrontational spectacles represent the antithesis of our idealised culture of order, precision, and sanitation.

For Hermann Nitsch, abjection and art were inseparable. His ritualistic and quasi-religious performance art events began in 1962 with the disembowelling of a dead sheep. They reached their zenith in 1998 with a six-day orgy of blood, gore, and entrails. Performance artist Samppa von Cyborg's film Scabs (2006), and his music video for The Wildhearts (Kill All Monsters, 2007), share Nitsch's abject aesthetic, as do Fernando Arrabal's films Viva La Muerte (1970) and J'Irai Comme Un Cheval Fou (1972).

With Otto Muhl, Gunter Brus, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, and Otmar Bauer, Nitsch formed the Vienna Aktionists collective, whose performances involved coprophagy and animal slaughter. In Zeigt (1969), for instance, Bauer eats a revolting mixture of food, vomit, and urine. Muhl's performances, notably 20 September (1967), Sodoma (1970), and Oh Sensibility (1970), reached a wider audience as they were filmed by Kurt Kren. Muhl also appeared briefly in Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie (1974), another exercise in scatological excess.