Safe 3: Fail (full video):

The first video that I made in this series contains source footage from a 2007 failed porn shoot that I appeared in as a model. The movie featured a dominant transgender woman and myself as a sexually submissive cis man, restrained in various bondage positions. I was hired to do this shoot after I responded to a local newspaper advertisement placed by an adult fetish film company that was looking for new models. At the time, I was becoming more aware of and much more interested in the intense power dynamics playing out in my art pieces. I also was searching for a new job to research for my art practice. When I read the advertisement, I saw the natural convergence of need and opportunity. Although I had no specific interest nor any personal experience in acting as a submissive model, this was the type of model that the company was looking to hire. My exposure to the politics that govern BDSM came tangentially from my art research and art practice. However the company told me that this was a good entry-level role to fill, and if the shoot went well, it could lead to more work in which I wouldn’t need to be the submissive. This seemed reasonable, so with no experience, I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, the shoot didn’t go very well, so the footage was never released. However, the video cassette tapes that the shoot had been recorded on were saved and stored in the company’s physical archive. In 2011, I started working for this same company as a full-time employee. A few years later, the managers of this company decided to destroy all of the old source tapes that their movie footage had been recorded on. However, I managed to secretly save the cassettes that my failed shoot had been recorded on before they were demagnetized and destroyed. I then digitized this salvaged footage and then edited it in a way that highlighted the labor that went into producing the movie. The resulting video is an amalgamation of all the jumbled shots that occur between action sequences, showcasing the view captured by the camera as it moves around while the crew, director, and performers talk and construct the scene. I edited the video in such a way that mine is the only face that is ever shown. What remains is a very kinetic real-time sculpture of the behind-the-scenes and unseen labor required to create the pornographic experience which would normally be thrown away. More info about this series below:

Since 1999, I have been using my jobs as research to inform my art practice. Having completed bodies of work regarding my professional careers as a cabinet maker, fine-dining busboy, locksmith, and yoga instructor, I most recently –from 2010-2018– worked behind the scenes helping to produce adult bondage and fetish movies as a full-time hourly employee. As a worker in this industry, my job title is often referred to as an “engineer” or a “rigger.” This entailed constructing or assembling the bondage in which models would be restrained during the filming of the movies. This role encompassed many different tasks; however, my most important responsibility was to create and fabricate safety for everyone on set, with the primary emphasis being placed on the safety of the model who would be in bondage.

When I began to moblize my employment in pornography as part of an art making process, I first had to determine if and how I might be able to ethically make art inspired by this research –as I have done in my other employment experiences– in ways that didn’t objectify anyone. At the outset, I spent a lot of time reflecting, researching, and defining how to situate my role as a worker in this very complicated context. To do this, I created the term “sex laborer.” By authoring this term, I was able to make a distinction between my job responsibilities and that of “sex workers.” Sex work is an identity and a form of employment for which I have tremendous respect, and I make this important distinction between my labor and that of sex workers because although some people in the world view my role in the production of fetish movies as sex work, others in the sex-industry disagree with that notion as I kept my clothes on and rarely appeared on camera. However, there have been other times in my life that my work in pornography has been treated with judgment by people outside of the industry in similar ways to the judgment that is sometimes placed upon sex workers. This left me in a complicated situation that I needed to come to terms with and to find a safe place from which to situate and contextualize my experiences. Complicating this matter further, I –unlike almost all of my co-workers– never assumed a stage-name or “porn-name” in an attempt to shelter my identity. I did this because it felt disingenuous to participate and examine adult films as “research” and then try to hide the fact that I was doing it. Although I stand by the ethics of this decision, this transparency places me in a precarious social position that required me to define an identity as a worker that seemed honest, while also firmly situating myself in solidarity with sex workers all over the world.

The third part of research into my employment as a sex laborer revolved around the creation of “an intimacy of self.” I define this as making situations that allow me to experience a feeling of safety or intimacy of, by, or for myself, as opposed to creating it for other people as part of a job responsibility as a sex laborer, service professional, or as part of a series of social expectations. As in Safe 1 and Safe 2. I realized that if I was going to make art that was inspired by my employment/research in adult films, then I needed to point the camera at myself: I needed to objectify myself. To address this idea further, I began to appropriate video footage derived from pornographic or mainstream sources that contained my image or representation as either a model, an actor playing a supporting character role, or as a laborer performing my job responsibilities. I then re-edited and re-contextualized the appropriated footage so it highlighted my presence in hopes of gaining some control over my representation. I do not own any of this footage.

Safe 3: Fail, UC Santa Barbara, 11/19 – SF, CA, 04/07 | 2019 | Sex Laborer