Rated RX: Sheree Rose with and after Bob Flanagan

This article is authored by Yetta Howard, from the 2018-19 cohort of the LGBTQ Research Fellowship program at the ONE Archives Foundation.

My second book project, Rated RX: Sheree Rose with and after Bob Flanagan, is indebted to the archival research I conducted at ONE. Currently under contract with Ohio State University Press, Rated RX is an edited collection of photographs, archival materials, and essays by scholars and artists on the life-work of artist Sheree Rose. Rose is primarily known for blurring the boundaries between art practice and lived experience in the context of her full-time, mistress-slave relationship with late partner of 16 years, Bob Flanagan. Flanagan, “supermasochist” performance artist, suffered from Cystic Fibrosis (CF) but, with Rose, translated the illness into extreme and revolutionary approaches to performance art before his death in 1996. As a feminist project that critically re-assesses artistic legacies through the lens of Rose’s collaborative strategies, Rated RX considers what it means to de-center the male artist as the site of innovation and reorient sexist approaches to curation and archival practices via Rose’s work with Flanagan and reconceived collaborative performances in 2013–17.

In addition to essays by performance art and sexuality studies scholars and Rose’s collaborators, Rated RX contains approximately 50 images, many of which are reproductions from the Rose/Flanagan collection at ONE and span the range of her creative and collaborative work reflected both within and beyond the archive. I wish to highlight here a small selection of materials from ONE that not only guided my approaches to organizing parts of the book project but may also be less-explored documents when thinking about the necessity of situating Rose’s work in feminist art history and underground cultural history. I am grateful to ONE archivist Cooper T. Moll whose cataloguing of the Rose/Flanagan collection significantly facilitated my archival research.

While Rose and Flanagan are thought to be primarily associated with performance art, their world included some of the most path-breaking underground cultural contexts. In addition to redefining sexual, museum, and subcultural space via BDSM practices, the visual presence of Rose and Flanagan’s collaborative performances played a significant role in industrial, metal, and noise music culture including Rose and Flanagan being featured in videos by Nine Inch Nails, Danzig, and Godflesh. The document here is a letter addressed to Rose by Tom Hallewell, a promoter for Psychic TV, an experimental group fronted by Genesis P-Orridge who is a founding member of Throbbing Gristle.

Image Credits

Top image: Letter from Tom Hallewell to Sheree Rose, c. 1988. Courtesy of ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.

Yetta Howard
2018 LGBTQ Research Fellow, ONE Archives Foundation

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