Ken and Barbie’s sexless plastic crotches serve as the welcoming banner to Sex Talk in the City, the Museum of Vancouver’s (MOV) newest exhibit. The exhibit is broken down into three areas: the classroom, the bedroom and the street, with the physical construction of each area carefully flowing into the next while creating a distinct ambience of each physical location.
Calling this an exhibit is really a misnomer; it’s more so a thoughtfully constructed installation piece that interweaves Vancouver’s sexy past with each collection of artifacts presented in a unique way.
The classroom features desks, questions asked by actual Vancouver school kids scrawled across the tops in vivid black writing, to the backdrop of old sex education videos played on a loop. Concealed behind a door is a set of anatomically correct genitals used for sex education for children with developmental disabilities, while a collection of the old sexual health educational kits used in mainstream programs is displayed behind a pane of glass.
A part of the exhibit is devoted to censorship: peepholes against the backdrop of a wall-length image of the “Restricted” black panther provide the viewer with video clips ranging from censored moments in history to “good dyke porn.”
Walking into the bedroom section of the exhibit, viewers are greeted by a hanging burlesque outfit complete with an ornate feathered headdress. The canary yellow spectre hangs from wires attached to the ceiling, but holds its shape despite being empty — a visual reminder of the way our culture reshapes bodies to fit ideals rather than the other way around.
Behind this is a bed with a projected video of Vancouverites talking about what pleasure means to them. To the side, a comprehensive collection of vibrators, from 1890 to today, all on display.
A chest of interactive drawers spans the entire back wall of the room, containing artifacts representing various facets of Vancouver’s sexual history. The advisory committee wanted to mimic the act of “people get[ting] to know sexuality by opening the drawers in their parents bedroom,” explained the exhibit’s curator, Viviane Gosselin.
Acting as a transitional space between bedroom and street is a collection of images from Pride Parades past, a fitting manifestation of the personal and sexual becoming political. A series of these images is set on the wall, back-light glowing through English Bay’s blue skies. Staring at the faces of our city’s queer rights fight serves as a reminder of Vancouver’s often forgotten history.
Next is a wall of old mugshots: individuals found guilty of prostitution, owning or operating a bawdy house, or pimping. The shots are carefully framed and look like family portraits hung on vintage wallpaper, but upon closer inspection take on a fancified Georgia Straight back page ads spread.
We are presented with just how much has changed with 1960s and 70s clippings from The Ubyssey — UBC’s student newspaper — talking about the experiences of a single woman trying to get birth control; yet some debates, like that of abortion, can to this day be found in the opinions section, though to a lesser degree. Next to it is a collection of prophylactics through the ages, looking more like small torture devices.
The exhibit ends with a wall of Post-it notes from exhibit goers: posed with questions such as, “Who is your ideal lover?” we are invited to bare all and in turn see others’ naked desires. The range of responses represented the diversity of approaches we take to sex itself: from humorous and fun like “the pizza man,” to intimate and loving such as “my wife” and “standing next to me.”
The night we attended included a “libido liberation” party, including Coral Short’s performance art piece, “The Insiders.” It consisted of two groups of people in various states of undress moving together in a fabric sphere.
It is meant to represent “intimacy, community, trust and genderless beauty through ever morphing giant shapes that move beyond the human form.” It looked more like a visceral mass dancing its way around the room. While an apt representation of the fluidity of sexuality and desire, it seemed obtuse compared to the subtle and thoughtfully planned exhibit.
The rest of the entertainment was the closest thing to a vaudeville show one could hope to see in this day and age: talents ranged from a dirty haiku competition, Burlesque performances, and the musical stylings of The Wet Spots.
Sex Talk addresses sexuality through our collective unconscious as Vancouverites: much as an individual changes, explores, and evolves sexually, so too did our city.