Artist: Rhiannon Aarons
Exhibition: Rabbit Hole
Gallery: Gatov Gallery
About the Artist
Rhiannon Aarons is an art educator, curator, studio assistant, adult model, dominatrix, and mother. She is a feminist in the way that most women, and the world, don’t want her to be. In the past 30 years, she has faced extreme discrimination for being an artist while having a child, an expectation that is completely unreasonable. Everything that she does, is to just simply feed her practice and put a roof over her head.
“In fall of 2015, a video I had done for a small adult production company in 2009 was released on a free site and received over 250,000 views. I was recognized by a bartender near campus. It left me with the intense realization that this part of my life had to be addressed. I deeply believe that the demonization of sex work is rooted in misogyny, but it exists all the same.”
Rhiannon Aarons is at CSULB for her MFA in printmaking. “Rabbit Hole” is only one of her many works.
There is a large part of this exhibit that I will not be able to talk about as much as I would like to because I was sadly not present at the time it occurred. Rabbit Hole officially opened on Sunday, April 23, 2016, with a special performance from Sheree Rose, Martin O’Brien, and Aarons herself. They performed a simulated rabbit abortion, where Rose pulled out a bloody rabbit from inside Aarons. (Please keep in mind that this all second-hand knowledge I learned from Aarons because this was the event that I could not go to, unfortunately.) The performance was reminiscent of what Rose and her late partner Flanagan would usually do in the 1990’s, and in many ways, also acts as an educational opportunity for people interested in medical studies and the BDSM lifestyle. (More from Rose and Flanagan later.)
While Aarons’ work has a lot to do with that of Rose’s and Flannagan’s, her art goes further beyond performance and extends to her prints. Rabbit Hole has a lot to do with the works of Lewis Carroll’s most famous story, “Alice in Wonderland.” Aarons takes drawings from John Tenniel’s original book illustrations and redraws through a different lens to show a different meaning.
Here we have “Multiplication” the first work in the exhibit that is made of a 6 print installation and a hardcover book. The pictures themselves all look the same from far away, but up close you can see the development of a story where Alice is in essence, giving birth to hundreds of rabbits. This is different from the original illustration where Alice is just sitting on a chair with her cat. The pictures are all black and white, paper and ink. They are framed in very simple black frames so as to not divert the attention of the audience. The book that’s part of the piece is titled “Curiouser and Curiouser: Multiplication.” It includes the full transcript text of the Roe vs Wade case, as well as illustrations from Aarons, John Tenniel, and the public domain.
While most of Aarons’ work is print and resembles Tenniel’s art style, she does have some pieces which are quite different and can be considered very odd at first sight. For example, “Bed Redux” consists of PVC sheets used in Philosophy in the Bedroom – a collaboration event that occurred in November of last year with Rose, O’Brien, and Aarons, and has bodily fluids from the experience. From what I could see, they just have blood on them. That’s the oddest of the bunch, however, Aarons also includes a business card from the hotel where the event was staged. It symbolizes an important moment in the relationship of the trio.
The reasons on why Aarons does this work are extremely complex and very hard to talk about. I consider them hard to talk about because they have a lot of social stigmas that considers them taboo, and because of that some will feel inadequate top discuss such topics. When talking to Aarons, she tells me that you can tell when a girl is dominant as early as the age of 14. Sexual orientation will help develop how much of a dominant she is but won’t fully blossom until she is much older. In many ways, many women are dominants, but the nature of it never fully develops, and women don’t embrace it because society has made it taboo and represses their nature. This is very much like the Alice that Aarons shows us.
Alice as an overall character is very controversial because of Carroll’s original depiction of her. Alice is very much an innocent little girl, but there are sexual connotations behind her character and the world she is from, not to mention all the different interpretations of her that have been made in more recent years. Alice in the original book goes through many body transformations where she is told what to eat to make her body larger or smaller. This is a key factor of the idea that society represses girls because they are afraid of what they will do, and what they will be like if they find out how to use their sexuality and start having sex. You can ask almost any girl if she has ever been seen as an object for someone else and if she has ever been stigmatized if she has tried to have sex. It is an issue that will always present in society. The idea that you’re either a slut, or you’re a prude.
Going on to further that idea, and to show the contrast of it, we can all agree that the majority of us see older women (+40) as not sexual beings. Meaning, women of an older age just don’t have sex, they don’t think about sex. That is wrong! This where Sheree comes in. Sheree is a dominatrix that found out she was dominant very early in her life. Over time, society told her that was bad, but it wasn’t until Bob Flanagan came around, and let her fully develop this nature of hers, that she let it take off. Sadly, Flanagan died in 1996 because of cystic fibrosis, a condition he had been born with, and the event ultimately caused Sheree to go into retirement. Now Sheree is a 75-year-old woman who has come out of her retirement thanks to Martin O’Brien, who also has CF, to show the world that older women can still get it on.
However, it’s not just older women that aren’t seen as sexual beings. It’s also mothers. This where Aarons is directly affected, because well, she is a mother. As if being discriminated because she is an artist and a mother was bad enough, she is also discriminated because she has sex. Moreover, she is discriminated because she comes out in an adult film and is dominant. Aarons is no stranger to death threats from people she knows.
“I remember watching _50 Shades of Grey_ fly off the shelves as I received death threats from a co-worker over my personal history. As I started forging new relationships in graduate school I was pained at the prospect of continuing to lie by omission.”
In many ways, all of this just come back to society and its views of women. As a matter of fact, we can actually say that it’s mainly the male’s perspective of the female because in many ways society is male dominated. That’s why Tenniel’s works are relative to Aarons because she takes illustrations that were created by a man, to show a little girl’s story, and manipulates them to show an underlying story that is not very well accepted. The underlying story is only hinted at because it is so taboo and because people don’t even want to associate it with the what we see as the overlying story. In essence, Aarons takes Tenniel and puts her own form of feminism on it, but still keeps the original lens intact.
Looking at the exhibit was as much an experience as it was writing about it. Like I said before, I feel somewhat inadequate to talk about such subjects because I am somewhat ignorant and innocent of such things. I grew up in a catholic family, I still live with my parents, and I am an older sister. And in many ways, that makes me a candidate to fall under the same ideas for what Alice is. A young girl, innocent of many things, but because she is a girl, is still objectified as this sexual being whether she knows it or not. However, because I am innocent doesn’t mean I am completely ignorant. I mean common on, I did go to high school, I am in college, and many of my friends are having sex now. They might not know so much, but they do it, and in many cases, they can’t tell their parents because they would be disowned or they can’t let peers know because they will be judged.
However, because I feel inadequate doesn’t necessarily mean that I wasn’t going to write about this. I actually wanted to write about this, despite’s my lack of knowledge and shyness, because I believe in the things that the exhibit, and everybody involved in it, stand for. For me, it’s feminism. And it’s a very different take on feminism that we don’t often see. To a lot of us, feminism is just women having rights and saying that women are equal to men. However, that isn’t just the case. To me, feminism is also about acceptance of everyone beyond gender. We are equal because we accept that we are equal, and in many ways, that means that we know who we are. Like RuPaul says “How in the hell you gonna love somebody else if you can’t love yourself?” It’s true! How are you ever going to accept someone else, if you don’t know who you are and accept that first?
While Aarons work is certainly for an older audience, there are elements of it that should be taught earlier. Girls should be taught that it’s ok to be who they are, embrace their natures and that they should stand up for themselves.