Safe 1: Suit

For the third video, I used a hand-held blow torch to slowly and methodically burn the jumpsuit off of my body by using the fire to cut a long seam from its bottom to top. I then removed the half-burned jumpsuit, piled it on the floor, and set it on fire. Most of the video is simply me sitting naked on the floor wearing only black shoes and gloves, watching as the jumpsuit burns like a campfire. By using the wrong tool in the wrong way, I was able to remove the symbolic remnants of my labor within adult films and allow it to pass peacefully into a quiet night while no one was watching but the camera. The actions in the video was executed as simple, classically styled, single point, studio performance piece, executed for the camera, and shot within the specific and deliberate setting of what appears to be an art studio, institution, or gallery. However this was an illusion. If a viewer spends time with the piece, they begin to notice ambient sounds in videos –such as birds, planes, and cars– that expose the “studio” setting to be nothing more than a movie set and the pieces were actually recorded outside. I wanted to subtly show that the prestige and importance that is often permitted to galleries and artists studios is little more than an illusion constructed out of gray floors and white walls. The lighting that I mobilized in the videos draws direct inspiration from how I would often light a porn movie. Everything is illuminated in totality. I make no attempt to shape the subject in video with shadows, highlights, or contrast. Details are exposed and nothing is hidden or insinuated (see image at the bottom of the page.) More information about this series can be found 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.

In February of 2020 –right before the COVID 19 Pandemic began– I created an installation called Safe: 1, which consisted of three sculptures, two photographs, and a three-channel video installation. I decided to deconstruct the uniform that I used to wear on set while working as a sex laborer and constructed three different actions that I performed by myself and recorded with a video camera in what appears to be a controlled studio setting. The videos document the transformation of the three articles of clothing that comprised my uniform and the subsequent effect the transformation had upon my body. Conceptually this project revolved around the theme that I have come to call “the fetishization of safety.” This was born as the juxtaposition of two ideas. The first is in a literal sense: I worked as a laborer whose job it was to fabricate “safety” during the production of “fetish” movies. Although I had a lot of different responsibilities, my primary responsibility above all else was to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on set, most importantly the safety of the model. This process of creating safety could be as noticeable and straightforward as making bondage that was appropriate and well designed to fit the specific nuances of a model’s body. Or the process could be more behind-the-scenes, such as making sure everyone wore gloves when touching a model if the director or model requested that safety protocol on any given day. Regardless of how it manifested, the construction of safety was always on the mind of myself, my boss, and my coworkers.  

Image of full scene:

Follow this link to see the first installation test that I did with this material.

Safe 1: Suit, UC Santa Barbara, 03/20 | 2019 | Safety Specialist