Travel

The Art of Turning Porn into Beautiful Collages

Zoe Ligon's collage work transforms disposable mass-produced porn into surreal artifacts.

by Elizabeth Renstrom
Aug 19 2016, 8:12pm

I've known Zoe Ligon since we were both hawking swimsuits at American Apparel in the summer of 2011. Back then she would make show posters for Brooklyn venues that don't exist anymore and talking about getting into sex education, all of which foreshadowed her future quite nicely. She has since become the CEO of her own sex-positive toy store in Detroit, Spectrum Boutique, amassed over 45,000 Instagram followers, become VICE Magazine's sex column illustrator, and appeared in several group shows with her porn-based collage work.

Everything she does is centered around promoting a more open attitude towards sexuality and self-affirmation—she is a renaissance woman of coitus. So when I heard she was coming back to her old stomping grounds for a solo show I got excited and wanted to discuss what inspires this very inspiring lady. See my interview with her below and if you're in New York come out to Superchief in Greenpoint to check out some of her pieces in the flesh.

VICE: How do you balance running a sex toy shop with your art?
Zoe Ligon: Honestly I'm stressed out ALL THE TIME. I have to be glued to my phone and email constantly, and I feel like my brain is always juggling several things at once. It's not a very conducive mindset for creating visual art. It's only been in the last month or so that I've learned to not freak out every time there's a little bump in the road. However, having to be so "on" all the time has made me much more productive overall, so I've slowly been returning to my collage work. In many ways my writing, art, and business all fuel each other since they're all sex-related. For instance, I'm going to be releasing an art book with Ain't-Bad in November, and having a stronger business background has made the entire publishing process much easier. Furthermore, writing articles is a very organic way to promote both my art and business without ever needing to formally advertise (which feels quite wrong to me since I'm really just trying to encourage folks to explore their own sexuality and pleasure).

Where do you source materials for pieces?
I go to a comic book shop in the suburbs of Detroit that has a hoard of porn in the back area. Just walking into the shop is an experience. The guy who owns it is quite a character—he'll yell at me to turn the pages more carefully, accuse me of stealing, or snatch a random porno out of my hands and tell me it's not for sale. I kind of love how relentlessly cranky he is toward me. Maybe I weird him out?

Working with porn can bring about all sorts of assumptions and stereotypes. How do you combat that?
I began integrating elements of nature into my pieces in order to give the women in my images the beautiful backdrops and surroundings they deserve. I see so many images of naked women shot in frat house-like environments, and I'll just think, Fuck no! This girl needs a majestic-ass waterfall behind her. The photographers (who are almost always men) shoot their spreads with the primary intention of providing sexual imagery for men. On top of that, female models and performers rarely receive the treatment and compensation they deserve, so in a way I feel like my collages are an homage to the beauty of the models that dismantles the photographer's original intention by obscuring it.

Do you hope to change people's taboos and hangups about sexual imagery?
Fuck yeah. Porn has such a bad rap. While I understand why society sees it as taboo, it is really no more than a sexual tool. While there's a whole lot of shitty porn, there's a lot of really great porn out there with an actual focus on the vulva where pleasure is mutually exchanged (that's why I only watch videos starring Danny Wylde). But like I said, most mainstream porn is geared towards heterosexual men and gives all viewers an unrealistic depiction of sex. In a world where our sex education is severely lacking, people use porn as a learning tool in addition to an arousal tool and consequently walk away thinking it's OK to go ass to vaj or some shit like that. So yeah, I want to promote the idea that sexual imagery has the potential to teach us a lot and help us conquer shaming attitudes.

If you could inject your collage style into a sex toy design, how would that look?
Whoa. There's definitely a potential for too many sharp edges. Stained-glass dildo! (Just kidding that would in no way be body-safe.)

What can we expect at Superchief tonight?
I have around 60 framed collage pieces that will be on display, and there will be some wacky music played by my friends. I think it's much better to see the collages in person, because it's easier to discern where the layers of paper begin and end, thereby giving them more depth. I also love how physical some people's reactions can be. It can be very difficult to stare at explicit images of sex in a public place, even if you're not shy around the subject, and observing the way different people behave around sexually explicit images can be quite fascinating.

Zoe Ligon is an artist and sex educator based in Detroit. Her solo show opens tonight between 6 and 10 PM at Superchief Gallery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. See more of her work below.