Susan Stryker, Roelant, Jesse Helms discussed on Design Matters with Debbie Millman


Forty six times from the shoulder down to the wrist with two inch needles twelve gauge needles. But i remember. We wanted the gauge. To be big enough that it would create like appearance of body armor and a certain and that i wanted the cutting and the needles to be completely precise because i was thinking about whole binds kind of henry the eighth portrait in a certain way and i was thinking about. What the word pervert man in nineteen ninety four and my community especially when there was a beginning of a divide within our own community. And this is very specific. It's not just for what pervert means from jesse helms the holding mapplethorpe photographs on the senate floor. But it also came from internal homophobia of our own community of again the workers. The you know people who practice were also perverts and that there are portions of the gay and lesbian community are quote unquote normal. And i didn't like the notion of normal. I've never liked the binary of normal or abnormal. I'm more interested in the complexity of sexuality and desire and so was Yeah was that moment. Where in the same. My friend steak tattooed dyke on the back of her neck. That i was going to have rail. And do this cutting and that was done in san francisco in a studio. Why was making a portrait series. It was attended by an enormous amount of my friends including the incredible trans historian. Susan stryker was there and it was you know there were The needles were done first. And then i sat in the chair and roelant did the cutting and then we. I put the hood on and we. We made some without the hood and some with hood. But i didn't want my face. Because i wanted the notion of visibility to be placed on language. So what does the word pervert mean. How do we deal with language you know. Is this enough of a pervert for you and it's also really beautiful and then you actually have to deal with the beauty of it as well because it's not dripping blood it's not it's don in such a way that it just looks like almost a red tattoo but it is blood coming to the surface. There is a real elegance to the photo of the way it's constructed. Had you been very involved in body modification at that time as well. How hard was it for you to have forty six to gauge needles. Put through your skin. Not that difficult actually because when you prepare yourself. It's totally different. If i'm walking through the house. And i stubbed my toe on a furniture. I sit there and i weep. I'm like really angry. I can't believe i've heard myself but when you've already been kind of in the leather community and you are doing this in the dungeons on your own you. You know what you're kind of doing and so you. Your mindset is different. I mean if if something goes to the doctor and get gets a shot. The only thing that is hurting is actually the fear of getting the shop. So are kind of relationship to fear is so complicated as human beings. And i was never afraid because i knew that my friends were professionals and railing was a professional and that they had done this time and time again and i had done a lot of play piercing in a lot of cutting out in a private setting and so i wasn't I was very definitive. And knowing what i wanted to do and and had the mindset to go through it did you experience any of the fauria. You that sometimes occurs during body modification. Oh absolutely now your endorphins. Erc going off the rockers at it was funny because if you watch the video tape. There's one moment where it i have. The the group dead can dance playing in the background. Because i love that kind of meditative music and you know you're breathing and you're going through it and then rail and decided to stop for a moment. Try to pop a pimple on my chest. That was driving her crazy. And at that moment i lost my focus and then i started moaning a little bit more once. She went back into the cutting The cutting as much harder than the needles to go through needles are fairly quick. You know but but definitely cuttings are taken enormous amount of concentration. And your and that's partly. Why didn't want my face in. The picture is because i the endorphins are going off with my glasses off. My eyes are slightly crossed and the first thing that people look at in portraits is people's faces usually and it again had to remain on the body and about the body image was first shown to the public in nineteen. Ninety five at the whitney biennial. And you've said that since then you struggle to look at that photo now. How come well. It's not necessarily struggle. It's i haven't set a struggle. It's it's it's a photograph that i don't need to live with. It's a photograph that i made that. I'm proud of and that represented that moment in time. You know i had. I had several collectors at different moments. Say how powerful that peace is live with and that it's in their bedroom and they wake up every morning and i guess i started thinking. Could i wake up every morning but one of the things that i love about photography it defines the sense of time and within the defined sense of time of that you know going back to that geeky kind of cardiac persona notion of the decisive moment. Like pervert is a decisive moment on my part but that doesn't necessarily define me as a sixty year old woman now so the frozenness this of my time in my community. I'm so profoundly. Honored that my friends and i myself chose to use ourselves in relationship to community to make and work on a body of work that created a certain history in a certain idea visibility. But that doesn't mean that were held in that time in the same way that were held in the time in terms of the making of the work. Before i ask you about the third self-portrait self portrait nursing. I want to ask you about your thoughts on domesticity in your work and you said that self portrait cutting was about the relationship between queer nece and domesticity. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit. More about what that notion between squareness domesticity is or was well throughout history. People fall in love and throughout history and relationship to homophobia especially after say the you know the roaring twenties so to speak and when kind of the puritanical notion of homosexuality ended up entering the kind of religious indoctrination of not being acceptable and so forth and the bible misinterpreted as so forth When you fall in love you often wanna live with the person that you fall in love with and so domestic day was always literally a part of the notion of having a relationship and being in love and and opening up one's home of cohabitation and to then be denied that both on legal fronts as well as just rhetorically within our society is incredibly fraught. And so this notion of coming out of the closet always made me laugh. Because it's a closet is a domestic space closet is where one another's close co. Mingle if you don't have your own walk and 'cause has which i don't but a closet is where a co mingling of the every day happens and so yeah so it's you know. Domestic has always been a part of love and relationship and trying to build a life a home with another person after cutting pervert. You drove across the us in your rv photographing lesbian families. Women who had children who lived in groups couples engaging in everyday household activities across the country and you titled the portfolio domestic. You looking for something specific in that body of work. Well that body of work also was. I had been in a relationship then for three to four years with another amazing queer photographer. Important lesbian artists on historical level. Who should be. She's in books like stolen glances. But it's Her name is co. Sheila brooke and we are worried by us together. We were gonna do. We have been in three year relationship where she ironically was living on. Sanborn have where. I ironically lived with pam. My first domestic relationship and i was still in custody..

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