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E-Viction: self-destructing sex worker art show
Via @veilmachine

Sex workers protest censorship with this self-destructing digital art show

E-Viction will exist online for just 12 hours, in demonstration against the deplatforming of adult workers on social media sites

Social media sites have long been hostile to sex workers, unfairly censoring their posts, shadowbanning them, and often deleting their accounts. Many of those targeted haven’t even broken the (archaic and arbitrary) rules, but are simply moderated because of the line of work they’re in.

Now, in protest against this constant surveillance and discriminatory deplatforming, Veil Machine, a collective of New York sex workers, is hosting E-Viction, a self-destructing digital art show. The virtual arthouse will exist online for just 12 hours before disappearing – which the group describes as “the only deplatforming you can prepare for in advance”.

“Sex workers are often the digital pioneers,” Veil Machine co-founder Thea Luce tells Dazed, “and we saw that during COVID-19. As soon as lockdown started, sex workers were innovating new ways to maintain their intimate connections with clients – from virtual strip clubs to Zoom sessions.” 

E-Viction is our attempt to apply the kind of innovation that sex workers exhibit online in order to create a new form of digital protest,” she continues. “The protest is a response to the intersecting forces of digital gentrification and whorephobia, which have severely impacted sex workers’ ability to survive in a time when many of us are working online.”

Visitors can expect cam performances from sex workers and artists, educational material about online censorship and legislation that threatens sex workers, as well as “raunchy” chat rooms, performer ads, and an online shop selling art and sex toys. There will also be a destruction event happening for the last half hour of the show.

“This is a multi-elemental show with educational, fantastical, intimate, and mysterious components,” explains Veil Machine member Lady Euphoria. “The experiences will blur the lilnes of reality and fantasy, and inevitably, protest.”

However, given it’s happening online, the project hasn’t been without its hiccups – namely that Instagram tried to censor it (OFC). “In an attempt to reach our community and promote the show, we’ve been threatened with being deplatformed,” Lady Euphoria tells Dazed. “The irony here is what has initiated the threats. Instagram found our brightly coloured graphics to be ‘obscene’, ‘containing nudity’, and ‘violating community guidelines’.”

E-Viction is our attempt to apply the kind of innovation that sex workers exhibit online in order to create a new form of digital protest” – Thea Luce, Veil Machine

The graphics, which can be seen on Veil Machine’s Instagram page, feature images of performers – none of which contain explicit nudity – alongside desktop iconography, and quotes about sex work censorship.

“To deter the algorithm from flagging our posts, we’ve not only adjusted our watermarks several times, making sure to skew our images further,” Lady Euphoria continues, “but have edited our post captions using make-shift mad libs as a way to communicate to our followers that we are, in fact, under censorship.”

With E-Viction, Veil Machine are “aestheticising our own censorship”, asserts Thea Luce. “Due to the tenuous legal status of sex work, and stigma against sex workers, we deal in secrets, obscurity, and denial as part of our work. Many of us have learned to eroticise and play with these features, and make them compelling. We celebrate that creative resistance strategy as part of our show.”

The censorship of sex workers on social media sites platforms has been ongoing for years. Instagram has particularly strict moderating policies, which make it impossible to express sexuality on the platform, while Tumblr famously isolated its audience after launching its ‘safe mode’ update.

Speaking to Dazed last year, financial dominatrix Asari said sex workers have to be careful with the links they have on their Instagram profiles “because if they see you’re an adult performer, they’ll take down your account”. She added: “It’s almost like we have to be more quiet and finesse it more just to continue making a living.”

Lady Euphoria says she isn’t surprised “to see the ongoing attack on sex worker expression and presence” because of “the consistent conflation of sex work and sex trafficking, and the ongoing cultural influences of patriarchal thinking around sexuality, intimacy, and commodification”.

“While sex workers continue to speak up, be pivotal components of their communities, and use their voices to inspire change, they will continue to be censored” – Lady Euphoria, Veil Machine

“Sex workers have always been symbols of resistance and enlightenment,” she continues. “Symbols of this nature are threats to solidified ideas around traditionalism and patriarchy. While sex workers continue to speak up, be pivotal components of their communities, and use their voices to inspire change, they will continue to be censored.”

Veil Machine hopes that E-Viction, which will create “an alternative reality in which sex work is celebrated and protected” will give “our audience a vested interest in the future we’re fighting for”. 

The group concludes: “When it’s all gone at midnight, and viewers have to experience the pain and loss that we as sex workers experience when our life’s work, our community networks, or our income are deleted without a moment’s notice, our audience will leave with not only the commitment to join the fight, but a memory of what they’re fighting for.”

E-Viction will take place on August 21, between 12PM and 12AM EST (5PM-5AM BST) at Entry is free (but CashApp and Venmo donations are welcome), and you can RSVP here.