If you need a little nudge to get in the mood for Valentines Day, visit the Sixth Annual Erotic Exhibit at the Artists Union Gallery in Ventura. You will need to go inside the gallery to view any of the exhibit, because any view from the glass doors along the sidewalk has been hidden so as not to offend the casual passersby.
"We have had to put up aluminum foil on the windows even when everything else was draped off to fend off the people who do not want to have their children look at it as they walk in," says Laurie Pegg-Scott, a member of the board responsible for organizing the event.
The contributing artists often come up with surprising and cutting-edge displays. "I think that we are contemporary," Pegg-Scott said. "We encourage people to play out their opinion or their feelings or their emotions. When you get to that place, sometimes it can get erotic."
In the past, the human body has been celebrated in a way which was not appropriate for every setting.
"Two pieces in that show, one is a nude, and there is a stone sculpture of a large behind," she said. "There are other places where those pieces cannot be shown, such as the Government Center."
Each show is edited by a curator. Pegg-Scott says she expects the unusual. "We never know what is going to happen with this show and what will show up. Our curators are people who will probably allow the sensual and at Valentine’s Day, my gosh, why not?"
In addition to the art exhibit, Pegg-Scott says all forms of artistic expression are included in the show. "Our organization wants to include all the arts," she said. "We are not just limited to the visual arts, so the spoken word is a very important part of the arts community."
To that end, there will be a fundraiser on Feb. 16 which will consist of erotic poetry being read aloud.
The event is called "I Like To Think of You Naked."
One of the poets is Marsha De La O, a longtime Santa Paula elementary school teacher, a member of the board and an annual fixture at the erotic poetry readings.
De La O says the event draws poets from the entire region. "The poetry event in conjunction with the Erotic Exhibit involves poets from four counties: San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties."
De La O describes the event with enthusiasm. "It’s a sharing of erotic poetry. What we do is we ask each poet for one piece they have written and one piece they have found moving. It has turned into a fabulous night that celebrates language and eroticism."
"It is kind of a carnival," she adds.
Other poetry readings are far more somber and serious, such as a future event called "On the Margins."
"But this one is intensely joyful and often very funny," De La O says. "We have had some girls who sort of represent eroticism in the flesh instead of on the page. They do the wine and chocolate, that sort of thing." This year, the girls will be celebrating eroticism in wigs. "A wig party for them – pink and purple."
De La O stresses that poetry needs to be in both the spoken and written form. "I think it is important that poetry be presented in the spoken form, that it go into our ears in that way, because that is really the more ancient form," she said. "But then things that are spoken pass out of existence unless we have them on the page."
And putting the words on a page is often more demanding. "There’s criteria for poetry," De La O said. "Oftentimes, spoken poetry is brilliantly executed but with a text that, by itself, without the artistic gifts that the presenter brings to it, it may not stand on its own."
One of the best aspects of this reading is the unexpected nature of some of the poems. "Some of the poetry is zany and some of it is intense, it really runs the gamut," De La O said. "It runs the whole spectrum of possible emotions."
That enthusiasm is echoed by Pegg-Scott. "We’re real excited about this," she says. "People love this show. I really want to encourage people to see this."
The Human Form Divine Sixth Annual Erotic Exhibit opens at Artists Union Gallery – 330 S. California Plaza, Ventura, 643-3012 – on Feb. 5 and runs through March 16. The poetry fundraiser "I Like To Think of You as Naked" takes place on Feb. 16.