April 14, 2014
ONE Archives at the USC Libraries is excited to announce the recent donation of material by performance artist Sheree Rose. The Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose Collection at ONE Archives chronicles the work of Rose and Flanagan, together two of the most influential performance artists of 1980s and 90s, as well as extensive materials related to their life together and individual bodies of work.
Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan (1952-1996) are most known for their intensive bodily performances that explored love, sex, pleasure, sadism, masochism, and Flanagan’s long-term battle with cystic fibrosis. The collection at ONE Archives includes original diaries and unpublished poetry by Flanagan dating back to the late 1970s; performance ephemera and documentation, including photographs and video; VHS masters of video works by Flanagan; an extensive body of photographs and slides by Rose documenting Los Angeles’ BDSM and queer communities; and the Bobaloon, a twenty foot tall inflatable depiction of Flanagan complete with pierced penis, ball gag, and straitjacket.
Jennifer Doyle, Professor of English at UC Riverside, explains Rose and Flanagan’s relationship to queer sexuality and performance practice on Artbound:
Sheree Rose come out as a feminist in the 1970s – she had been married with children and realized that being a housewife wasn’t for her. She divorced and began to counsel single mothers on education and economic independence. While getting a masters degree, she participated in feminist reading groups and found herself in dialogue with women who saw lesbianism as a sexual expression of a feminist politics. Some of the women she talked to saw men as “the enemy.” Rose wondered, however, if there was a different way of practicing heterosexuality.
For 16 years she explored this question with Bob Flanagan. Their romantic and creative partnership is hard to classify – our vocabulary isn’t nearly as elastic as it needs to be on this point. Contemporary art features a handful of artists whose practice is expressed through their romantic/domestic relationships: Marina Abramovic and Ulay (who worked together from 1976 until 1989), the British artists Gilbert and George (who have described their partnership and collaboration as “living sculptures”), General Idea (a 25-year partnership, artist collaboration and media experiment between AA Bronson, Jorge Zontal and Feliz Partz). All of those artists explored ways of being together, as a part of their creative work. They challenge ideas about authorship, expression, and the line between public and private life.
Rose and Flanagan belong in that company – but their importance is different. Their history is worth knowing not for what they did to art, but for what they did to love and sex. This is where Rose’s relationship to her practice is quite different from that of the people mentioned above. It was an already-existing active engagement with sex politics as lived and felt that brought Rose and Flanagan into galleries and museums. They were together for years before that relationship morphed into an art practice, and their activism was, at first, an explicitly sexual activism localized to their personal lives and to their activism within and on behalf of the BDSM community.
Documentation of Rose and Flanagan’s work will be included in Tony Greene: Amid Voluptuous Calm, an exhibition project organized by ONE’s curator David Frantz within the Made in L.A. 2014 biennial at the Hammer Museum. As a part of ONE Archives, the collection emphasizes ONE’s role in documenting and making accessible not only LGBT historical materials but also more broadly various forms of queer cultural production and radical sex activism.
Find a slideshow of images and materials from the Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose Collection below.