The art school student making porn avant-garde

Watching Vex Ashley’s videos is like no other erotic experience you’ve ever had: bodies weave in among one another like smoke, skin becomes milk, and the little intricacies of sex – the bitten lips, the moans, those wavelets of pleasure that electrify our limbs the moments before we come – are captured in all their poetic simplicity, in vivid and visceral snapshots of fucking. It’s no wonder that Ashley, half-jokingly, refers to her work as “magical realism porn”, because it kind of is. Other terms don’t quite do it justice. Avant-garde. Alt. Erotica. As Ashley says herself, definitions are one of the things she actually finds hardest.

“I always say porn, because, well, it is and there’s already too much stigma put on to the adult industry from the outside to start playing respectability politics from within,” Ashley told me. “I make porn. There’s fucking in it. But it doesn’t necessarily look or feel like the porn you imagine inwardly when that word is commonly used.”

Ashley is equally elfin and vivacious; she has a pierced septum, “cat ears” and the colour of her hair changes with the seasons. She’s fiercely intellectual and attuned to the changes within her industry with the wisdom of someone well beyond her 26 years. Ask her about censorship, shame or what to call the leather harnesses she wears around her legs, and there’s an opinion as arresting as the art she creates.

Her journey into pornography isn’t typical. The craft of her art came first, sex on camera second. Studying fine art at university, she had always put her naked body in her work, and when she started personally experimenting with filmmaking, shooting softcore pictures, she soon realised that if she pursued it seriously she could actually make some decent money. “At first (it was) more of a personal challenge – to see if we could put the same focus on visuals and concepts that I would in my artwork into videos with sex,” she says. “I couldn’t see that gap being filled anywhere.” By the time she had left university, her online sex work (she’s been camming since 2012, although she hasn’t performed for nearly six months) had given her the “time and income and freedom to start to devote to learn how to make films”, and she soon “fell in love with the creative possibilities and potentials of the medium.” And this was how Four Chambers, Ashley’s “creative pornography project making films with sex and cinema”, was born.

“Watching porn with the sound off never did it for me, it feels flat and stale. In the same way that you turn the sound off watching a horror movie so it stops being scary. It’s the heart”

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