It’s a big week for queer marriage rights. Prop 8; the state proposition that banned same sex marriage in California is being heard by the Supreme Court today. Tomorrow, the Defense of Marriage Act will be under the same scrutiny.
Despite the controversy surrounding same sex marriage, artists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens have been married sixteen times. They’ve married each other legally in Canada, married their community, the Earth, the sea, the rocks, the moon, the snow, and many other natural elements in extravagant and colorful performances.
Inspired by Fluxus and performance artists, sex workers, feminists and political activists, the two artists stage weddings as political and social performance art. Like Montana’s project, their weddings incorporate the colors of the chakras as a structural and thematic base.
Working with over 2000 collaborators, their weddings feature performers, artists and sex workers in an experimental public performance based on the tropes of traditional western matrimony.
At their fourth wedding, the “Green Wedding,” the artists made vows to the Earth, and “formally entered the environmental movement.” This wedding was a transitional one, defining their “Ecosexuality,” and shifting the concept of Earth as mother, to Earth as lover. Their subsequent marriages have all linked love, politics and environmentalism by queering the marriage ritual.
For Strange Bedfellows, Annie & Beth are working with sculptor Luke Wilson to create an audio / visual installation featuring simultaneous screenings of their first seven weddings. This installation is based upon a wedding chapel project that they presented at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, but will visually suggest their ecosexuality through the inclusion of Wilson’s organic sculpture.
I sat down with Annie & Beth this weekend to discuss their thoughts on marriage, their impetus for collaboration, and the piece they are presenting in Strange Bedfellows:
Amy Cancelmo: First of all, thank you so much for being a part of this project.
Annie Sprinkle: Thank you for including us, we’re excited. Collaboration is our middle name.
AC: So for “Strange Bedfellows,” we’ve decided that you’re going to be showing seven videos of your weddings on stacked monitors. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Elizabeth Stephens: So we are showing this tower of videos in a chapel or installation that’s “ecosexualized.“
AS: The real beauty of the piece is the sound of the collaboration. That’s what really impressed me, the visual is beautiful, but the sound blows me away because it is actually so harmonious and it’s so full of joy and applause and cheering and singing it really sounds fantastic.
AC: And the weddings began in relation to Linda Montana’s project right?
AS: We’ve done now 16, weddings but we have videos of the first 14, which are in relation to the chakras, ala Linda Montana’s 7-year structure. She offered this structure, it’s such a brilliant thing and it’s so powerful to do it. I don’t know that we would have become ecosexuals that married the Earth if we had not done her structure
ES: No, because we would have never encountered the color green. When we married the Earth, part of our project became about who or what really needs protection and rights. And who or what needs trust and collaboration
AS: It became so much bigger than us and the love was so huge.
ES: I think we figured out it’s like 2,300 people have collaborated on the weddings.
AC: So how do you decide who you’re going to work with on the weddings?
ES: It’s a very organic process, we would make the decision about where we were going to go, or we would be invited to come somewhere. And then we would send out a call for collaborators.
AS: It’s always very site specific, and it’s always very synchronistic. We put out the call for collaborators and we never know what’s going to happen. We have a sense: we make a “sequins of events,” and sometimes there’s a rehearsal, sometimes not, sometimes a little tech, sometimes there’s a budget.
AC: I read the Believer article that Michelle Tea wrote about your blue wedding in Venice. It’s such a vivid description of how everything happens.
AS: it was the hardest, no transportation…
ES: but in a way we had total freedom too it was like a total crazy Fellini esque, the police tried to arrest us three times.
AC: How did you find participants for that wedding?
ES: We didn’t have a budget for the Venice Biennale, so people came on their own dime. This community has really started to form based upon people who have followed our work and who have participated. Some people participate in multiple weddings, then there are people who are in the area who just want to be part of it, and then the people we invite specifically.
AS: What interests me is the total strangers. In Canada, our legal wedding, we only knew three people.
AC: This week the Supreme Court is hearing testimonies on both Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, how do you feel about the national stage that same sex marriage has taken?
AS: It’s really a very exciting time. My god, this week is huge in gay rights. It’s really about getting equal rights for us. I say we’ve occupied weddings. We use the traditional elements but we totally queer them up and mess with them at the same time we I wouldn’t say exploit, but that we utilize, it’s a beautiful ritual of love.
ES: People think of marriage as their big day, but we’re even undermining that because we’ve had so many big days now. So part of our project is an undermining of some of the privilege of marriage. Weddings and marriage are extremely political, and I think that they are very problematic because it’s a very heteronormative ritual, which has been used to keep some people in, and other people out.
AS: But it does generate love and beauty and the ritual really works. At our weddings there are people gathering, there’s a procession, there’s offerings, then there’s a homily usually, promises, rings to remember the promises the kiss to seal the vows, and then the recession, so it’s these basic theatrical elements but we make it totally into performance art and we mess around with it a lot
ES: It’s a good standby ritual.
AS: We always have an objector to the wedding too. “Does anyone have any objection speak now or forever hold your peace?” Of course there’s a lot to object to.
ES: Well we have objections. Politically I’m very critical of weddings, but this morning we were at our accountant’s and she was like “Sooo, are you all married?” and we were like, “well, we don’t really know, because we got married in Canada, but we didn’t tell the United States, we’ve never told the US that we are married, therefore are we married, or aren’t we married?” I’d love to file as a married couple, but really I think the only reason to get married is for the money. If it’s going to allow us to save money on our taxes then dammit…
AS: I get health insurance that’s a big perk.
ES: There are perks but I feel like what that really points out is the lack of equal rights in our society, and that’s what the issue really is. I like the freaky queers that don’t get married and that hate war.
AS: It’s a matter of choice if someone really wants to be in the military they should get fair treatment if someone really wants to get married they should get fair treatment They don’t have to get married, and they don’t have to join.
ES: Marriage is powerful. There are some people who really don’t want the queers in.
AS: They’ll start marrying trees and rocks and marrying the Earth.
ES: That’s exactly what we intend to have happen. These weddings, we take them very seriously. They look kind of fun and kind of crazy, and they are, but we’re dead serious about what we’re doing.
AS: We are very politically motivated. My core cause is prostitutes rights and decriminalizing prostitution. We can’t be a sex positive society until that’s struck down.
ES: And my core issue is the environment so that’s how the Ecosexuality came to be. It’s sort of a combining.
AS: We’re building a new sexual movement, a new environmental movement, and a new area of sexual research.
AC: How did you two begin collaborating?
AS: I’ve always really appreciated in performance art, which is the art I love, and Fluxists, there’s a lot of collaborations, more than most art. I think when we got together we were using art as a conversation, a way to make love with each other, the creativity was a part of our sex life in a way,
ES: It still is.
AS: We both had solo careers…but of course you never really have a solo career.
ES: It’s total double speak is what it is, everyone collaborates all the time it’s just whether you admit that you’re collaborating or not.
AC: How do you think about your individual careers now?
ES: We don’t have them. I’m so uninterested personally
AS: I’m not either; I want to be with her.
ES: When I was going through my tenure process at the university I was roundly criticized by some of the reviewers for collaborating at that time because as a professor you are supposed to be creating new knowledge based on the singular genius model. Collaboration is somehow seen as contaminating that model, so that if someone collaborates they must not be quite as much of a genius as those who do not collaborate, it’s a very intense system
AS: Whereas actually you’d think it’s the opposite, because in the state of the world we need conflict resolution. This is why we started collaborating. We committed to each other to collaborate because if we can’t work things out how do we expect the world…
ES: I actually started collaborating with you because you were so hot.
AC: So if Prop 8 is overturned, will you get married?
AS: We’re domestic partners, so that seems to do the trick.
ES: Oh no, if you’re married that’s the ultimate in coupledom.
AS: You know, I was trying to figure out if we are a couple or not, and we’re really not a couple.
ES: We’re not? Oh my god, this is the first I’ve heard of this!
AS: No, because we married all these things. How can you be a couple when you married your community and you married rocks and you married the sky? Why are we a couple?
ES: I hate coupledom; I’m so glad you just realized that honey. That’s great.
AS: We haven’t been a couple since we married the Earth. In a way we’re a mono, but in a way we’re a multi.
ES: We’re an ecological system that’s what we are. We’re an ecological system and there are a lot of things moving around in this system.
Annie & Beth’s’ upcoming projects include film, theater and workshops. Click the links below for more info!