The Sex and Death Project is a way for me to explore the social taboos of sexuality and mortality through my chosen medium of rogue taxidermy. Through this work, I hope to challenge assumptions and facilitate ongoing conversations.
In polite society, frank discussions of sexual acts, as well as the physical process of death and decay, are avoided. In my experience, hushed euphemisms like “marital relations” or “passed on” are used to avoid direct conversation about sex and death. Violating these unspoken rules can result in shock, and disapproval, and censure.
Despite this avoidance, both topics have been inextricably linked in areas of psychology, history, culture, and religion. The interplay between these powerful and opposing natural functions dominate the human subconscious, simultaneously attractive and repellent.
The clash of obscenity and propriety has only served to make these concepts absolutely irresistible for this artist.
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While conducting background research for this project, my thoughts returned again and again to my Catholic upbringing. An exaggerated emphasis on the shame and mystery of sex, coupled with graphic depictions of suffering — both by Jesus himself as well as a long roster of saints and martyrs — had been linked in my impressionable mind.
These connections became more clear during the process of shopping for the glass dildos and buttplugs that I incorporated into the assemblages. While searching the web, I was acutely aware of feeling "naughty" — as though the nuns from grade school were watching over my shoulder!
With these experiences in mind, I deliberately assembled these pieces in the style of Medieval reliquaries. The opulent presentation is designed so that the the viewer is compelled to examine more closely, while at the same time feeling an urge to escape the taboo.
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In addition to the individual assemblages, I also envisioned a series of images that would incorporate the nude human form with unexpected elements of the macabre. Is the nude figure itself a sexual object, I wondered, or is more context required?
Is perception of a naked body influenced by the addition of bones? What about flesh—a mummified cat, for instance, or a decapitated goat's head? How would a healthy dose of blood affect the viewer? Is there a continuum of acceptability for these images, or are all tainted by the addition of visceral representations of death?
These questions are explored in the "Flesh. Bone. Blood." photo series, a collaborative effort between myself and local photographer (and friend!) Hanah. She was undeterred by my ideas, not to mention the pile of bodies I had assembled for the shoot. Her skill and enthusiasm were key to realizing this aspect of the project. You can see more of her work at Photography by Hanah Tepe.
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All elements of the Sex and Death Project are linked by the juxtaposition of the dual taboos. The intention is to create an air of vulnerability and subversion, of disgust and fascination. The inherent tension in these opposing forces both informs and supports a larger discourse.
This project now includes four sculptures: "Ascension," "Consecration," "Adoration," and "Retribution," along with the accompanying photo set. I imagine that new works will be added in the coming months. If you have feedback, please feel free to share. Make yourself at home, and do come back and visit us again.
“Sex and death are the only things that can interest a serious mind.”