'Lust Letters' At Coagula Curatorial: Answering Desire With Words
By most accounts, Joan Aarestad lives a conventional life.
The Pasadena resident is a trained lawyer, mother of two, and board member on a local arts nonprofit. But somewhere there’s a picture of Joan Aarestad standing beneath a drawing of a hairy vagina.
“It made me angry,” said Aarested. “It’s not the way I experience sexuality.”
Aarestad is no puritan – she writes erotic fiction in her free time.
But seeing a male artist’s rendering of female anatomy at a show at Coagula Curatorial hatched a desire. She wished curator Mat Gleason, founder of Coagula Curatorial, had chosen “prettier” works that were “more female-oriented.”
That wish became reality in Aarestad’s debut show, which promises to elevate works that unite renderings of desire in art and literature, particularly the work of Anais Nin.
Lust Letters, which Aarestad co-cureated with Gleason, is on display until March 23 and features the work of Tim Youd, Gajin Fujita, Erica Rawlings and Bruce Richards.
As part of the show, Aarestad, Youd and Anais Nin scholar Barbara Kraft performed readings Thursday at Coagula Curatorial, located in Chinatown.
Aarestad recited excerpts from her short stories, each narrating sequences leading up to or during sexual encounters. ‘Kapowski Moment’ began with a woman meeting a handsome Frenchman in a Parisian park, while ‘Cayoga Park’ detailed the beginning of a couple having sex.
“She felt the weight, or weightlessness of his body cover her, for just a moment,” Aarestad read aloud.
After she finished reading, the gallerist Gleason cracked, “I was thinking of passing out cigarettes but that might not be legal in California.”
Youd, whose submissions to Lust Letters include a 33-foot diptych with actual pages of Nin’s seminal erotica writings "Delta of Venus," read an excerpt from ‘Elena,’ the longest of Nin’s short stories. Youd typed the excerpt on a typewriter as part of the performance, synchronizing reading pace as he hit the letters.
“I’m a hunt-and-peck type of typer, so there’s a syncopating rhythmn,” said Youd.
“I’m not an actor, I’m not just going to stand up there and read,” he added.
Barbara Kraft closed the evening with an account of author Anais Nin’s final days, implicitly lassoing together the writings of Aarested with the creative process of Nin modeled by Youd.
Kraft, who formerly worked as a journalist and now runs her own boutique public relations firm, recalled meeting Nin on February 8, 1974 in the author’s Silverlake glass house. Kraft said she was mesmerized by her.
“[Nin] was tall, wearing a floor-length Indian gown…She was poetry in body,” said Kraft, who read an excerpt from her e-book "Anais Nin: The Last Days – A Memoir."
Kraft described Nin as her teacher during the acclaimed writer’s final years.
“The tutorial relationship turned into an intimacy,” said Kraft, who said that as Nin died of cancer, her body weakened and her pain intensified.
“At one point, I literally got in bed with her, at her request, to hold her,” said Kraft.
Kraft’s diary from her meetings with Nin were compiled and published in "The Restless Spirit: Journal of a Gemini." Publication ended her marriage, and Kraft’s “whole life came crashing down,” she said.
“If you want to change your life, you pay a price,” Kraft added.
Aarestad traced her own shift to writing back to a London trip in the spring of 2011.
“In London, it was the longest period by myself…doing exactly what I wanted,” she said. She realized that her many roles – arts advocate, mother, wife and lawyer – she approached as a writer.
“I said to myself, ‘You are a writer and quit hiding that.’”
Pages of Aarestad’s writings are available for sale near the entrance of Coagula Curatorial. Each page costs $1.
“No one has bought one yet,” she said. “But someone did shoplift one.”