New York

Nayland Blake

Thread Waxing Space

After passing through a portal in the shape of a guillotine, the viewer was immediately confronted by a provisional metal scaffold behind which hung a drawing of an architectural interior. On the other side of this strange construction stood a Neoclassical miniature stage set, complete with a number of tiny chairs—the set for Nayland Blake’s marionette production of the Marquis de Sade’s text, Philosophy in the Bedroom, 1793.

In an age when there is perhaps a little too much psychoanalysis in the bedroom, a little philosophy might be just what the doctor ordered. And I’m not talking about Hegel’s phenomenology of the spirit, but of something more on the erotic, if not positively pornographic, end of the intellectual-sensual scale. For those out of touch with the Marquis’ relatively progressive discourses of libertinage (the philosophy of fucking, sucking, and every other sexual maneuver), Blake reminds us that de Sade’s raucous encyclopedia of “transgressive” sexual practices was rather prescient—particularly when measured against contemporary discussions of identity/sexual politics. For de Sade, it seems as if heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality co-existed harmoniously in the bedroom—that subaltern realm where, theoretically, the repressed desires of the new French “disciplinary society” could find their debauched expression. Blake’s fascination with the notorious, and often incarcerated, fantasist of sex goes back several years and has inspired a series of works that culminated in this elaborate installation based primarily on de Sade’s text.

Blake is keenly aware of the strangeness of the original work, and in reconstructing its conceptual, philosophical, moral, esthetic, and sexual context, Blake also addressed current concerns surrounding sexuality, censorship, representation, and the politics of the body.

The artist is a consummate maker of the oddly put together, delicately pathetic object: his various marionettes for The Marionette Production of Philosophy in the Bedroom, 1991–94, such as Joe Delassandro as Augustin , 1993–94, and _Hans Bellmer as Dolmance, 1991–93—eerily suspended over what appeared to be provisional garbage chutes—might as well have been sexual fetish dolls for lovers of pop culture, art history, and philosophy. For those in search of real raunch, and willing to forgo the usual path to spiritual redemption, Blake provided the Confessional Production of Philosophy in the Bedroom, 1993, where you could watch porn videos, jerk-off, even wipe yourself off with paper towels provided by the artist, and even recite the script from the artist’s dramatization of de Sade to other gallery visitors from a pulpit equipped with a microphone.

The other two sections of the installation reflected Blake’s ongoing archival research into de Sade: one area of the exhibition space was devoted to various editions of collected writings and scholarly publications on the author, and other annals of erotica, complemented by a Xerox machine for duplicating the material presented.

Adjacent to this area, and virtually hidden from view, Blake worked—or performed—in an “information room” (a metaphor for de Sade’s prison cell) throughout the duration of the show, piecing together a time line of the libertine’s life. In tandem with a guest musical performance and several literary readings, Blake’s installation offered a kind of metarepresentation designed to rekindle our imaginary intercourse with de Sade’s bottomless imagination.

Joshua Decter