SISTERS ARE DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES

How a performance artist makes us stop and think about female sexuality

June 2016
When Swiss artist Milo Moiré was arrested in London during her Mirror Box performance in Trafalgar Square, it indicated, among other things, the difference in the law and the mentality between the European continent and Britain. “In Amsterdam, the police only asked me not to use a megaphone because making noise wasn’t allowed, and I was then left in peace with my audience.”
In the trail of the current Brexit, an art performance might say as much about the British stiff upper lip as the decline in the stock market and the announcement of referendums all over Europe. An excellent occasion, therefore, to have a talk with the controversial Düsseldorf-based performance artist Milo Moiré.
The British judge fined her €1300 for violating common decency. “Clearly, people living in different places have different mentalities, different laws, and different interpretations of their laws. It’s all very subjective and personal. I mean, in the London police station, the two female detectives who investigated me understood that ultimately my performance was a positive artistic statement, whereas their (male) chief decided to send me to court.” And then the judge didn’t think her performance could be called ‘art’. “What is art? It’s hard to define. Some think my work is just provocative and pornographic. And I’m fine with that. Me, myself, I rather think it’s art since my performances have the capacity to change people’s view on things.”
The performances in London, Düsseldorf, and Amsterdam were about Moiré inviting the people in the street to put their hands into a mirrored box that she had fastened round her waist (Mirror Box) or her breasts (Breasts Cinema). Bystanders could thus touch her genitals or breasts. “This performance states that women are equal partners in sexuality, not only receivers. As a woman, I have – just like any man – the power and the right to possess a sexual nature, and I have to agree before we can have sex. There are rules. During my performance, for instance, people who put their hands in the box have to look me in the eyes, there has to be interaction. I give them feedback. People have always been very respectful – I’ve never had to give negative feedback.”
Videos filmed inside the box are shown on Moiré’s website – that is: the edited version. Whoever pays for it, can see the full picture. “I am not allowed to show such images publicly through social media, so it’s censored. As for the paying part: musicians apply the same principle – they give you a small part for free and if you want to own their complete work, you have to pay for it. Same for my work.”  
The world came to know Moiré when she made her first politicised art statement in Cologne, protesting against the mass harassment of women by men in public during new year’s eve celebrations. “I am a free thinker about sexuality and self determination. After what happened in Cologne, I was shocked that in the city where I live, which is barely 30 km away, there was almost no one protesting against what happened. So I went there naked in order to claim the right for women to determine whether or not they want to have sex, even if they appear naked in public.” Her performance in London was another political art statement, this time in the context of Brexit. “I like the British because of their creativity and their humour. But they are conservative too, especially when it comes to sex.”
That she operates under an artist name – Milo is from the Venus and Moiré relates to the special visual effect of the same name – has to do with the fact that indeed her performances can irritate and provoke negativity, even violence. She received a death threat already, and she wants to protect her family. It’s amazing how a beautiful naked body and sexuality inspire aggression in some people. Moiré, who is a trained psychologist, says calmly that a lot of aggression is based on fear. Quite a pertinent remark in times of mass shootings in gay bars and harassment of women everywhere in the world. “If you feel safe and self confident, you dare. If you need a system to support and protect you, you’re less open and daring.”