We’re Still Working Artist Interview: Grace Van Ness


“Object”, 2016, Grace Van Ness and Juliette Stray. Image courtesy of the artist.

Where and how did the idea for OBJECT originate?

The idea behind Object originated in conversation with my collaborator, Juliette Stray, an incomparable muse and self-described “silicone-stuffed bimbo in the porn industry.” She shared with me a number of stories, fetishes, and fantasies, and as we chatted about filth and desire, a common theme emerged: objectification. In our project, this word serves dual purposes – it is objectification as a sexual desire, as well as the daily object-ifying of life as a doll. As Juliette states, “her life revolves around diligently sculpting herself into a Real Doll,” and that’s certainly a perspective I wanted to bring out in the piece. I also deeply relate to her desire to be objectified sexually in certain, consensual scenarios, and wanted to bring visibility to that inclination, misunderstood and misrepresented as it so often is.

What do you hope people to take away from the showcase?

Object is a piece meant to inspire questions, more than anything else. Objectification is a dirty word, and rightly so. Objectification is constantly and consistently used to degrade, shame, and marginalize, and those who treat others as objects are the absolute worst. And – in very specific, very consensual scenarios – that is exactly the kind of dirtiness one desires. To be used, treated like a hole, like a toy. A doll. Object. Anonymous and meaningless. This manner of objectification is the pleasure of being a collection of parts, for only by being broken and remade – piece by piece – can the object be understood and used to its fullest extent.

This, I hope, is what people think about while standing in front of the piece. On the left side wall, the three sequences that cycle together each depict a surrealistically mirrored sexual encounter: of human with silicone hand, of doll with human, of silicone hand with human hand. On the right side wall, flesh holes are overlaid on plastic holes, looping and repeating and confusing. Together, these projections are meant to obfuscate and, as a result, lead the viewer to question our notion of who is object, what is object, and which is more or less real. This competing sense of artifice and authenticity is further reinforced by the not-quite-live-action and not-quite-stop-motion nature of the video itself, as well as the presentation of the work in multiple collected and dissected pieces of a whole. Similarly, by inviting the audience to cradle the included silicone hand while watching it used in the piece, perhaps the confrontation itself is more immediately tangible and personal. Again, I hope the viewer is left unsure of what is object and what is objectifier, what is hole and what is mouth – and why

What do you think is the importance of having exhibitions that showcase sex workers and their environment?

I believe it’s of the utmost importance that sex workers – whose stories are often co-opted and sensationalized – are given the space to tell their own stories in their own voices. By doing so, I hope that others will see, will listen, and will begin to understand that every sex worker is an individual with a unique, multi-dimensional story. Rife with generalizations, stigma, and shame, the sex worker narrative needs to be rewritten by those whose narrative it actually is. Perhaps then, a connectedness, a shared experience will be communicated, and people will begin to empathize, start to understand.

What lies on the future radar for you as an artist?

There’s so much in the works, I’m incredibly excited! As co-founder of Failed Films - a fantastically perverted art and film festival that seeks to support local artists – I’m beyond excited for our upcoming Spring event. Held in early April, we’ll be showcasing all kinds of submissions – films, photographs, sculpture – from incredible artists. Of course, Failed Films also has the immense pleasure of collaborating with We’re Still Working: The Art of Sex Work, to bring an evening of films by and in celebration of sex workers to the SOMArts gallery on February 17th. We’ll be highlighting several pieces from our past Fall event by artists Arabelle Raphael, Ingrid Mouth, and Marcelle Marais/Princess VuVu, as well as screening Logout’s incredible film, Lucid Noon Sunset Blush

About Grace Van Ness:
Grace Van Ness is a multimedia artist with a background in experimental documentary film and photography. With a particular interest in intimacy, Grace seeks to explore the ways we tell our own stories, blending documentary with art and social justice. Her work has appeared in publications like Playboy, and has also been featured at a number of film festivals, including La Fête du Slip and the SF Bay Area Sex Worker Film & Arts Festival. Grace’s video editing and motion graphics design work is also highlighted on many a XXX webpage, and has been awarded several AVN and XBIZ awards. She is the co-founder and artistic director of Failed Films, and currently works as a freelance pornographer. 

About the Interviewer:
Tara Chandi is SOMArts’ Communications & Gallery Events Intern. She is pursuing a Master’s in Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts. Her work is focused on designing for sustainable solutions and systemic change.