While preparing for the interview that was my initial contribution to Surgery, I mentioned to Amy that I had been practicing yoga for a couple of years and how certain elements of the yogic philosophy related to the practice of SM/B+D. She was intrigued and asked me to write about how this practice had influenced my artwork. I thought the best way to approach this would be to write about specific pieces.
First, a little background ...
I live on the ground floor of a five unit building in San Francisco's Mission District. It's a storefront space (in which I have my studio) with an attached apartment. I've lived there for more than eleven years. Most every one else in the building has been there a slightly shorter or much longer amount of time. We all know each other and I am fortunate to count most of them as friends.
On certain Saturdays, when the ocean fog hasn't crept across the penninsula, my upstairs neighbors will have sidewalk sales. I don't always have something to sell but I will usually hang out with them in the sun, talk, drink beer, and see what they're getting rid off. Just as often as we sell things, we'll end up giving each other stuff or trading. Sometimes our neighbors from the adjoining buildings or visiting friends will join us and put out stuff of their own.
A little over a year ago, Kyra a friend of ours who lived next door was preparing to move and had put out a sprawling collection of clothing, kitchenware, furniture, compact discs, and, of course, books - usually the first thing I look through. The most interesting item in the pile was a small fragile book with brittle leaf-like pages and a pale brown cover held together with mailing tape and a very interesting title - "The Mysterious Kundalini". "You do yoga" Kyra noted, "Take it. You'll love it."
"The Mysterious Kundalini" ( 1927) by Vasant G. Rele F.C.P.S., L.M.&S. (also the author of the intriguingly titled "The Vedic Gods - As Figures of Biology") turned out to be an early attempt at a scientific explanation for the practice of Hatha yoga in terms of "western" anatomy and physiology. It contains anatomical illustrations, someone's notations in faded brown ink in the margins, blurry little black and white photo plates of a yogi demonstrating various asanas, and, between the table of contents and the introduction, this beautiful illustration of the kundalini serpent in the center of an inverted triangle radiating energy
and beneath it, the following inscription:
"The Kundalini is sleeping above the Kanda dispensing liberation to Yogis and bondage to fools. He who knows her knows yoga."
I thought that this would be an appropriate thing to include within this introduction as I wouldn't hesitate to say that I can be one of the biggest fools around. I will now attempt to support that statement by trying to write about how yoga has influenced my bondage artwork.
The basis for much of my artwork is the human body - idealized, eroticised, transformed, tortured, exalted, degraded. I love to portray the body's sexuality, pushing it to it's limits and beyond. One of the biggest personal challenges I face is to show sexual acts that are visually fantastic, but have a basis in realistic human anatomy and physical abilities.
Over time, I have accumulated several books on yoga (another of which I'll write about in detail in the next installment of this series) and have used them as reference for some of the more complicated bondage poses in my illustrations and comix. Some of these positions such as the hands in prayer attitude held against the upper back, I had been seeing in bondage art for years before realizing that it was also a yoga pose.
As I noted earlier, I have been practicing yoga regularly for over two years now. Before that, I had attended a few classes on the invitation of a friend who did martial arts. I enjoyed it, but wasn't particularly drawn to it. I had also tried practicing it on my own with limited success. It wasn't until a good friend of mine began to teach an entry-level Hatha yoga class that I began to think seriously about doing it on a regular basis.
Note: At this point, I should probably state that I am not a voyueristic pervert who goes to yoga class for cheap thrills. Actually, I AM a voyueristic pervert, but I am perfectly capable of checking my expression of those tendencies at the studio door. Yoga as a practice is not an erotic experience for me. It's about finding peace and focus through physical and mental exercise. It's about being respectful and co-existing with your fellow human beings. I also don't consider myself to be the first person who ever made these associations, most of which are obvious to anyone with a more than passing interest in either bondage or yoga. I just have yet to have seen them articulated anywhere in relation to art so - please bear with me.
One of the first things I noticed was that many of the basic poses, particularly the sun salutation series, were of a submissive nature - bowing, kneeling, on all fours - offering one's physical self up in a particularly vulnerable fashion; much the way a submissive will abase themselves before their master or mistress. This impression was augmented by my teacher's admonition to approach each pose with "devotion and surrender". I found this concept particularly intriguing.
Something I find very attractive about the sub/dom power relationship is the notion of worship - where the dominant becomes a kind of divine (or infernal) being receiving the adoration and selfless devotion of the submissive who surrenders to a higher power and endures various trials to win the love of their erotic deity. It can be interperted as the human striving towards self-knowledge and a higher existence - liberation through pain/ecstasy.
Hatha (Sun/Moon) yoga (union) is a uniting of opposites, expressed in the contrasting ideas of devotion and surrender: the devotion to rise each day and meet life's challenges combined with the surrender that allows flexibility in any given situation, permiting each experience to be accepted as part of one's personal growth.
By associating these two concepts (SM + yoga), there is another uniting of oposites as well as themes common to both: the search to liberate the soul through intense physical practice, expanding the limits of what one's mind and body can accept as "normal" in an abnormal situation, a willingness to discard ego and submit with love and trust. It's a relationship built out of contradictions and all the more powerful for it. I can't say I've approached my attempt to understand it in my personal life in a particularly organized fashion, but it continues to fascinate me and influence the type of art I make.
The title of this piece DEVOTION/SURRENDER is also taken from two pieces of mine that were completed and exhibited together at the same time. Their combined titles became the title for my most recent solo show at San Francisco's Madame S Gallery. Both were created using models as reference. One was a piece produced for a commercial job. The other was done purely for my enjoyment. Both are now in private collections.
SURRENDER was inspired by a photo shoot that I did with a friend who is a ballet-trained dancer. In addition to being beautiful, graceful, and flexible, when performing live, she is capable of projecting a combined aura of great strength and vulnerability.
We had decided early on that we wanted to do a shoot with her as a fetish ballerina and as a ponygirl - one of the things inspiring the latter being a pair of boots she owned. Made by a well-known designer, they are heel-less and have soles that resemble horse hooves. Several friends (including my model) had mentioned seeing them that year and had asked me if I thought that they had been inspired by my work. I'd like to think they might have been, but custom pony boots have been available for quite some time, so ... I'll just say that I definitely find it amusing to see sometimes where in the mainstream you can purchase your fetish toys.
Ironically, in the photo that inspired the SURRENDER piece, my model's feet and legs - almost her entire body - were out of frame. It was a throwaway shot really - the last picture on the end of a roll with the processor's puncture marks in the emulsion - but there was someting about it that really attracted me. It was a profile shot where she was leaning forward on her hands. Only her head and shoulders were visible in frame. All the details - her tightly bound hair, the collar elevating her chin, the bridle bit strapped into her mouth - suggested physical tension and there was a look of intense concentration on her face that was somehow heartbreaking - as if she where on the very edge of what she were able to endure. She looked so beautiful and vulnerable with the reins leading back over her shoulders to ... what?
I love the theme of the rider and human mount, the equestrian and horse as sex partners and especially that moment In equine play when a pony boy/girl has been totally broken and submits fully to the will of their captor. SURRENDER is the pony girl's tearful acquiescense to her role as her mistress' pet - ready to be ridden, savoring the intimate carress of the whip as she endures the weight of her mistress' heel, her saddle providing a clue as to the next stage of intimacy their play might reach. Like most of my pieces, it's not a finished story.
By contrast/comparison, DEVOTION is a commercial piece, created for the Madame S women's line of latex and leather clothing. I had to draw an image in which everything worn by the characters was an actual piece of clothing that had been designed and made for Madame S by my friends Molly and Skeeter.
The leather woman with the cornrows was based on a lovely Mr.S employee who volun-teered to model at the urging of her girlfriend and co-workers. The latex woman was based on the gorgeous Midori who has been modelling creations for Molly's So Hip It Hurts line for many years now. Since leather is often associated with a more butch attitude, I wanted to turn things around a little and have the leather woman kneeling devotedly - maybe even a little possesively - beside her latex diva.
While I did enjoy rendering the leather (and all those cornrows), I must plead intense emotional involvement with this particular latex design. Molly based it on one of my Spider Garden costumes and at the art opening where it was premiered, I was invited to assist the model in "adjusting her lacings" in the bathroom.
My thanks to my teacher Monique Jenkinson for her assistance with and clarification of certain yogic concepts.