Currently reading : An Interview with artist, dominatrix and sex editor Audra Wist

An Interview with artist, dominatrix and sex editor Audra Wist

4 November 2015

Author : tamara-santibanez

 

 

Audra Wist was born in Pittsburgh, PA and is currently living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She explores extremes, paradoxes, and power structures that exist in pop culture, especially as they deal with narratives of representation and vulnerability. Drawing from her involvement in the BDSM community, her work confronts issues of entropy and psychology that tether fetish to the wider culture that seeks to suppress it. She is Autre magazine’s sex editor-at-large and studied at Carnegie Mellon University, Yale Norfolk, and recently acquired her MFA from UCLA in New Genres.

http://www.audrawist.com

 

Do you see your professional BDSM practice (and personal, if applicable) as an enactment of or a platform for a greater political identity?

I suppose in the sense that I feel the personal is certainly political. I can’t help but tether what I experience in a session or a scene to how I perceive the world at large. They are related because I am a person who is interested in power exchange both in a sexual way and otherwise. However, I don’t feel that it is the crux of my political identity. If anything, BDSM and D/s opens up so many other routes that often times I feel at a loss for what is right or wrong, valid or invalid. I’m relatively apolitical in that regard. I’m very strident about things, but generally the things I’m strident about are about being able to open things up not shut them down, it’s about access and being able to say whatever the fuck you want, and feel whatever you want, even if it’s threatening, damning, or not politically correct, just having the space to say it and be heard without hands thrown up. Politics is all about language staking out a specific space and so I am interested in the limitations of language and bodies both in a BDSM context and elsewhere, where it works and where it fails. The visceral and the rational, splitting and coming together.

 

What does it mean for you as a performance artist to possess two distinct personas? Your “everyday” persona, using your legal name and creating work underneath it, using your body as a medium, versus your professional Domme persona? How does it serve your purposes to have a division between the two and compartmentalize aspects of your work and life? Are there areas in which they overlap or the lines between them blur?

I answer this question with the caveat that I still haven’t nailed this down. The sheer fact that this question makes me nervous tells me that pretty clearly. Though, I think that’s usually a good reason to sniff around and find out why it’s making you tick.

The division is hard for me. I haven’t figured it out. I thought I would’ve by now, but that’s the control freak in me and really, I don’t think it’s something you “figure out,” especially in your twenties. I guess I rely on my work to do the job of sorting through the complexities of what I’d like to say or what I’d like to be, my own fantasies about the person I am. So, in that sense, what my work tells me is that it can incredibly frustrating, liberating, joyful, saddening, to be a person. To compartmentalize is to make sense but also recognizing that these things come together and fall apart on the regular. Beliefs are collapsible and so are personas.

I naturally gravitate to categorization as I want there to be a clean divide – and in some ways there are – I don’t feel the need to tell someone who is looking at my work that I enjoy dominating men sexually and handing them my business card. It’s titillating, but hopefully not the take away. There are other ways to talk about what I am doing as an artist where that language is unnecessary. I do not rest my laurels on that facet of my life alone, or basically, my work doesn’t start and end at BDSM. My interest is in power and BDSM conveniently falls under that umbrella. We can occupy many positions at once and I think that’s most compelling piece and truly the most difficult for me – where and how do we hold space? Where is there permission or freedom and what are the constraints there?

So, with that in mind, there is overlap in the sense that I rely on similar formulas of careful calculation and unravelling/improvisation in both work arenas which procure results from all sides. Being dedicated but not giving it the death grip. Being able to pick things up and put them down with ease and lightness is important. With performance, it also lets your audience know that you’re with them or you’re willing to reveal to them where the fractures are in your crackpot nonsense.

Someone once told me that I was confusing the cereal box for the cereal. I am a container for what I produce, not the container itself – I contain multitudes – you know? Trying to figure yourself out in an analytical intellectual way – I would not advise it. I get myself into all kinds of knots this way. But running “tests” and seeing what you do in certain environments, how you interact or adapt, doing what your knee-jerk reaction is, yields better results and accounts for those persona slippages without bearing down too hard on yourself. I try to forget about me as often as I can and I don’t say that as some Zen master or anything, I just know that if I’m using my body in both arenas of my work, whether it be under my real name or a scene name, you can’t try to enact this perfect package. And that comes out in the work! It’s unavoidable. I’m bound to leak. An image is so limited and that angers me, perhaps that’s what’s informing the work. A curious frustration. I guess that’s the conflict – I have to brand myself as a professional dominant and create an image for the facet of myself that I use to dominate men transactionally. So, then, I think the commodification run-off happens in the studio as me – what does it mean to create ourselves, to feel limited when you’re vast, and what are the powers that are exercising this control over you, why is this such a challenge to shake off? I think this frustration would happen whether or not I was practicing domination professionally, too. We operate within problematic constraints always but there are brief moments of breakage and that’s the overlap or figuring out of the different sides.

 

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How do you translate your experience with power dynamics in your work into your artwork?

I like how you can be big and puffy, loud, candid and the next minute very sheltered, reserved, and uncertain. It’s sort of like that in a session, there are crescendos/decrescendos, but you maintain dominance simply by controlling the intensity or severity of any act. Same with the work, always a balance of quiet and loud or moderating intensity. Even with performances that are loud or “angry,” they are typically bookended or supplemented by other works that are quiet. Also, just occupying different positions, or stereotypes, as they are, is a way I like to work because it gives permission to flip on people and I’ve always liked being a trickster. Something is not right and that’s good. Something should be off.

For example, I use advertising language and regurgitate what pop stars say on tour in drawings and performances. It’s so direct yet cooked, the sentiment is honest but combined with this huge delivery with jumbotrons, lights, cameras, etc. It complicates the sincerity but also makes it really captivating.

I think power is in both what the works mean for me intellectually but more so should be in what they are doing. This is something Andrea Fraser pointed out to me – rather than ask what the works mean, ask what they are doing or what they are activating in us. It’s a much more productive conversation and I think my experience with power comes through better when articulated under that guise. How can I cultivate feelings of identification or power and reveal systems on a somatic level? Negotiations or limits in BDSM are very much rooted in this – people’s personal triggers and somatic responses to particulars.

 

How did you shift from performance to creating objects for your recent show?

I think it was unconscious fear turned conscious. I didn’t trust my voice to say what I needed to say. I remember talking with Rodney McMillian and he pointed out something really obvious and profound – that the voice had been removed. It wasn’t that it wasn’t there, but the absence of it was felt. I needed it to be dead silent in the room, just these stoic objects. They were so quiet that they were loud, kind of thing. They were being suppressed, or rather, there was a distinct removal of voice. So, I guess I was doing an endurance test of my own – what happens when you try to take away your own a voice or a voice in general? A lot of those pieces operate as threats, ultimatums, interrogation, suggestion, essential fear. Objects that should have a voice that don’t.

 

You are a collector of vintage erotica- do you see your practice and work fitting into a larger historical thread of sexual subversion and practice?

I hope so. I have this phrase I use a lot – respect must be shown. Sometimes I say it to myself, or when I’m mad at something/someone, whatever – just to remind myself that I have a history, no man is an island type deal. I collect erotica because I am really thankful that there were filthy people in the world doing this shit right and because I think it’s beautiful. This is the same reason I have such a love for art history and music. I want aesthetics, honesty, and vulnerability and I do not fuck around when it comes to those. I wouldn’t be the woman I am without Johanna Went or Betty Davis or Annie Sprinkle or John Waters or Irene Boss or Bruce Nauman or Valie Export – the list goes on – it’s just a fact. There are too many people to thank and honor. I feel a great deal of responsibility, I don’t know why. They set the standard and I am following suit because I love and care for what I do.

 

 

 

 



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