During the last year I have been making a body of work whose subject matter is the erotics of armor and corsetry. As a claustrophobic, the psychosexual allure of confinement has always fascinated me.
ARMO(U)R --- AMO(U)R
The shapes of highly fashioned armor and fanciful corsets first caught my interest because they seemed to envision an idealized, highly artificial, and stylized body. These carapaces exhibited qualities which the organic body could not aspire to -- they were intricately worked, often imitating the most complex brocades and embroideries of the times; their decorations displayed a high degree of fantasy with imitations of animal, vegetable and mythological forms which had no functional purpose; they were representations of an 'immortal' body which could not decay or slump, fall, sag or bag, into abject poses of defeat (death).
Both armor and corsets were complex signifiers in the languages of love and war. By their armor, helmets, and shields -- emblazoned with symbols and insignia -- one could distinguish Sir Launcelot (the flower of knighthood) from Sir Gawain (the most perfect gentle knight). Conversely, a craven knight could don the armor of a known champion (thus finding a measure of protection) or a champion could camoflauge himself in a coward's suit. Similarly, corsets by their design, fabric, color, tightness, or complexity of lacings, signalled their wearers' intentions: the honeymoon corset, the dominatrix corset, the invincible corset.
Neither corsets nor armor were rigidly gender-specific -- wherein lies another secret of their fascination. The masculinity of armor was subverted by its fanciful decoration and forms which mimicked the often foppish and feminine male clothing worn during the high middle ages and early Renaissance. Then (as now) many men wore corsets, fancy hose, and intricately embroidered waistcoats. The appearance of women in armor is an exciting cross-gender masquerade. Think of the stir St. Joan made when she appeared in armor at the head of her troops. Think of Brunnhilde or Boadicea. Think of Madonna's armor-inspired bondage-wear. The contrast between the rigid armor and the (often wounded and bleeding) organic body it contained, is a strong subtext in the courtly love dramas such as Tristan and Iseult, Launcelot and Guineverem and many others.
The contrast of armoring clothing with the organic body is always exciting as the continued popularity of corsets, leather and steel studs, chains, and other fashion items attest (in the fall of 1994 the corset is the hottest high fashion item). Such a contrast seems to serve a deep erotic need. The violence done to the body by confinement in rigid, tight clothing is unleashed in the erotic act of taking it off to reveal what we secretly desire and fear to see -- the 'real' body. The elegant artifice of clothing (armour) attracts us to what we really love (amour).
Artist: Faith Wilding Title: Armo(u)r --- Amo(u)r Recombinants Photography: Beckett Logan Medium: Pen and ink, watercolor, and xerox montage on paper Size: Each piece 9"x11" Date: 1994
Faith Wilding is an artist who works with drawing, mixed media, text, installation, and audio. She teaches art at Cooper Union School of Art and in the MFA Program in Visual Art, Vermont College, Norwich University. Wilding lives and works in New York City.