Chip WillisKelsey Dylan (2014)

I’m having one of those aha moments where the incandescent bulb over my head flickers, falters and then begins to glow bright.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, if you participate in the Tumblr art nude/erotic image community, then you know who the fuck Chip Willis is. The list of model with whom he has collaborated might as well be the Tumblr model A-list.

Honestly though, I’ve always felt meh-ish at best about his work. I mean, don’t get me wrong: it’s quality; it just hasn’t ever really moved me.

This image connects somehow. And I think it has to do with the fact that it features Kelsey Dylan.

The first image I ever saw of hers was the incredible Polaroid diptych by rabbits. This is one of those times where my thoughts don’t align all that well with language. But the aforementioned photos resonate with an unnerving curation of representational identity–looking at them my body has this strange psuedo-synesthetic response where I physically itch in a way that is half mosquito bite, half throbbing erogenous arousal. It’s an experience that bypasses critical/conceptual academnification via an impossible, coup de grace killshot, the bullet lodging in the liminal space between the thinking mind and the feeling brain.

It’s not just the Polaroid diptych, the majority of Dylan’s work seems to have a similar effect on me.

Therein lays the bait. But by the time I’ve realized it, the hook is set–or more accurate Willis’ image becomes something of a labyrinth I must now learn to navigate because I have found myself unexpectedly at its center.

If you know you’re in a maze, you just pick either the wall to your left or right and you as long as you follow that wall without deviation, you will eventually find your way out.

This image provides two clues as to how it is to be interpreted–and looking back over Willis’ work, these seem to hold true throughout:

  1. The image maker is aware of the voyeuristic slant the content contributes to the image,
  2. The image represents an effort to sublimate tropes and tableaux customarily relegated to the realm of pornography by employing methods associated with Art practice.

I suspect Mr. Willis would probably object to the second point. He might contend that he’s interested in presenting a narrative. But as with every image maker who uses an image’s potential to convey a story, the truth is: indubitably narrative images tend to be the exception not the rule.

What possible narrative could this image entail? What reason is there for such a pose? Is Dylan being fucked by the light pouring in through the open window? Hardly.

The futon is positioned with more a mind to mise en scene than interior design and the framing of the doorway imposes a sense of voyeurism on the proceedings. That it is a wide shot–presenting a more or less complete context–shifts it away from its pornographic trappings and towards a mediation on representation of physical identity, sexuality and objectification.

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