Malise Rosbech attended Earthy with high hopes but found this "ecosexual bootcamp" lacking in direction or coherence
I did some homework before I went to review Earthy – An Ecosexual Bootcamp as I was not familiar with either of the performing artists, Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle. After reading about Annie Sprinkle’s former performances, in which she invites the audience to peep into her vagina to find her cervix with the help of a flashlight and a speculum as a form of celebration of the female body, I was petrified. Not that I don’t like vaginas; I just wasn’t sure I wanted to rummage around one with a torch in front of 50 strangers on a Wednesday night.
But I was also intrigued and absolutely sure that in watching a performance from two very experienced artists like Stephens and Sprinkle, I was bound to be entertained, shocked and taught about some liberating sexual activities. Unfortunately, when I left the Conway Hall in London, I was disappointed on all accounts.
The show is something between theatre, performance art, a lecture gone wrong and an activist meeting. It tries to be all of these at once but ends up being a confusing hour of people in sexy costumes with fake penises sticking out of their pants, faking orgasms with flowers and soil. The performance is set to resemble a two day bootcamp which includes learning what “ecosex” and “ecosexual” mean, how to be a part of non-violent direct action and how to wee in a bucket.
The core of the show is environmental activism. We are reminded briefly about global warming, overpopulation and the extinction of animals and told that if we imagine earth as a lover we can move towards a more empathetic, sustainable and mutual way of living. Being ecosexual, it is explained, is a green ideology of loving the earth shifted into a sexual identity, so that it not only includes the act of recycling, but also letting yourself be fucked by water and the sun (a bit like taking a swim on a hot day, I presume). The audience was asked to join in on their chant “Eat, excrete, make soil, grow food!” after having acquired the great knowledge of how to squat over a bucket.
Most talk about ecosex and environmental activism was through light-hearted jokes, which admittedly can be a breath of fresh air in often very heavy and serious political discourses. However, the ‘funny’ sounds effects are quite hit and miss, either being too loud or occurring out of sync with the performance, and the person who controls the PowerPoint presentation never quite knows when to move to the next slide. In fact, most of the jokes aren’t funny at all. This means that the line between what is supposedly funny and what absolutely isn’t is so blurred that parts of the show are almost offensive.
For example, Stephens at one point tells us how an acquaintance of hers from her homeland of West Virginia was brutally handled by authorities of the coal industry, who amongst other terrible things had executed the family dog by hanging them from a tree in a bid to take over their land. But as the audience did not know whether this was another attempted joke, a few half choked laughs could still be heard amongst gasps and the occasional “oh-no’s”, which made the whole scenario rather macabre.
Nevertheless, I believe that Earthy tries to raise some key political issues. The whole show is built upon sex positivism as a form of political resistance. Yes, there were all different kinds of boobs, hairy vaginas and rubber phalluses; there were homosexuals, heterosexuals, trans* and queer people; there was a flag being pulled out of Sprinkle’s vagina and an erotic scene between Stephens and Sprinkle rubbing soil onto each other. However, very little of it was put into any artistic, theoretical or political context.
Being sex positive is great but in a performance piece I expect more than just a few ‘rude’ words and some naked bodies. I am not necessarily talking flashlight-in-vagina here, but providing some context to the acts would have been great. Earthy is all about being provocative, but without having considered the significance of it all, Sprinkle and Stephens fail at that.
The big bad wolf according to Sprinkle and Stephens are big global corporations. Non-violent direct action is understood as a form of resistance to authoritative violence and a way to empower people to fight these corporations. That’s all good. I also believe that most global corporations are awful and horrendous. What gets me is that there is no talk about the actual moving factor behind this global industry: capitalism. The show could have been so much better had the link between patriarchy, heteronormativity, (environmental) activism and capitalism been established, or at least recognised.
The good parts? Few. But there were some. In the very beginning of the show it was briefly mentioned that as being an ecosexual means understanding the earth as “lover” and not as “mother”, the earth loses its gendered identity. Disappointingly, this was about how much was said about that and it was never mentioned again. At the very end of the show, a trailer from Stephens and Sprinkle’s documentary film was shown, which does genuinely look interesting.
Having read the reviews of their other performances I had high hopes when I went to see the show. Despite this harsh review, I still believe that Sprinkle and Stephens actually have something to say and they might even be able to say it well. Sadly, this is just somewhat of a theory as I didn’t see much empirical proof in Earthy.
Earthy was performed at Conway Hall in London on 24 July as part of the First International Ecosex Symposium.
Photos are used with permission.
Photo 1: Stephens and Sprinkle crouch proudly by mounds of earth topped by flowers. Men in white coats stand in the background, holding spades.
Photo 2: Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle are dressed in green, forest-inspired outfits. Stephens holds an apple; Sprinkle has a snake around her arms. The background is an illustrated scene of leaves, trees and flowers.
Photo 3: Sprinkle lies on the floor naked but wreathed in flowers and leaves with a leg in the air, while Stephens, wearing dungarees, pours water from a watering can in the direction of her crotch.