The Asylum Studies

© Vesna Jovanovic 2017A straitjacket or a muzzle can change one’s experience of the body, physically adjusting the body and interacting with it in a brute manner while at the same time integrating emotionally and sexually, in some ways merging with the body, like a guitar, a walking cane, or a pair of glasses. Last July, I began a series of performances in which I applied various bondage gear to my partner: rigging, restraining, and then drawing for an hour directly from observation. This interaction was an intimate meditation on the tactile and material-based relationship between pain, pleasure, arousal, fear, desire, and how these can manifest in various embodied human experiences. I chose to work in colored pencil on brown sketchbook paper, materials that are often deemed humble and informal. The observational style that I employed is somewhat reminiscent of instructional medical illustrations from the 19th Century when similar institutional equipment would have appeared in insane asylums of the time.

Straitjacket, Back

Fig. 8, Straitjacket, Sleeve Buckle Location, 2017, 14″x11,” Colored Pencil on Paper

This new work came on the heels of my time at the International Museum of Surgical Science where I spent two years surrounded by antiquated and sometimes rather intimidating medical equipment. Just before my residency at the museum, I began developing a body of work titled Foreign Bodies in which I examined how various objects enter the body and in some cases become less foreign. We experience our bodies in so many different ways, even through objects and phenomena that are sometimes viewed as external to us, as the other, but sometimes assimilated and essential to our total experience of embodiment.

The work turned into a fond trace of an intimate relationship while at the same time spontaneously referencing various recurring ideas I’ve had regarding the body. Over the course of a year, I created 15 of these drawings, rendering the straitjacket and other intimidating mechanical restraints in warm pastel colors, soft gestures, and lots of care, creating a visual paradox that mirrors the mixed BDSM experience of restraint, pleasure, pain, trust, tenderness, endurance and arousal. The work incorporates some of the ideas that I addressed in Foreign Bodies and combines them with various experiences from the museum as well as influences like Christina Ramberg, whose work I absolutely love. All of these are present for me in unison, creating a conceptually complex account of how a human experience cannot always be precisely identified.

Straitjacket Drawing Close-Up

Fig. 10, Straitjacket, Semi-Supine Position, 2017, 14″x11,” Colored Pencil on Paper