Cecilie Høgsbro on the artist Nanna Buhl:
From place to space
Nanna Buhl's video project, "Red light transition", is a visual essay more than a classic documentary. One central aim is to investigate how our concept of public space has changed as different practices, formerly related to and defining concrete urban space, have moved into the virtual sphere of the media. This development is not due to the new technologies alone, but also to the growing homogeneization and hygienization of the urban enviroment, caused by commercial and political interests in creating "sound" urban environments. To exemplify and analyze this situation Buhl has chosen to study prostitution in the Copenhagen red light district and the profound changes it has undergone during the last ten years.
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Images of prostitution
While prostitution is called women's oldest labor, the invention of pornography - visualized, commercialized and distributable sex - is said to be one of the mere signs of modernity. Considering itself a modern state Denmark was the first country to legalize porn in 1969. The liberal attitude towards pornography played a very important role in the cultural campaign of the welfare state against any kind of societal hippocracy, whether sexual, religious or political, which could possibly degenerate the individual. That pornography in itself was based on quite suppressive, even morbid stereotypes wasn't a political, moral or logical issue at the time.
Though pornography, due to legislation and media technology, became more and more visible within the public space, public prostitution continued being illegal. If free pornography was considered almost healthy, not at least to the GNP, street prostitution remained "unhealthy", causing moral offense, crime, repression and disease and was therefore permanently combated. Prostitution therefore got increasingly pornografized - and in a way legalized - by using the media and the media language instead of the street for advertising.
The "liberation" of pornography was thus a clear symptom of the complex alteration in the spatial organisation of Western democracies, especially after the 1950's Sexual behaviour used to be spatialized in a certain way, that even defined the limits between private and public domaines. As we know, the private sphere had been synonymous with domesticated, tamed feminity for many years. It was acknowledged that the stability of the private household rested on the existence of prostitutes; domesticated middle-class feminity was secured through constant contrast with the perils of unregulated female sexuality in the street, the so called public women.
As women were moving out of the traditional private sphere, non-reproductive, commercial sex - pornography - was moving in and was potentially sexualizing the home in new ways. Legalized pornography thus illustrated that the virtues of private space couldn't be stabilized by the public sphere anymore. Porn had created a transgressive sphere of its own, that didn't distinguish between private and public sex or space, but was distributed all over the place. In other words pornography has been one crucial example of how mass phenomena during the last 50 years have been creating new spaces, within the existing spheres, which can't be defined as neither pure public nor pure private but need new definitions in order to be understood.
Cecilie Høgsbro