As right-wing Floridians work to ban books, mandate forced births, kidnap trans children from loving families, and criminalize the presence of queer people in public, locals aren’t taking it lying down. Just in time for Pride month, MAD Arts—a new digital art museum founded in Florida’s Broward County by Marc Aptakin—is hosting “Erotika II,” an exhibition of digital artwork and physical performances curated by feminist curatorial collective ClitSplash. MAD Arts chief curator Tam Gryn sat down with Surface to discuss the state of art affairs in Florida, whether the metaverse is safer, and the show itself, which runs June 2 and 3.
Tell us about MAD Arts.
We’re a digital arts museum launching in January in Dania Beach, between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. It’s 50,000 square feet, and we’ve already done a few short-term shows while we do the build-out inside. It’s part of MAD Arts, which has been running for 22 years as a creative agency pioneering advertising work using VR and AR motion capture. One thing that defines MAD Arts is that the definition of art—just like the definition of tech—is changing. We’re testing holographic hardware and outdoor LED screens. Blockchain and Web3 technology impacts the movement.
How do you build a museum for incoming virtual tech?
We think of the space modularly: our hardware is able to move so we can have projection mapping on walls. Those walls can also change and adapt, with moveable curtains and walls indoors and outdoors.
When did you first begin working with ClitSplash?
It was founded in 2020 by two writers—one Italian and one Cuban—and came from the idea that the Web3 space was basically 90 percent cisgender male, and this created an echo chamber effect. ClitSplash stands for sexual liberation, equal representation, and diverse perspectives on human sexuality. We want to showcase digital art by women, queer, trans, and other sex-positive groups to create a new, authentic narrative in the digital space.
On social media, we’re not allowed to showcase erotic or explicit art. In the beginning, decentralization and Web3 represented this idea of an open metaverse where you could potentially explore these things. Three years in, a lot of platforms have fallen on community regulations and censorship in a similar way. And that’s one of our obstacles.
How do you navigate those obstacles?
We’ve had struggles. It’s difficult to differentiate what could be considered porn and what’s considered erotic art. We first had an NFT platform where we minted all the work, and the software these companies use immediately flagged some of the work. We and the artist had to explain the intention and back up our research as to why this is art. Another example is Web3 platforms censoring even the writing of the name ClitSplash. The clitoris is a part of the human body. So the fact that we’re banning saying parts of the human body is a problem that goes way beyond being conservative.
And you’re based in Florida…
We’re an independent organization, so we are allowed to decide what we want to stand for. But the political climate doesn’t make it easy for governments, individuals, or private companies—even those in the realm of dating apps, who you would think would be interested in supporting a show like this—to do something bold. It’s been hard to rally financial support for the show. But every single artist, performer, curator, photographer, and person involved is doing it because they believe we need to stand up right now and not back away.
We want to make sure we have a safe space to talk about erotic art and expressions by all kinds of people. Florida is the right place for these conversations to happen because people from all sides of the political spectrum are here. What is art for if not to have these difficult conversations, and to see things in a more beautiful, magical way?
What are some things attendees will see?
A selection of 18 digital artists with beautiful, large-scale work. Sasha Katz is presenting monochrome pieces where there’s a woman who has a love story with an octopus, and everything is 3D modeled with such texture. There’s Jaqueline Michelle, a Miami tantric BDSM expert, who’s doing a holographic shibari performance. In all my years of research, I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s very hard to go through so much thick resistance. But we have to rally the troops and keep going.