The Bed of Roses exhibition evolved from a workshop known as the Women’s Sexual Imagery Project. The idea for the workshop began when a number of women who were active in the fight against censorship started discussions about the challenges involved in the production and display of sexual imagery. The difficulties seem to spring from several sources: restrictive censorship laws keep mainstream porn flourishing while discouraging exploration of sexual imagery from any point of difference; many women are unable to identify their own desires and to separate them from their desire to please; many women have a fear of being overtly sexual in public, and some fear being cast in the role of the exploiter when attempting to deal with these questions through image production. As the dialogue on these issues continued, we decided to work together in the form of a support and discussion group to explore the issues and to encourage each other in the production of sexual imagery. Since the discussion arose primarily in the area of photography, we decided to limit the participants to this medium. We attempted to bring together a group of approximately eight women with a diversity in age, sexual orientation and race, hoping that this would ensure some discussion of the contrasts and similarities in the operation of our desire. The call for participants generated interest primarily from women of similar age and race, but of varying sexual orientation. In January 1987, a group of seven women began to meet regularly as the Women’s Sexual Imagery Project. The initial concept for the group included looking at current and historical representations of sex by other photographers. The group coordinator, assisted by an intern, undertook extensive research, with a particular focus on material – both visual and written – produced by and for women. This material was presented to the group and contributed to the examination of current issues in representation and sexuality. We began to produce our own images, but practical obstacles arose as we attempted to overcome the more theoretical difficulties. First, what to photograph without being overwhelmed by our own personal quests for the “perfect image,” our desire to create “positive” images about sex, our attempts to spot the difference between our own photographs and the dreaded trio of hardcore porn, softcore porn and nudes? When you can’t even identify your own desire, how do you know what to photograph? The next major obstacle: who to photograph? Try to find willing, available friends? Try to find willing, available friends with willing available partners? Use your own partner and participate in a whole new power struggle? Paid models? Just what are we making here? The road was rocky. Over the course of the workshop, relationships went up, down, over and out, and our production of images often followed similar paths. We struggled with the goals of the workshop. Did we want to make “alternative erotica”? Why? Is it possible? How about expressions of our personal desire? Would these be obscure to everyone else? Who are the photographs for? And on and on. As we had discussed on numerous occasions, we did not want to be seen as representing anything other than our own perspectives. We came to realize that what was missing from conventional sexual imagery was an acknowledgment of individual difference both in terms of the viewers and makers. We did not find commonalities, such as this is sexually stimulating to all women, this is sexually stimulating to women with children, etc. At every step of the process what we found more than anything else was individual difference. From the beginning, the idea for the group included an exhibition but deciding on the timing of the exhibit, based on the notion that each person’s work was “finished,” was yet another difficulty. Because of the breadth of the topic, some of us will probably continue to work in this area for a very long time. It seemed a good idea to reflect the varied states of resolution in the exhibition, since this was inherent in the process and the topic. Our hope is that the exhibition will encourage further work and discussion in this area.
Thursday, April 26, 1990 to Monday, May 13, 1991