Did you know the human body floats in honey? Honey is dense. Denser than water. I learned this while reading about Lithuanian artist Egle Rake, whose 1996's video performance art piece In Honey consisted of her lying naked in a suspended hammock half-immersed in honey. She breathed through a tube. Swimming in the substance would be nearly impossible; however, if you found yourself a vat of honey, it’s entirely feasible to bob around on its surface, letting the stuff mat your hair, seal your eyes shut, and glue your toes together.
There's something undeniably erotic about honey—its sweetness and viscosity, its funky taste. How it begins as floral nectar, procured by bees, then is regurgitated and stored in waxy honeycombs. Its drippy, sticky nature. It's a term of endearment: hunny, hon, honeybear. Robyn, the noted Saint of Dance Floors, Lust, and Broken Hearts, released an album last year called Honey, and the title track beckons: No, you're not gonna get what you need/But baby, I have what you want/Come get your honey.
Clearly, I'm obsessed. I'm on a honey tip. But I think Seattle multimedia artist and draughtsman Mari Nagaoka and I are riding on a similar wave. Tomorrow, Nagaoka's solo exhibition, Honey, opens at The Factory during Capitol Hill Art Walk. I've been following their work for some time and I'm glad to FINALLY have the opportunity to see it and talk about it.
In this particular exhibition, they will be showing large-scale portraits of queer people within their community who they asked to pose with objects the subjects considered culturally-significant. But instead of "traditional" mediums and tools, Nagaoka uses another, more quotidian instrument—the ballpoint pen. Like Bic, like Papermate, like the nice ones you steal from the bank.
With this simple pen, Nagaoka is able to render the softest portraits of people. There's not a hardness to them—or many smudges from what I can tell—but a carefully layered capture of an essence of a moment. The perspective is voyeuristic but not oppressive. Erotic in its intimacy. And while there are overt references to instruments and positions of pleasure (think a giant dildo atop Henry Miller's smutty Tropic of Cancer or local musician Emma Lee Toyoda captured with their legs open), these people and objects are specific and different. Like you're turned on by the thingy-ness of the thing being that thing. It's eroticism with a purpose: to uncover and reclaim.
You can catch their show tomorrow night at The Factory from 6-11 p.m. See ya there. In the meantime, listen to Robyn: