People jump to conclusions the minute they hear the words "erotic art." And, inevitably, any discussion of it turns into a debate about whether the work is pornography or fine art. This is especially true with photography.
For many Americans, the struggle with the genre is cultural and existential. We don't want to talk about sexuality. It still remains a societal taboo. It's easier to pontificate on the idea of shame instead of opening the dialogue. In the age of social media, we strain everything, curiously self-censoring our posts and filtering our photos in order to curate the quotidian voyeurism into our lives.
In the age of filters, however, Nico Pico Train's Liquid Sex Series, opening March 9 at Art on Madison, forces us to grapple with the realness of sexuality, as well as its humorous side. This is not cheap boudoir photography. With a dozen artworks in the exhibition, Pico Train manages to balance her take on erotic art in a yin-yang way.
Acquiring models happened organically for the photographer.
"The series came about in February 2018. I always loved erotic literature and it just naturally progressed to that," Pico Train says. "I was meeting a lot more people and I asked them if they would model and they were like, 'Yeah I'll model for you.' Then I was getting all these volunteers, which was great since I didn't have any money to pay them and I couldn't post any of it, and that's how the show came about."
The work is anticipatory, leaving the imagination open to the eventual congress between beings. Or objects, as in one artwork that depicts the male scrotum complete with string and tag hovering over a dainty teacup with two sugar lumps mirroring the shape of the gentleman's form. In another piece, a mouth hovers above a woman's tunnel of love and a third artwork shows a pair of stacked female bodies, one wearing underwear and one nude, spread eagle before the lens.
"At first I just wanted to do mildly suggestive photos," states Pico Train. "I didn't want to get all raunchy, but then the bodies just opened up and I was like, okay, this is awesome and freeing. It's not my personal preferences. I am just documenting their sexuality. I love it. It's a feast for the eyes. It really is."
The exhibited photos are but an amuse bouche leading up to her photobook — also called the Liquid Sex Series — which Pico Train anticipates will be published in time for the show. The Liquid Sex Series book will have more than the 12 photos on view at the gallery, including, we are told, posters of a "festive lava lamp picture" in the same spirit.
Typically when we receive information about an exhibition that deals with eroticism, it's usually a one-night event. With all the pearl clutching these days, it's refreshing to see a gallery take a risk with the subject matter. Pico Train explains: "I checked out a show at Art on Madison while I was looking for a gallery space and I just asked. I thought they would refuse because of how explicit the work is, and honestly, the closer we got to the opening date, I thought they would cancel. But they never cancelled. And I said, okay, this is awesome."
Pico Train is mostly self taught. Her first camera, a Minolta x370, was a gift from her mother when she turned 17, and that was it. Interestingly, the photographer once said in an interview at the Cleveland Institute of Art that her artwork was a product of a bad art program in high school. The artist did not let that stop her. "I thought if I wanted be an artist, well, I'll just be an artist, you know? You just do it, you know?"
And doing it she is. The subject of eroticism is not an easy one to tackle, and rarely do we experience a female photographer taking agency with the theme. One can tell that the models are at ease in this series. Pico Train is indeed documenting sexuality in a way that is not exploitative. She has even dedicated the book to her models, stating that she hopes to provide a percentage of the sales to them. "If it weren't for them, well, I wouldn't have been able to achieve the book nor the show."