Inside NYC's Museum of Arts and Design, three subjects sit closely together, connected for 120 long minutes. Two are joined at the mouth, unable to talk and left to stare directly in each other's eyes, while the third is sprawled on the floor, cradling the duo with a full mask disguising their face. Museum guests become voyeurs, intimately surrounding the trio as they sweat in a queer, sexually charged human tangle that lasts for two full hours—exciting, exhausting.
The captivating display, executed live by Jerome AB, Ash Yergens and Forrest Wu, was a collaboration between New York artist Vincent Tiley and jewelry designer Chris Habana. Titled Scorpions, the pair worked closely with each other to bridge BDSM style with durational performance art. Habana, who's previously collaborated with everyone from Gypsy Sport to Chromat, created for the project a series of sleek, sophisticated accessories that connected the subjects at their mouths, arms and wrists.
"I have always had a fascination with bondage and BDSM themes that's incorporated into my jewelry season after season," Habana told OUT. "This time around, we wanted to offset the traditional images and ideas of BDSM, including, of course, the items worn when engaging in play." He and Tiley decided the bondage and domination elements present in horse-rising made for the perfect match, which resulted in a strong equestrian influence throughout.
In polished golden brass and supple brown leather, the performers wore rings, arm and leg bands, and the Scorpions centerpiece: an elevated ball gag that looked more like a small sculpture than anything associated with subversive sex.
Uncomfortable, mysterious and subtly erotic, the group in Scorpions became a fleshy fashionable installation, raising more questions than offering clear answers. "This ambiguity was a goal," Tiley said of his work. "We sought to make the body more ambiguous to the viewer in the performance. We wanted to create a tangle of limbs and lumps that seemed more like the parts of one large body rather than three individuals."
Though Tiley's intentions were left undefined, Scorpions successfully delivered on superficial aesthetics and deeper meaning. His celebration of fetish wear with Habana was especially refreshing in the context of an art museum, where BDSM and public surveillance built a natural, comfortable relationship with one another. The gorgeous pieces stood on their own, but ultimately helped foster a larger conversation about humans and connectivity—multiple races and gender identities present, existing together as one, undivided form.
Photography: Heidi Bohnenkamp