Blank Canvas 2 - November 2018
Photos courtesy of Daf Owen
We were fortunate to be invited to perform Blank Canvas at Torture Garden in London. Torture Garden is a ‘lightweight’ fetish party; by that we mean it is less intense than a full-on fetish party, and attracts a diverse crowd of open minded vanilla types and complete kinksters. However, it’s a great start for people looking to experiment - it’s big enough that there’s plenty of space to make sure it’s a gentle introduction. We set out a table with loads of different items on it; some were nice and decorative (e.g. body paints), some were sexual (e.g. whipped cream), some were messy and unpleasant (e.g. brown sauce) and some were painful or uncomfortable (e.g. candles and hot sauce).
We didn’t know how the crowd would react to this, as it was a fetish party we thought it could get quite intense. The models were blindfolded and wore earphones, so every action taken upon them would be heightened because of the sensory deprivation. We kept the signage as implying this was a “decoration” rather than a full-on sexual escapade, but we really had no idea where this would go and had to be prepared for every eventuality.
A huge range of items was put out for the other guests to use on us, and in retrospect there was probably too much out and we would have been better with a smaller selection. We had two friends acting as table monitors (mainly to try to make sure nothing went missing!) and they were able to provide a number of useful observations on the difference in treatment between the male and female model (we performed one after the other, with the female model going first). We do however recognise that the actions on the male model may have be influenced by what had already been done to the female model, and that the different timings of the two performances may have also had an impact.
In general group self-moderated more for the female model than the male model. For the female, if an individual started to take things too far then a friend or stranger would generally speak up and tell them to stop,but this was less evident for the male model. In particular there were one group of women at the start who particularly took advantage of the model. It wasn’t just as who felt the models were treated differently as after the event TG released an Instagram posting stating “Our crowd are generally quite respectful, but one comment that was made by them is that women were much more brazen than men. So just a reminder that we do have strict rules on etiquette - no groping, touching or anything else without prior permission, or we will ask you to leave. This applies regardless of your gender or orientation”.
There was an interesting mix of reactions; generally people were bemused and interested but how they participated varied. Some would just do what they wanted, whereas others would ask permission, either of the table monitors or of the models (when the earphones fell out). For the female model there was more interest in making her look pretty or sexy, and much of her performance focused around this, with degrading actions being quite light-touch and only coming later on in the performance. The male model was degraded straight away, although it did seem to be women that were more interested in degrading the male model with men, on the whole, being more respectful. We’ve seen this theme in some of the other work we’ve done, for example where the female model was less drawn on in Immaterialism 1. It’s possible that this is because media has been more vocal about the male gaze, whereas for women there has been less explicit and so the naked male can still be laughed at and ‘abused’.
Conversely the female model was much more sexualised. Within the first couple of minutes someone was spraying whipped cream on her and licking it off; and that same person eventually made out with her. We have to admit that at this stage we weren’t sure if we’d be able to keep the performance going for the allotted time; we knew roughly what the models were and weren’t comfortable with, but we hadn’t really discussed the possibility of them being used as sensualised sex objects for 90 minutes! Anyway, the model seemed comfortable with what was going on, and it the sexual element became less intense shortly after, although it did keep cropping back up throughout the performance. The male model received no sexual attention at all.
The crowd seem very reluctant to undress the female model, but the male model’s thong was pulled aside within minutes. The table monitors eventually half removed the female model’s bra, but still no-one touched it and so the table monitor’s took it off completely after another 10 minutes or so had elapsed. As soon as it was off though people were touching and licking the model’s breasts. This both reinforces and conflicts with the point made in the earlier paragraph; the crowd seemed uncomfortable with undressing the female model, possibly because society has told us to avert our gaze and our hands, but as soon as her breasts were exposed they seemed to become ‘fair game’ and were heavily sexualised.