How might artists whose movement and activity is restricted by illness utilise their position as art practice?This article focuses on the work of Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose. Rose was dressed as Jayne Mansfield and Flanagan a zombie from .
My desire to write this article started several years ago. As someone with cystic fibrosis I spend quite a lot of time in hospitals.
I had been admitted for a two-week period after contracting MRSA.
Because it feels good; because it gives me an erection; because it makes me come; because I’m sick; because there was so much sickness; because I say fuck the sickness; because I like the attention; because I was alone alot; because I was different; because kids beat me up on the way to school; because I was humiliated by nuns; because of Christ and the crucifixion; because of Porky Pig in bondage, force-fed by some sinister creep in a black cape; because of stories of children hung by their wrists, burned on the stove, scalded in tubs; because of Mutiny on the Bounty; because of cowboys and Indians; because of Houdini; because of my cousin Cliff; because of the forts we built and the things we did inside them; because of my genes; because of my parents; because of doctors and nurses; because they tied me to the crib so I wouldn’t hurt myself; because I had time to think; because I had time to hold my penis; because I had awful stomach aches and holding my penis made it feel better; because I’m a Catholic; because I still love Lent, and I still love my penis, and in spite of it all I have no guilt; because my parents said be what you want to be, and this is what I want to be; because I’m nothing but a big baby and I want to stay that way, and I want a mommy forever, even a mean one, especially a mean one; because of all the fairy tale witches and the wicked step mother, and the step sisters, and how sexy Cinderella was, smudged with soot, doomed to a life of servitude; because of Hansel, locked in a witch’s cage until he was fat enough to eat; because of “O” and how desperately I wanted to be her; because of my dreams; because of the games we played; because I have an active imagination; because my mother bought me tinker toys; because hardware stores give me hard-ons; because of hammers, nails, clothespins, wood, padlocks, pullies, eyebolts, thumbtacks, staple-guns, sewing needles, wooden spoons, fishing tackle, chains, metal rulers, rubber tubing, spatulas, rope, twine, C-clamps, S-hooks, razor blades, scissors, tweezers, knives, push pins, two-by-fours, ping-pong tables, alligator clips, duct tape, broom sticks, bar-b-que skewers, bungie cords, saw horses, soldering irons; because of tool sheds; because of garages; because of basements; because of dungeons; because of The Pit and The Pendulum; because of the Inquisition; because of the rack; because of the cross; because of the Addams Family playroom; because of Morticia Addams and her black dress with its octopus legs; because of motherhood; because of Amazons; because of the Goddess; because of the Moon; because it’s in my nature; because it’s against nature; because it’s nasty; because it’s fun; because it flies in the face of all that’s normal, whatever that is; because I’m not normal; because I used to think that I was part of some vast experiment and that there was this implant in my penis that made me do these things and allowed them, whoever they were, to monitor my activities; because I had to take my clothes off and lie inside this giant plastic bag so the doctors could collect my sweat; because once upon a time I had such a high fever my parents had to strip me naked and wrap me in sheets to stop the convulsions; because my parents loved me even more when I was suffering; because I was born into a world of suffering; because surrender is sweet; because I’m attracted to it; because I’m addicted to it; because endorphins in the brain are like a natural kind of heroin; because I learned to take my medicine; because I was a big boy for taking it; because I can take it like a man; because, as someone once said, he’s got more balls than I do; because it is an act of courage; because it does take guts; because I’m proud of it; because I can’t climb mountains; because I’m terrible at sports; because no pain, no gain; because spare the rod and spoil the child; BECAUSE YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE.
This article considers the position of the patient in a hospital bed and the ways in which artists with severe illnesses have utilised this.
I argue that their work denies the sick body as victim and resists the contextualising of the body as simply a machine.
Flanagan/Rose are able to transform the position of patient from one of passivity and victimhood to a position in which agency exists and is performed.In the hospital room I began to think about my position as a patient and the ways in which I submit to the authority of medical knowledge in order to treat my body, something that I had been addressing in my own practice.But in the context of the hospital room the position as passive body is evenly more keenly felt.They lived in a full time BDSM relationship in which Flanagan, the submissive partner, did all the household chores and served Rose.Flanagan, like me, suffered from cystic fibrosis and eventually died from the disease in 1996 at the age of 43, making him one of the longest living survivors at the time.A child's toy box was filled with a mixture of children's and SM toys.Flanagan's own cage had a place in the gallery and included a soft toy in bondage chained inside as well as (1991), a scaffold of televisions arranged in the shape of a cross with one monitor for each hand and foot, one for the head, one for the chest and one for the genitals.Time seems to function differently within this space.There is very little to do in the small white walled space of the hospital room and sitting in the centre of the space is the bed. The image of the dying person lying in bed is a familiar one in popular culture.In the art practices of Flanagan and Rose, personal life experience and their relationship are a significant challenge to the dominant cultural discourses surrounding the distinctions between art and life.They began a life together which would disrupt the boundaries between art and life.