The Sensual Havoc Library is a reading space that accompanies the exhibition Sensual Havoc (curated by Nadja Hess and Hanna Monola, Amsterdam 2020). Each book was borrowed from the personal bookshelves of the participating artists and curators, in keeping with a series of interviews I completed with them. During those interviews, we talked about whether and how books have shaped their personal sexual development, as well as their artistic praxis.
Books are always, but especially now during physical isolation, sources of connection to the outside. For some of us, reading was our first encounter with a new idea or desire. Each book here affected us in some way; it may be a book that we have read over and over again, highlighted and earmarked, or it could be a book we only picked up a couple of times, but its existence alone has sparked a new way of thinking and relating, validating that something we believe to be true is not just a subjective instinct. What is clear is that writing about sexuality is a practice that transcends space, time, and language, and that reading about sexuality remains one of the most important ways in which we discover ourselves in the safe space between the lines.
Although we perceive sexuality to be a personal and private affair, is it very much social. Sexuality is a mirror that reflects our cultural values and issues. Talking with the artists of this exhibition, certain themes stood out. There was a definite interest in deviance, and sexual deviance as a metaphor for breakdowns in social order. There was a fascination with technoculture and mechanical sex, juxtaposed with raw emotions and physical experiences. And there was an interest in approaches that are queer and fall outside heteronormative values. Whether the body was depicted through visual means or embodied through performance, voice, and song, having a witness and being seen are a prerequisite for connection and intimacy.
This library mixes genres of queer theory, history of sexuality, self-help, fiction, erotic writing, and memoir. Slipped within the pages are bookmarks containing impressions and quotes from the interviews.