The interview was a part of the collaboration between artist Viktorija Damerell and an anonymous business woman for the exhibition ‘A Colleague From Another Tribe’. the exhibition focuses on expanding the available practices of collaboration between artists and business people by urging them to try to look at each other by casting aside of conventional stereotypes. taking creativity as a connecting point between the worlds of art and business, Damerell’s project examines this term through the portrait of an untypical owner of a sex-shop. the show will be open in the National Gallery of Art until 10th of February.
Viktorija: This place reminds me more of a living room or an orangery more than a shop.
Severija: I put a lot of effort to make it cozy. Now it looks like more of a home than my own apartment. This coffee table was a gift from one customer. Many people stop by just for a chat. Sometimes they come already expecting a deeper conversation.
V: What happens during such visits?
S: Nothing miraculous indeed. But for some a simple talk about sex, about relationships, resonates very strongly. You can’t imagine how much frustration there is in this sphere and how much belief that this or that product can solve all the problems. And of course, why would the sex tech industry care about changing such an attitude? Before, I was also a part of the problem. When I took over this business, it seemed there was no other way for it to work. After all, the salesman only offers what the customer wants… But then I saw how much sadness and promotion of mediocrity is to be found in this business. People are lonely, they don’t know themselves, don’t value themselves. They think that their problem is a weak erection or the irregular shape of a labium. Or rather, that they only need to lessen their boredom a bit.
V: Do you try to change that somehow?
S: I try to dispel those fantasies. It isn’t an easy topic. I myself also need to fight my own demons again and again. Because everything, after all, rests on loneliness, on that inner void. And before you acknowledge that, before you start working with yourself, you can think up thousands of problems. There’s always something responsible for our dissatisfaction. Either my body is imperfect, or my partner has flaws, or my health is poor. But while we’re looking for something to rest upon, the black hole is just expanding. I never try to solve my customer’s problems. Neither am I a help line for the lonely. Overall, the only real help is to give a person self confidence. To show that he or she can only rest upon themselves, if you know what I mean.
V: Do you consider this kind of practise an official part of your business? I try to imagine how that works in the context of a shop.
S: In the context of business many can’t understand it. I don’t give paid consultations, if that’s what you mean. In fact, I wouldn’t call it consultation at all. I am not a therapist. If I get involved in somebody’s world, it’s only because I’m interested. I wouldn’t want to formalize these talks – to turn pleasure into an obligation. There is a difference between just talking and puting a price on your words. We shouldn’t underestimate this feeling of just helping someone. And I don’t harm myself either. The shop isn’t some kind of social project. I earn real money from it. Of course, not as much as I could by selling BDSM and other carnival stuff. But I’m glad that I have more and more people who are genuinely interested, those who are happy in their relationships. Those who are keen to explore, not only repeat clichés. Not to speak against them – there was always fashion in sex. But for me, it’s just the same as people learning that you’re an artist, then coming to you and asking you to make them a painting of Pokemon or something. Thinking that their idea is so damn original.
I’m always happy when I receive someone who doesn’t approach passion mechanically. You know, like, right perfume, right positions, right sex toys. You can do everything right and that might even help you to dispel boredom, but it has nothing to do with passion. Yet, passion in itself holds unavoidable horror, loss of control. When the ground under your feet is suddenly dragged away. That isn’t what lifestyle magazines usually talk about. It’s much safer to spray yourself with the piss of a bison to become an attractive male than to really give in to passion. But we can’t really be alive if we don’t leave the possibility for that horror.
V: How do your customers react to such an attitude?
S: It’s not that I tell someone that there is too little passion in their lives – that aim, for itself, is absurd. Passion isn’t something you can urge yourself towards. It is an urge in itself, a creative energy. When you show people that actually there is no formula, that everything belongs to their fantasy, then you can’t imagine what happens. At some point me and some customers started sharing erotic stories. Usually it’s something from the internet or an excerpt from a book. And so it grew to a small library. We have some pieces by famous writers. But we don’t shun from banalities either. When you look from the perspective of erotics, the winners are not necessarily literature professionals. One can be an average writer, but still give a kick to your imagination. For me it is so interesting to think how these buttons work and why. Sometimes we write something ourselves. Yesterday one neighbour of mine gave me a dream she had written down. It was about a world where it’s not indecent to show your naked body, but your real voice. Imagine, everyone’s going around with a voice filter and taking it off only before having sex.
V: And what is it that you’re primarily selling?
S: Many people know me from my natural preparations, i.e., oils that I bring from South America. I have a flat there and visit when I can. But the biggest part of my assortment consists of vibrators, anal plugs and lubricants. Although I don’t have as many as internet shops. I select everything personally, in almost all cases the products are made of metal, glass or wood. I don’t have any interest in bad quality or poor design. I know all the suppliers in person. So sometimes I get deals that are unbelievably good. This June I got a whole batch – five hundred units – for cost price. Or, it happens that once in a while somebody sends me a pilot model of some item. For no reason, just so I can have it. I don’t sell anything online and I don’t advertise, but those who know, pride themselves on having their product at my place. People just like knowing that such a place can exist. There are others of course that think that I am a fool. That I could expand this business and earn much more money.
V: And you don’t plan on doing that?
S: It wouldn’t be hard to make a copy of this interior and clone it into a chain of stores. Then call it, The Little Shop of the most Authentic Erotic Experiences and employ some long-grey-haired women who passed a course on spirituality. I heard many times that it would be a sensation on Trip Adviser. Maybe I am an egotist, but I just don’t want to spoil the fun. Not mentioning the fact that I can‘t really know for how long I will stay in this business. I never plan far ahead and I have never made any decision rationally. I could even say that I have never made a decision at all.
V: What do you mean?
S: I always get pushed by the situation itself. Usually these are rather subtle things. But sometimes they also get to be very concrete. For example, I link both of my businesses with three men. One of them was my partner in life as well as in business, another one helped me to recover after bankruptcy and the third one sold me my current business. Now here’s what I’m talking about. All three had the same name and surname – Jonas Žukauskas. When I met the third Jonas and heard his surname, he hadn’t even told me what kind of business he was selling and I already knew I was going to buy it.
V: Have you ever had a romantic relationship with your shop’s customer?
S: With a customer? No. Except that one time. She came here like you, from Vilnius and got in by accident. Well, she came in to ask if I sold tights. She was on her way to visit someone and when she got out of her car, she saw that her tights got ripped. Everything around was closed, it was Sunday evening. I told her that I sell tights, but I’m not sure if that would suit her. She was dressed in a rather formal way, a knee-long skirt and a jersey. I showed her what I had, all the tights were of quite a large net, with a cut-out between the legs. She checked it out and bought it without a blink. Then she changed right here and went. And then she came in once again, maybe three weeks later. It was a Sunday again, but even later in the evening. I was already about to close. It turned out that her husband’s parents lived near by. She came with him to visit them, but then got into a terrible argument. She didn’t know anyone in town except for the parents, but she remembered me. I made her tea, we started talking. And slowly something started happening. She didn’t have anywhere to go so I invited her to sleep at my flat, but I didn’t even think of anything between us.
It is always interesting for me to follow myself, to try to grasp that moment. Before, it used to seem like it happened instantly – you understand that a person interests you and the next moment you can’t stop thinking of him. But with her I noticed that there was this nobody’s land: when I didn’t feel anything yet, but was already expecting something to come. Then I felt very clearly that passion isn’t some individual thing between two people. It isn’t about the character or any concrete features at all. Passion is like a third person. It always looks for a chance to materialize and when the conditions are right, it starts growing.
The conditions were perfect on my side as much as on hers. I’ve been on my own for a long time and she was tired from routine, from her monotonous relationship. I had been already working a lot with myself, with knowing my body, with concentrating the mind. And she was very curious, very open to anything. We tried out half of the shop. In the end we experienced orgasms almost without touching each other, it was enough just to tuck up together and breath in one rhythm. She was a very passionate woman. But she was drawn too much to self destruction. She was married back then and that romance of ours really shook her up – guilt, self punishment. She saw pleasure only through that and for me it was already a past stage. You wouldn’t believe how many people can’t imagine passion without guilt. The fact that something is forbidden often is the strongest drive. Then you can persuade yourself, that if you just got what you urged for, you would live happily ever after.
V: What do you mean when you say that for you it is a past stage?
S: I have been there more than once myself. When I was still at school, I fell in love with a married man. At that time I indulged in my suffering and imagined that real love is like between Romeo and Juliet. Full of obstacles, dramas, tragedies. Afterwards I thanked God that he was married because otherwise I would have needed to marry him myself. At the time when all my peers were getting married, I was suffering in my unfortunate love. If not that, I probably wouldn’t have learned to take care of myself, to earn money.
And then I got into such a circle of events. I would fall in love, I would lose myself in that person totally and then after a few years would realize that he didn’t meet my expectations. But then, during one of those times when again it seemed that I couldn’t live without one man, I suddenly realized that I can. That I wished to lose my head over him, but haven’t. I was shocked. Imagine, suddenly you realize not only that you aren’t crazily in love, but that you probably had never been. Up to that moment I had believed that I could feel full only through a relationship. I just had to give myself to only one fully. And so those only ones would assume all kinds of features that attracted me so much – features that they didn’t even know they had themselves.
V: So what changed when you realized that?
S: I had to stop blaming my exes for disappointing me. I understood that I can’t expect from anyone the things that I really needed. However, it isn’t strange that it took me so long to figure it out. If you think about it, still in the last century, love didn’t have a bigger status than work or a relationship among relatives. People used to give sense to their lives through children, through their place in the community, through religion. Now, when all these things don’t have their stable role any longer, the need to ground oneself didn’t disappear. Now this function belongs to romantic relationships. Not necessarily of course – it can be football, it can be addiction to drugs. But basically we still need to belong. All of these means aren’t final, they are all made up by humans in order to survive this emptiness. And even when I understood that I was deceiving myself, it still wasn’t easy to stop looking for escapes in somebody’s arms. One thing is to understand it, another to implement it in reality. But even if I gave in to my weakness, afterwards I understood even clearer that I was on my own. When you realize that for the first time, panic takes over. But after a while this panic dissolved. And most importantly, I received the feeling that I’m never really alone. That I’m never really separate from the world. In fact it is the opposite – even if I wanted, I could never detach from it. When you have this feeling in you, you stop looking for any support. You don’t need anyone to fill up your emptiness.
V: It seems that you aren’t interested in any relationship any longer?
S: Quite the opposite. But I can’t see an absolute fusion without absolute independence. I can’t imagine myself in a relationship which is based on lack. I am interested in people who feel sufficient in themselves. Then everything unfolds out of excess. Then there is no manipulation, no unmet expectations, no hurt feelings. That kind of attitude requires total confidence in oneself. When you react to every situation according to that particular moment. For example, I have lived without sex for already a year now. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like flirting or going on dates. It’s just that flirting charges me up while sex – only in exceptional situations. Sometimes women act like they are a charity organization. I don’t see sex as my duty to anyone. I have other means to unload my sexual energy. Actually some of the best orgasms I ever experienced were on my own. But that doesn’t mean that I therefore don’t need a partner. Orgasm is just a small part of passion. Orgasm is just a short discharge while passion is a driving force. I meet passion in different people and greet it as my best friend. As the most powerful version of myself.