Couple Brings Fashion and Kink to Their Artistic Brand of Porn
Most porn is set in a Bizarro World with bizarro logic, where pizza delivery boys accept sexual favors in lieu of minimum wage and women can orgasm solely through penetration. But while this fantasy universe bears a passing resemblance to real life, the videos made by Inside Flesh seem to take place in a completely different plane, like a purgatory programmed by Alexander McQueen and David Lynch.
In the world of Inside Flesh, a chained couple with bandaged faces writhe in a frenzy inside a woman’s head; two sybarites play ancient games in a cage; a woman has sex with her nightmare. The denizens of these films wear fine leather couture but rendezvous in ghost towns and abandoned hotels. The sounds of fucking have been scrapped, replaced instead with a thrumming soundtrack that fluctuates between hypnosis and high anxiety. Aesthetically, Inside Flesh is so far from most porn that it dares you to call it something else. But that would be a huge mistake.
“There are individuals who, after watching our films, try to convince us that we don't do porn, that it's art,” said Sylvia Lajbig, co-creator of Inside Flesh. “That we are wrong to label our works as pornography, that we banish and impose burden on ourselves. But what is another name for a film where a detailed sexual act is shown? Why can't porn and art be joined?”
Inside Flesh has been joining porn and art since 2007, when it was founded by Poland-based artist collective SUKA OFF — husband and wife team Piotr Wegrzynski and Lajbig. Their hyper-stylized, S&M-tinged films have featured both amateurs with day jobs and professional porn actors like Owen Gray. But mostly they feature the couple, with Wegrzynski appearing in almost every film. Wegrzynski, who comes from an art school background, is the one who takes care of the entire production process from concept to packaging.
Lajbig, a classical philologist who taught Latin and Greek at university level, takes care of styling and negotiating with designers, sometimes directs, and shoots the erotic photos that appear on their website. In 2010, their film Carnal Fluidity won best feature film at the Berlin Porn Film Festival. Four years later, they started creating “fashion porn”, collaborating with designers such as Leonard Wong, Creepy Yeha, and Majesty Black. They have flirted with the high fashion world as well, making a non-pornographic film starring fashion’s voguing power couple AyaBambi and lending their footage to Nicola Formichetti’s debut Diesel show. But despite their clear divergence from mainstream porn, they refuse to be lumped in with the “alt/sex positive/feminist porn scene,” saying Inside Flesh “stands in opposition” to both.
Its manifesto reads:
“VIII. IF does not promote, privilege or identify with any sole ideology or trend-based sexuality. Categorisation is autonomic only to viewers individual practices. IF is act of resistance against current divisions in porn regarding gender, sexuality and genre biases. It considers such division as both archaic and tendentious. IF works only with and for those people who refuse to assimilate to any traditional categories within contemporary porn.”
Inside Flesh was born out of resistance to such norms, as well as the need to evolve. “IF and SUKA OFF are two very different platforms and the first one starts where the latter cannot reach,” Wegrzynski said. “The hyper-narrative world where everything is possible starts where the timeline of SUKA OFF stage stories reach their limit.” From its inception, SUKA OFF was about exploring “human carnality in all its biological and physiological aspects.”
“There are individuals who, after watching our films, try to convince us that we don't do porn, that it's art” – Sylvia Lajbig
The collective pushed limits of gender and communication with live performances and club appearances, installations and visual art. But although no sexual intercourse ever took place, they were accused of making pornography. At one point, they were even sued for allegedly showing pornographic content to an underage audience at one of their events. Despite the prosecution’s inability to find any evidence of illegal acts, the duo were labeled as “pornographers and scandalists anyway.” Festivals and galleries became “instantly unavailable.”
“In this situation we have decided that we have nothing to lose and if we already are labelled as pornographers, we should make porn that we would like to watch ourselves,” Lajbig said. Ergo, Inside Flesh, a project dealing exclusively with sexuality and what Wegrzynski characterizes as “something that could combine various types of aesthetics, narrations and, most of all, which would offer a modern approach to a porn film.” The result? Porn that rejects virtually all the elements characteristic of most contemporary porn.
For one, the emphasis on “fashion porn” is sometimes misinterpreted as clothing fetishes. “Wearing leather clothes, touching them, rubbing wouldn't turn us on,” said Wegrzynski, who describes the featured couture as a valuable part of foreplay and Inside Flesh as a “crash test” for outfits that look good during sex. “It is not hard to shoot a sex scene wearing only a few straps of underwear,” Lajbig added. “When you have on yourself extremely limiting range of moves full leather armour by Leonard Wong or low crotch pants and hoodie by Monarc1, things start to complicate. All these clothes are sexy in their own kind, but making them sexy during sex, obtaining the perfect balance between the flesh and fabric – that's another story.”
Natural sound is also removed. In post-production, Wegrzynski crafts an artificial rhythm with rapid-fire cuts and the addition of industrial beats. “Natural sound is predictable,” he said. “The use of it made sense in early gonzo-porn productions. Unfortunately, most of the porn sound is nowadays a compilation of gushy groans and moans which theoretically should represent overblown fantasies of a viewer.”
And most strikingly, Inside Flesh films often stray from traditional porn structures and linearity in favour of more interesting narratives. In one film, Wegrzynski removed the final orgasm scene and put “the role exchange metaphor of climax” in the middle. “The ‘money shot’ concept is assigned to mainstream productions,” he said. “It corresponds with reality, with [the] beholder watching the film and masturbating, for instance.”
Although these elements could all be seen as a calculated elevation of most pornography, Wegrzynski says he doesn’t criticise mainstream porn. “Mainstream [porn] is at least visually sincere,” he said, adding, “Mainstream creators don't brag about showing any kind of truth, they even admit that they picture fantasies.”
The Inside Flesh duo, even as they play with and subvert gender and sexual norms, reserve such criticisms for porn marketed as “alt” or “feminist.” Recently, porn targeted at maximizing female pleasure and minimizing the male gaze has risen in popularity, with feminist porn stars being recognized at the Adult Video News (AVN) Awards, feminist porn directors becoming more visible, and women-oriented pornsites taking off. But Wegrzynski and Lajbig take issue with what they see as hypocrisy espoused in a lot of “alt/sex positive/feminist” porn, which Wegrzynski says has “always been part of the mainstream.”
“Today all the alt porn actors make “average” porn, just check the AVN,” Wegrzynski said. “Talking about rebelling against the mainstream was nothing more than a catchphrase. The same happens with "feminist porn." The one and only difference turns out to be the area of sexual preferences. Package and content remain unchanged, nothing new appears. Porn strategy is being repeated on and on: average editing, race for higher “K”, visually established characters, linear and easy to expect sequence of sexual act, cliché music. But what is the worst is the imposed overly complex ideology and emotional masturbation which accompanied the production and distribution. For me it looks as if words tried to compensate for the weak visual side.”
“Mainstream porn is at least visually sincere. Mainstream creators don't brag about showing any kind of truth, they even admit that they picture fantasies” – Piotr Wegrzynski
“I have always been skeptical about categorizing in “feminist,” “women friendly,” “sex positive” or “ethical” porn,” Lajbig added. “Creators of these kinds of films seem to suggest that other films are not ethical, non-friendly and show a negative image of sex. At the same time they create “the one and only proper” image of women's sexuality – I cannot agree to that. I've always tried to stand back from politics and religion, because I could not imagine that a stranger would decide about my body, sexuality, what I should and should not perceive as a source of pleasure. Why would I let a porn maker do that? What makes them competent to speak and decide for anyone else but themselves?”
As for Inside Flesh, the creators say it imposes no such restrictions on its audience: “I have no limits or borders,” said Wegrzynski. ”I want to explore the sexuality of every sex and relationship.”