suspension bondage in stained glass

“New Piece -The Creation Process – Suspension Bondage”

This was a major project whose development took years. The construction process required five weeks with about sixty hours a week. And the piece has triggered a significant amount of internal discomfort. There was a self imposed deadline, as princeHerman wanted to submit the finished work for jury selection for the Seattle Erotic Art Festival.

Several years ago, princeHerman met with an agent who had instigated the series of Stained Glass Pornography. While reviewing pH’s portfolio, he suggested doing some pieces using strictly traditional techniques. pH had been developing a new technique which deconstructed traditional technique and resulted in the copper and glass series. Using exclusively traditional technique he wanted to push the craft back to the level of art, and the way to do this was by introducing non traditional subject matter. After the first several pieces were completed pH met the agent again. Discussion about the series articulated that the series was about portrayals about explicit sexual activity. Of course the first pieces were developed from what princeHerman knows, i.e. gay sex, but sexuality and the human experience does not limit itself to gay sex, so it became logical to include imagery of men and women.

The series subject matter is activity not the just the figures involved in an activity.  This is why many of the pieces are gestures of sex. As princeHerman began image development to include women in his representations, and because artists best work comes from what the artist knows he encountered the challenge that he is unfamiliar with female anatomy. The other pieces in the series started with  experience rendered in paint or photographs. This iteration, however started with diagrams which are inherently static. Eventually he will still create this diagrammatic portrayal, but that piece would only be shown in context of the series. A different solution was necessary to activate the figure.   princeHerman started to get a model. Amongst his court he found several ladies willing to pose, but none ‘in action’ and he would have to provide a partner. He does look forward to working with Lady Bear. princeHerman began to look at heterosexual porn, but that was kind of like science fiction. (wouldn’t Deana Troi and Worf be hot. Or better yet, a threeway with Riker)

Then last year at the Seattle Erotic Art Festival, the solution presented itself, a thirty foot steel spiderweb with motion activated LEDs used for demonstration and performance. He made a few sketches when he got back to his rooms each night. The sketches were gestural, but not ‘female’ enough. Conversion from photography to glass was to be the technique. Photography at the show is strictly regulated and hip shots wouldn’t cut it. pH’s friend Dame Sophia, Visual Director Extraordinaire, was one of the performers, and she reached out to a few of the sanctioned photographers.

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princeHerman gets uncomfortable here. pH sketches from photos sometimes. Sometimes he works from videos. But he has never produced a finished product from somebody else’s photo. The conversion process manipulates the image. He thought he would be comfortable drawing from a photograph in lieu of a live model. And artists of high integrity through the ages have worked from other artists work while putting their own spin on the image.

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None of the sanctioned photographers responded. So Sophia approached Jim Duvall, the rope master/photographer that had performed with her at the show with whom she has a relationship. He sent pH several photos from which to work. The manipulations began with sketches to compose the image. This led to putting the photos into photoshop and taking parts of one photo and creating a new image from elements of three of those photos; the ropes from one shot, the body from another and the head, hair and face from a third.

women in suspension bondage

if one looks closely, one can see the three images combined.

From the sketches and from the technical requirements of cutting the glass, princeHerman wanted her balancing on the ball of one foot. All of the photos where her feet touched the ground were flat footed, so pH went to the web and cut a foot off a ballet dancer. This led to a strange shape of mismatched muscles in the leg. So pH replaced the whole leg. This new image was then outlined in photoshop so the photo type image could be removed leaving only the outline.

 

This outline was then projected at the glass and traced. Then, by eye, directly on the glass, pH hand drew lines to define the internal shapes of her body. The glass was then ready to cut. The cuts have to be planned so that every line goes smoothly from edge to edge. As each piece is cut it is refitted back into the original sheet. When all the cuts are complete and the whole is together the cuts disappear. At this point all cut lines are uniform. Every piece then gets ground to create even edges with space between to accommodate the copper foil and lead. The grinding process introduces variation of line thickness. More manipulation of line weight and texture will be achieved by using different widths of foil. But before foiling individual pieces are removed and copied from other colors of glass. This helps further define the form.

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The cuts have to take place on the smoother side of the glass which flips the image. And mirrored glass pieces must be cut backwards on the reflective side. 

As the foil is applied minute variations from the grinding in conjunction with the inherent variations from the foil create a challenge of refitting everything back into a single sheet. The process at this point becomes a jigsaw puzzle, but without the pieces locking together, so everything is constantly shifting as the pieces are squeezed together. One of the hazards of squeezing the pieces happens when the squeezing pops the pieces out of place. On one occasion this created a two day set back trying to reassemble the puzzle, while another occasion created a one day set back. Recovery to perfect single sheet can never happen again and the visual result reflects the nature of rendering an image in glass. To prevent further ‘popping’ some soldering takes place before the fitting is complete.

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When fitting is complete the whole working side is completely soldered, and initial patination is applied. The piece is then flipped and the ‘front’ is soldered. princeHerman realized at this point that he could further reveal the technique by not soldering the seams of the figure. 

The last aspect deals with the presentation. In this case the lighting has not been finalized. As timing was short to submit this for the Seattle show, portfolio photos brought the lighting issues to the fore. A spotlight, even lighting, front lighting, no lighting all have benefits and drawbacks to optimal viewing. Framing can’t be decided until the lighting issues are resolved.

Back to princeHerman’s discomfort with this piece. The ‘alien’ leg cuts create the impression that perhaps the figure is wearing heals. The resulting complete piece is too similar to the original photos and his early manipulations disappear. The end viewer is unlikely to identify the differences. This may be the unfortunate result of tracing the outer silhouette. This similarity to an image created by someone else will prevent pH from working from another artists image again.

The last element of discomfort arises from working with a female image. princeHerman believes in using what one knows. He also believes some art should make a viewer uncomfortable. This image certainly makes him uncomfortable. He fancies himself 90% gay/ 10% straight, but the discomfort of developing the image of her labia suggests 99% gay. He worried about creating an image that would make Sophia uncomfortable.

The last aspect to consider pertains to the the image of a woman in bondage. Does the image promote the subjugation of women? Does the image make some statement about human trafficking? Does the image objectify the figure? Or does the image empower and arouse? princeHerman’s cousinwith whom he has the highest esteem seemed uncomfortable when she first saw the finished piece. She has a masters in social work and has extensive experience with women’s issues in developing countries. But he hasn’t yet discussed the piece with her. princeHerman sees the strength of Sophia. He sees her not as subjugated, but in control in a safe situation where she feels comfortable surrendering some control to a person with whom she’s fond and has developed trust. The surrender of control actually creates freedom. Unlike most of pH’s pieces this one produces no arousal. The objectification aspect is still undecided. princeHerman must acknowledge that the process does objectify the figure. The process introduces another level of separation from the original, but it also creates a piece that takes on its own personification. After so much intense time spent with the piece it becomes a new entity that lives in a spot in princeHerman’s house.

The discomfort of all these issues may be their own justification for creating the piece as the discomfort has instigated this discourse.

It has been about two months since princeHerman finished working on the piece. The passage of time has given him some emotional distance. The finished piece is interesting and beautiful, and has been an artistic learning experience that will influence future work.

This entry was published on May 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm. It’s filed under art, generalities, in-progress and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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