The Bareback Museum is an art project which has developed out of my intimate experiences with sex and institutions. In 2014, PEP and PrEP changed.* The medication was no longer a cocktail of drugs which had bad side effects but became a practical treatment to overcome the desires for unprotected sex in an individual society. I used PEP three times within 2014-15 and started to have conversations with health institutions. There are many narratives which follow on from front facing perspectives, as medical staff distributing treatment and also the view from the users and non users of the drugs. After the third course of PEP I began to realise that I was beginning to become depressed by the reality of a bio political event, taking place between institutions, my body and in the conception/ possibility of risk from the disease. This invaded the personal space of the home and the exchange between human relations. Bareback was now institutional and not simply a taboo.
As a means to open up the dialogues of conversation about Bareback sex, I began seeking the research of queer. How can queer methodologies disrupt the organised mechanisms of institutions? One of the artists creating action research in this area was Owen G Parry. Owen disrupted the expectancy of an art organisation by subverting his practice. In 2015 I performed in Owen’s work at Latitude festival, where we created a mock/fictional band interview and gave turns for the audience to switch places. In 2014, we also performed ‘how to faint’ at a festival in Yorkshire, specifically teaching an audience to faint through a series of steps. This was a specific subversion going against the grain of event planning.
In a workshop lead by Oreet in 2011, which also included Owen as a research participant, I performed naked and explored the narratives of nudity and religion, developing my perception of nudity for film and 121 performance. I experimented in a 121 performance with Erini Kartsaki, naked in a bath tub. This was contextualised within Oreet’s workshop and the violent rhetoric of Western and Middle Eastern institutions. Erini both drowned and kissed me with intimacy.
My desire for establishment and the theoretical love, discussed in philosophy as the State and family through psychoanalytical and enlightenment/colonial thinkers has lead me to feel no bounds of institutional pedagogies. I performed naked in my Bachelor’s Degree presentation when I realised that my dissertation would not be accepted. This was because I wrote a semi fictional description and critique, instead of a normalised essay format, about an imaginary family/group of asylum seekers (and illegal migrants) encountering ‘Touched’, the public art biennial in Liverpool in 2010. I was offered dyslexia support and an educational psychological assessment before my presentation and was not given support to write my original essay but to write a new essay because my ideas did not fit in. This lead to many queer discursive events that followed, including my action research as a naked presenter. I was told at this point by a senior lecturer that I had ‘made my choice’, referring to my academic grades. I felt confused with educational institution for not platforming this work and I did not understand the methodologies that I was enacting, which are now understood as queer.
Since my education at Camberwell University of the Arts London, I completed and received the Vice Chancellor’s Award for academic excellence for an Masters Degree in Fine Art at Chelsea. I formed a project which grew in representation from ‘The Precariat’, describing students in the Museum, to ‘Bareback the Precariat’ – and from learning Post-Critical Museology – ‘Bareback the Precariat Museum’ and finally abbreviating to the ‘Bareback Museum’. At the same time I developed methods for nudity and exhibitionism within the University, which was realised through a subverted methodology of a life drawing class. The ‘Bareback the Precariat Museum’ was the first official live art, painting and life drawing performance with collaborators including Peter Hollamby (artist and retired head of printmaking), WERK (run by Alun Davies Fashion) and House O’Dwyer (The director of the Dalston Ballet Company of which I was a member). I felt that in this performance a queer and temporal public space had been created with a collective, participatory and mobilised audience. This is the beginning of the Bareback Museum. And the Bareback Museum has become both me described as myself and myself described as an institution. This was realised when i asked ‘I am a museum, are you?’ to an academic at the ICA in 2015.
Since then, the Bareback Museum has performed at academic events, the association of medical humanities and art institutions including Tate Britain and the Barbican Centre (with Owen G Parry). The work that has developed out of the life drawing into a life drawing performance workshop. This subverts the expectancy of the activity and presents the audience with considerations about intimacy and exhibitionism within the clinical setting of a museology.
The performance created for the event at AHRC Commons is called “Bareback Museum: ‘Can I make a Painting if I am too ill Mrs Aids?>’” and explores the intimate relations of sex, relationships and institutions. I have been developing on this area of research and in June 2016 I created a solo exhibition called ‘121 Lifedrawing’, for a gallery intervention project at Chelsea University of the Arts. This exhibition brought together action research I had made about intimacy and portraiture with my partner and other live artists.
In the action research, I created a temporal and transparent museum space, which was formed out of hot air inflated into a polythene cube 2m3 in diameter. I then invited a participant to get naked for a 121 lifedrawing performance. I found the drawing process easier if I kept my clothes on but had in two out of the three cases been invited to take my clothes off. The performance drew on various parameters: levels of physical interventions/boundaries with participants, which was also affected by my personal relationship with my partner. Many of the questions about intimacy followed in discussions in my practice were also discussed when talking about our relationship and our relationship became part of the discussion in the performance. The energy inside of the cube was often sexual as the air would get humid from our breath and the walls of the bareback museum would become misty. Therefore one method of controlling the relationship with the participant in the cube was to introduce the element of author and subject. This was successful when implemented, with the participant as a muse, however it also closed the potential of the performance for further intimacy. In the third performance, with an academic and live art researcher of 121, we investigated sexual activities. I was invited to unclothe and we interacted with kissing, oral sex and masturbation. I documented myself receiving oral sex whilst drawing it happening live. I also drew the participant while I masturbated him. We had a beer inside the Bareback Museum and ate pizza during the portraits.
This third and only physical sexual encounter occurred as a visit to the participant’s home and I set up the Bareback Museum in their front room. This was negotiated with my partner after the event as physical sex had not been anticipated. This performance became accountable for investigating how 121 performance, portraiture and sex work would interact. I stopped reciprocating this performance but presented the drawings within the Side Room gallery at Chelsea University of the Arts. The side room is a small exhibition space within the main corridor of the University and within the space there is access to a small passageway. In the passageway I decided to create a Bareback Museum exhibition space and covered the walls and ceiling in polythene. During the private view, the audience of students and visitors, were invited for a sensual massage. Fourteen audience members became participants, seven of the participants got naked within the passageway and the seven remaining participants created drawings of the exhibitionists. While some of the drawings proceeded, I acted as a ‘third’ and masaged the exhibtionists shoulders with sensual oils from behind.
I attended the Tavistock Institute 70 years archival birthday. The TIHR is an organisational change CIC and is lead by psychologists and psychoanalysts. The psychoanalytical ‘third space’ was described in many of the presentations and I noted it to mean conception – physical and immaterial. As the massager who stood behind the exhibitionist in the passageway for the drawer, I felt that I was the third space. I noted in one of the lectures at the festival a quote by Zizek: “The way – the only way – to have an intense and fulfilling personal (sexual) relationship is not for the couple to look into each other’s eyes, forgetting about the world around them, but, while holding hands, to look together outside, at a third point (the Cause for which both are fighting, in which both are engaged).” I have therefore decided to avoid a sexual and physical negotiation within my Bareback Museum portraits but to ask my participant to imagine our unity within the world against the space. In this way we will create a group portrait.
My motivation for creating live art life drawing performance workshops is also part of an exacerbated process of displaying my own paintings. As a live artist and painter I struggle with accessibility to art and fear that paintings may not meet the spectatorship of their community. Subverting the life drawing workshops or any other kind of performance, be it cabaret or theatre, to show public art in the form of a collectible asset to a collective audience is important. It questions whether art should be sold to the communities who engage with it at a low price or sold out of context within institutions and the private sector. It is a contract of engagement between audiences, collectors and artists. If every artwork was given the rights to regular exhibition it would help legitimize the public.
*(Post-exposure prophylaxis, also known as post-exposure prevention, is any preventive medical treatment started after exposure to a pathogen, such as a disease-causing virus, in order to prevent the infection from occurring. Pre-exposure prophylaxis is the preemptive use of drugs to prevent disease in people who have not yet been exposed to the disease-causing agent) (Wikipedia).