Kuang-Yi Ku: The Fellatio Modification Project, Science Gallery, London, 2016.
Creative art review
The acrid taste of antiseptic bubble-gum. The rising and falling of a metallic glissando swells in the background. Above an iron crab hovers, before descending in a downwards crawl. Its cerulean eye, fixed in an unblinking gaze. Tilted, head first, into a Proustian chamber of remembrance. The memory of a Dentist's room. A nylon moon eclipses the scintillating whiteness. The nightmare of the Dentist.
Kuang-Yi Ku is a trained dentist and practicing artist, who wants to restructure our relationship with dentistry through The Fellatio Modification Project. Dentistry text books dissect the mouth into three functions: aesthetic, mastication and pronunciation. The fourth, but rarely discussed function, is its sexual capacity. Ku challenges this prudishness of the dental world, by approaching it with a fusion of art and science. His project is a tryptic of artistic responses to the sexual mouth: the first is designing a pleasure enhancing retainer, the second is the restructuring of the entire mouth and the third is a preventive measure of oral condoms. Produced in collaboration with the Science Gallery and the dental students of King’s college, Ku work-shopped his re-thinking of the oral cavity. Laying out the basis of his ‘blowie prototype’, the general public were invited to create a retainer, which could be used to enhance oral pleasure.
The mouth is the most formative part of our body, as infants we learn through biting long before we can speak. Through the interrelation of art, technology and sex, Ku uses the mouth as a blueprint to redesign the infinite pursuit of elevated pleasure. The titillating of rubber-tipped fingers massaging teeth. The Post-dental feeling of my teeth lingering, in a gummy embrace. As the fifteen other participants and I sat in the waiting room, I began analysing the fifteen sets of teeth that flashed a tepid smile or bit a nervous lip. We consider what foods to put in it, what words come out of it, so why not consider its sexual performance. After all, sexual pleasure is perhaps the most transcendent feature of the oral cavity.
We are ushered into a large dental laboratory, disguised as the workshop. Rows of dummies lay half upright in dental chairs. Their shrimpy flesh draped around a window of white teeth. Robing ourselves in blue dental smocks, we each took a seat next to the dental mannequins. Ku presented us with a video of his speculative vision: mouths scientifically enhanced for sexual pleasure. The retainers are inserted inside the mouth and impregnated with bulges to enhance Fellatio orgasm. In Ku’s idealised future, people could get these ‘blowie retainers’, like the ones we were going to make in the workshop. The only difference was that they would be permanently fixed and made from cultured human flesh. Amongst the workshop’s students and journalists, was also a concerned Dentist "here for purely academic reasons". His brows raised sharply as he questioned the medical ethics of Ku's fantasy.
Plastic surgery has submerged Medical Ethics in a body of silicone, sucked it out of wobbly thighs and injected into placid bottoms. We live in an infantile world where any demand, and possibility, whether for lifestyle, sexual role or sexual identity is marketed for. Medicine as merely a preventative measure or a cure for disease has, in a Capitalist society, found its monetary value in aesthetics. What Ku proposes is for oral aesthetics to also function as a practical, useable enhancement. The mouth is enclosed and private, Ku is seeking to bring out the private stimulation of this. That is for many a frightening prospect, yet it seems in this increasingly modified world, to be an anchoritic fear.
We had our dentures fitted by Ku, our teeth clamped in a paste thick with an odour of bleached blackberries. The casts of the jaws revealed the unique imprints of every participant, the hidden sexual possibilities housed within the mouth. Textured moulds of molars. Tiny bubbles of unreleased and unrealised pleasure balloons. We set about the process of pressing and fixing our plastic frames; designing lumpy implants to go into the roof of our dentures.
I had become fascinated by Ku’s methodology, meeting up with him a few days later, in an attempt to contextualise the ‘blowie’ retainers. The workshop had left me confused as to how a denture could be applied to everyone’s sexual experience. Ku is homosexual and found “medical school very patriarchal, very serious and the professors very traditional, particularly in Asian countries”. Through the project, he wanted to trigger dentally tabooed discussions surrounding the sexuality of the mouth; encourage people to think of their own oral desires. As Ku showed me around his exhibition, I felt like I had tripped into a science fiction novel. The tiny space was lined with modified jaws, crystallised in plastic. A three dimensional tongue pivoted on a screen, elongated by a contraption of wire straps. The exhibition was pocked by the diligence of Ku’s oral fantasies: each potential of the mouth’s modification was meticulously paired with videos presenting the science, behind these strangely alluring fragments of jaw. Ku told me that through the process he realised that sexual experience was completely subjective to the individual; there wasn’t a one size fits all for oral pleasure. However, a Taiwanese sex toy company was working with him to develop a gender-fluid synthetic, which like a gum shield, could mould to the inside of the mouth.
The idea of pleasure was then aggressively reconfigured in the next step of Ku’s project: The Bird Beak Clone. Inspired by the ‘Castro Clone’ queer scene of 1970's, San Francisco. A gay subculture of men who would identify their sexual preference by dressing in an overtly working class, masculine way. Ku wanted to explore this idea of openly identifying sexual preference, with a twist of his uncanny science. With the aid of Manga artist Dashing, he designed a series of three dimensional plans that elongated the mouth: the ultimate deep-throating blow jobs. The designs were presented as a comic strip of thick penises thrusting into stretched mouths, spluttered with spit and mucous. Ku kept reassuring me that this was a means of pushing beyond the limitations of dental pragma. I had to desensitise myself to the vividness of the designs, so I could elevate myself towards the unknown sensations, Ku was trying to embrace. It wasn’t surprising to discover that Ku’s work had scandalised his native Taiwan and his funding had been debated furiously in parliament. The project is problematic for conservative politicians: art, sex and science for pleasure, not health, doesn’t rattle the public purse.
The issue that scandalised me, as a woman, is the absence of female perspective in Ku's work, which despite its innovation lacked in its balance of gender. The real problem of the project is that despite Ku working alongside a group of King's students, there is no concern for female sexuality, with the entire space dominated by male fellatio. This hinders the project's progression as its disregard for female oral pleasure subscribes to the same masculine status quo, it is seeking to challenge.
In our post-capitalist culture we have absorbed the value of shock. Art with Sex is no longer sensational to a society bloated with erotic imagery. The new fear is the ambiguous potentials of technology: Ku’s work is sensational because his artistic designs, penetrate the membrane of the technologically plausible. At a recent design show his work was censored, cloaked with a black curtain and adhered with warning signs. The reception of Ku’s work reminds me of Duchamp’s Fountain, a urinal marked R.J Mutt, which was presented to an appalled New York in 1917. Duchamp’s point had been to shift the focus of art from its physical craft and engage it in the spheres of intellectual interpretation. Ku adopts a similar method: by looking at dentistry from an artistic perspective, he shifts the science into a creative re-thinking of infinite potential.
In the late 60s, the author J.G Ballard questioned if such an integration of technology into sex was the sinister portent, of a nightmare marriage between technology and sex. Yet technology has already been thrusted into the most intimate of human relations, to such an extent that it almost defines them. In Marinetti’s 1909 Futurist manifesto, he explicitly states the need to replace ancient beliefs and traditions with the speedy thrills of technology. The Futurists saw humanity’s progression through the evolution of technology: technology as forming man, not man forming technology. Is Ku a brush-stroke too far in the blurred lines of art, ethical measures, and scientific realisation?
Through his provocative thinking Ku has shattered the veneer of dental approaches, opening an abyss of yet unknown potentials. Where then can the line be drawn? His artistic integrity has leapt from the foundations of scientific reality. This is art that could in theory, be realised.
This fusion of art with science and sex, lead to the third part of Ku’s project: the oral condom. HPV is the most common of sexually transmitted diseases, with reports indicating that 80% of sexually active adults could potentially test positive. The Journal of Clinical Oncology revealed over ten years ago, in 2004, that oral cancers related to HPV had jumped from 16.3% to 71%, overtaking smoking as the primary cause of oral cancer. Yet despite this revelation, little has stirred any in-depth research. The scandal of Ku’s work has drawn publicity and stimulated medical conversations. By daring oral science to look over the hedge of art and sex, Ku has reclaimed the mouth’s fourth, and most sensual function.