A BDSM Dungeon Transformed into Berlin’s New Art Space by Focusing on Art by Sex Workers

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Berlin has long been a city where hedonism and culture have intertwined, from the Weimar Republic to the famous KitKatClub. Lady Velvet Steel is fascinated by that history, and the role brothels have played in it — so much so that she and art curator Lilith Terra have opened Studio Lux, a working BDSM dungeon and brothel, to the general public. 

“Historically speaking brothels have always inspired culture. That fell out of fashion, or has been forgotten to the public,” the dominatrix and madam told ARTnews. 

In early April, Studio Lux opened an art exhibition titled “Art. Sex. Cash.” that featured artwork by sex workers, along with performances by latex-clad DJs and dominatrix-cum-rappers, spread across the 2,500+ square-foot brothel, with all rooms open to the public on opening night.

The work ranges from tentacle sculptures to oil paintings, though there is plenty of photography on display, which Terra considers an appropriate medium due to its association with pornography.

Terra said she hopes the exhibition can build connections between the different but associated worlds of art and fetish. 

“It’s exciting to go into a space like this to look at art, to make contact between sex workers and art enjoyers,” Terra told ARTnews. 

The artwork “tbc” by Pina Rath in Studio Lux in Berlin, Germany.
ANDREA ARAYA

Terra, who is not a sex worker but whose own striking photography often displays an aesthetic informed by BDSM culture, questioned the boundaries between art and erotica. 

“What does erotic mean?” she said. “It’s not just about showing genitals – it’s a wide spectrum. That’s interesting.”

Sculptor and stripper Ginger Angelica stood next to “Hourly Rate Smile,” her neon sculpture of a pair of luscious pink lips with a green snake peeking out. The work, according to Angelica, is a comment on the emotional labor that sex-workers engage in in their workplaces, subverting the typical advertising imagery that commercializes women’s bodies for the male gaze.

She bluntly described her other neon piece – a vulva with an almost-spiritual third eye – as “your porn staring back at you.”

For Angelica, Studio Lux and the exhibition reverse the typical relationship between subject and object in art to give sex workers more agency. Sex workers make art too, the exhibition declares.

“Sex workers are always the objects of art historically,” Angelica told ARTnews, noting that national galleries are filled with paintings that “depict a whore, either the king’s mistress or a street hooker.”

Angelica pointed to works from Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec as being obviously from a client’s perspective.

According to dominatrix and artist Dasa Hink, Studio Lux has always been “a very intellectual, artistic, activist space.” Its becoming an actual art space is “a dream come true,” she said.

Working with latex, a material with which Hink said she fell in love for its skin-like feel, she created beautiful frilly objects out of sex toys for the exhibition, wanting to take away the shame associated with these objects designed to bring pleasure. 

“I built the body of it to make an object that you want to display in the living room, rather than hide in a drawer,” Hink said of the sculptures. “I wanted to make it the pride of place, something to show off and not hide away.“ 

Opposite the sex toy sculptures, in the brothel’s sumptuous waiting room, Hink displayed posters of a porn performer wearing floral-shaped, pastel-colored latex in front of a prayer bench.

“Petpod” sculptures made out of sex toys by dominatrix and artist Dasa Hink.
ANDREA ARAYA

Like many of the artists on display at Studio Lux, Hink went into the sex industry primarily because it gave her the spare time she wanted to focus on her creative “obsession” with art and music. 

“So many of my colleagues are artists. They prefer this flexible job which encourages creativity, and allows for an abundance of time” Hink wrote in a post about the show on Instagram.

Studio Lux’s “Art. Sex. Cash.” is not the only art exhibition paying closer attention to artwork made by sex workers. “Decriminalised Futures,” an exhibition at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, recently showed art by sex workers in a prestigious art space, and used that space to campaign for decriminalization.

The artwork “Warrior” by dominatrix and artist Dasa Hink.
ANDREA ARRAYA

Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, a performance artist whose work was featured in the exhibition, pointed out that art by sex workers is often undervalued and not taken seriously due to stigmas around sex work.

The unique benefit of Studio Lux’s exhibition, according to Kantorowicz, is the way it can “remove stigma” by normalizing brothels for people who wouldn’t usually visit them. The art on display can play a similar role. 

“Art is one of the best ways for sex-workers to mediate their experiences to a public that would never be able to understand it otherwise,” Kantorowicz said. 

Studio Lux will open a new exhibition on August 20. Before then, anyone can come view the art, most of which remains hung on the walls, by appointment.

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