Webster's defines "saturnalia" as "1. the festival of Saturn in ancient Rome beginning on Dec. 17; 2.a. an unrestrained often licentious celebration: orgy; or b. excess, extravagance." Arousal: A Festival of Saturnalia takes place right about the time of the ancient party and does feature erotic visual and performance art and music by more than 50 artists. Whether the bacchanal will erupt into an orgy or prove too excessive for some remains to be seen.
Organizers Linda Horsley, Shelley Pereda Silvey, Bob Rocca, Mallarie Zimmer and the irrepressible Paul Thiel decided to do something about the difficulties encountered by local artists trying to show their erotic works and to make that something a party. Arousal, which the group hopes to make an annual event, includes art like the sensual, photorealistic, narrative illustrations of Horsley and erotic abstractions of body parts such as eyeballs, genitalia and tongues by Zimmer. Performance art will include the work of Jeff Miller, who is scheduled to "dance around inside a humanoid mattress construction," Zimmer explains, and that of Michael Draga, who will photograph nude models behind a screen that catches their shadows.
Real Sex and G-String Divas may be burning up HBO, and porn flicks may be enjoying a "renaissance" of popularity, but when it comes to erotic art, Zimmer says, this town wants it kept behind closed doors: "We are in the Midwest, and there's a generally conservative population. Also, St. Louis has a very strong Catholic history, and, in Catholicism, sexuality is sort of frowned upon and guilt-ridden."
Arousal will also serve as a testing of the waters for Horsley's goal of establishing a permanent gallery space for erotic art called the Art Salon, says Zimmer.