June 23, 2015
Anastatia Spicer

Shu Lea Cheang: Feminist Politics, Bodies and Sex in the Technological Age

During the middle of May Coven Berlin organized a two week queer, feminist visual and performance art festival: “I’d Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess”. The festival, based in a small gallery space in Berlin, featured interactive installations, performances, film screenings and workshops. All of the work revolved around ideas of what feminist politics, bodies and sex can look like within our technological age.

I went to a handful of screenings but the film I keep thinking about is Shu Lea Cheang’s Japanese Sci-Fi porn, “I.K.U: This is Not Love This is Sex”. The film was released in 2000 and shown at Sundance that year (with much objection because of the sex scenes). It has only recently been gaining recognition, Cheung said that she has been traveling showing the film.

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The loose narrative of the film follows Reike, a female cyborg who goes around Tokyo to collect the orgasmic data of citizens by having sex with them. The film explores power relations within sex, many scenes Reike seems to be a fairly passive receiver but, as the audience knows, she is actually mining the people she’s having sex with for their orgasmic data. Fisting becomes an important element of the film, at many points Reike’s hand becomes a penis and is used to penetrate sexual partners. Both of these elements invert gender roles often shown in mainstream porn. The graphics in the film are to die for, “I.K.U. starts where Blade Runner ends… A wildly imaginative vision of the future that is headed straight for your libido… An experimental extravaganza of sight, sound, and sex that fiercely stretches the genre of explicit erotic filmmaking” Shari Frilot (Sundance Film Festival)


I think this film creates an important bridge between porn and mainstream films through redefining what desire, power, and narratives can look like within porn films. This bridge gives space for alternative conversations about sexuality, gender and how we talk about and view sex work. It is not overtly activist in its intentions but through creating this sci-fi world Cheang brings to light how we think about about, document and react to (take the example of the uproar at Sundance) to non-normative sexualities, genders and power relations. Not to mention, Cheung was way ahead of their time in terms of politics of surveillance and mining of personal data which affect all of our lives today.

Cheang is a Taiwanese highly regarded media artist. She came out with her first film, Fresh Kill in 1994 and has been working on a variety of installation, performances and film-based works since. Most of her work centers around how bodies interact with desire and one another within a world where our technology becomes a part of us. She lived in New York City during the 1980s and 1990s and now travels between North America, Asia and Europe.

Crowd funding was unsucessful for Cheang’s newest film, Fluid. It is set to start filming in Berlin this year.