L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley
Joshua Harris’ book I Kissed Dating Goodbye starts with a nightmare: Anna stands at the alter in her white dress in a pictaresque chapel facing her soon-to-be-husband, David. She’s holding his hand. Then, as they begin to recite their vows, a girl walks up the aisle and takes David’s other hand. Another girl comes too, and takes hold of the first girl’s hand. Then a third girl comes, and so on, until a chain of six girls stand there. Anna wonders if it’s a joke. “Who are these girls?” she hisses.
“These are the girls from my past,” David says. They don’t matter to him now, he assures her, it’s just that they’ve each taken a piece of his heart.
“I thought your heart was mine,” says Anna.
“It is,” he says. “Everything that’s left is yours.”
A scenario like this, Harris will go on to argue, can be avoided. If you kiss dating goodbye.
His book, now sort of a millennial abstinence movement classic, came out in 1997. My mother, who still sometimes warns me to “save my heart” as if it’s a depletable resource, read it before I did. The heart part was only half the story, of course. The body part played a bigger, though less explicit, role. You had to save that too.
I picked up a newer book by Joshua Harris recently, called Sex is Not the Problem, and read something that I had heard directed toward women in some form or another during all my growing up years: “The way you dress can either help or hinder men around you who are trying to resist lust.” I mean, clearly there’s truth to that. But here’s what else Harris says: “Sure, guys can resist the temptation to lust, and it’s our responsibility to do so, but your dressing immodestly makes this very difficult.” And he adds, “There’s a difference between dressing attractively and dressing to attract.”
Is there? And is it the difference he thinks it is?
I must have still been an undergrad when I first started experiencing nude exhaustion. Already I’d been in art schools and the art world long enough to have seen too many so-so nude performances, photographs and paintings. It was impossible to still think nakedness itself was seductive. But what I loved, and still love, are those beautiful, bodily movements that materials — fabric, clay, even industrial stuff like metal armatures and aluminum — can make. Dorit Cypis took a photograph in 2002, called The Rest in Motion, in which the billowing fabric of a curtain looks like a body’s bent-forward backside. You look at it and feel volume, softness. It attracts.
Another photograph I saw recently had a similar effect. It’s Dan Finsel’s, it’s installed in Richard Telles’ current show Formwandler and it’s called The Space Between You and Me: You borrow her dress, she borrows your boyfriend (2012). A black and white image, it shows a dark cloth over what must be a tall mound of clay. The cloth wrinkles, ripples and falls down, in some places past the wheels of the dolly that the clay rests on.
Finsel knows his large clay mounds, covered or not, look like bodies, and he uses bodies to shape them, often just hands. (“It’s like a romance,” he said in a video interview, while he and a dark-haired woman massaged the clay, their hands next to each other. “We’re barely touching each other, but you have to act like we’re thinking about it.”) Then, in some images and videos, a nude blond woman lays on red clay, shaping it with her weight. But in The Space Between You and Me, there’s no flesh visible. There’s not even clay visible. It’s fully dressed and the fabric alone suggests its bodily weight. It’s better, more sensual and suggestive, than any sheer skirt or spaghetti-strap top I’ve ever seen.