I am writing to commend the intentions and sensibilities displayed
in the recent show at Plan B, Out West. Issues of authentic identity
and the challenging of sex‑role expectations are too rarely explored
in socially sanctioned exhibits of this type.
As a Jew. I feel I must however take up debate with one of the works
in the show‑TefiIlin by Geoff Laurence. While it is tempting to glibly
accept Laurence's associations of sex and prayer or to accept as
innocuous his references to being vulnerable and receptive to God
or "spirit," I find I cannot. I stand before this triptych
and find myself asking, 'What's wrong with these pictures?" Bondage
is an adult game about desire and limits that challenges preconceived
notions of acceptable sex. The participants of such an erotic exchange
usually have agreed upon a scenario and have established basic limits.
The one on the "bottom" is responsible for telling the "top" if
his or her limits are reached. It is just one component of a complex
set of adult games, which include a range of technologies and methods.
To call this painting Tefillin is to think without thinking. Phylacteries
are an ancient and mystic form of prayer ordained by a commandment
in the Bible. The wrapping of leather straps encompassing boxes of
prayers around the forehead and around the arm and hand is a strictly
codified ritual. The binding of phylacteries is a covenant with God
to remain in alliance with the principles and teaching of Judaism.
Are Jews who use phylacteries like people who have moved beyond vanilla
sex? Which sex toys are Jewish and which are not? On a continuum
scale is there a cut‑off point where sadomasochism suddenly becomes
not Jewish? The associations of dominance toward willing masochists
are especially disturbing. Six million Jews did not have a safe word
to use with their persecutors. The Nazis were on "top," the
Jews were on the bottom," and there was no prearranged script
between consenting adults,
I am writing in response to Ms. Salmon's letter regarding my painting
Tefi/fin in the Out West show at Plan B.
I believe that it is one of the rules of art, and of this show in
particular. to question and provoke notions of righteousness about
what s or is not acceptable. Whilst I find' her comments interesting,
I stand by my explanation in the catalogue accompanying the show
of what painting means to me.
If sex is a 'game" for Ms. Salmon, I would remind her that homosexuals
were singled out for particular brutality and death in the concentration
camps for their "notions of acceptable sex."
As a child of survivors of the camps, I have experienced the world
without grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. Painting is a way
for me to explore the complex questions that I have over the Holocaust
and role of my ancestors in it. It is also a continuing exploration
into the mystery of every aspect of living, including the fanatical
belief in "right" and "wrong."