The way it is.

Barbara Steiner, art historian, since 2001 director of the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, associate professor at the Academy in Copenhagen. She lives and works in Vienna and Leipzig

A Dutch zoo: "Gayded Tours" are offered regularly. The main attraction is "Pipi", the chimpanzee that has become a symbol of the city's gay community. The director of the zoo explains that the chimpanzee has sexual relations with other females and does not mate with males. Joumalist from all over the wor/d show great interest in "Pipi's" behaviour. The zoo keeper however categorically denies her homosexuality. He notes that she used to have heterosexual relationships and had a sti/lbirth. Being affectionate with females doesn't necessarily make her alesbian. The head of communications says that "Pipi" has developed fram a homosexual into a heterosexual ape. She holds that there are no same-sex relationships in the zoo.

That is the story of Pipi as told by Marion Porten, who has devoted her artistic work to the issue of homosexuality in the animal wor/d. At eight stops she introduces different examples: hyenas, Scarab Beetles, Kob-Antelopes, Grizzlies, Silvergulls, West Indian Manatees and "Pipi", who has already been mentioned. Visualisation and description changes from stop to stop. The meeting ritual of hyenas, cut out from cardboard, is shown in the form of a slide show, an overhead projection shows two male beetles copulating, the drawing of the lesbian Silvergull pair is exhibited as a puzzle, the mating ritual of the Kob-Antelopes is visualised in five pencil drawings, a video excerpt of a guided tour by Marion Porten through the American Museum of Natural History intraduces the sexual behaviour of Grizzlies, aT-shirt shows a female bear fami/y, another video teils the story of "Pipi". The audio texts change from scientific discovery with a claim for objectivity to subjective descriptions by the artist or other persons familiar with the animals. On many occasions the artist refers to scientists who give diverse explanations for homosexuality or study scientifically the relationship between homo- and heterosexuality. In these examples homosexuality is either seen as an error (the sexes are indistinguishable) or is measured against heterosexuality (pseudo-heterosexuality). There is also a strong tendency to look for a "meaningful function" to this deviant behaviour (nesting-helper-syndrame of homosexual animals that help with the raising of youngsters). An interactive plywood display is a reference to known forms of educational presentations in a museum. At the same time, it reminds us of a travel/ing exhibition which brings education to the people who traditionally do not go to museums. The system of presentation is transparent in its construction: the principles of design and construction are immediately visible and easy to grasp; the wood is not painted, but treated with clear vamish.

In her work about homosexuality in the animal world Porten questions the naturalness of the relationship between two different sexes - namely that of male and female and the sexual orientation that results from this or rather vice versa - the existence of a natural sexual behaviour that produces a specific relationship between the sexes. The hegemonie role of this two-gender-model could and can only be socially maintained through the assumption that it is "universal" and "natural". In "Mythen des Alltags" Roland Barthes describes this mechanism as folIows: "Das eigentliche Prinzip des Mythos: er verwandelt Geschichte in Natur ( ... ) ("The principle of myths: it tums history into Nature ( ... )") (Barthes,1957/1964, 113). Myth thus has an ideological function - the underlying social construction "disappears" in order to reappear as Nature. (Barthes, 1957/1964, 124). Transferred on to the "twogender model", this means that the history of sexuality and gender roles disappears. It is a marker of every ideology that certain views and articulations - uttered in specific social circumstances - are neutralised, generalised and attached with a claim to universality. If one follows such an understanding, deviations from the hegemonic model are thus "abnormal". Nature itself offered and offers the best arguments in support of "the nature of sexuality and the two-gender model". Nowhere does it make more sense to look for natural sexuality than in the animal world, a sexuality that has not been overformed through the course of cultural development, a sexuality that has not been constricted and is still unspoilt. Taking the animal world as the point of departure and the two-gender fact of reproduction of animals (and man), one can conclude that heterosexual desire and a two-gender order are given by Nature. Thus it comes as no surprise that Marion Porten draws attention to fact that, a few exceptions aside, homosexuality in the animal world was described as unnatural, abnormal, perverse, pathological or bizarre right up to the 1980s. There were scientific explanations galore: the patterns of explanation range fram hormonal deviation over a lack of sexual opportunities to indistinguishable gen der markers. It therefore seems logical that the artist turns to the animal world and makes the link between sexuality and nature the focal point of her work. However, her work is obviously not about replacing homosexual ways of life with heterosexual ones or rather to exchange one "Nature" for another, but to reveal the two social constructions underneath. In her work Porten focuses on definitions, judgement and the allocation of character and meaning that are attached to the respective sexual orientation. The border li ne between male and female, hetero- or homosexual is not free from value judgements, but connected to a hierarchical differentiation - as the artist herself knows.

The term heterosexuality does not just stand for the sexual attraction between persons of different sex, but also for a specific social "form of organisation of sexuality" that has evolved historically and been brought forth by certain conditions of power, wh ich it also reflects. In "Sexualität und Wahrheit" and "Dispositive der Macht, Über Sexualität, Wissen und Wahrheif' Michel Foucault explicitly highlights the link between power, (organised) sexuality, dominant discursive practices and the claim for truth. The two-gender order emphasises the difference, complementarity and hierarchy of the sexes and subordinates sexual forms of expression to the sole aim of reproduction. In "Auf den Leib geschrieben" Thomas Laqueur stresses that, up to the middle of the 18th Century, the general idea of society followed the "one-gender-model". According to Lacqueur, one "knew" for over two thousand years that women essentially had the same genitals as men except for the fact the female organs were inside the body. In this model the woman was considered an inferior version of the man. Only in the 18th Century did the idea of a binary and contradictory relationship between men and women become dominant.

Back to Porten: as "Pipi's" zookeeper remarks, "People see what they want to see". This comments on the various projections and interpretations of the ape's sexual nature and involuntarily confirms that perception and (social) judgement of sexuality is extremely relative and diverges according to the speaker's point of view. Ultimately, Porten's work deals with this phenomenon: different judgements and allocations of function produce beliefs and thus particular forms of sexuality. Using opposing remarks and heterogeneous multimedial expressions in her visualisations, the artist successfully breaks open the "Nature" and thus the hegemony of two-gender relationships on the basis of sexual orientation. She persistently calls attention to the social construction of sexuality and the two-gender model.

Barthes, Roland, Mythen des Alltags, (1959) Frankfurt a.M. 1964
Foucault, Michel, Dipositive der Macht, Über Sexualität, WISSen und Wahrheit, Berlin 1978
Foucault, Michel:, Sexualität und Wahrheit, 3 Bde, der Wille zum Wissen, 1977, Der Gebrauch der Lüste, 1986, Die Sorge um sich,1986, alle Frankfurt a.M.
Laqueur, Thomas, Auf den Leib geschrieben, München, 1996 


Text from:
The Wondrous World of Behavioural Science / A sculpture by Marion Porten / 2003
Publ.. Dresdner Bank AG Kunst und Wissenschaft