The Biters at Ota Fine Artsby Monty DiPietro
Slap an art exhibition with a risqué title that roughly translates to English as "The Hooker’s Holiday," and it should probably not surprise when the opening attracts a cross-section of eccentrics, along with a large number of the kooky and the curious. And there they were at the Ota Fine Arts Gallery: farded young boys, and girls in see-through dresses; curvy stripper/model Mash; German erotic photographer Mario A; and a horde of oglers all out for a multimedia exhibition by three self-described sex trade workers that is now showing at the respected space, located just a few stiletto-heel steps off the beaten path in the city’s trendy Shibuya Ward.
The sextravaganza features a series of diary entries from three artists: a hunk of a young man known as Akira (the Hustler); the rotund Bubu, who is an ex-member of performance group dumb type, and a dominatrix, Mikado. The trio are known collectively as "The Biters." The show also includes several large portrait photographs, a selection of what might be termed "souvenirs," and a 20 minute video.
There is a bed in the center of the gallery, and beside it is a silver serving tray filled with bananas, grapes, and avocado. Walk around these and peek behind a translucent shower curtain hanging from the ceiling and you will find a small monitor screening "The Biter’s Sex TV Bootleg" video, which is sub-titled in French (?!). And although the setting, the artists’ use of pseudonyms, and certainly the title all conspire to imply that the content will be sexually explicit, it is not at all so. "The Biter’s Sex TV Bootleg" owes much more to the naughty suggestiveness of Benny Hill or a late-night Japanese wide show than it does to the raw irreverence of Annie Sprinkle, the American porno-actress-cum-performance-artist who, ten years ago, pioneered the art/sex videotape genre.
It seems that the Biters have little interest in addressing the sort of issues Sprinkle and her western contemporaries have – police and court harassment of sex trade workers, or health care access, for example. It is equally apparent that the Biters want to flirt with but ultimately skirt those issues generally raised by overseas artists working with controversial subjects – freedom of expression and censorship, for instance. Otherwise they might have goaded the authorities by showing a real penis in the video or photographs, instead of using rubber substitutes.
Some taboos have, however, been poked at here. One of the photographs is a little more graphic than Japanese authorities usually tend to allow, and the journals are peppered with certain words that are routinely censored in this country.
Presented in the rather impersonal form of typewritten sheets of A4 paper pinned to the gallery walls, these journals form the bulk of the show, and are composed of recollections which are often deeply personal, at times poignant and occasionally humorous. These reminiscences (in Japanese but the gallery has English-language translations on hand) save the exhibition from the folly of the video.
In an excerpt from one of Bubu’s pages, she writes of a client she calls "Gramps."
"He's got to be at least 80 years old. His gestures are slow. He likes to do one thing at a time. First he concentrates on getting undressed… He sometimes tells me about the war. He was sent into the Pacific as a communications officer. He went with a garrison of 2000 men. He was one of four that returned. He lost so many friends. When he tells me about it, tears always swell up in his wrinkled eyes. I ask him about sex with his wife. He says that she's not interested any more. His underwear is always spotless."
It almost appears that Bubu is doing her patriotic duty. And actually, between johns and art parties, Bubu serves as an advisor to a Ministry of Health and Welfare committee on AIDS issues, so in a sense she is doing her patriotic duty.
As for making an artistic statement, barking one big toe over the line is, it seems, good enough for Bubu and the rest of the Biters.
notes: Until Aug 7, 1999 (3780-0911).