Last week AtelierTheater, one of the oldest theatres in Vienna, celebrated its very first Vienna Fetish Art&Film Festival (Website). Having received an invitation by the curators of this bold and great initiative, Aleksandra Andrejewna and Marijeta Karlovic Graf, we were eager to attend and learn more about the very much stigmatised and misunderstood world of object adoration and other unconventional requisites of human (sexual) desire. NMHW goes retrospect.


Even though I’d like to consider myself quite open-minded, I have to admit I have not always been so. BDSM and fetishism, often mentioned in one breath, where two subjects I did not have much understanding for. To me both were deviant from standard, more or less abnormal sexual interests of people who were not able to enjoy ‘normal’ sexual acts – whatever those may be, right? But at some point my opinion – I – changed. Crucial for me was the life event of becoming a mother. In the process of being needed and in a way absorbed so intensely by this little person that had entered my life, I kind of felt I was losing the sense of me.

One day the image of oil floating on the ocean’s surface entered my mind. First the oil sticks together, a big stain of drops trying to hang on to one another as the water tries to stir them up. Inevitably, they part and start to drift away, dissolve into the water to disappear for ever. This is how I perceived myself as an individual, as a sexual human being. The moment this became clear to me was also the moment my sexual interests started to shift. Scent for one became a very important stimulus for sexual attraction. I discovered that by being tied up I could feel myself again – and just be me, not a wife or a mother or anything. I caught myself fantasising about sexually dominant men, who by literally taking my freedom and even inflict some level of pain would help me tune back into my body again. This shift made me realise fetishism and BDSM are not by definition anomalous; they are more like a conscious next level of sexuality, a free choice to allow oneself to escape being an adult dealing with the struggles and repetition of every day life and play again, fantasise and explore boundaries, like we did when we were carefree children.

Vienna Fetish Art&Film FestivalCurator Aleksandra Andrejewna The yearning for something more, the desire or even human need to sometimes escape into the magical world of child-like imagination and the belief in something powerful that can free us from society’s chains and shackles. This is the source of fetishism and the message of the festival. 
If you look at its selection of films, documentaries, readings and other activities, it becomes obvious the curators did not intend to reach out to the whole BDSM and fetish scene. This, of course, actually makes sense because people living their fetishes are not concerned with understanding fetishism or removing existing dogmas anymore. The festival in my view is meant as an introduction into this world, for people who are new to and interested in this topic, who want to learn about the social and political side of sexuality in general. People who are maybe also a bit curious about finding out what smaller or bigger fetish has been luring in the dark corners within themselves – and why.

Vienna Fetish Art&Film FestivalLa Ceremonie
The theatre as a location is absolutely amazing. One can sense its history and suspect a slight air of passed decadence that makes its ambience perfect for a festival such as this. The theatre room itself offers about 90 seats, so if there is a popular play or movie being shown, make sure you get your ticket in time! The program of the festival turned out to be quite varied. One film that made a permanent impression was “La Cérémonie”, a documentary by Lina Mannheimer (2014) about France’s most famous Dominatrix, Catherine Robbe-Grillet aka Jeanne De Berg (86!), and the sadomasochistic ceremonies she organises in her chateau. The film offers a good insight into the role and the power of a Dominatrix; being in control, being trusted unconditionally, being completely devoted and loved by her subs and her responsibility to take care of them and their needs.  
We attended a lecture with artist Bernadette Anzengruber and psychoanalyst Roman Widholm, who for one explained the origin of the word ‘fetish’ and the human need to objectify things, to give lifeless objects a face and a meaning in a capitalist world. Widholm mostly spoke of the political influence on determining what kind of sexuality is normal and what not, the effects of resignation of instincts, the difference between lust and enjoyment and how sexual arousal is possible. In my opinion, this lecture was a bit too abstract. It would have been more inviting for dialogue with the audience if the subject of fetishism and how sexual interests can change (or get triggered) due to certain life events would have been explained on a more psychological level.

Vienna Fetish Art&Film Festival Documentary ‘Give Me Sex, Jesus!’

We went to see Sunday afternoon’s documentary “Give Me Sex Jesus” by Matt Barber (2015), a truly amazing film about how devout Christians rationalise their faith, fetishise purity over their need to have a fulfilling and happy sex life. This documentary is much more than presenting some evangelists and their struggle or their need to fulfil this task of having no sex before marriage; it shows an intriguing historical connection between sex, religion and race in the USA.
Finally we simply had to attend the Church of Turbo Loveconcert by the Lords of Romance and their very own Max Höfler, who guaranteed a crazy and enjoyable Sunday evening sermon on sex & love and everything in between. We never thought we would find hearing Scorpions “Wind Of Change” enjoyable. But there you go, thanks to Pierre Lavendel.
The idea to introduce a new audience to all the aspects of fetishism and place the topic in a positive daylight is not only very interesting, but in our opinion also important. In a world in which everything is made into something sexual – capitalism is a fetish! – and at the same genuine discussions about sex and desire are still problematic, we should take it out of the closet. 

We are convinced the Vienna Fetish Art&Film Festival has the potential to become bigger and more meaningful to a larger audience. So let’s do this again next year, show our fetishes and talk about it,for we all have our little hidden passions, don’t we?