*Author's Note: This essay is a reflection on my work, on its many layers of intimacy, of what’s physical and what goes beyond it, through translation—or rather, blossoming in all directions, transcreation. It initially was meant to be published alongside the CAT IN A HARNESS project, a series of 8 poems and Polaroids, two of which are featured here. The whole series is available, censored, on my website (https://br8kblowburn.com/cat-in-a-harness), and has just been printed, uncensored, by My Gay Eye | My schwules Auge, in Berlin (copies are available on www.mygayeye.com). —E. B.
"I became obsessed with going into [magazine stands and storefronts] and seeing what was inside these [pornographic] magazines. They were all sealed, which made them even sexier somehow, because you couldn't get at them… I got that feeling in my stomach, it's not directly a sexual one, it's more potent than that. I thought if I could somehow bring that element into art, if I could somehow retain that feeling, I would be doing something that was uniquely my own."
Robert Mapplethorpe. Quoted by Ingrid Sischy in “A Society First.” Richard Marshall. Robert Mapplethorpe. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art. New York: Graphic Society Books. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1988. 81.
That’s it. I want to get at something that I cannot express fully, that seems unreachable, and retain a potent feeling that is my own—not necessarily uniquely my own, but mine to begin with.
Bearing this in mind, in the endless experience of self-discovery, I start exploring ways of showing this potent feeling. Attracted to many forms of artistic expressions, from photography to drawing and writing, I try to find the perfect medium to extract my insides. I need something to mirror what is happening within me, something spontaneous, vivid, yet fragile and unstable. Drawing seems too elaborate, as my perfectionism would be too much in control. Writing helps, but something deeply personal is missing: my body and the space it occupies. I think about digital photography, but it seems too precise, too ‘clean’. That’s when Polaroids come to me as the ideal medium. I remember being a kid and taking shots wearing my mum’s summer hats and bathrobes. Each instant picture came out as a surprise, simultaneously disappointing compared to what I had imagined and excitingly close to how I was feeling.
This is what I need. It is spontaneous, tangible enough to reflect a moment, yet unpredictable enough in its fragile lights, colours, angles, despite my meticulous anticipations. Maybe that makes me a bad photographer, for not wanting to tame the camera, I don’t know. But that way the result is as close as can be to the intimate, the vulnerable yet powerful feelings I want to capture.
I want to capture what’s inside of me, but I realise that I can’t fully reach it. Instead, I translate. The body language through which I give part of my insides reaches the lens, that makes one kind of translation. The light that works its way at a certain chosen angle to the camera makes another. And then comes the word, in English and in French, each language giving a different version of myself. And I see the poems like I see the Polaroids, as the outer layers of a Russian-doll leading to an unreachable core. They envelope a moment, me in the moment, the feelings in me in the moment, the insides I cannot reach but only feel through the feelings in me in the moment. Like what Mapplethorpe saw in the sealed pornographic magazines, what is visible is only an allusive surface of what it contains. What is shot does not describe what happened, the word does not describe the picture, the picture does not describe the insides.
But I’m not sure I understand what it all stands for. I can only grasp fragments that reach my surfaces. Love, loneliness, horniness, vulnerability, fear… Here is what I know. In my self-discovery, sex and love have always been a mix of happiness and sadness, of strong energies, warm and electric, and of soft melancholies that wouldn’t leave me for days. From sexual abuse to compulsive masturbation and sex-working to romantic explosions of infinite love, my body – sometimes shaved, hairy, questioned, carrying this big dick, dry, feminine, dominant, romantic, genderless, weak – has navigated between what people wanted from it and what I have learned to celebrate in it. And I wonder if a body can ever escape this in-betweenness. I don’t know, for example, if my body will ever escape how, quite early in my life, people have repeatedly told me that I looked sick, with no flesh to cover the bones, no fat to hide the ribs that hug my chest. And still I was told that skinny was valued, praised, and so, quite early in my life, I have been sexualised in ways that made me think that this was what people wanted from me. Not the emotional, but the physical. Sure, I too wanted the rush, the bestial, the hardcore pleasurable pains of sex. But the intimate, the complicit, the love, I wanted both. I still do. That is how I started the never-ending process of understanding my body—from the mind and touch of others to, eventually, my own.
In the end, and maybe I should have started with this, the Polaroids and poems are another attempt to understand my insides, but also to put together what people have separated in me. The fragile, unsure, loving, intimate self and the shamelessly kinky, tongue-out-on-feet, spitted-on self. The pornographic and the erotic. The physical and the emotional. But explaining this today feels absurd, since I don’t think these can ever be separated. They come together, always. Always. It’s just that being told otherwise has created a contradiction in me which, to this day, I find difficult – if possible – to mend. Sometimes I wish I could choose. I wish everything would be inside, untouchable, that the body wouldn’t matter, sex wouldn’t matter. But I also know that it isn’t true, that I wouldn’t want this, because it’s part of everything I am.
Cat in a Harness 7/8
A new smell—not from the effort you’ve sweat, though that too, but the spit. It’s shown your hidden parts. Rougher, impulsive parts. You like it. You spit on your hand, your shoulder, you lick it off. Armpit, foot, jungle of moist hair, salty, rank, you grunt.
Une nouvelle odeur—qui ne vient pas de l’effort transpiré, quoiqu’aussi, mais de la bave. Elle a montré tes faces cachées. Plus brutes, impulsives. T’aimes ça. Tu craches sur ta main, ton épaule, nettoies à coups de langue. Aisselle, pied, jungle de poils humides, salés, âcres, tu grognes.
Cat in a Harness 8/8
In the release, you find yourself briefly elsewhere. You look at yourself. You really look. Astonished, as if caught in headlights, you see black on white the fear and the joy, the joy and the fear ahead of you.
Dans la décharge, tu te retrouves brièvement ailleurs. Tu te regardes. Tu regardes vraiment. Stupéfait, comme ébloui par les phares, tu vois noir sur blanc la peur et la joie, la joie et la peur qui t’attendent.