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Posted on Tue 27 Apr 2021

Future Themes Blog - Its Our Pleasure

In the fifth of our Future Theme Blogs we hear from Studio Resident Jane Gauntlett. Last year the Studio funded seven teams of Residents to explore ideas at the intersection of technology and culture.

c/o Jane Gauntlett

c/o Jane Gauntlett

How many times have you given pleasure this year? How many times have you taken pleasure? If somebody were to ask you what gives you pleasure, do you know what you would say?

How many times have you felt guilty about something that you wouldn’t expect somebody else to feel guilty about? Saying something? Not saying anything? Eating something? Drinking something? How dare you even think about that? Isn’t that a ‘guilty pleasure’?

"No, I don’t feel guilty for having pleasure! We live in a world where people don’t feel guilty for killing people, they don’t feel guilty for, like, putting babies in cages at the border. They don’t feel guilty for this, but I should feel guilty for—what? For having two bowls of spaghetti?" - Fran Lebowitz

I must confess. I hadn’t seriously reflected on what pleasure means until this time last year. I certainly hadn’t tackled the guilt. I was spiralling into a world of grief and helplessness. Being one of 10 people at a funeral, not being able to use my body to comfort them, not being able to take comfort from their bodies. The desire to support my comrades and my wider community. Knowing that I was one of millions of people who were facing these challenges.

When I was looking for help, the word “Wellness” was thrown at me from multiple directions. I respect the concept and the impact it has on so many people, however, I find it comes with the pressure of being ‘well’. This sets me up for a feeling of failure. Using the word pleasure instead changes my perspective. Saddened by the effect that the past year has had on myself and those around me, while waiting for humility from our leaders, I started to explore alternative ways in which we could collaborate to reduce the feelings of grief and helplessness that so many of us shared.

“a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work” - Adrienne Maree Brown on Pleasure Activism

That is the concept behind It’s Our Pleasure, a multidisciplinary experience with four elements (post, audio, online & telephone). It is designed to be shared at home, or as an installation. Anywhere that there is a door, a toilet, a kitchen tap, a mobile phone and somewhere to sit. We shall provide the rest.

In the beginning we wanted to create a bespoke online platform with live performance elements but without the budget to adequately test the technology we decided to take a step back and think about what platforms would best suit our story and our message. What platform would allow us to connect with as many people as possible? What platform would bring the most pleasure?

Currently, It’s Our Pleasure is in the research and development stage where I have been asking people what gives them pleasure. This has led to conversations about sex, lovers, experiences they have had and experiences that they would like to have including how they like to give it, how they like to take it and who they like to take it with. It also led to conversations about fetishes and toys, dildos and teledildonics.

I’ve had to think about how I address my questions. It’s Our Pleasure is exploratory, and there is a place for the aforementioned intimate pleasures and eroticism, however, it is also about the everyday pleasures. Those moments when we give something or take something. When we feel like we have achieved something or when we feel like it’s ok that we haven’t. When we hold a door open, when we say things like “It’s my pleasure”, It’s our pleasure”... I shan’t try to guess what your pleasures are.

The content always veered towards the current climate, things that people are missing - flirting with strangers, listening to music that they hadn’t listened to, eating food that they haven’t made, being able to stay outside for longer than 20 minutes because all of the toilets are closed, the sound of a whistling kettle, someone else doing the washing up, beers after sunday football, hugs, the feel of dirty sheets in somebody else’s bed, the smell of somebody else’s body odour...

The question of location has proven to be more complicated. Initially, It’s Our Pleasure was designed to be performed in a public space. If we can’t use a public space, where can we tell this story? How can we make it accessible? Where could we offer a space to share our pleasures and reflect on the everyday things that bring them pleasure?

Perhaps we didn’t need to offer a space. Perhaps we could aim to help audiences see their own space differently. Perhaps their homes could become pleasure palaces.

In addition to the work itself, the process has required careful thought. Working with others brings me a great deal of pleasure so it was important for me to assemble a team. I wanted to create an online working environment that was a pleasurable space. Without being able to replicate what we do in person - chats around the kettle, hugs at the end of the day, several glasses of red wine together in the evening, new ways of working had to be developed. For example, we begin our meetings by asking "What has brought you pleasure today?", a less loaded question than how are you?

How do we create a healthy work environment in a digital space? How do we put the story first before choosing the best platform on which to tell it? How do we create something which is malleable so that we can adapt it to both digital and physical spaces? What do we consider to be a success?

We feel that if one person is prompted to push aside the guilt and feel that taking pleasure is a worthy investment it is not just their pleasure, it is the pleasure of those around them, it is activism, It’s Our Pleasure.