Testing the controversiality of sexuality through human interaction with technology

Concordia graduate, Katherina Illenseer creates art to feel at ease with sexuality

Pleasure Receptors, an interactive installation that opened at Eastern Bloc Thursday evening, contains four stations, each representing a female or male body, covered in sensors and connected through wires to the body. For the body to reach orgasm, each station has to be touched by a person. The sculpted body produces sounds and light when it is turned on, allowing the audience to become part of the performance as they interact with the work.

Featuring Anna Eyler and Concordia graduates Renée Lamothe and Katharina Illenseer, Female Futures explores people’s relationships with the body and sexuality.

Illenseer is a contemporary new media artist, and her practice involves computation, programming, video and sound. Her interactive installation, Pleasure Receptors explores femininity and intimacy between the human body and technology. Pleasure Receptors shows the way the body can reach an orgasm, while reacting to different forms of interaction.

“I took computation arts at Concordia, exploring different technologies and media,” said Illenseer. “I was interested to work with sound, sculpture, electronics and programming so the project really incorporates all of that, and it was about material practices as well.”

Pleasure Receptors by Katharina Illenseer questions the public’s level of comfort with sexuality, inviting them to grope and touch sculptures made of silicone acrylic and wood. Photo by Hannah Ewen.

The main purpose behind Illenseer’s work is to push people out of their comfort zone; to see friends interact with the body parts and even strangers use technology to give the sculpted body an orgasm. The piece is also a way for the audience to feel at ease with their sexuality and tries to normalize sex by making it less controversial.

I was thinking about how our own sexual needs and desires are so connected to technology and rely on that. So I wanted to subvert that idea and make a machine that was going to rely on human interaction in order for it to reach a climax,” said Illenseer.

Most of Illenseer’s body of work deals with sex and gender. As a shy person, she is often uncomfortable presenting the subject, but the exhibition helped her get out of her comfort zone.

“A lot of the time, people are timid to touch things and interact with them, but the more you see other people doing it, the more it gives the person security to feel comfortable about touching and interacting with the body,” said Illenseer. “I think it’s interesting to see one person awkwardly going and touching the sculpture. The interaction is very sexual, but also funny.”

Illenseer’s consent sheet. Photographed by Hannah Ewen.

Illenseer also created a consent sheet, which outlines the way the sculpted body liked to be touched. Interested in how technology, such as the internet may depend on human interaction, the artist wanted to create a project that visitors would be allowed to touch.

Illenseer is working on another project, in which she will recycle the material from the exhibition and create another artwork that will incorporate more video and sound.

“I’m really new to the scene and I’m really stepping out there,” Illenseer said. “It’s exciting to create work that’s under my own deadlines and completely free to explore instead of having set projects.”

Until March 2, Female Futures will be open at Eastern Bloc (7240 Clark St.) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

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