Interview by Asia Lanzi

Step into the world of Pornceptual, a boundary-pushing collective founded over a decade ago by Chris Phillips and Raquel Fedato from Brazil. Starting as an online art project merging art, music, and sexuality, it now encompasses events, a magazine, and a music label. With inclusivity and diversity as their guiding principles, Pornceptual aims to create a safe space where self-expression flourishes without judgment. 

In this exclusive interview, Chris and Raquel discuss their journey, founding queer Whole Festival, and the importance of curating a safe space. They delve into their philosophy behind de-contextualizing pornography and share future plans, along with their creative process behind curating an art project or event. 

For those who may not be familiar with Pornceptual, could you provide an introduction and describe the collective’s mission, core values, and vision?

Chris: Pornceptual began as an art project and has since evolved into a multifaceted endeavor, encompassing various creative realms. It now encompasses an event series, a printed magazine, and a music label, bridging the gaps between different creative disciplines.

Raquel: It serves as an online platform where we regularly share content and collaborate with a wide array of artists. It includes parties, but Pornceptual is much more than that.

How would you describe the essence of Pornceptual in just three words?

Raquel: Inclusive, diverse,..

Chris: Creative, artistic,…

Raquel: and community-driven!

Let’s delve into the origins of Pornceptual: How did the collective come into existence and what inspired the creation of a platform that merges art, music, and sexuality?

Chris: Initially, Pornceptual began as an online art project, where people could submit their work for publication. Then, we started organizing events, which came about quite spontaneously. It all started with an exhibition, and then we decided to host an after-party for the exhibition. And now, in August, it’s been 10 years since we’ve been hosting parties. It wasn’t initially planned to become a party collective; it sort of naturally evolved that way. We never really anticipated becoming known for our parties, but here we are.

As one of the founding crews of ‘Whole Festival’, how did the collaboration with the festival come about? What is your involvement with Whole Festival?

Raquel: As the founders of Whole, Chris and I started the festival, and later on, other members joined in. Our idea behind Whole was to create a festival that would offer a different experience than what we had encountered at other festivals. We wanted to provide an outlet for the local queer community to connect and collaborate on various levels. Our involvement is quite extensive; we handle everything from production and curation to integrating Pornceptual into Whole. We’re doing a little bit of everything.

Chris: Our main goal was to engage and collaborate with different collectives in Berlin, as we noticed there were many happening, but we weren’t really connecting with them. So the desire to bring various collectives together and create something unique drove us to start Whole.

Whole Festival is a vibrant celebration of queerness, uniting diverse collectives from around the world through music, workshops, art, and performances. The festival fosters safe spaces and uses dance as a tool for socio-political movement, embracing queer acceptance and self-growth. With six stages hosting an array of genres, including techno, house, and eclectic music, Whole invites you to explore dreamscapes, connect with inspiring speakers, and immerse yourself in an inclusive and transformative experience. Join us from July 28 to July 31 in the dystopian city of Gräfenhainichen, and get your tickets here.

What can attendees expect from the program curated by Pornceptual at ‘Whole Festival’? 

Raquel: Unfortunately, every collective has a short slot, just three or four hours. We’ll have two of our resident DJs, Curses and The Lady Machine, and our guest, Freddy K, who has been a great supporter of ours throughout the years.

Chris: I’m also involved in another area called the cruising village. It’s an area in the forest that combines five different sub-areas for cruising and sex. We’re bringing in inspiration from the research we’ve done as Pornceptual on a larger scale and bringing it to Whole Festival.

Could you take us through the creative process of curating an event or artistic collaboration? How do you select artists and performers, and ensure that diversity and representation are prioritized?

Raquel: Since the very beginning, I was mainly in charge of DJ bookings. Initially, we noticed it was easier to book male and straight artists for events, but we made a conscious decision to ensure a balanced lineup with at least half queer-identifying and female artists. Nowadays, it’s second nature for us to prioritize queer representation in our bookings. Straight men are rarely booked for our events. At Whole, which encompasses several collectives, the booking process is a joint effort involving core collectives that have been part of the festival from the start. Every year we gather names and decide on artists, but we often wish we had more slots to include all the talented performers we’d like

Chris: Also, we focus on collaborating with different collectives, giving them autonomy in their booking decisions. This decentralized approach allows for a diverse and interesting lineup, as collectives can bring their own creative ideas and extend the festival’s possibilities beyond our existing network.

Raquel: Many festivals rely on a single main booker. This limits the diversity of acts featured, as they tend to book artists that align with their personal taste. So we deliberately move away from that model. It’s more work to involve multiple people in the decision-making process, but the outcome is worth it. We are proud to have a diverse and wide range of artists participating in the festival, thanks to the collective effort. Last year, we received feedback about the need for musical diversity in terms of genre, even though we’ve always been considered an electronic music festival. So this year, we’re excited to include non-electronic music. On Friday, we’ll have Brazilian funk, with a collective called BATEKOO. We were eager to bring them to Whole, because we are both from Brazil. On Saturday, we’ll feature Perreo, Cumbia, and more Latin music, and on Sunday, it’s bass music. We’re really excited about this musical expansion.

What message or feeling do you hope attendees take away from your work and events, and how do you hope it impacts their perspectives on sexuality and self-expression?

Chris: I feel like there are many queer individuals who tend to stay within their own circles, and Pornceptual provides a space for them to connect with different people, to get to know as many diverse individuals as possible. The underlying message is about loving each other, fostering open-mindedness, and changing perspectives on various aspects of life. We’re striving to build a place where queer people can be completely accepted, fostering an environment where that becomes possible.

Raquel: Our goal has always been to create a safer space for people. I hope attendees leave with a sense of security, where they don’t have to worry about others’ opinions or fitting into certain standards. That’s all I wish!

Nightlife, particularly for queer people, provides a platform for free self-expression without judgment. How do you emphasize the importance of creating a safe and comfortable space during your events?

Raquel: Creating a safe and comfortable space during our events is of utmost importance to us. We have a comprehensive safety protocol in place, involving communication, door selection, an awareness team, security personnel, and our staff. Everyone involved is on the same page about ensuring safety, and we work together to make our events safer.

Chris: Our awareness team plays an immense role in emphasizing care and ensuring safety. Having individuals from the queer community take care of their own community symbolizes the power and impact it brings. It’s a collective effort to create a welcoming environment.

Raquel: Over the years, we’ve been continuously developing our approach. About seven or eight years ago, as one of the first parties in Berlin, we started implementing an awareness concept. We regularly gather feedback from our audience through surveys to understand their needs and make improvements. It is a constant development. We recognize that no space can be 100% safe, but we aim to create a ‘safer’ space.

In a society that often shames and sexualizes nudity, why do you believe it’s important to de-contextualize pornography and challenge societal norms, particularly regarding sexuality and self-expression?

Raquel: For me, a lot of our motivation behind what we do comes from being from Brazil, a country that may appear open-minded but is actually quite conservative with a strong focus on body image. It was crucial to challenge the notion that nudity always needs to be sexualized. At the same time, we want to provide a space for people to freely express their sexuality if they wish to. It’s about creating an environment where people can be naked without judgment, allowing them to feel more comfortable with their bodies and explore their own sexuality.

Chris: Sex positivity is a key concept for us. We believe that people should be able to be naked and engage in sexual activities if they want to, but it’s not a requirement. The environment we create allows people to feel at ease with their bodies and gradually become more comfortable with their own sexuality. We aim to provide people with the freedom to be themselves without demanding anything from them. Our approach at pornceptual is inclusive, where attendees can enjoy the music or explore other aspects, as long as they respect the diverse reasons others might be there.

How do you handle the balance between artistic expression and explicit content in a way that is both thought-provoking and respectful?

Chris: Balancing artistic expression and explicit content is not something we try to control rigidly. Instead, we push both directions simultaneously. We want to create an atmosphere of freedom and avoid dictating how people should experience sex or fetish. While we have guidelines and a dress code, our focus is on allowing attendees to feel free and explore their desires and expressions.

Raquel: At our events, we encourage both explicit acts and artistic expression. Our curation and bookings reflect this combination, featuring not only DJs but also performers and installation artists. We believe that these elements contribute to the overall mood of the party, and we even incorporate visual elements, such as performance installations and movie screenings.

In a male-dominated world, even within the queer scene, how does Pornceptual actively contribute to highlighting and supporting cis and trans women, as well as non-binary individuals?

Raquel: Actually, we’ve been having interesting conversations about this with the club owners during our events in Amsterdam. While our Berlin events are very mixed, we’re still defining our crowd in Amsterdam. Booking artists and curating the event play a defining role in shaping the crowd we want to attract. We’re exploring measures to ensure the right audience attends our events. We’ve also considered community tickets for specific groups within the queer community as a way to diversify our crowd. We’re exploring options to provide access to those who may not afford it, working on distributing codes through designated hosts.

Chris: In Amsterdam, we’ve been experimenting with the concept of a cruising space specifically focused on FLINTA people (Femme, Lesbian, Intersex, Non-binary, Trans, and Agender). This intimate space is hosted by two artists and monitored by an awareness team to maintain a safe and respectful environment. We’re moving away from the typical darkroom setting catering only to gay cis men and instead offering diverse spaces to cater to different expectations. It’s still an ongoing experiment, and we’re excited to explore and expand in this direction.

Photographer/ Model: Ana Bathe

How does Pornceptual actively engage with its audience and community outside of events, particularly through social media, considering the restrictions and censorship of nudity on platforms like Instagram?

Raquel: Over the years, we’ve faced difficulties with social media platforms, having our accounts taken down multiple times. During the pandemic, we encountered a particularly challenging situation where one of our legal events was shut down by the police, leading to an awful and massive media backlash.

To connect with our community in a more targeted and secure manner, we shifted our focus to Telegram. While we still use Instagram, Telegram is where we feel closer to our attendees and community. We have two Telegram channels – one for content and the other for events. You won’t find much information about our events outside of Telegram as a safety precaution. This allows us to interact with our community in a more secure and censorship-free environment.

Having recently celebrated your 10th anniversary, what are the most significant takeaways from your journey? What have been the most joyful and challenging moments?

Chris: To be honest, it’s challenging to put into words all of the accomplishments we’ve achieved over the past years. Of course, we had numerous successful international operations, and it’s been fantastic to travel with the project. Personally, I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences. The most challenging period was actually the pandemic because being a fetish and sex-positive event, I questioned if we would ever be able to host darkrooms again and let people experience sex in the basement without restrictions. I’m super happy that we don’t have to worry about this anymore.

Raquel: I think the most joyful part, from my side, is definitely working with many different artists and taking Pornceptual abroad. We did parties in so many different cities, and it has been a great experience for us, inspiring us to reevaluate what we’re doing in Berlin. One of my favorite events outside of Berlin was in Kyiv, where we had a fantastic collaboration with the club K41. When it comes to challenges, Berlin has changed a lot since we started doing events, and adapting to the city’s changes, especially with COVID and inflation, has been a bit of a struggle. But I feel very blessed to organize events in Berlin, as the culture is well supported by the government, and we have a lot of freedom compared to other cities. So, I don’t think we have anything to complain about.

Looking ahead, what can we anticipate from Pornceptual in the future? Are there any exciting new directions, projects, goals or aspirations on the horizon?

Raquel: We have a few exciting events coming up. During autumn, we’ll be visiting some cities for the first time, like Athens and Tbilisi. Tbilisi is a place we’ve wanted to go to for a while. Also, we’re planning to release a new magazine, but it is quite irregular due to our busy schedule with Whole Festival and traveling. It will be released whenever it’s ready.

Chris: I’m super excited about our new music label. We have residents who also produce, but we haven’t released anything as Pornceptual yet. We’re working on a compilation with 10 different tracks from 10 different artists to celebrate them. From there, we want to develop the label with regular releases. We aim to encourage our artists to produce and connect the visuals of pornceptual with the music. Combining music and visuals makes a lot of sense to us since we started as a visual project. There’s plenty of room to experiment and develop this further.

Written & published by Asia Lanzi