Kuang-Yi Ku has also made spray on condoms for pets and is exploring a dental procedure that will make you better at giving oral sex
Most of us have spent countless evenings swiping through potential conquests on Tinder and Grindr; these apps unite sex and technology to fulfil our horniest desires and, in some cases, even find us a life partner. But what about our pets? This thought occurred to Kuang-Yi Ku, an interdisciplinary artist, and has resulted in “Pet’s Pettings”, a project which has gone on to become the focus of his residency at Liverpool’s FACT. He found that pets are often neutered without a second thought, a discovery which triggered the development of ‘Grindr for pets’, an app designed to spotlight animal sexuality. His work explores these themes through a queer lens – he has previously used his background in dentistry to pioneer “The Male Masturbation Cup” and “The Bird Beak Clone”, surgical procedures aimed at the gay community and designed to enhance the blow-job experience. We caught up with him to talk about queer desires, animal castration, and the potential of dentistry to redesign our sex lives.
When did you first see the potential to overlap the fields of art and dentistry?
Kuang-Yi Ku: I earned my D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) in 2009 and two Masters degrees in 2015; while studying for these degrees I was supervised by a biomaterial scientist, a visual artist and a Gender Studies theorist, so I was trained as a multidisciplinary researcher. Towards the end of my course I started to think of thesis topics and wanted to research dentistry in an artistic way. I discovered that, in dentistry, the oral cavity is described as having three functions – aesthetics, pronunciation and mastication. Sex is left unspoken in the textbook of dentistry.
So, in my thesis project, “The Fellatio Modification Project”, I attempted to enhance the sexual pleasure of fellatio through dental technology and tissue engineering and, instead of traditional research, I wrote culturally from the perspective of Queer Theory. For me, the issue of sex is complicated because it relates to the physical feeling and the emotions. I thought that doing this thesis scientifically wasn’t appropriate, so I did it creatively from a cultural perspective; art is the best way to explore emotions, desire and pleasure.
What are the key themes that recur throughout your work?
Kuang-Yi Ku: The human body, sexuality, human-animal interaction and medical technology. I also aim to investigate relationships between technology, individuals and the environment. In my projects I’m trying to let my audience experience a possible future driven by technology and to rethink the relationship between humankind and society; in the context of a sex-related future, I want to build a fictional world where sex isn’t a taboo. I want sex scenarios with erotic stories that might make conservative people feel uncomfortable; I think it’s a good thing if my projects start debate. We should discuss sexual issues, not prohibit them.
Do you think dentistry and surgery could improve our sex lives in future?
Kuang-Yi Ku: Actually, the surgery in my project is more like cosmetic surgery, isn’t it? Medical technologies are used for curing diseases and restoring the health of patients, but cosmetic surgery is different. People care about the quality of life more now, so I think in the future people will want to improve the quality of their sexual life – dentistry could possibly help achieve that. For me, my projects are hacking the patriarchal medical system because medicine contains standards of perfect, healthy bodies. The “Bird Beak Clone” shows a special subculture addicted to oral; they want to modify their mouths for deep-throat. In this context, people show their sex lives aesthetically – they use medical technology to make their bodies erotic, sexual and even dirty. It shows queer spirit and makes a statement against mainstream ideas of perfection and ‘clean’ sexual preference.
How did you come up with the idea of ‘Grindr for pets’?
Kuang-Yi Ku: One day I saw my friend’s cat behave strangely in heat; I could feel it wanted to have sex but can’t understand exactly what cats want. I interviewed vets and pet owners and found that people usually castrate their pets and see it as positive, because the pet becomes healthier, lives longer and has a smoother personality. I was shocked – do we really have the right to neuter a creature and say it’s for their own good? I then asked myself how we could solve the sexual problems of pets and came up with the idea of condoms for pets; I took that further with the other human idea of the dating app. In my imagination, human-pet and pet-pet interactions must change, so that became the focus of my residency at FACT – to construct a scenario which depicts the future of pet sex lives and makes humans rethink animal sex rights.
“I then asked myself how we could solve the sexual problems of pets and came up with the idea of condoms for pets; I took that further with the other human idea of the dating app” – Kuang-Yi Ku
What do you think of the ways that humans treat animal sexuality?
Kuang-Yi Ku: My research showed that every owner treats their pet differently. Some see them as children whereas others see them as roommates, so often pet sexuality is ignored by owners. They think pets should be cute and innocent like children – in fact, during interviews the idea of dating app had never occurred to many of them before. I think it’s similar to the ways that people view the sexuality of people with disabilities, that they should be angels without lust or desire. But some countries, like the Netherlands, care about the sex lives of those with disabilities and are even raising funds to let them sleep with sex workers; I want to continue this concept in my project. I hope people can start to think of pet sexuality through my project – it’s like in literary theory where animals, women, homosexuals, POC and disabled people are seen as ‘the minority’.
Exporing animal sexuality is difficult, so in my residency project “Pet’s Pettings” I collaborate not only with FACT but also with three Taiwanese people from different backgrounds – Yi-Ling Wu, an engineer; Tzu-Yen Chen, an architect; and Wen-Yu Tsai, a film-maker. We span different genders and sexual orientations because interdisciplinary collaboration is the best way to deal with these complex problems.
Do you believe the sex lives of queer and trans individuals are often neglected?
Kuang-Yi Ku: Yes – the sex toy industry designs most products for heterosexuals. Design disciplines generally cater to the capitalist world where heterosexuals are the major market. However, even though queer people are seen as a ‘minority’ and their sex lives are treated accordingly, there are new disciplines such as ‘social design’, which see design as a tool and research method to solve not only commercial problems but social problems too.
Are you optimistic that our attitudes towards sex (in all people and creatures) will diversify in the future?
Kuang-Yi Ku: I’m an optimistic person, so I can imagine sex diversity in future. However, the ideal future requires more effort from more people – in my country, for example, there’s still huge debate around the legalisation of same-sex marriage. In “Pet’s Pettings” I want to discuss the animal sex right, so the issue is not just sex but animal welfare. Only a small group of creatures become pets, so there are other animals that need our care; I will continue this exploration after the FACT residency. As a dentist, artist and designer, all I can do to diversify sex in the future is raise these philosophical problems through art. I hope people will start to think about these issues; I hope that my projects move them, or make them feel something.
Kuang-Yi Ku is in residency in FACTLab developing his new project Pets Petting. Look out for more details coming soon about when the work will be exhibited at FACT