26 July, 2008

Fine Art 101

First among the bits I'll put up of my work with other artists is credited to Barbara Nitke. Today's are from her advertising portfolio. I am in a few of these (we have given me the designation "Macground" since I am mostly just presence), but my in-frame co-conspirator and the person to whom you will be giving most of your attention is model and actress Ming Jin. Her devastating make up is by Khush Singh. This set was inspired by the film Lust, Caution, and we shot against the most elegant cargo elevator in NYC.

Barbara and I have been working collaboratively for years on several of her portfolios, and whenever she envisions rope being included as an element in her pieces, no matter how little, we link up. We often seem to end up with more bondage than might have been originally intended (and I frankly can't tell in the end who among us (models included) is responsible for failing to rein it in) but the results have been uniformly fabulous.

Barbara is not a practitioner of rope, but she is a long-time student of BDSM who intuitively understands the same thing I do about its efficacy in collapsing perceptions of space and difference between partners in a scene. Her last book, Kiss of Fire, is is a great chronicle of BDSM in NYC before it came above ground, and reveals Barbara's talent for capturing the spiritually humane, some have even said religious, import of BDSM.

I may say more about these and other of Barbara's pictures I'll post here, but for the time being I'll just let the images do the talking (and the first thing they'll tell you in no uncertain terms is that Barbara owns the copyrights).

Well, I will add that what you're looking at are the raw images, un-retouched by Barbara's considerable expertise in that department. Of the very few images that will actually enter her portfolio these may or may not be among the elect. From this particular shoot, however, these are among my favorites and representative of my continuing interest in Barbara's project.

21 July, 2008

Who Are You, Really?

The following may or may not have happened not too long ago. If it did, you know who you are.

Me, I didn't recognize myself.

It was not unlike how you often describe the shape of the room when I'm playing with your breath, how the world goes slightly plastic, soft. You flexed like you were being tumbled in the rogue wave I would later describe to you I had become. You levitated out of bed with, it seemed, the aid of but a couple of my fingers and suffered your exhausted body being bound yet again, not slowly, not erotically, but as though engraved by the single piece of still sweat-dampened jute. Your elbows veritably slapped together, your forearms jumped to their usual indigo hue, you gurgled a half-hearted protestation. You were soft, yielding... we both and everything wanted this moment, and gave way to it.

Once your wrists were unlovingly pinioned, you managed a "no..." as your soft world hardened to black. And then it began.

I wrote to you the following words a couple of days later:
"How often does one hear that on the heels of some momentous event or incredible behavior? 'Yes, it was me, but it's like I couldn't even recognize myself...' Unfortunately such words are likely as not to be uttered in a court of law during some sort of criminal proceeding, but the same words are also an acknowledgment of a tectonic shift in perception, for they imply that it's possible to see oneself from without, to see ourselves doing a self we don't recognize, which can only mean that we're having at that moment an experience of pure being."
You already know me a bit this way, this way better than nearly anyone else, really. You've felt that friction in your cheeks before, that heat. This was something else, this was shocking and hurtful and blinding in a way that no blindfold ever blinded. There was a learned force behind that first strike. You gasped four times, you seldom gasp at all unless I'm just giving you breath after a long withholding of it. I'm used to the cane coming down on you - your breath leaves in whimpers and cries, but it doesn't make noise going back in. You staggered under the blow before I grabbed your hair and rounded to the other cheek with concussive energy easily equal to the first. Was that what is called reeling? I wondered if it was the force or the surprise. Probably both.

After a sufficiency of mayhem committed on this face I adore you dropped to one knee, hard. I steadied you from the crown of your head and proceeded to rape your mouth, boring of that shortly and releasing you to fall. Your head missed the trunk by inches - your hair brushed over the corner. That's how quickly everything can go to pieces, but the room flexed for us, wanted this, just as we wanted it.

By one beautifully shod foot I dragged your limp form, squeaking across the parquet, back toward the bed, noting to you how good you were being about keeping your stilettos on. I would not call what I was enacting on you sadism, for I took no pleasure in it. I take no pleasure in beating you, on concentrating my upper body's weight on the business end of some tool or through the palms of my hands.

It's what we do; it's your apotheosis and my abasement.

As I noted to you years ago I am now, with you, a hitter, and uneasy rest the hands from which the gloves have been removed. Would that I were truly sadistic... that I could get off on hurting you.

Leashing you by your hair I lifted you and flipped you back on the bed, crushing your arms. You wormed backward weakly before I grabbed your throat and pressed it to the mattress. Your lips opened and closed silently, maybe you croaked something like a word, I don't know. I held you to the bed with one hand, choking off your resistance, while the other hand found you drenched with want. My still tumescent sex found you quickly and I caused myself some slight discomfort in the violence of my thrusting. When I let up on you you sucked breath and cried out, prompting the insertion of two fingers deep in your throat... and with it the retching. Out and back again, each spasm registering on my disinterested member. Once again to your throat, then in it, then once again a mighty swing and a resonant slap.

I was blind to myself, blind with sweat, berserk with power. I failed to check in, I failed to show up at all. I wondered where I'd gone. It was all so uncalled-for, this savagery. You're never anything but sweet as sugar. There was a long moment when it seemed you might sob, but no. You kept your composure, your dignity, your wits about you... you did not meet me where the ground was slick and unsure. One of us always has to stay present, rooted. You volunteered this time.

Then all the colors changed and it was past.

When I lifted the cloth from your eyes they were brimming with tears and wonder. Though I have beaten you bloody in the past, never have I done anything like this, been anyone like this. I have been on the offensive at times where I get what's going on - a rage propelling an attack properly comported to its object. The fighting me, a me I recognize. No rage this time, not even a mild pique. A calm and deliberate execution of raw blazing will, that's what it was. But whose? Who led this?

I'll be curious to learn if it really did happen, but I'll have to wait until I appear again. If I do you'll let me know and I'll make sure to get a good look next time.

15 July, 2008

This, Too, has Passed

I don't generally cross-post here, but every now and again someone will nail it so well that I have to prostrate myself in the direction of their URL.

A dear friend of mine allowed once that she consorts almost exclusively with gay and married men because both understand womanliness from the inside out. Simon Doonan (who is gay and married and likely has to deal with prostrations happening in his general direction pretty much constantly) writes ostensibly on fashion - but this is merely a guise for his more evolved talents, which lie with his reverent observation of the fairer sex and the efficacy of same as being and metaphor on the cultural collocution. See his latest opus stupendous here (the good news: skank homogeneity is out, glam eccentricity is back (rewarding the patience of the few, the proud and the faithful)).

No Hesitation

I'm into this idea that all one's drives in life converge to produce the bizarre amalgam that ends up being the unique contribution we leave in our wake, whether we know of it in life or not. The phenomenon is something of a longhand version of how an identity gets formed - and formed in this instance is to be firmly understood in the past tense, since identity must necessarily remain incomplete until we die. The shorthand version of identity formation is largely, maybe entirely, a fantasy - one that has the ready potential to expedite the final accounting of death.

Some readers will see my enthusiasm as a extension of my developing position on the philosophical and practical futility of identity-making, individuation, selfhood and such other notional work-arounds to the empyrean pleasures of unity. Still, in the same way that we use the grant of a life to work falteringly back to the wisdom with which it was originally endowed, that being a merging out of and back into unity, the stuff of life flows like water in the direction of convergence.

The stuff of my father's life was many sided and resistant to convergence. He was educated as a musician, spent a short time in radio, was a waterman and ultimately surrendered all of his art to the making of his family and a solidly remunerative profession. His profession offered nearly no space for his art, so it emerged from him at home, usually when things were most difficult for him personally, and only in small snippets. In summer he would take every opportunity to putter about the harbor rooting for little necks and cherrystones, drop hand lines for flounder or cast for bass. He also spent 20-odd years perfecting a short nocturne a few notes at a time, going through two pianos in three decades before he died in his early fifties of nothing in particular (and everything generally). One of his last delights was to meet Fin and have her translate the Marlene Dietrich songs he'd listened to since the 50s.

I have wondered over these past two decades since his death how much the fencing-out of his art contributed to the shortening of his time on earth, for his line was and is still pretty long-lived. As great, present and dutiful a dad as he was, and as much as he indulged all his children's artistic dalliances, he didn't permit himself the same life-giving tonic. I recall a pervasive air of frustrated self-regard marking his death most clearly, and if I preserve a sense of my father's identity at all, meaning the one that he left at the end, however inadvertently it would be that of a frustrated artist.

One of the signal happinesses of my life has been the convergence of so many of my drives and passions. Even those that don't clearly flow into others at least do not dam the general progress and merging. Not so long ago I might never have guessed that bringing what one does together with who one is could be so important. Until I stirred my pathological fondness for aesthetics with the latent artistic impulses of my life's partner, seasoned that generously with the unstinting visions of countless other creatives and wrapped the entire fecund lot in the old news of my kink, I might as well have been half alive. I don't doubt that I would have been a great candidate for that vague ennui so characteristic of our age and culture, and so characteristic of my father's last years.

The unexpected result of all this fiddling was a new and deeper channel being carved, one in which my remunerative work modulated to accomodate itself to a broader vagueness, a more refined uncertainty, permitting chance opportunity and movement while at once, apropos this journal, finding its locus around a single thread.

Of the chance opportunities there have been many in the fine arts. In the coming weeks I will be posting some betokenings of my collaborations with a artists here in NYC and elsewhere whose work I esteem well beyond my association with them.

08 July, 2008

The Tolerance Fallacy

I was talking with a Dutch acquaintance, Sabine, the other night and she summoned to our conversation several of the topics to which I've paid disproportionately much attention in this journal. She is in NYC looking into the BDSM and burlesque subcultures to develop material for a series she hopes to do over the next year on these and related topics for Het Parool, a daily in her native Amsterdam. She also produces for several television news/cultural outlets and will perhaps be returning next spring for a longer stay and some filming. She would like to do a segment on shibari rigging, so I gave her particulars for friends Bob and Chantal at Ropemarks, an Amsterdam-based site of very high quality. I spent a lazy, hot afternoon shortly thereafter perusing some of the Dutch sites and articles she'd rooted out regarding BDSM, seeing how much Dutch I could make out with my German and leaving the rest to Google.

In chatting with Sabine I was once again taken with the extraordinary tolerance of Europeans, and of the Dutch in particular, although much of our conversation went in the direction of assimilation problems among the Muslim population in Holland, the murder of Theo Van Gogh, and how much tolerance counts as enough ("Genoeg is genoeg" to quote Sabine). The very notion of tolerance itself provoked some insightful dialogue, as we determined that it is predicated on objection, and thus implies stratification or a moral hierarchy. Tolerance is very precisely not acceptance (which assumes a equality and perhaps even incorporation), and certainly there is something unacceptable (in the West, at least) about religious vendettas and homicidal rampages, such as the events prompting our consideration of the subject.

Apparently the Dutch (like the rest of the EU) are talking a great deal about the requirement (nearly codified by the scuttled EU Constitution and most recently in the ill-fated Lisbon Treaty) that the European polis practice tolerance while their immigrant populations suffer no obligation to accept the communities and structures that welcome them. It is an interesting historical moment for the founding members of the EU, especially the political classes, who are suddenly beset by their own double standards, and it is a difficult time for the left (my tribe), having discovered their presumed standard bearers to be more than a little interested in conserving the segregated status quo.

Happy-faced shibboleths, much less legislation about tolerance never settled any issue (e.g., kink, homosexuality, religion, race, etc.) that high minds (e.g., governments, political organs, social movements, etc.) would have them do in a high-minded way. Tolerance is a very dangerous thing to teach, for embedded in its curriculum is the concentration of a moral objection to the tolerated, one that in the granting of the tolerance serves merely to dignify antipathy and open the divide that much wider. As a pervert I can much more readily abide open enmity than sniffing tolerance, meaning: accept me or don't, but be clear. As Europe is learning, tolerance only exacerbates existing frictions.

Living as I do in the priciest third-world country on the planet (Brooklyn) I have a somewhat refracted view of cultures mingling, and tolerance here is in short supply. What happens in Flatbush does not stay in Flatbush, it moves out onto the land and is finally and fully assimilated (flattened) into the level playing field that is still (at least in some measure more than most of the rest of the world) America. Remember when no one in Dubuque had yet heard of hip-hop? Disco? Bay Ridge? And that's just cultcha (such as it is). New Yorkers are anything but tolerant; we're impatient, dismissive, entitled and self-important, but no more so than we think you are.

This city is an arcade of freaks (of which your correspondent is happily one), oddities, revolutionaries, capital concentration and preposterous creative energy because New York does not condescend to tolerate, it does not care about your identity or the terms under which you insist upon your segregation. Quite predictably it gets attacked a lot by moralists; some with bibles, others with laws, still others with the occasional spectacular slaughter. As this lively pool of seething intolerance continues to accept and incorporate humankind's best creative energy alongside the worst body blows the high-minded can heave at it, all without skipping a beat, the high-minded will uselessly persist in legislating and imposing its agenda for my behavior. I personally don't have a lot of tolerance for that.

01 July, 2008

Dem Damn Doms 2

Dear J.,

Following our most recent exchange I am very thoughtful about the whole matter of man qua dom and its characterization (both from within and from without) verses man qua man, and what we think of him. The entire idea of a "dom" I find problematic for a whole host of reasons, some already touched upon, but not least of which for what a man must believe true of himself in order to buy into the concept, however it ends up showing up on him.

My historical knowledge is sketchy here, but the idea of the dom (as a kind of freighted shorthand for dominant male) is I think a fairly recent phenomenon, one that has evolved coincident with the advance of women's equality, which is a sneaky way of noting that manhood in its poetical and even biological dimensions has taken something like a walk in the wilderness over the past generation (and possibly longer). As a result I think both genders have for at least half of that time recognized that something is not quite right in the relations between them, but something different than what was not quite right leading into the feminist and now post-feminist revolutions. The animal nature of both men and women has been bound by a new set of rules that in their effect have corrected a great many social ills, but also fomented some interesting existential issues for people's expression of their essential biological selves.

I don't mean to suggest that such issues arise for everyone; maybe only very few are sensitive to it. Where they do, however, they can be crippling. Of all the women with whom I've played, everyone over, say, 35, has wrestled with her a priori identification of herself as a feminist and her apparently conflicting desire to be tied up, or more generally overcome and dominated (younger women seem less, but still a little, conflicted). It is a proverbial cognitive disjunct and is so common in my experience that I feel as if I have begun parroting myself whenever the subject is broached (which often issues in some form of "What does this say about me as a person?"). There is at once a thrilling sense that rules are being transgressed combined with an equally gravitational sense that there lurks some sort of moral failure, a duty to oneself that is not being observed. In no case is anything like a natural flow of feeling the first and most ready instinct.

Which is, regrettably to my mind, not so dissimilar from general attitudes toward sex characteristic of even earlier generations.

Men, as is our wont, react hostilely toward any limitations placed on the biological imperative of spreading ourselves thinly and using lots of resources (such as women). What has been good for social functionality has been damaging to instinctual masculinity, for there are simply too many of us men walking the earth for any of us to be free-ranging anymore. Of course pointing out the debasing of masculine gender identity is not only politically incorrect (since somehow men are still believed to hold most if not all of the cards), such an allowance by any man reflexively and further debases its claimant among those of his own gender, since it admits to a weakness which is not part of masculinity as gender construct or as biological agent. The only "men" who effect classic masculine stereotypes with no fear of interdiction are those in either gender transition or those of a lower order of class. In both cases overt masculinism is tolerated because such men are politically ennobled by their socially marginalization or economic oppression. But the gender indeterminate and gender-fucked people with whom I have played have a uniquely canny take on the fluidity of assignments and identity - to float at the flexible edges of correct anything is the only place anything important ever happens.

Thus do heterosexual men find not much with which to align themselves, and with even less by which to position themselves as exceptional (which, to certain people with a puritanically punitive sensibility, is as it should be, and is especially agreeable to the sort of men in public office and with public profiles whose testosterone so frequently crosses up their fragile egos (paging Elliot Spitzer)). This plays out in relationships as it does in the larger corpus of society. A pro-domme once noted to me that men cannot be submissive for fear of what either women or other men might think of them, nor can they be full-on dominant without being ridiculed in the popular consciousness. The rational choice is to keep up a neurotic straddling act and essentially cease to register anywhere with anyone.

It could be that we all come to the BDSM table "broken" in some conventional sense of that word, but so what? What we don't appear to be doing in large measure is coming as we really are - perhaps beaten down and eager for a refreshed self-image, believing in a vitality we once knew we had and in our own ability to have it again... in our own worthiness of feeling alive.

Men especially do not feel particularly worthy of the drives that give no other species pause. The idea that it is right and in the nature of people to inflame their senses, leave their heads, to swoop down and be swept up, to have struggle and suffering included as tonics to the all-too-quickly digested repast... all this is not well endorsed, not outside the precincts of fiction at least. So, most doms are just scared that any instinct they act upon might be construed as a factual self-affirmation, a statement of principle, as a look into who they really are, and thus an alert to God, mom and the psycho-industrial complex to swing into action.

In practice I think what we get to see these days are largely half-measures of men, dom or otherwise.

A bit of a ramble, but that's how it is sometimes.

Mac, the Biological Essentialist