In Confrontation with the Erotic in Hearth’s Erotic Awakenings

17 December 2022

By Priscilla Barker

“We want to hear your narratives,” is the statement that introduces the online exhibition Erotic Awakenings presented online by Hearth Garage. The ongoing virtual exhibit is an archive of personal erotic awakening stories that were collected, written, and submitted by various named and anonymous contributors—a result of a collaboration between curator Fan Wu and Hearth founders Rowan Lynch, Sameen Mahboubi, Philip Ocampo, and Benjamin de Boer. The series of written poetry and stories approach the very personal and vulnerable experience of sexual awakening from the seemingly dichotomic elements of innocence and carnality. The three-volume collection of texts reminds the reader of universal truths, which are often comedic in nature, found as a result of the vulnerability of sharing personal narratives. Personal, intimate, and voyeuristic, the project mirrors the idea of online forums yet is more tailored in subject and composition. Writing and eros converge in the retelling of lives transformed by an erotic experience, each story expanding on the limitations and freedoms of sexuality. Interestingly, the accounts and memories collected occur from varied points in the subjects’ lives, breaking the popularized mold of the linear development of sexuality within childhood at the onset of puberty, or another coming-of-age narrative. 

In Volume 1, the anecdotes range from discovering Marilyn Monroe’s photograph posted in the back corner of a public library, to poetic prose recalling subconscious memories of temptation from a dream. One contribution titled, Hit Pause by Ocampop005 recounts the discovery of the pause button in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros, which allowed the author to rotate and closely examine Captain Falcon’s tight pants and undergarments. The undergarment holds a tantalizing power, simultaneously concealing and revealing this forbidden territory of the body. The virtual platform of the game provided a safe space to transgress past these social boundaries and explore the narrator’s natural inclinations towards the undergarment. One can seize control of a simulated being or body and transgress past the boundaries of consent. The tight, amorphous, and pixelated CGI bulge of Captain Falcon left room for the author to draw from their subconscious fantasies. Hit Pause challenges the presumption of eroticism as inherently a sexual or shared act between two figures. Rather, Ocampop005’s piece shows the power of eroticism to engage with the transgression of desires to explore the limits of the self. 

Image: Excerpt from Sydney Madia’s comic Ripley. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Similar to Hit Pause, Sydney Madia’s Ripley finds refuge within fantasy worlds. Illustrated scenes construct the land of the author’s memories—body-swapping with their neighbour, an enigmatic adoration for fairy dolls, and the discovery of the main character from the film, Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979). These moments of eroticism from various points of Madia’s life acted as a compass towards deciphering their desires and queerness. “So you never imagine fucking yourself?”1 is a question the author probes their partner in one scene. The internalized male gaze has taught women to both sexualize the self and other women, thus the distinction between attraction and sexualization is guided by the power of the erotic towards what feels right. The genre of fantasy is further entrusted as the through-line for the author to construct a controlled environment to safely explore their sexuality. Without the gaze of patriarchal authority, they were able to transgress past boundaries of gender and remove consent in controlling another figure’s body. These scenes of quasi-sexual play allowed space for introspection and “less of a need for answers and more of a desire to explore.”2  

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Image: Excerpt from “Hit Pause” by Ocampop005. Photo courtesy of Hearth and the author.

Erotic Awakenings succeeds in constructing individualized portraits of the facets of eroticism within the three archives. Each volume is loosely organized around different meditations: Volume 1 references self-awareness, somatics, and being, while Volume 2 refers to explicitness, touch, and sensation, and Volume 3 to desire, fantasy, and myth. While the contributions ranged in their formatting, from narrative, comics, poetry, and creative prose, they all were bound by the power of the erotic to discover true knowledge of the self. Eros3 is commonly described as a form of desire which seeks to find what is outside, beyond the boundary. Philosopher George Bataille argues this is only possible in disconcerting Eros as not a search for pleasure, but for sovereignty through the transgression of moral norms and selfhood.4 It is in the transgression of the limits and constraints in which we discover the self. Queer awakenings in particular, reclaim the power of eroticism as potential for introspection. This power distinguishes the erotic from the misconstrued pornographic; while the pornographic suppresses the feeling, the erotic indulges in sensuality. 

In engaging with these stories of another’s most significant memories in confrontation with the forces of the erotic, we are reminded of the fullness of this depth of feeling. “(In) recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves,”5 as put by Audrey Lorde. The contributions of Erotic Awakenings are a reminder to demand and search for the erotically satisfying experiences in the everyday. Perhaps within this, lies a new corner of the self. 

  1. From the work Ripley by Sydney Madia.
  2. Ibid.
  3. The word erotic originates from the Greek word Eros, the personification of love and sensuality.
  4. George Bataille, “Erotism in Inner Experience” in Erotism: Death and Sensuality (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1957), 29-30.
  5. Audrey Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. (Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984), 76.

Erotic Awakenings was curated by Fan Wu and Hearth, first published in June 2020 and is still accessible to view on Hearth’s website here.

Feature Image: Screencap of the project description from Erotic Awakenings webpage. Photo courtesy of Hearth Garage.