The second installment of The Death Book is dedicated to Bruce LaBruce’s archive of rarely published or previously unpublished work characterized by morbid fascinations. Here photographs depicting gang rapes, racial tensions, extreme violence, amputee fetishism and, of course, death challenge the viewer to explore what lies beneath the veneer of Western society. The book brings this body of work together for the first time, combining LaBruce’s performances, actions, film production stills and photography that explicitly outline his obsessions, with never-before-exhibited archival works from projects including Hustler White, Otto; or Up with Dead People, and L.A. Zombie.
The book is edited as loosely connected vignettes, characterised by horror, death, gore, and splatter, the carnage accelerated rather than overcome, questioning existing values, hierarchies, and perceptions of good and evil. A variety of faces and body parts appear, including those of porn actors Francois Sagat and Tiger Tyson, model/actor Tony Ward, artists Kembra Pfahler and Slava Mogutin, and cameos by legendary figures such as performance artist Ron Athey, musician/artists Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye, artist Dash Snow, actor Brad Renfro, and Bruce LaBruce himself. The Death Book also introduces the art director Max Siedentopf, who has designed the book as a paraphrase of the Bible, punctured with three bullet holes, piercing the book from front to back.
The book contains an introduction by artist, photographer and writer Slava Mogutin.
Available this Halloween and All Souls day at all good bookstores, museums, concept stores, and at Baron Books online store.
Deathbook is a statement title. What is the statement you are making?
Actually, Death Book is a series of books being published by Matthew Holroyd, the editor of Baron and Baroness magazines. Matthew approached me to do the second book in the series and interpret it however I liked. I chose to feature the most extreme images of splatter, gore, gorn, and sexualized violence that I have produced over the years, many previously unpublished, both from my movies and from the live performances/actions I have done at art events and at my own gallery openings. As I explain in the interview in the introduction, these events, inspired by the terrorist abduction and torture videos we have seen on TV and the internet in the recent past (think Abu Ghraib), allow the public to participate in grotesque splatter and gore scenarios as a kind of catharsis in a playful and safe environment. Extreme images of sex and/or violence are now ubiquitous – you can flip on the news or your smartphone on any given day and see videos of rape, murder and death – so my movies and photographs ramp up these images to an absurd degree, drawing attention to the way in which the media exploits this kind of imagery in the service of late capitalism – or “kaputalism,” as my friend Slava Mogutin, who wrote the introduction to the book, terms it.
How do you believe death and lust are intertwined?
The connection between sex and death is well established. Freud talked about the orgasm as a little death, le petit mort, and intellectual and philosophical giants like De Sade, Bataille, and Pasolini have thoroughly explored the concept. When I made my zombie movies, “Otto; or, Up with Dead People” and “L.A. Zombie,” which used messy analog gore and splatter effects, I came to recognize the connection between splatter movies and porn. Both are visceral, creating narratives as a pretext for a series of people to be either murdered or fucked, and both have scenes of penetration, either with a knife or a cock or dildo, which end in orgasmic climaxes with spurting fluids, either blood or come. Freud posited his theory of “the tendency toward the debasement of the love object,” meaning that one often has to objectify sexual partners in order to have sex with them, which doesn’t have to be a demeaning or exploitative act. This is why the porn world is rife with scenes of humiliation, dominance and submission, politically incorrect rape fantasies, etc. It’s part of the sexual imagination, a kind of cathartic release that allows people to express such dark impulses as pure fantasy and play.
What was the process of selecting pictures of the book? And how did it feel as a process?
I collaborated on the book with Matthew and our designer, Max Siedentopf, quite closely, and of course on the internet from a great distance, so it was challenging. We went through various permutations of images until we finally arrived at the final version. During the process I would dig back into my archive and find more photos that I forgot I had, so the book was constantly evolving. This edit represents only a fraction of the pool of images we were drawing from, so it was kind of painful to have to leave so much out! The book also has a kind of narrative strategy, but that is up to the “reader” to decipher.
Are you as a person, and as an artist fascinated by death? Or more by the process of getting killed or horror in general? How did this “obsession” come about?
I’m not obsessed with death, but I am rather obsessed with how it is represented in films, art, and the media in general. Horror motifs run through a lot of my work, not just in the zombie movies. I love 70’s horror B-movies made by the likes of Craven, Cohen, Romero, Carpenter, Cronenberg, etc. because they were an expression of the collective unconscious, representing the fears and anxieties of the masses after the tumultuous events of the Vietnam War, student riots, the sexual revolution, and the rise of the gay, black and feminist liberation movements. Horror films often have to do with the return of the repressed, a reaction against sexual repression and anxiety, including homosexual panic. These deeply repressed impulses often return and erupt in monstrous forms.
How about the cover design of the book? Three bullet holes and references to the Bible. How did you and Max Siedentopf come to that?
Max came up with three different concept designs, and we used a kind of hybrid of two of them. When he proposed the idea of the bullet holes, I immediately responded to it. Of course the idea of shooting an art object with a gun is nothing new in the art world – from Warhol/Podber’s “Shot Marilyns” to Viktor Mitic’s bullet hole paintings to Burroughs shotgun paintings to Chris Burden having himself shot as a work of art – but it did seem perfect to riddle a book full of violent imagery with bullet holes. The three round bullet holes on each page also serve as a kind of metaphor for censorship, randomly obscuring parts of the photographs. My work has been routinely censored since the very beginning, so the gesture seems particularly apt. Late in the process I recognized that this was similar to the strategy I used for a series of photos I did starting in 2012 called “Obscenity” in which I used the hostia, the holy wafer used in Catholic communion, as a symbol of both sexual fetish (using it as pasties, for example) and of censorship, obscuring naughty body parts or covering the eyes and the mouth. These round metaphorical holes, symbolic of absence or lack, a kind of death in themselves, now appear in my Death Book, the book itself penetrated like it’s objectified subjects. Plus you can use the holes to hang it on the wall!