Safe 2: Touch:

The first video in this series begins with the camera fading into a scene of a yellow table saw blade extended through the top of the white table and set in front of a white wall. The table saw is turned on and the blade begins spinning. I then enter the scene and slowly extend my left index finger to touch the middle of the spinning saw blade. My finger remains in contact with the blade for about 25 minutes. I then withdraw my hand, exit the frame, the machine turns off, and the camera fades out. As my finger withdraws from the frame, the viewer is able to see a yellow mark and blister on my finger caused by the abrasion of the saw’s contact with my body. 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.

The second theme that I explored regarding my work as a sex laborer was the use of tools outside of their intended purpose. By examining this theme, I attempted to recontextualize my experiences with the tools that I used in both my work as a sex laborer and also within my art practice. In each, I sought to show the secret unseen intimacy that I shared with these tools that allowed me to create a context in which intimacy could be transformed into a physical commodity during the production of fetish movies. These projects reify emotional labor and allow it to be transformed into tangible experiences that I can share with an audience through the mediation of video and sculptures. I reached towards the power tools not as a means of production, but instead as partners in an unrequited intimacy which seems not all that dissimilar from a dangerous liaison between a manager and subordinate. I attempted to show a viewer a vantage point that does not easily depict whether it is I or the tool that is the subject of the videos that is asserting dominance over the other. I wanted to display a switching of power that is subtle, meditative, and also very intimate. Within this new and ambiguous intimacy, there is enough room from the audience to feel the experiences reflected in their body while also remaining safe. In light of this re-contextualization, these pieces become linked conceptually by the assertion that tools are often viewed as the servants of people. They perform tasks and are defined by their purpose. In a time of global isolation, I asked my tools, “How can I serve you and how can we make a new meaning together?” By using these inanimate tools outside of their intended purpose, I was able to lay the foundation for the third conceptual arc of my research: An Intimacy of Self.

Image of full scene:

Follow this link to see an early test installation:

Safe 2: Touch, UC Santa Barbara, 11/19 | 2019 | Safety Specialist