Eva Neklyaeva explores what sexuality means today

Belarusian Eva Neklyaeva is a curator working mostly in the performing arts and in the field of contemporary performance. She also has a practise as a curator in the sex positive movement / scene. In Vooruit it will be the first time those two practices come together, in a brand new, one time festival: WITH PLEASURE.

Eva, can you shortly introduce yourself?
Eva Neklyaeva: “You can google me (laughs). Alright, my name is Eva Neklyaeva. I am a curator working mostly in the performing arts and in the field of contemporary performance. I have a practise, also as a curator in the sex positive movement / scene. Vooruit will be the first moment of bringing the two practices together. I am curious what will happen. I’ve worked for the past three years for Santarcangelo Festival, which is this super amazing festival every summer in Italy in a small abandoned town between the sea and the hills that brings for 50 years now very radical proposal of contemporary performing arts, for and in collaboration with the local community. It has this double and very specific identity of very contemporary and very experimental arts festival. And at the same time it is very accessible and in the public space and with the community. I am just finishing my mandate. I did my last edition and for now the future is unscripted.
“I’m doing also, with a group of friends, a festival called Wonderlust in Helsinki. Wonderlust means this kind of desire which surprises you, where you have a lust or desire and you think: where is this coming from? Like why do I suddenly want to fuck this person so much? It is a sex positive festival in Helsinki that happens for six years, it is in the beginning for June, when in Helsinki the sun doesn’t set and everybody becomes very horny. It’s three days bringing people together who are interested in something new, to try something new, to discover themselves sexually. But also who they are as a human being. For me, desire or sexuality is very much connected to personal growth and identity. So like all this happening in a non judgemental space, in a safer space.”
“And for now, after finishing Santarcangelo, I am trying to figure out how to define yourself when you are in between things. When you cannot say 'I am the artistic director of this'. And how do you find your identity, or how do you describe yourself in these in between moments? And for the context of this program in Vooruit, I would describe myself as a kinky queer person to whom sex and sexuality is a way of exploring the world and a kind of adventure.”

What is sex positivism exactly?
EN: “‘Sex positivism’ has many meanings for different people, but for me it means a kind of preset attitude where you relate to sex and sexuality, in a way that you are aware of your own attitude about the difference between morality and harm. A lot of the attitude towards sex we have in our Western-European society, comes with the norms of morality that are connected with cultural norms, even with capital or with religious history. And a lot of this has nothing to do with actual harm prevention. In my kind of attitude towards sex, I try to be aware of the difference between the two. And I try to see sex and sexuality as something that is an inherent part of life and of who we are, something that can potentially make someone very happy. To open space for this conversation, which is not judgemental and doesn't come from these morality norms, we first try to follow the heat and desire that is safe.”

How are you going to bring sex positivism to Vooruit?
EN: “Often when you enter an arts institution or institutions in general, you are addressed as if you do not have any sexuality at all. As if you are a person without desire, without sexual needs. Arts institutions often create this clinical space, where the rules or norms of behavior make you forget that you are a sexual being. I am curious what would happen if an arts institution addresses an audience as sexual beings, as people with desires. I am curious what happens if we, together with artists, hosts, the sex positive community of Ghent, try to create this kind of space within an arts institution. It’s going to be a surprise for everyone I think (laughs).”

Can you tell us a bit more about WITH PLEASURE?
EN: “WITH PLEASURE is a long weekend festival that has a lot of elements that are usually not combined together. It is as if you’d go to a bartender and instead of asking for a specific cocktail, you say “please surprise me”.
WITH PLEASURE is a little bit like a treasure hunt: you get a map of the different spaces and the festival schedule. There will be several spaces for you to discover, several performances for you to see and several spaces where you can choose if you participate or just watch. You can choose how much you put yourself into play. You will be guided by hosts, who will be supporting this ‘journey’, this exploration. You can approach them for advice of help, whatever you need. It is a festival that wants to find this zone that is a bit out of your comfort zone. Not as much as you would be scared, but just as much as you would be excited or curious (laughs).”

What is there to discover during WITH PLEASURE?
EN: “It is going to be a multidisciplinary event that combines several practices together: performative practices, workshops, visual arts, podcasts, music, djs, dance,... But also we talk about porn or for example bondage practices. So it brings together the way of exploring what sexuality is today, but done both by artists and people who practice sex positivism. This has never happened at Vooruit.”
“We present the project 'All the sex I ever had' by Mammalian Diving Reflex, who work together with a group of senior citizens of Ghent. They become performers in this piece, and talk about their sexual histories. We also present ‘All eyes on’ of Teresa Vittucci, where she creates a new space on stage. She works with two audiences at the same time: a performance for the audience at home behind their computer who can follow her livestream through the webcamming chat, and the audience in the theatre. Further on: Rosana Cade performs 'My Big Sister Taught Me This Lap Dance', a very strong experience that makes you perceive this difference in gaze, several podcast makers and visual artists, bondage classes in safe spaces, new work by Dries Verhoeven on sexuality, a workshop by choreographer and sex educator / facilitator Jarkko Partanen and of course a huge party.”

Sounds like a full program! Do you expect that people spend a lot of time in Vooruit?
EN: “I think it can depend: you can come for an hour, of five hours, or even a full day. I think you discover on the spot, you come and you try this or that. You can perfectly say “this is not my thing, ciao”. Or maybe you come back every day. Hopefully people will do that (laughs). What I've seen when people come back every day, it sort of develops a community. So imagine you were all by yourself at home thinking “I am the only person whom I know who is interested in sex”. And then you come and you suddenly discover there are so many others. And you start talking and you start building social relationships.”

What you expect of the audience?
EN: “I expect a sense of adventure, curiosity. I expect the audience to read the rules very carefully and to make sure that they adhere to the safe space rules and the rules of consent, so that everybody takes care of everybody and creating a safer space to play to experiment is a shared responsibility. I expect that the audience takes care of their own boundaries as well and I expect the audience to play and to be open. And if there are any problems or any feelings: come out and talk to the host. Because I am very aware that everything related to sexuality, can be a lot of baggage we carry around. And I am not pretending that the space we are creating is some kind of sunny paradise where we suddenly can be relieved of our sexual history. It can also be challenging times. So I think there is a different relationship that this festival tries to create with the audience, a relationship of trust.”

What are these rules of consent? What makes a space a safer space?
EN: “First of all that there is a mutual care, so you recognize that you are sharing the space with other people and you are giving space for others. You try to communicate and listen. There is the general principle of respect and inclusiveness regardless of gender or sexual orientation but also different abilities and age,... so that you are aware of these things. Do not assume things, you respect personal boundaries and we insure that everybody has equal opportunities for learning and endearment. Everything that you do during WITH PLEASURE should get the full consent of all parties involved. So consent in this situation is an enthusiastic yes, everything else is a no. That means that if you respect these rules, you’ll feel safer. And if you feel safer, you will feel more open and more ready to explore things.”

How to make sure that the rules will be respected by everyone at all times?
EN: “Shared responsibility, taking care of yourself and sharing this. When you enter the space you’ll meet the hosts who sort of give you a little run through the rules. Obviously there will be no policing, but all the people who run different spaces or workshops will make sure that the space that they run adheres to the rules.”

Could this be the one time people can have sex in Vooruit?
EN: “I cannot say right now.. I hope it happens (laughs), but this needs to be further discussed with Vooruit.”

What makes it exciting for you to present this program in Vooruit?
EN: “It's very exciting to work in a building like this, because it is very public. It goes very against the common visual imagination of things related to sex. We always imagine cellars or dungeons, you know, hidden spaces. Vooruit gives the possibility to open up the conversation and normalize the fact that this is part of our lives. I think this really relates to the history of this building and the institution. It is a project that is obviously very political as well. And then it also has so many amazing spaces to work with. Every time you turn around the corner there is another secret room, it really supported the idea that you get a map and you go on a treasure hunt, because you get lost in Vooruit all the time (laughs).”

Why WITH PLEASURE as a title?
EN: “That was actually an idea from Matthieu (Goeury, artistic coordination Vooruit), not mine (laughs). And I really like it because it is something that we say a lot. If you say thank you, someone else responds with 'with pleasure'. But now it kind of makes you rethink it and also how an artistic program can actually bring pleasure. Can a curatorial line, or a festival, or an arts program prioritize the pleasure of the audience? That’s a really exciting curatorial question.”

What do you hope what will be the remains of this festival?
EN: “A little bit expanded or a discovery about themselves or maybe a little one. For me generally arts is something that expands your understanding of what is possible. This is the main reason why I'm working as a curator in the field of arts. You have your understanding of reality of what is possible and then you see an artwork and in the best case scenario the space of what is possible expands. You start seeing or understanding certain things that are possible that you didn't know existed before. This is for me the absolute high as a spectator, the ultimate goal. This program also aims at this, at expanding the understanding of what is possible - which is particular related to performing art practices and the art practices related to sex and sexuality.”

WITH PLEASURE - THE PROGRAM

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