I recently put out a plea on my personal Facebook page asking for friends to offer suggestions on how to do a random name drawing for an upcoming giveaway. I asked them to be bold, be daring, be gross with their ideas. I also reassured them that my dumb ass will surely do something bizarre, regardless of the discomfort that comes with it.
Suffering for your art.
Is that what I do? I don't think so. I have a grand time, even if it physically hurts. I've done quite a few weird things to get my point across. I also do a lot of things that I am fearful of just to conquer and control that fear. I don't know why. Maybe I'm a masochist. Maybe I'm a sadist. Maybe I just want to get the idea out and I don't really care if it hurts me or makes me look strange.
While in college working on my photography degree, I often was my own model because I am simply the easiest person to pin down for a scheduled shoot. I got some shitty comments for this. You know, petty or jealous remarks that were laden with the undertone that I was vain or some such shit. I gladly would have used them as models but most folks run screaming for the hills once you ask them to get naked and let you pour stuff on them or put them in compromising positions. They certainly would not have let me hang them from a tree or lay in syrup tinted to look like blood for black and white printing.
And yeah, I've done those very things.
There is an image of me, after days of no sleep etched dark circles under my eyes, that caused quite the uncomfortable silence in class. My mouth is duct-taped and the word "Whore" is scrawled across my forehead. I shot that to make a statement about how I had been harshly judged and silenced by people I have known. Many people are.
I once had myself rigged up with homemade harnesses to hang from a tree to make it look as if I had hung myself. I was working on a series of suicide images to show the grisly, super-realistic side of depression. I tried a myriad of ways that one could off themselves. The hanging one was by far the most disturbing. If anyone had driven past the farm that day, it would have scared them to death. And I would have photographed that too.
My friends helped me to cast myself entirely in plaster, head to toe, face included, with straws in my nostrils so I could breath while the plaster cured. I used that plaster cast to create an installation of a pregnant heroin addict who was unconscious; the needle still in her arm. Next to her was a plaster baby carrier and baby that hid a recorder that played a continuous loop of a crying infant. It was all white, set against black with a single bare bulb hanging over it. It was desperate. It was bleak. It caused quite the stir. I did that around 2000, before the major opioid crisis we now have was in full swing. It spoke to people then. It jarred them into a reality they did not know and it made them uncomfortable. I watched many attendees of that open studio event shake their head and visibly shiver off the unease they felt looking at it. I wonder if they still feel that same unease when they watch the news now?
My senior series solo show had multiple images of BDSM, myself included. I had read an article that claimed researchers had determined that without some pain, sex would not be as desired. Other images in the show were an exploration of the human form in sexual dreamscapes. Pain and dreaming. My show was called Myrotica. It was sexy and weird and uncomfortable. That was fun show to shoot, I think as I waggle my eyebrows.
Live story telling is another one of my expressive outlets. Telling personal tales to complete strangers and trying to pull it off successfully is tough. I've only done so three or four times. The hardest one was trying to convey the fear and anguish of being held hostage with my peers after watching two people be gunned down. It is the one and only time I will ever speak publicly about that. I infrequently write about it.
I've crawled through frigid water, glued things to my body, spider crawled out of a dark basement, danced until my legs were out of commission for weeks, and most recently, have accidently burned my feet in a ring of fire.
Sometimes I get lucky and friends will join me on my erratic, creative journeys. We laugh and make something incredible together. It is beautiful and I love it. Those are the best stories.
I don't know if my proclivity for making myself uncomfortable adds more value to my work. Probably not for the viewers. Unless they speak to me and ask, they do not know what all went into the creation.
For me though, it makes it seem more complete.
I hurt and now it is finished.
I bled a little and so it is good.