Taken from IDOL Issue #4 (not sure why I didn't post this online sooner...)
Images by Jesse Untracht-Oakner
"COULD THERE BE A DANGER OF GOING FROM 'SLUTEVER' TO 'WHATEVER'?"
Karley Sciortino was a squatter. Sharing with 12 of her friends, it was "all the things you want when you 're in your early twenties. No rules. No rent. Just parties. But it had its drawbacks too. "Not having a shower was the worst thing ever," says Sciortino, "I always looked dirty and had partial dreads." Picking food from the garbage, only eating carbs and weird Marks & Spencer mayonnaise salads... My skin was green. I couldn't do it now."
Sciortino's ketamine chronicles and squatter tales were a large component of her now infamous blog Slutever when she established it in 2007. There's no point in me recounting the utter insanity that made up Karley Sciortino's everyday life – living in abandoned warehouses and sleeping in stairwells – as no one could possibly tell her story better than the girl herself. If you want to know exactly what life is like when you're making £80 a week, living with three drug dealers and getting arrested three times in six months, do yourself a favour and go raid the Slutever archives.
However, the salient facts are these: Karley Sciortino's writing experience before creating Slutever was limited to enjoying English classes at school and writing "really bad poems." Harbouring ambitions of becoming an actress, she studied Drama at Kingston University as an exchange student. But she quickly found herself disheartened by "pathetic losers" and frustrated that her higher education consisted of having to "listen to music and make shapes with our bodies."
Dropping out of university aged 19, she committed to the rent-free modern bohemian life of her artist-friend Matthew Stone, whilst "not doing anything, being a little bit of a bum, taking a lot of drugs and hanging out." Another acquaintance of Sciortino's, a staff writer at Dazed & Confused, encouraged her to take up some intern work and advised that "the best way to be a writer is to practice." Thus Slutever was born – a blog made up of Sciortino's carefree lifestyle and, perhaps most provocatively, the peaks and pitfalls of her sex life.
Fast forward to 2012 and the unwashed, unmotivated, sallow-skinned squatter is a far removed image from the Karley Sciortino I meet today in her native New York. Turning up to our interview, she's Amazonian height, dressed in a short denim skater skirt with a bright block coloured blouse and a pair of leather Frye platform sandals that she sourced from a thrift store for $9. Her hair is a scintillating shade of ultra-pale blonde, and her makeup is flawless; even in the 95 °F heat of the city her complexion is a natural matte canvas, and her Amy Winehouse-esque sweeping flicks of liquid black eyeliner remain intact.
It's difficult for me not to be in awe of her. I feel like Aubrey to her seductive Lord Ruthven, or, to be more modern, the Amy Farrah Fowler to her Penny. I've been an avid reader of her blog musings and professional freelance commissions since being introduced to her work as columnist in 2008. I was downright shocked by the outrageous content, but the relaxed informal tone of her writing instantly won me over. And I'm not her only admirer. As we wait to catch the subway later that day, it feels as though every other commuter can't help but look at her – not that she notices. Plus I'm just one of the 100,000 readers that visit Slutever each month.
Slutever is a personal website and a labour of love that's changed over the five years of its existence, says Sciortino. "A lot of what I wrote about when I was in London was my own sex life, and then when I moved to New York I got a boyfriend. And I remember thinking after a while, 'What are you going to write about? Because you can't keep writing about having sex with the same person over and over again' So that's what led to me to start interviewing other people more."
And the "other people" she tends to shine her unique spotlight on are those with particularly outlandish sexual fetishes – with the aim of creating a natural and very real dialogue with people who would normally be perceived as, for lack of a more eloquent word, freaks. Sciortino is adamant that her aim is to humanise sexual misfits. "You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Like, if you drink pee cocktails and saunter around your house in women's nighties, you know what I mean? I'm kind of laughing, but also I'm trying to humanise these people and say, 'Sure, you can laugh at them, but also they can laugh at themselves,'" she explains. "Which everyone should be able to do," she adds, "The main goal is to never exploit anyone, and to be able to show them for who they are."
Her one-woman investigations into sexual behaviours extend into a video series for Vice – her blog in an extremely watchable visual form. She searches for the answer to questions like what to do when you're "at the age where you don't want to date losers anymore." She meets her Internet slave who gets his kicks from financial domination and would send Sciortino gifts and pay her rent. Her videos also provide moral messages like, "If you remember to read lots of books, take your vitamins and not be a total bore, one day you will find that special person who will love you for you, will give you semi-regular orgasms and ask nicely before he puts it in your butt."
A further video venture of Sciortino's is a monthly short film release for the French culture title Purple. Her videos for Purple consist of a series of distinct, unconnected aesthetic projects. Sciortino takes inspiration from the photography of Nan Goldin to create "simple beautiful videos that feel intimate." Sometimes they have a narrative, sometimes they don't. Sometimes Sciortino stars in them, sometimes she doesn't. It's an artistic project that operates completely on her terms and is often an outlet for her brazen exhibitionist side.
Yet although she is willing to share images and information of and about herself that most others would consider strictly private – she once claimed that it's a good idea to post photos of yourself having sex online in order to beat "an asshole ex" inevitably doing so in the future – Sciortino rationalises her unashamed openness as a case of closeted exposure. "I don't want to psychoanalyse myself, but there must be an element of exhibitionism. I like the idea that it's provocative; but I guess there is an exhibitionist quality to me, and I get off on that a little bit. But almost in a cowardly way because I'm not performing in front of people. I'm not reading the words out loud. I'm not stripping," she says. "It's really easy to do all that stuff when you're alone in your apartment – like blogging about sex, or taking pictures of yourself – but you don't have to be there when anybody else sees it. There's a barrier that kind of makes it not so scary. You can upload something, walk away and then not have to think about it."
Whilst she consistently ups the shock factor of her writing and film work, could there be a danger of going from Slutever to "whatever" in the provocative stakes?
In one installment of her Purple video series Sciortino talks about her occasional side job as a dominatrix, specifically how she urinates on men (earning $350 an hour and content for future blog posts). She also talks about the surprisingly short amount of time it took for her to become desensitised to the extreme situations she found herself in. She hesitantly admits that constantly delving into the darker recesses of human desire may be leaving her emotionally indifferent.
"I am conscious of it a little bit," she says, "I was doing an interview with a stripper, and she was talking about how her career as a stripper has now made her become what she believes to be asexual… I guess I already am there." She pauses. "It feels bad to say, but I feel like I'm at a point where I can have sex with someone and it doesn't mean anything. But you can have sex and it means something as well, but I feel like more often I have the other kind."
However, a common phenomenon amongst the comments left on Slutever.com is the expression of compulsion. Which generally goes along the lines of, "I've read one post on this blog, and I've now spent the day reading all of it." I put it to Sciortino that it's not necessarily what she's writing about that draws in dedicated readers, but rather the fact that it's her writing it. A key strength to her blog is the ease with which she transmits her effervescent personality.
Sciortino agrees that her blog thrives on its protagonist-centred delivery – in a similar vein to Tavi Gevinson's Style Rookie. Both blogs focus on "a girl writing about her personal life and something else," she says. But she also sees her exceptionally gonzo style as the combination of "the idea of a character" and a real, relatable "normal person."
The explanatory tagline to Slutever is that "This blog is intended to trick strangers into thinking my life is more exciting than it actually is." Therefore it begs the question, what exactly is the fact to fiction ratio to Sciortino's work? "My blog is like a sensational version of my life because it's only the good or interesting parts," Sciortino explains, "It's all true, but it's a very edited-down version of my life."
She compares her editorial process to that of social media. "We all have the ability to curate our lives and edit our lives so that the public perception is the best that it can be," she says. "No one Instagrams when they look like shit or they're crying because they've broken up with their boyfriend. Or no one uploads pictures to Facebook where they look bad." Similarly, Sciortino doesn't write about her part-time job as a waitress as she views it as "a symbol of being unsuccessful."
Through carefully curated diary entries (these being the pieces of written work she feels most proud of due to the time, effort and creativity she invests in them), Karley Sciortino has carved out a niche for herself as perhaps the premier "it girl" of the Internet age. She lures in readers and media interest through an enticing combination of tenacity and well-selected and documented moments of glamour and debauchery whilst still having something of a regular life.
Yet as successful as her online outreach is, the world of printed media – as for everyone everywhere – is not so kind. Following a more professional approach to her blogging duties around 2009, Sciortino's popularity is growing. Professional commissions arise. Sciortino puts her name to cover stories and interviews for a wide variety of high-brow culture titles, but it's no secret that the magazine industry in the 21st century is a bitch. "It angers me a lot that I don't get paid very well. I get paid in pennies for everything I do. It's at the point where I feel like I don't want to do stuff because magazines and websites really exploit the people that work for them. It's actually like, fuck you, I'm working really hard. If you work in the magazine industry or write or make art, you're expected to intern – and you're expected to pay your dues. But when does it stop? When am I going to make money from this? Ever?"
Sciortino justifies her frustrations. She talks about the sacrifices she has made to pursue her creative ambitions, "wanting to be thought of as a successful, powerful woman and not someone who refills soy sauce bottles at a noodle restaurant" and not having a real room in the apartment she shares with another girl.
Her Williamsburg living quarters consist of a cornered-off area of the living room shaped by two curtains with just a mattress in amongst piles of clothes, books and magazines behind. She does find some solace in the philosophy of photographer Bill Cunningham: "If you never accept money from anyone, then they can never tell you what to do." "Which I think is a cool idea," she adds. "So I suppose, not getting paid is a good thing. But that's a bit of a stretch."
Despite the setbacks, it seems that Karley Sciortino is determined to take her reputation as a writer to the next level as she's currently in the early stages of composing her first novel. "I'm kind of writing a book," she somewhat cautiously tells me and keenly stresses that it will be a novel and not a memoir. "I'm calling it fiction because – although it's heavily based on my own life – I feel like if I was calling it a memoir, I would have to be so accurate about facts. But I like the idea of creating and using my own life but also having the freedom to write." She's aiming to have her first draft finished by autumn and is escaping the city for her family home in upstate New York in order to focus on her work and meet her self-imposed deadline before approaching publishers.
Dennis Cooper, Sciortino informs me, is one of her idols. "I think when I started writing, his writing was a really big influence on me. He writes fiction and novels that are very poetic. He writes about sex and young, skinny, long-haired boys with sunken eyes who are sexually confused. I feel like reading his books really formed the type of guys that I like because I fell in love with all his characters. Like, I want to date a skinny, long-haired, sexually confused teenage boy! Which I still do!" She gushes: "His writing is really beautiful and sexy, but also what I really like is that he expresses a lot of emotion and pain and sadness and love in a very minimal, colloquial way. It's not in any way difficult or academic writing."
It's an evident influence that shows itself on Sciortino's blog through a natural, conversational tone that mirrors her spoken voice. Sciortino concludes, "I think that's why it's readable because it's like someone is talking to you." One can only hope it's an influence that will permeate into her novel. What's sure to remain ever-present in Karley Sciortino's work – whether it is on Slutever, in a magazine, a book or on film – is her headstrong, unapologetic attitude. "If you do something that everyone likes, then there's a problem," she says.