“She's more high brow, and I'm more...” Golden girl of classic porn, and ex-prostitute, Annie Sprinkle and I are eating lunch in her Bernal Heights kitchen. She's searching for the words to compare her partner Beth Stephens' and her own artistic repertoires. The two women are in the midst of what they call the Love Art Lab, a far reaching, seven year project that's seen them married eight times all over the globe in lavishly creative ceremonies that invoke Sprinkle's and Stephens' commitment to “ecosexuality.”
It's a concept they've coined to connote sensual relationship with nature, and the two very much believe that it's a message that should be heard. They'll be exhibiting photos of their work and other pieces of art at the Good Vibrations gallery later this month (Thurs/24). Sprinkle has just invited me to their upcoming nuptials- this year she and Beth will be having two ceremonies, one in honor of the moon in LA, and one to the mountains, in Akron, Ohio.
“Low brow,” Sprinkle concludes. “No, let's say more funky.” A tour of the two womens' home offices confirm that the couple has somewhat different approaches to life. Stephens' is the more orderly of the two. An art teacher at UC Santa Cruz who is taking classes towards a PhD in performance studies at UC Davis, her room is stacked with books in an appropriately scholarly manner. The two met when Beth contacted Sprinkle with an invitation to appear in her photography project at Rutgers University. A print from that shoot hangs on the office wall; Stephens, a dyke in a white tee shirt and crew cut, leans back against her motorcycle, Annie's pendulous tits framing her face. They both look very happy to be there.
Sprinkle is a different kind of academic – she also has her PhD, awarded by the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in 2003, which may have made her the first adult film star-sex worker to earn their doctorate. Sprinkle rose to skin flick fame with projects like Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle (1982), which also starred Ron Jeremy and which Sprinkle wrote and directed. A staunch feminist, she's played a big role in popularizing “alternative” porn – in her own words, “edu porn, doco porn, cancer erotica [Sprinkle and Stephens dealt with the pain of Sprinkle's breast cancer diagnosis by shaving their heads and fucking while a photographer friend documented], eco sexuality, and feminist porn.” Padding around in her furry red slippers, square glasses, and an animal print camisole stretched over the famous knockers, Sprinkle shows me her “office.” It resembles the boudoir of a spiritual, sex positive Miss Piggy. It's painted in Sprinkles beloved pinks and purples, and crammed with boas, trinkets, and statuettes of many armed deities arranged into shrines.
“We think of each other as exotic,” Stephens tells me when, at Annie's insistence, we catch her on her cell phone midway through registering their new RV in Santa Cruz, which they plan to drive across the country. “Because we're very different, we get a kick out of each other.”
Que tetones!: Love Art Lab's yellow wedding in Canada was the first to legally proclaim Stephens and Sprinkle married. Photo courtesy of Love Art Lab
The couple is on a mission to eroticize every aspect of life. Their ecosexualism seems to be the ultimate New Age belief system, a reimagining of the environmental movement – or is it nature worship?- to make the whole thing, well, sexier. Sprinkle explains that ecosexuality is the feeling that you get when the sun hits your skin a certain way, or when you see a sunset that blows your mind. “Everything is sex in a way,” Sprinkle muses. “It's just that we have an expanded view of what sex is.”
Sprinkle is no stranger to sex as activism. “I haven't been so excited about something since the feminist porn wars,” she tells me, sweetly. Ecosexuality is her and Stephens' way of bringing the environmental issue to the fore amongst their academic, artistic, and sex worker friends. “We're trying to seduce people that aren't normally into the environmental movement,” Sprinkle says of the attendees of her weddings. “They're not Birkenstock people.”
It's a sexual identity that clearly resonates deeply with the two. “We really think of ourselves as more ecosexuals than queer these days,” Sprinkle says. I mention her comment to Stephens, who replies “I can't think of anything more queer than [ecosexuality] – I think it's more of an evolution than a change for us.” Their upcoming mountain wedding was spurred by the mountain top removal going on in the Appalachians, where Beth spent her childhood. There, Stephens tells me, coal mining operations will literally blast off hundreds of feet from the summits to get to hidden loads. “The Appalachian area has been stereotypically made fun of and dehumanized,” she says. “This activity can go on and on and no one seems to care.”
But Annie and Beth do. And after seeing their lavishly attired ceremonies (the mono hued weddings feature fantastic costumes and, Annie tells me, can get rather risque), their friends will too. “We're using sexuality as a potential tool to make people more environmentally conscious,” Sprinkle tells me as we sit at her kitchen table, eating the ecosexual friendly salad she's prepared. “This whole thing is at the crest of something really big, I can feel it.” Insert naughty comment here – dirty talk need not be divorced from social change in the world of Love Art Lab.
Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens in “Sybaritic Cougars with Ecosexual Tendencies"
Thurs/24 6-8 p.m., free
1620 Polk, SF