Holly Hendry, The Back of Your Face, part of the Tru Luv exhibition, Turf Projects
After a long punctuation I hear that desperate gasp again. Breathlessness. A too-deep intake of air revealing broken ribs. Revealing grid. Revealing the structures underpinning the fleshy facets of 'Tru Luv'. Sensuous, carnal love of the flesh, which cannot avoid being sucked in by its societal norms, elicited by these steel, conformant grids.
My reading of Holly Hendry's The Back of Your Face has changed since I attended the private view of 'Tru Luv' a month ago. Yes, I now have the space to view the work without the PV haggle and having temporary tattoos plastered to my arms - but the change has as much to do with my personal experiences since the opening. I work as a prop buyer, and for the last few weeks I've been sourcing props and furniture to dress a bondage sex attic for an upcoming TV series, about "true love" funnily enough.
On my journey to sourcing these items I've felt like somewhat of a subcultural tourist, having joined the Fetlife community, visited covert sex shops, rekindled friendships with primary school and university buds (who have respectively started ceramic dildo businesses or become heavily involved in the fetish scene), had one-to-one demos with bondage professionals and severely altered my google search demographic. Needless to say it's been an eye-opening experience. That isn't to say I'm not a sexually aware or open-minded person, far from it, but I was struck by my own naivety in this field. Signing up to Fetlife signalled this - my finger click stalled at an endless scroll down menu of sexual preference options; sub, Dom, bear, okay - but pup, vanilla, cuckquean, bootback, kajira...? the list goes on. And on...
I was also enlightened by the range of bondage and restraint wear readily available on the market. Of note the VacRack or sleep sack, which presents an unavoidable visual parallel with this work, and I wonder if this is intended, if the artist is aware.
A large black vacu-sack of gloss latex, the sleep sack invites the subordinate to enter, have the air sucked out, leaving only the silhouette of their helpless, breathless, restricted body, complete with thrusting bone. The newest model (as demoed on the Regulation website*) has an inbuilt suction pump reneging the need to connect the sack to your Hoover. How awkward that the older models needed this functional domestic appendage, how anti-sexual. Or perhaps not, given (albeit generalised) connotations of subordination and servitude. I think of Henry painted up in bondage gear, ever smiling, ready to serve. As an outsider there seems to be an innate humour in some of these appliances, these outfits. There is also something obsessively clean and precise. Yes there are toilet seat harnesses and wading suits, which you can imagine don't lead to the most hygienic of sexual pursuit, but with it there's a precise level of care and maintenance involved.
My bondage advisor for the job has a strict regime of treating and bundling his ropes after use and he also adopts a number of methods to create his own ropes, adding whipping, dyeing, stiffening or lacing rope with UV or metal thread (for violet wand conducting). Likewise latex suits are expensive things (some I hired were in the region of £900 each to purchase) and of course sufficient care has to be taken in their aftercare and storage. An obvious statement perhaps but it appears as an action of exercising control over the abject.
Shitting, pissing, oozing, spraying, cuming, squirting, cuming, shitting, repeat. And then, vigorously; cleaning, spraying, scrubbing, dousing, covering up. Covering over with a glossy black sheen. Restraining. Sufferance. Guilt.
But this work isn't the black gloss latex of the 'Regulation' sleep suit. This has the matt sheen of a hospital gown. A collapsed body. Periodically Releasing rasping gasps of breath. Helplessness in a desperate way. The dulled nude of aged stretched skin. Stretched areas between sag. I'm myself as a seated child sitting at grandparents knee, mesmerised by the taughtness within knuckles and the looseness without.
Speechless. Again, breathless.
Is this an aged love? Love that exists in the stretched skin of a pregnant belly, that exists through illness, defecation, fevers, old age, the stretching, ins and outs, comings and goings in the throes of love-making.
The device is spilling its guts out. Literally. The vacuum mechanism sprawls across the gallery floor. Sprawling. Encircling. Snake shaped. I cite TJ Clarke's sight of death in its elucidation of the snake as a sight of horror, its semblance to intestines and thence our horror at these unseen, most uncontrollable of bodily processes. Insides out. Giving up parts of yourself in love. For that is the true heartache of a breakup, losing parts of the self, parts of your ego trampled and returned when still wished away.
There are slabs of marbled tablets punctured with holes, which weigh down the fleshy leatherette at certain points on the grid. It's unsettling. Like giant medicine pills or sterile, cordless phones. There is a bundle of cracked plaster bones weighing down the right hand side of the structure. Upon looking I feel an uneasiness in my shins. This shakes me. It's not eroticised, it feels like the claustrophobia in a relationship that has run its course, the restriction and helplessness as a victim of abuse, the need for communication, remedy, medicine.
I look again to the grid-like system underneath, pulling the sheath taught in areas. Some of the grid is curved in shape, like speech marks. And again I look to the marble markers bridging gaps in the grid. Like monoliths to the telephone. Those cold, dead silences when you catch up with an ex and the heaviness of 'how are you?' The resentment (or guilt) you feel for the false earnestness and pitying condescension (depending on the part you play).
And back to that sucking. (You suck). That shortness of breath.