Desire in focus at CounterPulse fest 

“What is it like to see a performance when you're naked?” This question sparked “Nude Night” at the festival THIS IS WHAT I WANT.

While patrons at San Francisco’s CounterPulse won’t be required to participate in the clothing-optional aspect of the opening night of festival (they’ll be asked to “be aware and respectful”), those who do get a $5 discount off the ticket price.

Founded by Jesse Hewit in 2010 and now curated by Tessa Wills, THIS IS WHAT I WANT is a three-day festival and symposium focusing on desire as a socio-political force.

Wills, an artist who integrates eroticism into live performances, says TIWIW is geared toward audiences who are curious about their own desire and that of others. She adds, “TIWIW is constructed around the vulnerability of desire and that’s something that’s very human, appealing, and meaningful for anyone who’s curious.”

This year’s performances include Cristina Victor’s “Ass Capital: Reflections of a Contemporary Culo,” a TED-talk style lecture on booty-shaking; Gigi Otálvaro-Hormillosa’s “Psychic Gold,” a conversation with historical and contemporary figures, and Jason Wyman’s “Confessing Desire.” where The Mystic transforms audience members’ stories into poetry.

CounterPulse – which is moving from Mission Street to Turk Street in the fall when its 10-year-lease is up – is an ideal location for the festival, Wills says, because it’s known for nurturing risk-taking ventures and for supporting practitioners whose work blurs the boundaries between performance, art and healing. It’s fitting that the festival’s events are some of the last at this venue.

CounterPulse’s foundation was laid in the 1990s at 848 Community Space, an artist-run venue that Wills describes as “a cultural center that brought together worlds of sexuality and performance to delve into how these somatic fields inform one another.” Wills sees her work as a continuation of this legacy and it has been a labor of love.

“The festival is much more than the performances on the stage,” says Elizabeth Cooper, TIWIW’s co-producer. “It’s also about the audiences and community that's passionately quirky and queer.” This year, people are flying in from Amsterdam, Glasgow and New York to intern, volunteer and attend events.

Since 2011, TIWIW has applied for funding and received many rejections. This year, the festival received just over $1,000 in the form of grants from the Zellerbach Family Foundation and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.



When: 8 p.m. May 29-31

Where: CounterPulse 1310 Mission St., S.F.

Tickets: $20 to $40


Note: A symposium is at 8 p.m. June 3.

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Kate Mattingly

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