Art Professor Beth Stephens and her partner Annie Sprinkle have married the snow. They've married the sea, the sky, the redwood forest, and the earth. These large-scale, highly collaborative and 100% performative events are not merely symbolic rituals, although they are certainly that. They are also part of the couple's ongoing arts activism that blossoms with awareness-raising events all over the globe, in the name of environmental devotion.
Color-Coded Eco Art
Part of a charismatic research process called the “Love Art Laboratory” the color themes of the experimental art weddings were encouraged by invitation of performance artist Linda Montano, whom Sprinkle regards as a mentor. The color-coded weddings have provided the couple, and their eco-activist agenda plenty of media attention. They recently performed at the Venice Biennale and are making plans to travel to Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum to present a lecture and workshop on ecosexuality this Spring. This summer Stephens' research travels include screenings of her film Gauley Mountain: an Eco-Sexual Love Story, which will open the 2013 Santa Cruz Film Festival in November, plus a variety of attendant workshops and performance events at the 1st International Ecosex Symposium which will begin in Madrid in May before touring to England, France, and Germany.
"We really took inspiration for the seven year structure from Linda Montano's "Life is Art" concept," explains Stephens. "Life is an artwork and we're bringing conceptual and emotional weight to what we want to see occur everywhere." In many ways, the current research is an outgrowth of Stephens' early sculpture and installation work. "I was always engaged in identity-sexuality issues, about the body enhanced by or oppressed by technology. Much like Joseph Beuys' social sculpture I think art can change the texture of our social fabric."
"My family had a machine shop in West Virginia, and I was literally raised in that shop, working with my dad," she recalls. "I met Annie in grad school in 1990 when I curated one of her shows, "Outrageous Desire." They stayed in touch. Stephens started in the Art Department at UCSC. Sprinkle moved out to California and gave a talk at Porter College. "We just naturally started making work together." One early piece was a cross-country road trip called Wish You Were Here, in which the couple enacted specific tasks given by friends. "I was on the way to Palmyra New York as part of the performance, to the big Mormon reenactment site and Annie joined me," Stephens recalls. And on the way back to California, somewhere in Texas, Stephens blew up the engine on a borrowed van. "We fell in love at this point," she chuckles.
After a domestic partnership ceremony at San Francisco's City Hall, peace and love became the dominant themes of their performance work. The first of their "Wedding" performances took place fittingly enough at the Old Harmony Burlesque Club where Annie first performed her Public Cervix Announcement. All our New York art friends were there for the red wedding," Stephens remembers happily. Stephens has created and participated in 15 weddings so far. "At the seven-year point we thought the weddings—which were based upon the colors of the chakras—were over," Stephens contends. "But people enjoyed them so much and they opened up a space of sharing, of non-judgmental examination." So they continued.
Weddings & More
The wedding series is not the only research territory being explored by the busy art professor. "We've just finished our first film project Goodbye Gauley Mountain. The documentary film explores mountain top removal mining practices in Stephens' native Appalachian Mountains, and braids together the themes of ecosexuality, environmental destruction in the heart of West Virginia, and Stephen's own childhood in the heart of poverty-stricken Appalachia. Stephens has launched yet another variation on the themes of love and the environment—a play called Earthy: An Ecosexual Adventure, written by Stephens and Sprinkle, directed by UCSC Theater Arts colleague Patty Gallagher, with sound by DANM lecturer Zachary Watkins and Google Earth projections by Environmental Studies professor Jeffrey Bury. Earthy will explore environmental justice in a playful and boundary-pushing way, one that Stephens describes as "an eco-sexual training camp. " This summer traveled to three different countries with this project. Unlike our previous work Earthy will definitely have a script," she confesses, rolling her eyes. "It's as close to a classic theater piece as we've done," and that will be aided by the presence of Gallagher who will be collaborating with Stephens and Sprinkle on thematic dramatization. Earthy premieres in June as part of the National Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco.
When she's not pursuing creative projects or teaching, Stephens loves visiting friends all over the country. "Every day I feel lucky. I love my work. I love teaching. And where I live in Boulder Creek looks exactly like my home in West Virginia."
To follow the unfolding research trail created by Stephens, visit her website.