Isabella Rossellini “Green Porno” – Film workshop and discussion -23/2/2016

csca-isabella-rossellini

CSCA Poster

On the 23rd of February 2016, the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Art screened the acclaimed series of films on animal reproduction, Green Porno. As a part of its environmental programme, the Sundance Channel commissioned Green Porno—premiered in 2008 at the Sundance Festival—in a short format specifically designed to be watched online and on mobile devices [1]. Starring creator and co-director of the films Isabella Rossellini, the show became a viral sensation for its quirkiness. The first season of Green Porno focuses on insects, the second and third seasons concentrate on marine life. In fact by the third season, the series’ conservation agenda is made explicit: at the end of each episode, the biologist Claudio Campagna briefly explains the destructive effects of industrial fishing practices for animal conservation. In the wake of Green Porno’s success, Sundance Channel went on to commission two follow-ups series also featuring Rossellini: Seduce Me (2011) and Mamas (2013), looking at animal ‘courtship’ and maternal instinct respectively. The CSCA event focused on Green Porno and screened episodes from its three seasons (such as Dragonfly, Anchovy or Elephant Seal), which gave a good overview of the show to attendees.

Anchovy

Green Porno, Anchovy, season 3. Film still.

Green Porno’s pivotal figure is undoubtedly Rossellini, the daughter of the famed Hollywood couple Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergmann. Isabella gained notoriety for an eclectic career in acting and modelling; for instance, her role in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1987) and her collaboration with the luxury brand Lancôme feature among her most famous works. The actress is also known for her commitment to animal conservation and deep interest in animal behaviour. In this sense, Green Porno bridges her artistic career and activism since the comical films provide scientific information on animal reproduction in order to foster a reflection on their conservation. The title of the show, however, does not only refer to its subject and ‘green’ environmental concern, but also to its accessibility online and intended adult audience. According to Rossellini’s co-director Jody Shapiro: “What do people mostly go online for, but to look at porn? […] So we put ‘Porno’ in, and when people Google it, maybe we’ll get lucky and Green Porno will come up. We might as well take advantage of the delivery system”[2].

Dragonfly

Green Pornon, Dragonfly, season 1. Film still.

bee

Green Porno, Bee, season 1. Film Still.

In each episode Rossellini embodies a particular animal, briefly describing the animal’s body before narrating and performing its sexual ritual with playfulness. The sets, costumes and props are perfectly crafted with paper cloths and other basic materials, recalling education television shows chiefly aimed at children. The series’ anthropocentric lens – Rossellini narrates the animals’ sexual behaviours as if they were humans – as well as its overtly DIY aesthetic create a comic effect. In general, the episodes revolved around the multi-layered aesthetic and content. Behind its witty surface, Green Porno addresses far-reaching issues related to sexuality and the human-animal relation. The films blur the lines between sexual categories as Rossellini is in constant transformation and embodies multiple genders.

The transgressive nature of the show also stems from the contrast between Rossellini’s status of Hollywood icon and the parodistic content of the films: “Seeing Isabella Rossellini mount a housefly from behind while smiling at the camera […] I can’t imagine many people would have ever thought they’d see that,” remarked co-director Jody Shapiro [3]. In regard to the show’s conservation agenda, also a main topic of the CSCA’s group discussion following the screenings, is the concept of ‘Eco-feminism’. This critical term, coined in the 1980s, links feminism and ecology as it considers that women and nature share essential qualities and are both victims of western patriarchal oppression. Analysing Green Porno within this framework is problematic: indeed, this concept seems to reinforce the gender binary by implying that women have a distinctive ‘essence’, which contrasts with the show’s emphasis on destabilizing gender distinctions [4]. Finally, the discussion concluded with remarks regarding Green Porno’s uniqueness, as it casts a new light on animal behaviour through a clever blend between entertainment and scientific information. And indeed, by taking inspiration from both animal documentaries and Youtube videos, the series has created a new genre of animal experimental films that has influenced productions such as the recent HBO series Animals [5].

Audrey Kadjar

Notes:

1. The episodes are available online on the Sundance Channel and on Youtube:https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL14F6452A495787DE;

http://www.sundance.tv/series/greenporno/videos

2. Quotes taken from an interview published on The Wire (02.12.08) http://archive.wired.com/entertainment/theweb/news/2008/02/green_porno

3. Ibid.

4. For an analysis on the intersections between feminist, queer, and green cultures in relation to Green Porno, see: Sinwell, S. E. S. (2010). “Sex, bugs, and Isabella Rossellini: The making and marketing of green porno” in Women’s Studies Quarterly, 38(3), 118-137.

5. The show premiered at the 2015 Sundance Festival and has debuted in early 2016 on HBO. For more information: http://www.hbo.com/animals

 

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