Two figures embrace on a floor layered with tarps. One rests his head on the other’s shoulder and their arms intertwine. They wear only blue ponchos that run down to their knees and split at their waists. The scene changes and an enlarged image frames two pairs of feet, facing each other, toe to toe. A muscle in the ankle of one figure twinges occasionally as a steady stream of urine flows down and splashes.
This film is part of the Plaines Project’s latest exhibition, “Drinking From the Snake’s Mouth.” In the background, a rendition of “Killing Me Softly” plays, and, as the track ends, the video fades to a two-toned murky yellow before starting over.
“Drinking From the Snake’s Mouth”–or “D.F.t.S.M.,” as collaborating artists Steven Frost and Steven Vainberg call it–is a culmination of the creative dialogue between the two artists. Brought together by ACRE, an arts residency and non-profit that provides artists with connections to galleries, the pair used the social media outlet Tumblr as a sketchbook for their collaboration.
“We want to let go of the artist’s ego…to us, it’s important to have a homogeneous mind,” says Steven Frost, an L.A, artist trained in fiber and materials. “We want to lose authorship of our own work… It’s like a loss of identity.”
Frost is dressed in a smart-looking shirt, patterned with foxes in ties. He waves to a photograph indicative of this anti-ego ideal just as Steven Vainberg, Frost’s collaborator from Chicago, steps inside. The photo shows their shoulders, side-by-side, marked by the tattoos of each other’s signature.
“Steven and I met twice a week on Skype, and we used Tumblr to formulate a concept for the show…He posted stuff for me to look at and I posted stuff for him to look at,” says Vainberg.
The artists dived straight into the seventies queer subculture of “watersports,” urination as a form of sexual excitement. But this brand of queer culture goes beyond the physical act. “We find that there is a level of trust and tenderness found within the obscenity,” says Frost. In the minds of participants, the intimate bond forged between partners generates a form of sanctuary.
“When we first started out, we had in mind the iconic comic of Calvin and Hobbes pissing on the Ford,” comments Frost as he points to a work of gold acrylic depicting a stream of urine.
“Breaking the Rock” approaches the spiritual through a more explicit and pious slant. A square pool is covered in a brown tarp and a large boulder sits atop it all in a pool of dirty water. The collection is situated next to the furnace. In watersports, the act of urination was primarily located in the basement, hence the position near the heater. The tarp was often present, for the obvious reason of cleanliness. However, the rock takes center stage in the shallow bath. Its placement was inspired by the book of Exodus, where Moses smites a rock that issues forth water and, in turn, loses its stubborn stature and releases its ego. A gold spray-painted spot marks the point where a stream of urine would hit the rock. “[This stream] would pass along the ego and sublimate it through the rock,” says Vainberg.
Far from a bombardment of contrasting artwork, “Drinking From the Snake’s Mouth” manages to investigate how combinatory efforts can invigorate the complex notion of ego loss. The exhibit successfully incorporates the understated practice of “watersports,” perhaps by masking its explicit obscenity with subtle hints of a bigger picture–casting off the ego and pursuing the shared.
“Drinking From the Snake’s Mouth” ran from April 14-April 28 at The Plaines Project, 1822 S. Desplaines St.