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Interview: Sex, philosophy and art entwine in ‘Pornosophy' by artist Martin Firrell

Image credit: ‘Pornosophy' by Martin Firrell

The term ‘pornosophical’, first coined by James Joyce, means ‘of or relating to the philosophy of the brothel’. Inspired by this turn of phrase, French artist Martin Firrell, known for using billboards and projections to engage in text-based public art, heads to the erstwhile sexual epicentre of the city to present ‘Pornosophy’, a new video installation at The Smallest Gallery in Soho. ‘Pornosophy’ interprets the work of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) through the eyes of porn star Spurt Reynolds (b. 1971). We had some questions.

Eli Goldstone: Who is Spurt Reynolds?
Martin Firrell:
Spurt Reynolds is a product of my fevered imagination, supposedly a huge porn star of the 1970s. In the real world, he has been brought to life for ‘Pornosophy'  by a contemporary porn performer called Justin.

Eli: How do you see the role of the pornographer in contemporary culture?
Nowadays, I think it’s true to say that everyone is a pornographer and all of contemporary culture is pornographic.

Image credit: ‘Pornosophy' by Martin Firrell

Eli: What is it about Kierkegaard that resonates with you at this particular time?
I am struck by the way he lived so uneventfully. All of the drama around Kierkegaard is in his work not in his life. That appeals to me right now as our lives are curtailed by Covid-19. Although life might need to be lived on a smaller physical scale for a while, it need be no less radical or significant.

Eli: What do you think people are more afraid of, philosophy or sex?
People are far more afraid of philosophy than sex. To a degree, sex has been worn out through overuse. It’s like the monster in an over-lit horror film - you can see the costume, and the man inside the costume, so it has lost its power to terrify or thrill. Philosophy, on the other hand, is still a deep, dark, terrifying mystery to most people.

Image credit: ‘Pornosophy' by Martin Firrell

Eli: I’ve always found it easier to approach philosophy as if it were poetry. What strikes me about Kierkegaard is that he straddles this divide. As an artist who works with text, can you talk about the ways in which form influences function?
Language itself is an example of pure form and the form of language governs its function absolutely - you can only say what it’s possible for language to say. It follows that the problems of language are unanswerable because of the problems of language.

Eli: In the tradition of The Hoerengracht, you’re celebrating Soho’s sexual history. Where else can we see vestiges of the city’s vanishing underbelly?
Conveniently located just to the left of The Smallest Gallery in Soho, there is another door marked ‘Model’.

Image credit: ‘Pornosophy' by Martin Firrell

Eli: How does it feel to watch the art world start to come alive again after an enforced period of hibernation, and to exhibit in a physical space?
I don’t much care for 'the art world'. I always say, ‘why settle for the art world when you can have the whole world?’ It’s immensely important to differentiate between the art world and art itself. They are not, of course, the same thing. One is a political and economic construct. The other is a specialised form of spiritual activity.

Because I always make work for the public realm (most recently I’ve been called ‘that billboard guy’), I have been able to continue to exhibit in the physical space of the street through the pandemic. I think the most interesting thing about The Smallest Gallery in Soho is not the physical space but the quality of the work shown. The gallery is minuscule but when it comes to boldness and quality of work, it is a Titan.

Eli: Finally, what is something Spurt Reynolds can teach us about living well?
Spurt teaches us to value love over sex, make your peace with growing old, and ski carefully when there’s loose snow.

Martin Firrell: ‘Pornosophy’
The Smallest Gallery in Soho

62 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4QF
September - November 2020

Viewing times:
17.00 – 21.00: The Making of Pornosophy
21.00 – 24.00: Pornosophy

Projector support by QED Productions.



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‘Pornosophy’ was curated by Philip Levine and Andreia Costa.

About the Curators:
Philip Levine
Philip has been working in the creative and cultural industries for the last decade as a producer. This has ranged from exhibitions, events, publishing, talks and creating his own unique artwork under the title ‘Headism’. He has gained a MA in Culture, Policy and Management at City, University of London. Being from London, his passion is knowing ‘who and what’ is up and coming in cultural trends and being involved within them. Read the Run-Riot interview with Philip Levine, here.
Andreia Costa
Andreia is an Associate Architect at Jamie Fobert Architects. She studied in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Porto and practiced for 3 years in her native Portugal. Before moving to the UK Andreia decided to explore her contemporary art interest by working in Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art as an architecture and art lecturer. In 2010 she joined Jamie Fobert Architects, where she has been involved in several projects including Selfridges and Tate exhibitions.

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