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Pillowbook: Life in the floating world

Like many other boys born after 1990, he emerged through the foliage of the physical and digital. He came to be through existing simultaneously in two parallel spaces, the world of flesh and its discreet astral underbelly, a place where the faceless torsos communicate without moving their lips.


A fresh queer boy cruised the digital plain looking for promiscuous pleasure with strangers. He was served with a pallet of electric encounters and brutal degradation. The diet morphed him into the posterchild of 21st century contradictions. The grand order give him something in the shape of "freedom" with a toolkit to explore sexuality but unarmed him with the vocabulary of love. Still embroiled in the systemic constraints of the physical realm which didn't provide a place for confession, he relied on the unsentimental communique from ghosts far and wide, who were cold to the touch.


He started to collect images on the move. Even on public transport, he would screenshot the library of bodies which would momentarily appear on his screen only to vanish seconds later as the train moved me out of range. This ephemeral acknowledgement was an invasion. He would compile these images against the intent of their authors, but this is a risk most have unknowingly subscribed to over the last decade. Now, anyone can collect your image and play a character with your mask. In a more sinister turn, through data mining and the development of facial recognition technology, capitalist systems now dredge out private information to produce algorithms that predict behaviours in order to sell products and make profit. In some ways, the boy was emulating this problematic system, profiting through the appropriation and exploitation of others images. As he painted and drew what he saw, he wrestled with the ethics of this voyeuristic practice. 

Cruising in the woods has evolved into more accessible digital methods, changing the behaviours of men considerably. Though these behaviours are closely related, the most significant difference is that we now exist performatively online. In an exclusionary space like Grindr, terms such as "Masc" and "Genuine" push singular ideas of masculinity. With the constant regurgitation of these patriarchal messages, men are actively changing their behaviours and language to appear more manly. The sissy boy is shamed. Femininity is therefore ostracised unless it's engaged with as a fetish. The ideals of male beauty are progressively homogenised into a singular warped version of manhood which is phobic to itself, particularly for those living in a regionally isolated setting. 

His observations made him consider geography and the temporal social conditions he and other gay men are born into. The terror of Chechnya comes to mind, where the government authorities hacked into Grindr to hunt, torture and murder queer people like some terrifying Orwellian horror story.

As is the case with all forms of prohibition, despite the risks, life finds a way as said famously by Dr Ian Malcom. Men still operate in the same way despite the fatal risks. He saw this it in Morocco. Even within an Islamic state (albeit one closely aligned with Europe) men were still using Grindr visibly and showing their image, seemingly without concern. In fact, the quality of the images where almost professional. Idyllic lean and muscular figures resting against sunny beach scenes and liberated from the dim confines of a bedroom which are common in England's north. This isn’t that strange, considering tourism's role in the economies of Marrakesh. Many of the boys living there must find a way to survive, and as expected the app is populated by hustlers who use it as a method of income.

He did his best not to be overly critical of the app and allowing his own negative perceptions overlook the potential good it brings. However, he still lived within pressures of the real world and the overspill into the intangible, and his criticality came from the histories of inequality and prejudice which impersonal apps proliferate. The tool becomes preventative to the purpose intended by it's creators. Users will display their body in confident anonymity, but will form unhealthy comparisons to the bodies of others. They will engage non verbally with multiple avatars, but will they avert their eyes when crossing paths in the street. Worse so, some feel empowered to openly discriminate, usually starting profiles with “I am into”, and then proceed to outline racial attributes they will not engage with or visa versa; under the guise that racism apparently doesn’t count in context to sex.

Gay boys are born submerged now in the flood of online dating/sex culture, and the once infantile queer felt part of its legacy, He was complicit to the metamorphosis of LGBTQIA+ mating rituals and fractures in the community. From circumstantial physical interactions (cruising) to premeditated non-verbal introductions (online dating) he and his brothers and sisters shift towards a dependency of telepathic experiences through virtual portals. The images that simulate our likeness and bodies in selfies has become currency to barter for affection and self-value, with these images and the stories through these networks serving as the basis of his practice in an effort to overcome the struggles to find intimacy.

The boy chose to title this series of work Pillowbook, which comes from a type of handscroll made from Shunga (Translated into English means "Pictures of Spring"), an erotic offshoot of Japanese printmaking and painting born out of the Ukiyo-e tradition. Flourishing in the Edo Period (Late 17th Century - 19th Century) Ukiyo-e, means "Floating World Pictures", which typically depict urban life in a pre-western influenced Japan. He thought about the similarities between these two realms of otherness, which sits outside of the mythical spectrum of "normativity" that those he's surrounded by live within, unaware of the patterns, movements and rendezvous which have always existed in obscure discretion.

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