Lights-Out Enlightenment

Thu. March 12, 2009 12:00 AM
by Jason P. Freeman

Postmodern, post-fem, post gay—the culture of kink isn't just for old-school, buff, hairy leather daddies anymore. Be them svelte, shaggy, stocky, shorn or straight, men and women of every age, class and background are starting to get in on the action. And taking part in this all-inclusive revolution of fetish fun is the Guest Artist Gallery (G.A.G.) Curator for the Chicago-based Leather Archives & Museum, Ian Ray. It's a movement that Ray, professionally known as S.I.R., attributes in part to the emerging "Neu Guard."

"Neu Guard is more twinks, less daddies," S.I.R defines. "It's pansexual, a non-stereotypical association [allowing] humor into [leather's formally strict] cultural ideal."

Constructed within the walls of a renovated synagogue, The LA&M has been collecting, and displaying the last 35 years of leather history, via its library, exhibits, auditorium and climate-controlled archives, since 1999. Featured memorabilia, films, "tools of the trade" and visual art, à la Etienne and pre-and-post famous Tom of Finland, reveal a progressive timeline of raunchiness and rawhide. The evocation is indicative of depressed days, when leather play's practice was met by public prejudice and social stigma, and its evolution into a celebrated conception through mainstream commercial campaigns that glamorized the leather-loving scene, transforming the taboo into the tastefully topical. The latter, lending contemporary everymen to freely relish their unconventional carnality—to openly embrace common ground in what was one relegated underground—motivates the LA&M's recent efforts to represent a comprehensive model of sexually expressive subculture that doesn't solely pertain to L, G, B or T.

"Leather culture isn't just 'gay' leather culture," S.I.R. explains, "but includes the entire fetish community."

Since accepting his position at the LA&M, after receiving his Masters at the School of the Art Institute in May 2008, S.I.R. has taken a lead in the museum's innovative initiative as the G.A.G. gallery's curator. He cites Beauties Service-—a currently running exhibit, produced by straight artist Kate Tastrophe [see related story], which presents portraits of women engaged in everyday activities as both casual conjecture and promiscuity-—as a strong example of how the LA&M actively engages its objective to showcase the full diversity of fetish and sexuality.

Like the Neu Guard, S.I.R says, "It's about playing with limits and colors, changing it up from the establishment of older ideas;" an adaptation of the aforementioned old-school, buff, hairy, leather-daddies world that S.I.R refers to as "Old Guard" with reverence and respect.