Art & Design

The New Pornographers: The Erotic Art of Tissue Magazine

Art & Design

The New Pornographers: The Erotic Art of Tissue Magazine

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I never used to give credence to the distinction between the erotic and the pornographic. Irrelevant for our times, that split, I’d say, was a relic of American prudishness, a molding leftover from the long-overruled charges of obscenity that targeted the best, like Joyce, and Schiele, and poor old Nabokov; it was also a debate that made feminism a total bore in the 1980s. In my eyes, erotica (as sexy art) versus pornography (as artless sex) was a semantic distinction, and worse, a moral, categorical one. I appreciated that one could distinguish between products designed to invoke desire and the feelings of sex, as opposed to merely representing the physicality of sex. But that experience is subjective; my erotica could be someone else’s pornography and flip that, which made the whole distinction moot again. Yet, when it came making sense of Tissue, a new German magazine with the motto “Everything Sexy”, the one word that kept coming back to me was erotic.

Tissue is a brand new (the second issue is due out in North America on July 23) erotic, pornographic, let’s just call it a sex magazine. As the editorial department boasts, “From sexed-up to sex-ed, it’s an amalgamation of everything sexy. Women, men, horses, architecture, fire-breathing and porn paraphernalia– all contributed by only the most talented artists. In other words: Tissue is a magazine full of oversexed newcomers and the shaky old hands of erotic photography taking sex to the unsexiest of places.” A small enterprise, launched by Uwe Jens Bermeitinger and Hans Bussert, former collaborators on Nude Paper, Tissue is part of an emerging trend of indie nudie mags and fanzines, including the UK’s trade paperback Baron, and New York’s young Beauty Today, and following the newly relaunched raunchy Richardson (1998-2003; 2010-ongoing), and the now sadly defunct homoerotic Butt. Zeitgeisting, the most recent issue of Nico Magazine, with fashion as its main purvue, is dedicated to the new erotic content in contemporary magazines.

In researching this piece, I went shopping for newsstand pornography. I realized I hadn’t seen any popular print porn made later than about 1995—the year of the Sandra Bullock cyber-thriller The Net, for context—and I wanted to know what it looked like. While Tissue and its indie nudie cohort are more likely to sit on the stands next to Acne Paper or The Journal than at the back of the rack, they are definitely jerk-off material, and often shrink-wrapped (to protect the delicacy of the pages or to protect from delicate eyes, maybe both), in the grand tradition of print porn periodicals like Playboy and Penthouse. Printing titillating pics of tits, Tissue parlays to Playboy, and while I knew it was doing something different, I just wasn’t sure just how.

Project compare and contrast. At my neighborhood bodega, I was able to purchase a combo pack: one issue of Hustler, a Penthouse, and a Gallery magazine, plus a bonus DVD (with a title more reminiscent of an unappetizing sushi option than an erotic promise), all for just $9.99. The women of today’s Hustlers and Penthouses don’t look real, not so much for the bleach, brazilians, and boobjobs, but for the Photoshop. These models are so retouched, they appear jointless, glossy, and hollow, like blow-up dolls. All the paper is glossy, too. Same with the lips. Butterfly tattoos, rhinestone pumps—what was this, the ‘90s? The models in Tissue, on the other hand, despite being predominantly printed in black and white and other low-fi off-tones, look so touchable. Hustler, Penthouse, Gallery—every picture on every page looks the same; forgettable flash fantasies. Tissue is more like a real, and really good sex act, with foreplay and dirty talk, buildups and breaks, definitely a few climaxes and an extended afterglow. I bet you get it up again.

Some of the nudes in Tissue wear their pubic bones bald, some bushy, some razor burned. There’s no doubt in my mind that Tissue could be used as masturbation material. We see full frontals and double-ended dildos and porny tropes like girls spitting liquids. We’ve got big titties and itty bitties; chicks with dicks; pierced nipples; beads of sweat; spread eagle; face down, ass up. Everything Sexy. The bodies in Tissue are edited to sexual ideals just like in Hustler or Penthouse, but this is achieved, not through airbrushing, but lighting, composition, and costume. The female models don’t just come hither. Their gazes are varied—proud, playful, willing, willful, amused, obstinate, ecstatic, obscured. Many of the spreads look as if they could be self-portraits. I’m not calling it erotica versus pornography, but it’s something like that. Tissue is sex-plus: plus-art, plus-smarts. My prime distinction between Tissue versus mainstream American sex mags: one I would proudly read on the subway, feeling defiant only of those girls next to me reading Shades of Lame, and the other I would never.

Just as Lolita is as much about Nabokov’s love of language as it is one fictional European’s love for a little girl, Tissue is as much about the pleasures of the text as it is about sex. The first issue of Tissue was all black and white and blue ink on nude (like Crayola nude, European nude) paper. The second, upcoming issue gets more color but the editorial tone stays the same. Tissue showcases an open array of 21st century polymorphous perversity; the throughline is the quality of the image. The internet has given us every vagary of human sexuality, readily available to stream, download, or live video chat. Who would want their fantasies curated in print anymore? (Why I hadn’t seen a post-‘90s Playboy and accounting probably for the $9.99 bargain combo pack at my deli.) Tissue provides for the print fetishists, for those of us who want to feel good pulp as much as we want to feel the quiver of another body. Tissue is ars erotica—the art of pleasure, the pleasure of art; hot enough to touch yourself to, cool enough to collect; a notch on the bedpost, and bedside reading to boot.

Uwe Jens Bermeitinger is the Creative Director behind the Tissue passion project. With the second issue off to the presses, Uwe found some time to chat paper and pleasure with yours truly. Now I have a crush.

What do you think of the old distinction between erotica and pornography? Is there a difference? Does it matter? How would you categorize Tissue: ero or porno?
Pornography is a straightforward tool to quickly satisfy your need. Erotica is more like an appetizer, inspiration, daydream. Tissue is anything but. Sure, we provide offbeat erotica. Sometimes we are just a stone’s throw away from pornography. We are not your typical erotic magazine. We go deeper and show the human sexuality how it really is. Like Roy Stuart says in Tissue N°2: “The few girls with hair keep the world from being overrun by zombies”. Tissue will never be safe for work but still be a statement on your coffee table.

Can you tell me a little bit about your past projects? Tissue seems like an offshoot (or new spring…) to your previous work with Nude Paper (“an art magazine for centerfold enthusiasts”).
Nude Paper was fun! For me it was the right companion toward the last stage of my personal sexual liberation. Tissue, especially in upcoming issue N°2, is taking the step from underground fanzine to a serious culture magazine based on the visualization of the human body and sexual matters.

Let’s talk a little about the layout and design of Tissue. In some ways, the distribution of content reminds me of a traditional American porn mag, with the centerfold and that personal letter on page 24. In look and feel, though— the matte paper, the black and white and blue—it recalls much more the kinds of small press artist’s books I shop for at Printed Matter in New York. Were there any design decisions that you made intentionally to show affiliation with one tradition or another?
True, there’s a lot of old-fashioned erotic, porn and fetish magazine aesthetic in Tissue; everything I was consuming from my adolescence till now. To be honest, Butt magazine was a big inspiration as well as all the other stuff made by Jop Van Bennekom (Fantastic Man, Gentlewoman). Even though it won’t be published anymore, which is very sad, Butt magazine will always stay in my Top 5 Magazine list. Also the work of Mike Meiré, artist and Germany’s most important editorial designer, is an important influence for me. (By the way, if somebody from Printed Matter reads this: Please retail our magazine!)

Pick one: sexual proclivity or sexual identity?
Sexual equality.

What erotic material do you consume? What else is good out there?
For my quick and private pleasure I consume pornhub.com. But I think that’s not the question, right? Richardson Magazine is a big benchmark for us. They way Andrew Richardson creates this blissful union of hardcore filth, Zeitgeist and high gloss aesthetica is genius. Concerning to culture magazines, 032c from Berlin is the magazines of all magazines, printed manna from heaven. We are very grateful that they have supported us from day one. I admit, I’m addicted to all printed stuff that I can get my fingers on, like nudist magazines from the 20’s, long before the Nazis took over; books on Greek statues; Hans Bellmer; Man Ray; you name it.

What can we expect from Tissue in coming issues?
A lot. Tissue N°2 is taking the step from underground fanzine to wannabe-highbrow art magazine! First of all, we are very proud of our 100 pages strong magazine with two-thirds of it in full colour this time. For us, as an independent publication and un-commercial project, it marks a big step!

There’s an interview and yet unpublished photographs from “The Dark Lord Of Ass” Martin Eder; as well as interview and exclusive story by the grandmaster of fetish photography—Roy Stuart! Roy Stuart is my all time hero and was a big guidance through my juvelinity.

We also feature German art-Urgestein, Walter Dahn; Mike Meirè, artist and Germany’s most important art director; Hanna Putz, our biggest love; Maxime Ballesteros, featuring Helga Wretman dressed in DSTM; Devin Blair; fabulous Manzine; Youichi Shidomoto; Bèla Pablo Janssen; Rosa Rendl, and many more…

Buy more magazines. They last.

Tissue N°1 is available to few, in its entirety, online at No Layout.  Tissue N°2 was released on July 4th in Berlin and is available in the US at McNally Jackson in NYC around July 23rd. You can also pre-order it via the online store of Cast of Vices. All images from Tissue N°2.