Writing about INTERIORS

The Erotic Chair by Tessa Ditner

Commissioned by Tim Woodward for Skin Two Magazine 61
(This is a slighly longer version than the feature in Skin Two 61, with variations on images.) For the original published feature or more information go to: http://www.skintwo.co.uk/skin-two-issue61-out-now/

Craig Morrison’s Dali inspired latex chair

When Dali turned Mae West’s lips into something to sit on, he revealed the erotic appeal of soft furnishing. Over seventy three years later, how has the chair progressed as an art form? 

“If the legs are like this,” Hip hop star Pharrell Williams says, his elbows sticking out “it’s sexual. If it’s like this” he says bringing his elbows in “it’s less.” Williams is referring to Perspective Chair, his collaboration with Paris designers Domeau & Pérès. The chairs are bright, poster paint colours with human legs for, well… legs. The front two are female legs with arched feet, as if wearing invisible stilettos.

Artist Helen Gorrill created a chair that’s erotic because of the materials she used.

“What makes my chair erotic is the nylons, fishnets, chains, shackles, sex toys, leather strapping and an embroidered vulva.” Her artistic inspiration for Fushë Kosovë Sex Café Chair are Allen Jones’s 1960s artwork and Hans Bellmer 1930s disjointed limbed dolls. The difference being that that the legs are reclaimed prosthetic limbs inspired by the horrors of real sex slave trafficking. “I was originally looking at sex trafficking and stories of real sex slaves. So the chair was named after a region of the Balkans known for its alleged involvement in importing trafficked females from Moldova.”

Helen’s and Pharrell’s chairs are both in keeping with Dali’s ideology. By blending human limbs and furniture you combine objects not normally found together which, surrealists say, liberates the imagination. When I ask Bruno Domeau, one half of Domeau & Pérès how important the use of material was in their design, he agrees with Helen that the materials are of upmost importance in the sensuality of a piece. Bruno describes the various leathers used in each colour option of Pespective Chair. The black version calf leather with strong dark hair and the blue/green chair is soft nubuck with very fine hair. He also tells me that if you lift the feet of the chair, underneath is a little patch of leather, just like on a cat’s paw.

Perspective Chair co designed by Pharrell Williams

The sensuality of materials is difficult to pin point. What makes one material more erotic than the other? Are the petals on a flower more erotic than fur? How about hard wood for the masochists amongst us? At this year’s Milan furniture fair, Swedish designers Front presented Wood Chair, made of beads and birch wood strung together and draped over a chair. Is it erotic? Vogue’s Nonie Niesewand likened the chair’s look to a car seat cover. Not the most sensual then, unless you happen to be into cabbies. Perhaps Tokyo-based Tokujin Yoshioka’s Bouquet Chairs are more sensual? They look like egg cups full of petals and contain thirty thousand paper tissues, to recreate a cloud-like atmosphere. There’s no doubt that sitting in a cup of flowers has a certain romance about it, but a more fetish sense of sensuality might be found in the use of latex by Craig Morrison. UK based Craig revived Dali’s lips sofa in his trademark spiky black latex sofa:

“The sofa was directly inspired by Dali” he says “but I also liked the idea of making lips that looked like they could not be kissed- but they turn out to be soft when you touch them. I think Dali would have liked them, which is important when referencing someone else’s work.” I am eager to have a sit on one of Craig’s sofas, but unfortunately for me, they live in France, Germany and the USA, some in private ownership and some in national museums. Sarah Louise Dix also plays with the traditional masochistic material- fur. Her signature Cape Footstool looks like something Leopold von Sacher-Masoch would have been delighted to acquire for his Venus. “I use fur, silk and velvet.” Sarah says. “I am thinking of doing one with a hole in the middle for a bottom.” An accessory for the home that is subtly fetish, but when I bump into footslave Pete the Feet at Club Pedestal, he says that a chair isn’t erotic because of either the design or the fabric but rather through who is and isn’t permitted to sit in it.

In Pete’s spare room, on a mahogany plinth stands a red and gold throne. What makes that chair erotic to him is that no man has ever sat on it. In fact he (humbly) says: “Ladies who visit me are always of a dominant nature, and they seem to enjoy me serving them as they sit upon the throne. It’s very important that the female should sit high above the male when she rules.” Andy Sheridan from Fettered Pleasures, one of the biggest suppliers of torture furniture explains that the erotic nature of the chairs they sell come from the mind of the person who is going to be using them: “It’s about whatever that person sees in their head, it’s a private personal thing. That might be slavery or worship.” But blogger MonMouth of London says: “Most of us don’t have spare rooms, dungeons or big enough closets to hide stuff in. At least not stuff designed to restrain an adult for bondage, spanking or other forms of delightful torture. Besides, it ain’t cheap. I don’t see IKEA coming out with a reasonable priced ‘Shagga’ line!”

The 1948 work Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman  (image source: http://almostdorothy.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/on-surrealism-in-paradise-or-how-collaboration-makes-people-crazy-i-mean-magic/)

MonMouth adds that in the real world our erotic existence has to contend itself with bannisters, railings, sofas, sturdy chairs and dining tables. Though he does admit “it doesn’t make my design fetishist’s heart sing. I long for those beautiful sculptural leather, wood and brass constructions with cushioned stirrups and shamelessly accessible anchor points.” I call torture furniture specialist Fetters to find out if there is a balance between design and practicality.

“Our main bondage chair was designed originally for a client who wanted the same chair from the film Maîtresse.” Owner of Fetters, John Bannister says. “Have you seen that film? It’s the chair that the dominatrix ties the burglars to.”
“Do your customers often ask you to make their fantasy chairs?” I ask him.
“Yes and our furniture evolves from customer feedback as well.”
“What about if you don’t have a spare room or dungeon?”
“A lot of our furniture is flat-packed.” He says. “Not the big bondage chair, but the ladder back chair for instance, once it’s flat-packed you can store it in a cupboard.”
“How about something a bit unusual?” I ask John.
“We have a gynaecology chair. Our version is cheaper than the medical version.” Flatpacked furniture, cheaper than the original, is this the key to erotic furnishing? Perhaps so. But then I have tea with a friendly kinkster who tells me that Fetters don’t cater for his fantasy. I’m baffled, how is it possible? They even have a slave toilet chair! He tells me that fear is his aphrodisiac, so his erotic chair has to be as outlandish as possible, namely the electric chair. I call Andy at Fettered Pleasures to find out if they have any electric chairs in stock.
“We haven’t made one yet.” He says. “It’s one of my ambitions thought, to make it with different electrical stimulation points on it.”

“What’s the most extreme piece of furniture you’ve actually made for a customer?” I ask him.
“A steel coffin with full rubber padding and wired for sound and electro stimulation.” He says. Content that my fetish friend isn’t as extreme as the person who ordered the coffin. I call artist Paul Fryer, famous for his sculpture Pietra featuring Jesus in an electric chair. The sculpture made in his studio in London has just been exhibited in a Cathedral in France. Not quite sure how to broach the subject of sexual fantasies involving his sculpture, we chat instead about nail varnish instead.

“I say I’m not a transvestite anymore,” Paul says “but I’m looking at my toes, they’re painted pink.”
“I’m wearing blue.” I tell him.
“And I have uniforms in my wardrobe, I buy them on the premise that I’m going to make an artwork of them, but then I never do.”
“Talking about your artwork…” I gather up my courage. “I have a friend who is into electric chair fantasy role play. You don’t know where I can find an electric chair by any chance?”
“If he wants to come to my studio I can oblige him.” He says. “I have a full size electric chair.”
“Didn’t you use it for Jesus?”
“The Pieta sculpture is a child-sized electric chair. It makes the viewer feel like they’re looking down. But I had to make the prototype first in the normal size. I based it on the Sing Sing one.”
“So why do you think some of us find it erotic?” He goes quiet. I hope he’s not about to put the phone down.

“It’s an anachronism.” He says. “It’s an update of a medieval torture instrument they used in the inquisition which had spikes and head crushes. Now it’s technological because it uses electricity. It’s a potent symbol because it’s an outlandish way to die.” That’s when I think of Pharrell’s observation when he first set bum in the Perspective Chair.

“Amazing, amazing, amazing” He said, four legs emerging from beneath him “if life could just be this way, if we could have fabricators for everything we think of in our lives…” He gets up, his oversized dice dangling from his back pocket. Little does he know that you don’t have to be an LA millionaire to get your erotic chair designed. Even us ordinary kinksters, can get our hands on our own fantasy chairs; although depending on what’s in our head, they might not come with a flat-pack option.

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