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Sheree Rose

American, b. 1941

Bob Flanagan


Study for "Wall of Pain" (Santa Monica Museum of Art Exhibition)

C-print on foam core
2.25 x 3 in. (5.715 x 7.62 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

The Wall of Pain, a collaboration between Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose, is a work of art but also the result of a private activity. It consists of a wall made of eighteen hundred photographs of Flanagan’s face, documenting a process in which Rose hit Flanagan with fifty implements. Using a shutter-release cable, Rose took an image of Flanagan’s face as he was struck. There are thirty-six photographs taken for each of the fifty objects. His face is contorted in each image, somewhere between agony and ecstasy. In this work we see the pleasure of pain.

Flanagan had cystic fibrosis; he eventually died from the disease in 1996, at the age of forty-three (at the time, he was one of the longest-living survivors). Flanagan had a full-time sadomasochistic relationship with Rose, in which he was her slave. Together they created work in a variety of mediums, including performance, photography, sculpture, text-based art, and video. Their oeuvre can be characterized by Flanagan’s iconic mission statement: to “fight sickness with sickness.” The complex play around the word “sick” became an important part of their work. The Wall of Pain is emblematic of the duo’s engagement with sadomasochism as a lifestyle allowing a conflation of the public and private realms, seen through Rose’s almost obsessive documentation of their lives. The infliction of pain on Flanagan was always imbued with pleasure and was considered a political act. Through public performances, Flanagan and Rose worked to express the pain of disease while claiming agency over Flanagan’s body. Their life and/as art together was marked by a codependence involving trust in and love for each other.

Martin O’Brien

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