Kerri Breen talks to veteran performance artist, PhD sexologist, and former porn star Annie Sprinkle about her career, aging, and her St. John’s visit.
“Everybody’s welcome, and I’ll be gentle,” says sex icon, artist, and activist Annie Sprinkle of her upcoming one-woman show in St. John’s.
In fact, Sprinkle has been showing off her softer side a lot, lately. Though she’s appeared in over 50 porn movies, her most recent work focuses on love as opposed to sex.
Sprinkle has been marrying her partner, Elizabeth Stephens, each year since 2005 as part of their Love Art Lab project.
The weddings—elaborate performance art pieces set in various locations—each have a different color, emotion, and body part theme. The concept is based on Sprinkle’s mentor Linda Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art project.
“It’s challenging because of people’s attitudes about love,” says Sprinkle. “People think love is wu wu, or wimpy, or too romantic, or too heteronormative.”
“You say ‘oh I’m doing work about love’ they go ‘oh, how boring,’ whereas with sex it’s like everyone’s interested in sex and it sounds edgy.”
But, despite the shift in subject matter, Sprinkle’s new work – which will be discussed during her tell-all performance – has not shed the bold, activist edge that made her famous to begin with.
“In that way I would say it’s more transgressive because it’s actually a talent to do work about love because we’ll find new ways to do it that will speak to people and resonate,” she says.
Her show, which is on August 13 at the Rock House, will also profile her captivating, controversial history as both a sex icon and a champion of sexual freedom.
“I’m going to come and give a sort of performative lecture presentation about my life and my work, which spans 34 years of doing art about love and sex, and coming from the sex industry and transitioning into art,” she says.
Sprinkle got her start as a porn star and prostitute when she was 18. She has explored woman-positive roles in film, and has had a successful career as a lecturer and performance artist as well.
Her work was forefront of sex-positive feminism during the 80s sex wars, where the issue of porn polarized feminist communities. Sprinkle’s art has also served to render sex workers as human beings outside of their jobs.
But Sprinkle wasn’t always the notorious, unforgivingly sexual being that much of her work portrays her as.
“I was born Ellen Steinberg, and then I at 18 invented Annie Sprinkle,” she says. “Ellen was shy and insecure, fat and ugly… and Annie was this kind of sexy, adventurous … powerful, risk-taking, wild woman.”
And indeed, as Sprinkle grew older, she did not stay that being – at least, not exclusively.
“And then at a certain point—actually when AIDS hit and people started dying—I started exploring different types of spirituality, then I created an alter-ego named Anya, That’s sort of my spiritual side.”
Later in adulthood, Sprinkle experienced a different kind of sex – a loving, deeply intimate sex that she says she didn’t know she had a need for in her twenties.
Her show touches on our culture’s ignorance of older adults’ sexuality.
“People think it’s kinky to have sex when you’re older.”
“I’m old and fat now, of course,” says the 54 year-old, laughing. “But I think I’m a better lover than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m more satisfied than I’ve ever been.”
At her 2007 yellow wedding, which was in Calgary, Sprinkle and Stephens legally married for the first time—for an audience of 350 people.
“When I landed in Canada, knowing that were going to be able to get legally married I just started crying,” she says. “It was so moving to see that Canada treated me as an equal person, whereas in the US I’m less than.”
“There’s lots of places where two women aren’t able to get married,” she says.
“We’re kind of pissed off that we don’t get the same rights.”
Sprinkle earned a PhD in Human Sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco in 2002.
Her website boasts that she is the first porn star ever to do this, but Sprinkle has mixed feelings about becoming an academic because of how it has affected her public perception.
“Certainly with the sex worker community, some sex workers say that well, if you have a PhD then you’re really not one of them anymore.
“I think that people feel more comfortable sometimes with people categorized as sluts, or whores, or porn stars.”
Annie Sprinkle will be launching the 24-Hour Art Marathon on August 13 at The Rock House with her “Intimate, Informal, Show and Tell Evening.” Tickets available at Eastern Edge Gallery (739-1882) 20$ in advance / 25$ at the door. Must be 19 and over.