“All art is quite useless.” ~ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
There are those who, out of some bizarre, delusional and grandiose vision of self-importance, write books about their art form – and then loudly insist that (because they’ve written a book or two) that they be recognized as some sort of “expert in the field”. These “artists” in turn demand certain rights and concessions, especially if it means they’ll somehow be perceived as superior to their peers, within their very own Community at large. In short, the demand to be vetted and recognized as both an “artist” and an “authority”, while clamored for long and incessantly, usually results in one thing: the “artist” soon finds he doesn’t get invited along to many really fun parties.
I’m speaking of Oscar Wilde, of course, author of the above quote and written in a somewhat autobiographical way in his shocking, landmark gothic thriller, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde cleverly manages to insert himself into his narrative – and brutally criticize himself relentlessly – as one of the main antagonists in his timeless tale of extreme arrogance, and self-destructive vanity. In the end, of course, Dorian Gray is done in by his own hand – and as a result of his own narcissism.
The real Oscar Wilde wasn’t much different from the fictional representation he portrayed himself as within the pages of his book. He was, however, intelligent enough to realize his shortcomings and even to provide entertainment for his readers by mercilessly deprecating himself. It was Oscar Wilde’s belief, as reflected within the quote above, that the realm of Victorian-era “Artists and their Art” was nothing more than a breeding ground of rampant ego, over-indulgence, and violent, self-destructive behavior. The quote above is, within the context of The Picture of Dorian Gray, an expression of envy towards a very non-talented man (the Wilde character) and a painter who has been commissioned to produce a portrait of “a most extraordinary, beautiful young man”: the title character, Dorian Gray. Those familiar with the story know very well that Dorian Gray is so taken and in love with his own image in the mirror, that he cannot bear the thought of aging and becoming less beautiful. He makes a deal – ostensibly with the Devil himself – to remain in appearance forever young, and to have the painting age through the years.
Despite what you may think, this isn’t a story about Oscar Wilde or his creation, Dorian Gray. It is, however, important to use this masterwork as an analogy. For in truth, “art” hasn’t really changed much. It’s been said that Art is an imitation of Life. It’s truly refreshing, then, when someone comes along who is successful at turning Life … into Art.
The all-night, gigantic artistic installation known as Nuit Blanche (“White Night”) started in some great European cities (there is a heated dispute as to exactly which city started it: Paris, St. Petersburg or Berlin) in 1997 as a revolutionary idea to turn some of the world’s great cities into gargantuan art galleries. Since 1997, Nuit Blanche events have become an extremely anticipated and popular staple on the social calendars of several other world-class cities, including Lima, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Leeds, Atlanta, Los Angeles and, of course, Toronto. New York City played host to its first Nuit Blanche event (called Bring to Light) during the same night that Toronto held their annual event: October 2nd. The “movement” continues to grow – and the roster of talented artists wishing to participate continues to increase.
The Toronto Nuit Blanche event easily draws over 1 million people into the streets of downtown and West Toronto for one night. The event always begins at 7:00 pm and runs straight through until 7:00 am. Some of the installations – those that would have made Oscar Wilde himself cringe – are, as expected, over-the-top and self-indulgent in the extreme. The world of fine art, as per Wilde’s commentary in The Picture of Dorian Gray, rarely if ever takes advantage of collaborative efforts. Making “art” seems to be an exhaustive effort that ultimately will result in telling some deeply personal aspect of a story, or make an opinionated social commentary, based on the workings within the mind and the emotional investment of a single artist. It’s rare, really, to come across “art” where the credit for the success of the piece can be attributed to more than one man or woman.
This is where our story takes a sudden left turn. For the past three years, one man has been determined to educate and expose to the masses his art form during Toronto’s Nuit Blanche event. He is a man quite well known within his own Community, and he is quickly making a name for himself within the mainstream as both an author, and a self-proclaimed “Guerilla artist”. He is known by the moniker Morpheous – and whether you are irresistibly drawn to his work, or don’t care to understand it, there is one universal truth: what this man does, make no mistake, is “Art.” He is responsible for one of the most viewed art installations of Nuit Blanche, very simply called Morpheous’s Bondage Extravaganza. It’s an almost embarrassingly simple, non-pretentious and easy-to-remember title for a revolutionary (some say controversial) art installation. It’s also easy enough (as Oscar Wilde so brilliantly managed to allude to in Dorian Gray) to dismiss Morpheous’s efforts as nothing more than “people being tied up in public”, and to question whether what the present audience is witnessing or not can be categorized as “art” – or whether its straddling a very fine line between art and commercialized pornography. Considering that, in point of fact, and after conducting a little research, no other art installation during Toronto’s event had a line-up to get into the venue to view the pieces (the lineups for the Bondage Extravaganza reached about half a block long at several points during the evening), it would be very hard for the haughty, self-aggrandizing “art critics” to merely dismiss the installation as “mere smut.” Anyone who witnessed the Extravaganza knows, without question, what they were witnessing was true dedication to a most difficult-to-master visual medium.
Morpheous himself was active (pretty much) for the entire scheduled 12 hours of the event. He took a few moments to conduct interviews, drink some much needed water, and speak enthusiastically and engagingly with both old friends and new visitors alike. Morpheous is an gregarious man, and he is always approachable. He is rarely seen without a smile, and he is well-known for immediately putting nervous new models for his photographic sessions and apprehensive new contacts immediately at ease. One needs to spend only a few moments talking with Morpheous, and they immediately are made to feel comfortable, and welcome. The man just doesn’t have the rampant ego that needs to be satisfied in the way that many “artists” and “authors” do – and this clearly sets him apart from his peers (both in the fetish/SM world and in the artistic community).
By rights, and by virtue of his long good-standing within the Toronto alternative lifestyle community, Morpheous could have taken the route that most other “guerilla artists” take, and claimed the spotlight for himself during his Bondage Extravaganza. But this wouldn’t be compatible in keeping with what everyone knows about the man: while he is proud of his accomplishments over the years (an argument could be made that Midori, the world-famous sex educator and fetish world presenter, for instance, may not have achieved that status were it not for Morpheous’s tireless efforts to promote her during the early days of her career; especially in Canada), he is quick to credit his friends and family with being the true contributors to his success. “I wouldn’t be able to even apply to do a project like this,” he said while doing some rather gorgeous and wicked looking knot work on one of his favourite models, “if it wasn’t for the other people in this room. I owe a lot to some of the people behind me.”
Some of those people are, in their own right, fairly well-known in the Toronto alternative scene. There is a lovely and engaging young dance instructor who goes by the name of elle, for instance, and there is little question that she is as tirelessly devoted to Morpheous’s triumphs as she is to her own. On the night of Nuit Blanche, elle somehow managed to keep the “riggers” (those who performed the actual bondage) and the “bunnies” (the bondage models) within a tight schedule – no small feat when you consider the display space was, from start to finish, literally filled with dozens of mesmerized onlookers. When she wasn’t making sure things were running smoothly, like Morpheous, made sure the gathered media was well-informed, made sure the guests were comfortable, and all through the night did so with cheerfulness and an engaging spirit that simply defied the coming pull of exhaustion.
Then, there were the other performers. It is impossible to pay appropriate respect and attention to everyone who volunteered their time during Morpheous’s Bondage Extravaganza, but it isn’t too far outside the realm of over-used superlatives to say that each and every person who volunteered their skills, talents and time succeeded beyond words in helping to make the entire evening truly a mystical, awe-inspiring display of sensual expression. There wasn’t a single “rigger” or “bunny” present that complained about their use, misuse, or aches and pains: there was this almost ethereal, admiring sense of a true Community being displayed within a relatively tiny space. Sure, the rope work and each individual case of “boy or girl human mobile” (as coined by one of the enthusiastic and eminently beautiful models, Ohhh) was mind-stopping to behold: but the ballet that the viewing audience was deliciously subjected to for twelve straight hours was nothing short of incredible.
There are three others that briefly need to be described for their singular contributions in making the Extravaganza such a unique and collaborative success: the displays continuously exhibited by bondage artists Daddy Aslan (who did a wonderful plastic wrap piece in a lovely departure from the main, traditional ‘rope work’ of the evening), Lotuslily and a man named Ruairidh from Toronto and an immensely promising young performer named Cannon from Michigan turned an already enjoyable night into an evening of pure visual ecstasy. Lotuslily is already well on her way to becoming an international star within the alternative lifestyle global community, and she certainly didn’t disappoint at Nuit Blanche. But watch, in the future, especially if rope bondage is “your thing”, for these two men Ruairidh and Cannon. They have two unique styles; two distinct stories to tell.
Ruairidh works with rope the way that Jackson Pollack worked with paint: you’re just not sure what it is he’s doing or where he’s “going” and you simply have to continue to watch him work until he’s finished. When he has completed his tying, and his model is turned slowly enticingly in a wide arc for the audience to see, it’s shockingly beautiful to behold. All the pieces suddenly come together to form a single, stunning bound creation: it isn’t a stretch to say that it’s very much like a flowering vine wrapping itself around a gorgeous, statuesque female form, creating a truly timeless and classic image.
Cannon is no less proficient – but his strength lies in how powerful his ability to perform is. He holds both his soon-to-be-restrained subject and the audience completely under his spell. His movements are subtle, but oh, so sensual. When he begins to apply the ropes to his weak-kneed model, it is like watching the Phantom of the Opera himself seducing and enticing the hapless Christine to succumb and completely give herself over to the pleasures soon to be tightly restrained within. This young man is a joy to watch: there are few who bring such delicious, jaw-dropping theatricality to his rope bondage performances.
The people mentioned above were all vital and necessary contributors to the success of the exhibit – but in truth, every single person who gave of their time surely must receive credit for making the Extravaganza such an enormous success. No truer example of a “Community coming together for a common cause” could be as well illustrated.
In a somewhat experimental atmosphere and in a potential-for-explosive-ego-clash environment, Morpheous’s Bondage Extravaganza succeeded far and away in proving one very important thing: When the goal is the collaborative and mutual success of an entire Community of performers and practitioners, and personal ambition and ego are left checked at the door, astounding things can transpire. This installation was one of the most popular of the entire Toronto Nuit Blanche evening, and for good reason: the people from Toronto were able to witness the artistic elegance and beauty that can be expressed using living models and mere rope as a breathing canvas. There can be no greater accolades for Morpheous, or his fellow artists, than knowing he managed to simply make people think. That is the aim of all artists – and for twelve amazing hours, the Extravaganza unquestionably made rope bondage somehow seem more “accessible” and less daunting and frightening to several people who, like the masses, tend to stereotype and associate sadomasochism and fetishism with simple violence.
Oscar Wilde wrote his scathing, personal critique of the art world and personal vanity in 1890. Over a hundred years later, human nature really hasn’t changed all that much. There are still people who create art, or write books, and then just expect that because they have done so, the world should come crawling to their feet to recognize and worship their “genius”. Within the fetish community, there are certain individuals who have written long (and boringly dry) “how to” volumes about bondage. Then, there are people such as Morpheous, Lotuslily, Ruairidh and Cannon who actually do raise the level of perception of intricate bondage (especially utilizing rope) from “sensual foreplay” to “High art”. It’s a wonderful evolution, really: one very high-profile adult magazine editor tried, in vain, to argue in the mainstream media that bondage was, indeed, truly an art when he allowed photos of a reigning beauty queen to be published within the pages of his periodical. Ultimately, his efforts were ridiculed – and the queen lost her crown. Thankfully for both, each went on to much bigger and better things.
The age is different, now: thanks in large part to the development of large-scale art installations such as Nuit Blanche in the world’s great cities, the beautiful “human mobiles” that are created when a talented man or woman lovingly applies rope to a beautiful, semi-clad or naked body – and then effortlessly makes that body appear to float, twist and turn comfortably, alluringly, seductively in the air – can finally take their place as “High Art” within the consciousness of those who earn their living within the creative world. This isn’t pornography: this is a loving, personal expression performed by people who have a true passion for the psyche, sensuality and desire that is associated with the very-human need to turn trust and control over and into the hands of someone else; even for just a few minutes.
For that reason, Morpheous and his fellow bondage practitioners are, without argument, respectable artists. Due to the popularity of the 2010 Nuit Blanche Bondage Extravaganza, Morpheous is already planning for 2011. “It will be three times larger”, he said with a slight mischievous smile. “If you think this year was really sensual and spectacular, just wait for what we get to show Toronto next year. We’ll have lasers and everything!”
(All photos courtesy of Morpheous and Toronto Nuit Blanche, Photographer: Jeff George)