Sunday, September 8, 2013

E C O S E X Y: Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens

By Kate Barry

As a performance artist I once married the planet earth. This is NOT the weirdest thing I have done but it was one of the most memorable. Last summer while visiting the Canadian Rockies, I fell in love all over again and I was reminded of my wedding vows, to love and cherish the earth forever. Or as artist Elizabeth Stephens says, to love and cherish the earth until death brings us closer together. 

Way back in March 2011, I met Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens when I married the earth and water, alongside three hundred other people. I performed in their seventh wedding White Wedding to the Snow. The performance took place in Ottawa, Canada in a desancified Roman Catholic Church now called Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts. 

This last summer I was informed that Stephens and Sprinkle were also having a love affair with the mountains, the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia. To honour their love Stephens and Sprinkle created a film: Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story. This documentary is heartrending and thought provoking. It is a film that walks us through the big business of mountaintop removal (MTR) mining practices with humor, ecosex performance art and truckloads of scientific data.  In the film Stephens sums up her attitude by stating: “Gays and Lesbians can live without getting married, but they won’t survive unless they have drinking water and clean air to breath.”

Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story offers the audience a commitment to compassion and respect for the earth as a feasible alternative to environmental destruction. The film questions business practices that exploit the earth’s resources causing direct harm to us and our communities. The film also offers the audience playful insight into Stephens and Sprinkle's personal lives as performance artists and social activists. 

Mountain Top Removal Site. Photo by Paul Corbit Brown

For Sprinkle and Stephens things really started to heat-up back to 2005 when they performed their first marriage ceremony, Wedding One. This first ceremony was foundation for their future creative life together. Harkening back to 2005, I remember it was still considered radical for a same-sex couples to marry in the U.S.A. and Canada. The politics of Stephens and Sprinkle's “domestic partnership” motivated them to publicly proclaim their love as an alternative to the culture of war and environmental devastation, in which they lived. 

Since that first wedding they have produced fifteen or sixteen performance art weddings as well as a host of other visual art, performance art, video, research and writing projects including The Love Art Laboratory and Sexecological Walking Tours and the film, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story. 

At this point, I will discuss in greater detail their weddings in order to focus on their history as performance artists within their art & social activism oeuvre. 

In the wedding I participated in, White Wedding to the Snow, I was one of over fifty artists who performed and took part in a ceremony. In the performance we vowed to help protect the earth and its resources. I performed a piece called Snow Painting where I created painting ‘portraits’ as gifts for the other artists and the wedding guests, I used snow on white paper to make the paintings. Prior to performing, I had a conversation with Stephens and Sprinkle about our mutual respect for the FLUXUS art movement. So I wanted to create a performance with a FLUXUS sensibility, I thought a 'snow painting' had this quality since they are paintings that disappeared leaving only a trace or wrinkle on the page. Also, they respond to the over commercialization of art since they are ephemeral.

For those of you who might not be familiar with FLUXUS, they were that notorious group of Manhattan (NYC ) art radicals from the 1960s whose performance art was often politically motivated. Yoko Ono’ Cut Piece, first performed at Carnegie Hall, in 1965 is possibly the most famous example of a feminist performance art piece created during the heyday of FLUXUS.

Like all of Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens' projects things at their White Wedding to the Snow were hot and steamy. Thing began with a phantasmagoric wedding procession that led us to the main stage. Next there were a series of live performances including the ecosexy wedding vows. During the vow ceremony, as described above, audience members were asked to love and protect the earth and its water. This ritual consisted of Stephens, Sprinkle and over three hundred guests vowing in unison to love and cherish the earth, snow and water forever. For those of you who are not from Ottawa, Canada, getting us to marry the snow is quiet the accomplishment after a long, cold and difficult winter. In fact, I never wanted to see snow again. Regardless almost everyone participated and the vow ceremony. This participation granted the audience members an opportunity to become performers themselves. 

The climax of the ceremony was an intimate personal exchange between Stephens and Sprinkle. Their performance turned things up full volume as Stephens and Sprinkle consummate their love with an ice dildo (brrr). During their lovemaking I heard a collective shutter from the audience as Elizabeth Stephens glided the frozen water into an ecstatic Annie Sprinkle. I think many women in the room vicariously shivered during this holy union. I know I did.

White Wedding to the Snow, 2011

Both their Ecosex Wedding Performances and their new documentary, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story marry art and activism in a fun, sexy and diverse way. 

As their manifesto explains:  WE ARE THE ECOSEXUALS. The Earth is our lover. We are madly, passionately, and fiercely in love, and we are grateful for this relationship each and every day. In order to create a more mutual and sustainable relationship with the Earth, we collaborate with nature. We treat the Earth with kindness, respect and affection.

Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, 2013

For more information on bookings for Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, contact Elizabeth Stephens,


Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story:


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