On a Dark Night, You Can See For Ever: Library Burlesque hits Auckland

Dark Night at Auckland Libraries
Image by Dylan Horrocks

21st June sees the launch of Auckland Libraries’ Dark Night, a guerrilla festival of burlesque, literary, and cinematic events that question, celebrate, and challenge sex and sexuality on page, stage, and screen.

Opening with a screening of Steve McQueen’s Shame, a harrowing portrait of sex addiction starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, the season includes library services in Auckland bars, author talks, and a cabaret evening including the sultry, saucy stars of Auckland Fringe Festival, Oh! Is For Opera.

Oh Is For Opera! New Zealand Opera Burlesque
Oh Is For Opera! New Zealand Opera Burlesque

So by now a few people will be spluttering at their screens in bewilderment. “Michael Fassbender’s bum on screen at a library event!?!? Sexy opera singers performing for wine-quaffing patrons!?!?”

Stop. Breathe!

Take a look at that first sentence – and those verbs, “question, celebrate, and challenge.”

This isn’t prurience on a library budget. It’s making sure that libraries are still part of the conversation when Fifty Shades of Grey sells 70 million copies and Dita Von Teese is a household name. It’s about respecting ALL our patrons’ tastes, and at the same time challenging those people who use sex and sexuality in the media for mere profit.

This isn’t about exploitation. This is about questioning sex and sexuality in our culture.

One of our panellists is the great Kiwi comic book creator Dylan Horrocks. His new webcomic, The Magic Pen, is a thoughtful reflection on desire and fantasy, excellently discussed over at the io9.com blog.

Dylan’s image, at the top of this post, provoked some raised eyebrows in the early phases of our project – until Dr. Pani Farvid of Auckland University of Technology, one of our guest speakers, pointed out: How often do you see exploitative images of women in the media, where the man is in control?

If I'm dreaming...it doesn't matter what I do, right? - still from The Magic Pen

Here, we’re turning things on their head, drawing on the best of contemporary Kiwi culture to show gender relations in a different light. We’re playing with the media and discourse around sexuality – to show you what’s out there, and make you think critically.

Play isn’t just about leisure. It’s more than just trendy terms like gamification.

Burlesque has its roots in parody, satire, and cultural commentary. Fanfiction is about making play with elements of pop culture – speaking back to the powerful forces which sell us stories through the mainstream media by claiming characters and spinning them off on destinies which we find more satisfying or intriguing.

As the Internet changes the way we express and explore sexuality, new phenomena arise – like Fifty Shades of Grey, or the burlesque revival which ushered in the 21st century with a flurry of feather boas and showgirl mystique. (Here’s a great discussion about the ‘New Erotica’ from Karen Tay, a Stuff.co.nz columnist who will be speaking during the festival). Even fanfiction, which gave rise to Fifty Shades, is gaining a legitimacy through a licensing deal with Amazon – although Amazon fears to tread where some saucy writers would wish to take their texts, and it’s disputable whether that new “legitimacy” is meaningful, valid, or necessary.

The point is this: if libraries are “your space of imagination, learning, and connection”, that applies to every aspect of our culture.

Find out more about Auckland Libraries’ daring festival exploring sex and sexuality at the library website. And Aucklanders themselves can buy tickets to our launch event on Friday 21st June here. You’re in for a Dark Night!

18 thoughts on “On a Dark Night, You Can See For Ever: Library Burlesque hits Auckland

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