There are many amazing independent porn films being made by great companies across the world. But none bring together sex and cinema quite like A Four Chambered Heart. Specializing in highly-stylised erotic shorts, the crowdfunded production company explores sexuality with a keen eye for aesthetics. Textures, nature and the anatomy are shot seamless to highlight organic shapes, pleasure and sex.
This beautiful imagery and use of technology is incredibly inspiring, and truly pushes the boundaries of erotic film making. So I could not wait to ask one of it´s co-owners, pornographer, cam-girl and performer, Vex Ashley, about their film making process to really get within the minds of those behind the camera at Four Chambers.
Your work is often very symbolic, taking inspiration in “the roots of western culture”. For example, Christianity and Greek mythology. What attracts you to these sources? Why do you think it works so well at Four Chambers?
The nature of symbolism is so important to us because it allows the viewer to take away more than the immediate surface. The nature of a short film means we get a small amount of time to tell a story and with Four Chambers we try to give a slice, leaving more space for imagination to create the rest of the narrative, subjective to each viewer.
I think there’s a lot of interesting discussion to be had by appropriating roles and themes from history and culture in a modern, sexual setting. I think the way these stories are retold from history (although heavy in sexual undertones) often leave their female characters passive. I reimagine them with power and sexual agency, confronting the camera. I think there are elements of these stories and characters we reference that are universal to a modern experience of sex and power and we enjoy playing with that relationship.
You have stated that you “exist naked on screen” with the idea of “the screen” being a fundamental part of your philosophy. Would you say this is the primal tool at Four Chambers? Is it part of your extreme modernity? Do you think your work could exist without the internet and instead imagine what your productions would have been like, in say, the 1970s? Performance art maybe?
The screen and the idea of a network of interconnected experience through digital replication are really vital to both the way we make and distribute our films and the concepts behind the work itself. Technology has been an incredible tool in expanding our collective experience, and that, of course, includes sex. A screen is seen as too sterile, ordered and cold to capture the complexity of a physical connection, but I don’t see them as in competition but that the digital experience is an exciting augmentation. Four Chambers works to explore the nature of intimacy and sexuality using these new tools. Physicality had always been so important to me when I was making artwork, but I think our current accepted definition of what is “real” and what is “unreal” (existing only online) is adapting and changing over time. It’s important to us to engage with that shifting conversation.
I really value the work of performance artists, like Carolee Schneeman, Helen Chadwick etc, I certainly see my body as my medium and I think that our work is an extension of that idea (We tested the idea of “live art” with a live performance stream on a webcam site). But I think without the mechanics of the camera and the editing suite our work would look and feel very different, I think it’s an intrinsic part of the atmosphere we are looking to create and where we position ourselves conceptually.
Your work concentrates a lot on textures of the body related to nature. Why is this? What benefits does technology have in portraying the themes and symbolism in this way in your films? Are there specific film making techniques you like to use?
It’s interesting that you’d identified that because it’s not a connection that we had considered before!
I think we try to focus on highlighting the shapes of bodies in a more organic, abstract way over just purely graphic depictions. The camera helps a lot with this. We often use a shallow focus that draws the eye across a shot, so that not everything is clear all at once. I like to leave a little to guesswork. Playing with retiming, slowing or speeding up in post production makes movements seem more fluid and organic. I think everyone can admit that sex essentially can be amusing and awkward! What we are creating sometimes seems more choreographed but I promise it’s just a trick of the edit.
You also do a remarkable work on anatomy, from an artistic point of view. How would you describe what the human body means to you?
Thank you so much! Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of time locked in a room doing endless life drawing at art school? I guess I didn’t know then how useful it would be! For me, the body – my body – is an incredible tool of expression and communication. Being on camera has taught me to be less afraid of it. To use it in it’s entirety and make it work for me. It’s my greatest weapon and companion. Sex is such a big part of that. Fucking, and watching people fuck on camera challenged and changed my preconceptions of what’s “attractive” and “beautiful”. If you don’t take ownership of your body and your sexuality, someone else will.
In term of distribution: are you happy with the channels you have found? Is it effective and balanced?
We haven’t ever really focused on the idea of commercial distribution as such. I guess growing up as a child of social media it seemed like the natural thing to do it ourselves. There’s an incredible community of independent sex workers, sex writers, pornographers, amateurs and their fans on sites like Twitter and Tumblr who pass on work that they like, which was how the word got our about our work really. Finding a way to begin to partially fund the project without treating it like a business for profit has been at times frustrating and complex. It’s a learning process we’re still working through! I’m still surprised at how far it’s gone considering we chose not to engage with more established corporate methods. I love the freedom and control that the DIY ethos gives us.
Collaborations are a huge part of your work ethic. Where are these collaborators, mostly? Do they make you feel like a part of the new wave of porn as visual erotic artists rather than pornographers?
I like to say collaborators rather than performers because often we are the least experienced people involved when making a film! We’re self taught, learning as we go. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some really talented and exciting people and we can’t begin to say what their influence and support for the project has had on the work we’ve produced. Where to find them? That would be the internet. There’s a growing community of people exploring creative depictions of sexuality outside of what is easily accessible on the surface on free porn tube sites. We work with people whose work inspires us. I think there is certainly a new wave building. With the growing accessibility of good camera equipment and the ease of distribution on social media, more and more people are beginning to put their sexual ideas and experience on screen. We’re just excited to be a part of that.