Still image from Eclipsing (Body) by Amina Ross (2014) courtesy of the Artist for Restraint at Leather Archives & Museum

Restraint was a programming collaboration between the Roman Susan Art Foundation and the Leather Archives & Museum that featured one-take, fixed-frame, moving image works. Restraint was composed of three screenings, each showing representing one of three artists: Amina Ross, Jessica Pierotti, and Jenyu Wang. The artists presented one piece that, according to the program’s written materials, both embraces and deconstructs the “rigor, intimacy, freedoms, limitations, and joys of utilizing control in order to realize personal pursuits.” 

At each showing the featured work was screened on a continuous loop within the Leather Archives & Museum’s Etienne Auditorium. Restraint’s installation alongside artist Etienne’s (Domingo Orejudos) multi-panel oil murals of beefcakes––murals that used to decorate several, now defunct, gay male social establishments throughout Chicago––was an ingenious use of placemaking. Etienne’s aesthetic speaks to the erotic potential of pleasure and play generated through discipline, dominance, and submission. Ross, Pierotti, and Wang’s pieces play with the tensions inherent to this coupling of freedom with restraint; testing and teasing the ambiguous spaces between what is seen and unseen, said and unsaid. Yet, it is through this play that boundaries and bounds are transgressed, the bloom of each thorn dotted flower unfurled. 

Amina Ross’ Eclipsing (Body) (2019) features the artist, on a theater stage, submerged in darkness. A detached stage light sits on the stage and emits a single beam the scene’s only source of lighting. The spotlight reveals only Ross’ feet and ankles, as they pick up the light by the attached electrical wire and begin to rhythmically swing it around their body. The beam of light forms a pattern, a song of disclosure and evasion, as it reveals slivers of the artist’s body: a piece of a leg, a shoulder, a hip, but never the artist in entirety. Ross’ work is a teasing question posed to ideas of intimate embodiment and sight: what does it mean to see another? Can you really see them? 

Still image from How to Work Together Part 2 by Jessica Pierotti (2018) courtesy of the Artist for Restraint at Leather Archives & Museum

Jessica Pierotti’s How to Work Together Part 2 (2019)  is a study in tension––how tension provokes anticipation, generates friction, envisions boundaries, builds a sense of time. Pierotti instrumentalizes the body to magnify the significance and intimacy of small gestures. The piece opens on a dark screen when the viewer hears the strike of several matches. The matches illuminate a close-up of the artist’s hands surrounded by loose and boxed matches on a hardwood surface. For a few moments, the matches brightly burn, the flames quiver in the air. The artist holds the matches as they self-extinguish. Pierotti repeats the gesture and strikes more matches, each time the scene returns to darkness. Within every moment of illumination, the flash of hands and flame, the revelation of these desirous and desiring instruments, viewers bear witness to their own rising need––one formed by and through a  rigorous control.  

Jenyu Wang’s Boyfriend (2019) opens on a styrofoam container filled mid-way with eels. There is only silence as the intertwined fish slowly undulate, tangled forever, together. The motion of the eels takes on a queasy quality against the confines of the styrofoam. This is intimacy: the messy, unavoidable, gross truths of being with another. The piece’s title, Boyfriend and the eels exaggerated phallic bodies, specifically gesture towards gendered intimacy––how one considers their own body in relation to difference. The eels embrace and ask does it hurt? What pleasures does this pain hold? It is a moment of contradiction, the push and pull of attraction and repulsion. Wang’s practice both holds and magnifies these fractures within the mundane and crafts new modes of embodiment from their aftershocks. 

Still image from Boyfriend by Jenyu Wang (2016) courtesy of the Artist for Restraint at Leather Archives & Museum

The Restraint series was a study of how measured instability, coupled with the overarching question of pleasure, generates new possibilities for moving through the world. It is the complications of tension, the manifold structures of desire, and the grey areas that possess the ability to transform our understandings of the world. Through Ross, Pierotti, and Wang’s pieces, viewers witness new turns of the body and what it means to live within these complications: to be a splintered and whole self, sloughing off the skin to reveal the beauty underneath.