The Romantic Breast Cancer Adventures of Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle

Curatio: Zofia nierodzińska

Location: Galeria Miejska Arsenał, Poznań

Fragment of the curatorial text:

Symptoms of disease are nothing but a disguised manifestation of the power of love; and all disease is only love transformed.
– Thomas Mann

Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, who during his first exhibition in Poland entitled "The Romantic Adventures of Beth Stephens, Annie Sprinkle and Breast Cancer" in the Poznań Kaiserpanorama will present photographs from the Cancer Erotica series. The breast cancer in the title is not a punishment for the sins of one’s life, and isolation is definitely not recommended as part of the therapy. The disease acquires a communal character as something that can, and must, be shared. Photographing the body in illness becomes a sort of cancerous coming-out that undermines the worship of virtually profiled individualism. The cancer in the photos by Beth and Annie gains importance as an inspiration, co-author and hero of an erotic narrative. The disease provides the context, with the bed as the setting, the medical accessories comprising both the catheter and the carnival feather, and a whole set of strange but necessary props. The performers, or Annie, Beth, breast cancer, and cameo characters like a nurse, friends and a black Doberman, are the focus of all attention. Classic black-and-white photographs from the "Cancer Ertotica" series show the artists during a chemotherapy-inspired ritual of lesbian hair-cutting; the joint decision to get rid of hair foreshadows the inevitable consequences of the disease; the partners do not forget about the use of erotic soothing devices. Photographs were taken by the artists’ friend David Steinberg. The second part of the series is composed of colour snapshots by Beth Stephens made during the artists’ shared time in hospital: the infusions and visits prior to, during and following the surgical removal of epithelial ingrowth in Annie’s breasts. Interestingly, it is the breast, the distinguishing mark of the famous pin-up girl, was the location of a potentially deadly disease. In Beth’s photographs, Annie’s bust is not fetishised; struck with an illness, the object of desire escapes the logic of a male gaze. This quite commonplace female experience with breast cancer is enough for the spectrum of the hetero-normative image repository to prove insufficient. Cancer does not make an abject of Annie’s bust. This would be too simple; in Beth’s eyes, it becomes a part of a shared experience, made possible thanks to a compassionate, touching gaze, which rejects androcentric constructivism, does not separate “I” from “the Other”, body from mind, and the human being from other living beings. The artists propose here a way of representation which is totally different from the official patriarchal one. Following the experience of concern, they embody what the Israeli theoretician Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger calls a matrixial gaze, based on compassion and on relations which go beyond the glossary related to Lacanian psychoanalysis.

More on:

Translation: Marcin Turski

The first of six photos documenting the exhibit “The Romantic Breast Cancer Adventures of Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle” depicts people sitting in a circle around a 19th-century keiserpanorama, so the machine to look at the photographic images, which was in use before the analog camera was invented. They are looking into glasses behind which analogue 3D photographs are presented. The second photograph shows part of the keiserpanorama and three people using it. On the left is an exhibition poster based on a photograph of Annie Sprinkle's hand with a silver ring with a dollar sign and a venflon inserted into one of the veins on her hand. The title of the exhibition is written in pink bold letters. The photograph shows a portrait of Annie Sprinkle as seen from the glasses in kaiserpanorama. It is a black and white photograph. The female person has her hair covered with shaving cream. She is naked and seen from breast to head. She smiles holding her hands under her chin. The photograph shows a portrait of Annie Sprinkle as seen from the glasses in kaiserpanorama. It is a colour photograph. The female person is wearing a black T-shirt with silver Star lettering, and a large silver necklace with red stones. She smiles into the camera. The photograph shows the hand of Annie Sprinkle with a silver ring with a dollar sign and a transparent green venflon tube inserted into one of the veins on her hand. The figure has her nails painted red. She is wearing a necklace with a gold A, and  a purple dress with a tiger pattern. There is a dark blue tattoo around her wrist. The photograph taken by Beth Stephens shows Annie Sprinkle on a hospital bed. She looks very cheerful, drinking a drink from a glass with a paper umbrella. She is wearing a black swimsuit and a shell necklace. On her head is a purple garland. A drip is attached to her left hand.