The Professor and the Porn Legend Who Married the Appalachian Mountains

Nov 10, 2010 by

ROADWORDS
An occasional series on notable road trips into and out of WestVirginiaVille

Click here to view a larger version of this classic Annie Sprinkle fine-art poster (still available at loveartlab.org), which deconstructs an ’80s porn pin-up shoot.

PART 1 | Annie Sprinkle Comes to Dinner
Part 2 | Got Purple?
Part 3 | An Eco-sexual Ceremony

By Douglas Imbrogno | The monthly Charleston ArtWalk has evolved into a lively gallery-hopping happening, where for a few hours you may briefly imagine West Virginia’s capital city has the street life and cultural mojo of an artful alley in San Francisco, say. Or, let’s get real – Boulder, maybe.

That is, until the chardonnay gets put away at The Purple Moon and the signature cans of Fresca (free Fresca!)  are put back in the fridge at the Chet Lowther Studio and the gnarly trolls secretly employed by the City of Charleston scuttle out after 9 p.m. to roll up the streets. And once again a dead calm settles over downtown, except for the occasional drunken galoot booted from the Capitol City Gold Gentleman’s Club on Capitol Street for pawing the talent’s rump. Not that I’ve ever been there, mind you, but I hear things, being a reputable journalist with one ear to the rolled-up streets.

I would like to add a new distinction to ArtWalk – that it’s a place where you may also run into a legendary former porn star about to marry the Appalachian Mountains in an eco-sexual, anti-mountaintop removal, performance-art event with her West Virginia-born artist-professor wife, a dozen performers and scores of well-wishers in the chapel pews. All of them dressed in purple.

That would be Annie Sprinkle. And therein, most certainly, lies a tale.

Also, how your humble narrator ended up opening for the gig.

Before Little India opened recently in Charleston, Sitar of India was the only place to go post-ArtWalk for mater paneer,  mango lassi and artful chat. As the September 2010 ArtWalk wound to a close, there I sat, resting my gallery-weary feet and crunching beaver-like through a plate of papadums. Across the table sat my pal Paul Corbit Brown, a globe-trotting human rights photographer who calls Pax, W.Va., home. Beside him sat his female friend, Tandy.

Paul and Tandy had gotten there before me but the table was set for four others. “Who else is coming?” I asked. “Some friends and some friends of friends,” he said. “Do you know who Annie Sprinkle is?”

Annie Sprinkle? Here in Charleston? This night?!

“Annie Sprinkle is coming to dinner?” I said, papadum pausing in mid-air.

“I can’t believe you know who she is!” interjected Tandy, who herself had not known until recently the impressive curriculum vitae of one A. Sprinkle, born in 1954 with the far more prosaic name of Ellen F. Steinberg.

I suppose it’s a guy thing. I should add that the following protestation is true, not a ruse of the sort pitiful dudes attempted when caught out publicly with Playboys back in the day, which, really, they were just reading for that great interview with MC Hammer, back when MC Hammer was cool for 27 minutes in the Paleolithic Era. (The Hammer is back, by the way).

The fact of the matter is I had never – and still have not – seen any of the flicks or shorts for which a younger Annie Sprinkle had  made a name for herself in the porn industry. That would include her first porn movie, “Teenage Deviate” as well as “Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle,” which Wikipedia helpfully notes was “the no. 2 grossing porn film of 1981.” I knew her instead as an unbridled columnist writing about sex online in a completely uninhibited, un-censored, non-neurotic way. In short, nothing like the way sex is usually written, talked or whispered about.

She was also, I knew, part of the first, small vanguard of women in porn able to take control of their careers in a male-dominated industry that often abused and misused the unclothed females jacklighted in the viewfinder (cf. Linda Lovelace.).  I also vaguely recalled she had launched a post-porn career full of exuberant artistic/sexual happenings and pro-sex exhibits.

I am about to give you the first paragraph of her Wikipedia entry, which neatly sums up the arc of her career, although you really should take into account – if you pursue her bio online and are of the still-neurotic or conservative school of  thinking-about-sex – that anything linking outward from Annie Sprinkle’s name is going to take you to some nether regions on the Net, both literally and figuratively. Not to mention, quite possibly, Sprinkle’s nether regions:

Annie M. Sprinkle (born Ellen F. Steinberg; July 23, 1954) is an American former prostitute, stripper, pornographic actress, cable television host, porn magazine editor, writer and sex film producer. She received a BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in 1986. Currently, Sprinkle works as a performance artist and sex educator. Sprinkle, who is bisexual, married her long-time partner, Beth Stephens, in Canada on January 14, 2007.

I like much better the description on the home page of her own web site, because it captures some of the spirit, some of the insouciance of the woman I was about to meet:

I’m an artist, sexologist, ecosexual, author, lecturer, educator and thespian. I’ve also been a sex worker of all sorts, a pioneering adult film director/performer and a professional photographer. I’m the first porn star to have earned a Ph.D., my work is studied in major universities internationally, I’ve shown at the best museums and galleries– and I’m still going strong! Here you’ll find some things old, some things new, and some things very very blue.

Wedding Planning

And so, here she is. Sitar’s front door swings open and in comes a woman in an ankle-length, flowing, multi-colored dress, with hints of India and hippiedom. She has brown shoulder-length hair, an extremely generous bosom, bright, clever eyes and an easy smile. Beside her walks Beth Stephens, a few notches shorter than Annie, with close-cropped hair and a wry grin. They are trailed by two of Beth’s family members.

Annie’s in town for a visit with Beth’s clan and also because another of the couple’s  ‘performance art weddings’ approaches at nearby Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Our table suddenly becomes a conversational badminton court. I am piecing all this together as Annie sits down beside me. We all order a round of dishes and soon she is forking pieces of mattar paneer from the plate in front of me. “Oooh, that’s good!” she says. “I like that.”

Let’s see, Beth is a West Virginia native. She’s an artist and tenured professor of art at The University of California at Santa Cruz – California is where the two met and fell in love. She and Annie collaborate on art projects through something called the Love Art Laboratory. Would you like a papadum? They’ve done a series of experimental performance art weddings around the world. Watch out for that red onion stuff, it’s way hot! In May 2008, they married the Earth at their Green Wedding number 4 in Santa Cruz, where  according to the invitation they officially entered the environmental movement. Thanks, but I’m a vegetarian and don’t eat lambs. For good measure, they added a second green wedding that year in Zagreb, Croatia. Vegetable pakora? In August 2009, they married the sea in Venice, in the “Eco-sexual Blue Wedding to the Sea.” That would be Wedding Five.

Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle in a photo from the Green Wedding invitation.

As I had been to Venice two years earlier, suddenly I had a conversational crossroads with these two avante-garde – perhaps I should say, avante-sexual – whirlwinds, who obviously dote on each. Not to mention kiss on each other there in our Sitar of India window seats.

Beth and Annie married the sea just like the Doges of old in La Serenissima, the most serene Republic of Venice. The way the Doges did it, they  rowed out in the two-story boat of state, the Bucintoro, tossing a ring into the waters of the sea, a bethrothal to the source of the great republic’s maritime prowess. The Doge then declared: “In sign of eternal domination, we, the Doge of Venice, marry you, oh sea.”

Their own wedding to the sea, staged during the 53rd Venice Biennale, had been “challenging,” says Annie. It was way hot and they closed the Biennale gallery before the wedding was over. But guests came from more than 17 countries and doge-like, they tossed a ring into the Adriatic off Venice. There’s video.

It was all part of a roving, multi-year worldwide mission to ‘marry’ the Earth in all its elements. The aim was to bring a lover’s embrace, rather than an exploiter’s hand, to people’s relationship with Mother Earth. Or rather, to reframe that  entire relationship as Lover Earth. Or, as one of their past wedding invitations put it: “We are ecosexual sexecologists who have vowed to love, honor, and cherish the Earth, Sky and Sea ’til death brings us closer together forever.”

I looked out the window at the rolled-up streets. Was I really having this conversation in downtown Charleston, West Virginia?

The Third Eye Opens

Despite the glitches in last year’s wedding, hope, art – and new weddings – appear to spring eternal for these two women. Their art weddings were collaborative affairs at which they invited local artists to perform. They had a new one coming  Saturday, Nov. 6, in a chapel on the campus of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Each wedding had a different theme and color based on the seven-chakra system of the body (inspired by artist Linda Montano’s “14 Years of Living Art.”).

“This next one is the Purple Wedding to the Mountains,” Annie said. This wedding referenced the sixth chakra, located in the area of the Third Eye, signifying intuition.

Now, this was getting serendipitous. For years, I’d been staging and performing around West Virginia a music-theatrical event called Third Eye Cabaret. It was part of my alter ego singer-songwriter self, which often dressed up in strange, glittering costumes. The cabaret’s tag line was: “Be there when the Third Eye opens…”

“You should perform at the Purple Wedding to the Mountains,” said Beth.

I should perform at the Purple Wedding to the Mountains, my brain repeated.

Be there when the Third Eye opens …

I should probably think this through. She and Beth seemed awfully nice. Yes, of course, finish the mattar paneer, Annie. I should probably think more about this.

 

But it was too late. My ego was already stoked by being asked by a porn star legend and her collaborating lover to play at their performance art purple wedding. I mean, how do you turn a gig like that down? My ever-ready-to-hop-on stage alter ego was already chomping at the mic.

Later, when I got home and looked up the web site to which Annie and Beth directed me, I found the formal invitation to the public to come to the Purple Wedding to the Mountains.

JOIN US IN HOLY AND IRREVERENT MATRIMONY at our celebration of love for the Moon, the Mountains, and each other. Please wear purple and keep your third eye open.

I could do that.

Then, a second thought:

Wait a minute – who were these people? Really?
Hmmm.

←∞→

PART 1 | Annie Sprinkle Comes to Dinner
Part 2 | Got Purple?
Part 3 | An Eco-sexual Ceremony

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  1. The Professor and the Porn Legend 3 ~ An Eco-Sexual Marriage Ceremony | WestVirginiaVille - [...] PART 1:  Annie Sprinkle Comes to Dinner PART 2: Zoot-Suiting Up PART 3:  An Eco-sexual Ceremony [...]