ICA Bookstore Selection: Decriminalised Futures

Our current exhibition at the ICA, Decriminalised Futures, is a group exhibition featuring thirteen international artists whose work speaks to the multiplicity of contemporary sex worker experiences. The exhibition highlights the history of the sex worker rights movement and its inextricable links to issues of racial and social justice, migrant rights, labour rights, anti-austerity work, and queer and trans liberation.

Curators Elio Sea, Yves Sanglante & the ICA Bookstore have compiled the following reading list, which highlights the themes and explores the contexts within the exhibition.

Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight For Sex Workers' Rights, Juno Mac & Mollie Smith (Verso, 2020)

In Revolting Prostitutes, sex workers Juno Mac and Molly Smith bring a fresh perspective to questions that have long been contentious. Speaking from a growing global sex worker rights movement, and situating their argument firmly within wider questions of migration, work, feminism, and resistance to white supremacy, they make clear that anyone committed to working towards justice and freedom should be in support of the sex worker rights movement.

Prison Industrial Complex Explodes, Mercedes Eng (Talon Books, 2017)

Using found text from government reports, corporate websites, and her father's prison correspondence, this long poem interrogates the possibility of a privatized prison system in Canada and explore disproportionate representations of Indigenous Canadians, people of colour, and refugees. An incredibly powerful and intimate exploration of the Canadian prison system and systematic racism through archival material and her own biography. Furthering the work of what has come before her, this is the long poem realized in an entirely new way, all while articulating some very difficult terrain.

Sex At The Margins, Laura María Agustín (Zed Books, 2007)

Laura Agustin makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, "Sex at the Margins" provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.

Porn Carnival (Paradise Edition), Rachel Rabbit White (Wonder Publishing, 2019)

In Porn Carnival, the debut full-length collection by Rachel Rabbit White, hedonism and materialist critique join in an abject orgy of labour confessionals, group texts, and criminality. white’s deliberate, dominating voice evokes a plath-like dynamism turned on to queer pleasure and displeasure, indulgence and raison d’être, the bedevilments of a gay bitch on the pole.

Art Sex Music, Cosey Fanni Tutti (Faber & Faber, 2018)

Art Sex Music is the account of an artist who, as part of COUM Transmissions, represented Britain at the IXth Biennale de Paris, whose Prostitution show at the ICA in 1976 caused the Conservative MP Nicholas Fairbairn to declare her, COUM and Throbbing Gristle 'Wreckers of Civilisation' . . . shortly before he was arrested for indecent exposure, and whose work continues to be held at the vanguard of contemporary art. And it is the story of her work as a pornographic model and striptease artiste which challenged assumptions about morality, erotica and art.

Brick By Brick, Cradle Community (Hajar Press, 2021)

The fight for prison abolition is a struggle for collective liberation: a transformative vision of a safer world, in which communities live free from exploitation on a thriving planet. Drawing connections across social justice movements with a shared abolitionist ethic, this revolutionary book illuminates how harmful ideas of criminality and punishment can manifest in many ways beyond the prison industrial complex. This work is a collaboration with friends, mentors and giants fighting for housing justice, food justice, climate justice, migrant justice, justice for survivors of violence, and more.

Freedom & Prostitution, Cassandra Troyan (Elephants, 2020)

Freedom & Prostitution proposes the dream of a world without work, without money, without gender, while imagining forms of survival now for those who often have little to no choices, refuse to submit to the demands of tedious underpaid or unwaged labor, an abusive partner, or seek a life beyond work. Sex work is not a better type of labor but a proposal for the abolition of all work. Cassandra Troyan is a writer and researcher whose work explores the intersections of gendered violence, radical histories of resistance, sex work, and capital.

100 Boyfriends, Brontez Purnell (Cipher Press, 2021)

Transgressive, foulmouthed, and wildly funny, Brontez Purnell's 100 Boyfriends is a filthy, unforgettable, and brutally profound ode to queer love in its most messy of variations. From one-night stands to recurring lovers, Purnell's characters sleep with their co-worker's husbands, expose themselves to racist neighbours, date Satanists, and drink their way out of trouble, all the while fighting - and often losing - the urge to self-sabotage. Drawing us into a community of glorious misfits living on the margins of a white supremacist, heteronormative society, iconoclastic storyteller Brontez Purnell gives us an uncompromising vision of desire, desperation, race, loneliness, and queerness that will devastate as much as it entertains.

Border Nation, Leah Cowan (Pluto Press, 2021)

Borders are more than geographical lines - they impact all our lives, whether it's the inhumanity of deportations, or a rise in racist attacks in the wake of the EU referendum. Border Nation shows how oppressive borders must be resisted. Laying bare the web of media myths that vilify migrants, Leah Cowan dives into the murky waters of corporate profiteering from borders by companies like G4S, and the ramping up of everyday borders through legislation. She looks at their colonial origins, and explores how a draconian approach to border crossings damages our communities. As borders multiply, so too must resistance. From demonstrations inside detention centres to migrant-led campaigns and acts of cross-border solidarity, people are fighting back to stand up for everyone's freedom to move.

Faster Than An Erection, Reba Meybury (Wet Satin Press, 2021)

Accompanied by a poem by Cassandra Troyan and documentation of Maybury’s visual practice and artworks, the publication challenges our understanding of the languages of art, of gender dynamics, sex work and power. British Artist Reba Maybury explores the meaning and role of transgression and perversion in the contexts of daily life and everyday spaces. The Artist has developed a distinct practice in which writing and Her role as a political dominatrix (at times under the pseudonym Mistress Rebecca) inform each other and work together to unravel and “penetrate” male authority/power, transaction and desire, while pushing the boundaries of female strength beyond men’s fantasy, all this by “working faster than the speed of their erections”.

Playing The Whore, Melissa Gira Grant (Verso, 2014)

In Playing the Whore, journalist Melissa Gira Grant turns these pieties on their head, arguing for an overhaul in the way we think about sex work. Based on ten years of writing and reporting on the sex trade, and grounded in her experience as an organizer, advocate, and former sex worker, Playing the Whore dismantles pervasive myths about sex work, criticizes both conditions within the sex industry and its criminalization, and argues that separating sex work from the "legitimate" economy only harms those who perform sexual labour.

The Service, Frankie Mirren (Influx Press, 2021)

Lori works illegally in a rented flat in central London, living in fear of police raids which could mean losing her small daughter and her dream of a new life. Freya is a student who finds she can make far more money as an escort than she could in an office; life, after all, is already a tangle of madness and dissociation. And Paula is a journalist whose long-term campaign against prostitution has brought her some strange bedfellows. The Service is a powerful and challenging novel about womens bodies, sex and relationships, mental health, entitlement, authenticity, privilege and power - as shocking as any dystopia, but touching and deeply humane.

Living Labor, Milena Hoegsberg and Cora Fisher (Sternberg Press, 2013)

Living Labor considers the increasing subordination of life to work. Despite economic instability, growing income gaps across countries and the rise of a migratory, flexible and underpaid labor force, our commitment to productivity is unflagging. Today, work enlists us to psychologically invest ourselves in a boundaryless work life, which seeks to instrumentalize all of our waking hours. In response to the eroding boundaries between work and life, and against the historic backdrop of the Scandinavian labor movement, the writers gathered in Living Labor propose viable forms of refusal and imagine prospects for a post-work future.

Active Reception, Noah Ross (Nightboat, 2021)

Noah Ross articulates gossip, disease, joy and dissolution in mucal blossom, snapped taut by typewriter ribbon. For him, the void is affective trap as much as it is a path of material discernment—a space where balances of labour, erotics and power are liquidated in the queer mingling of blood and come as much as they’re made discrete, parceled out in a series of uneasy structural relations. Both a sensuous act of objection and an art of sensing oneself as object, what Ross posits is no ascetic ideology nor wasteful orgy, but a true perversity of politics. Active Reception mirrors the slick ways in which we absorb and inhibit the violence of capitalist and carceral logics. 

Unintended Experience, Evelyn Taocheng Wang (After8 Books, 2021)

This slim monograph comprises a collection of diary-like texts previously posted by the artist on her Facebook page. The subject is the aesthetic, intellectual, and sentimental experiences she had as an undercover transgender masseuse in a massage parlour in Amsterdam, some of which are also quite humorous. Vicariously, we meet the workers at the salon and a variety of clientele seeking to fulfil different needs. It goes without saying that inaccuracies of language are an integral part of the narrative. A series of watercolours accompanies and illustrates the texts.