Anna Taylor, Nordic Model Triptych, 2016. Cotton, natural dye, cotton embroidery thread, 25 x 66 cm; 60 x 66 cm; 25 x 66 cm.
Anna Taylor, Moral Code, 2016. Cotton, natural dye, cotton embroidery thread, 60 x 66 cm.
Anna Taylor, Tentacle and Pony & Friends (Sex toys), 2014-ongoing. Porcelain, earthenware, leather. Series of 8 sculptures varying in size from 5 x 5 x 15 cm to 7 x 7 x 20 cm.
Several works by multi-disciplinary craft artist Anna Taylor are situated throughout the Living Room. Two of Anna’s hand-embroidered tapestries are displayed on the Living Room’s walls, and nine hand-painted ceramic sex toys can be seen beneath the glass of the coffee table. A triptych entitled Nordic Model hangs on the wall to the right of the mantel piece. It is composed of three embroidered fabric panels; the side panels are dyed purple while the centre panel is a light blue colour. This work is a reflection on the report published by Amnesty International in 2016, which describes the impact of the criminalization of sex work in Norway – printed copies of this report can be found in the Living Room’s library. “Nordic Model” is a term that describes the similarities in legislative approaches to sex work across a number of Northern European countries including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Finland, which started to come into effect in 1999. The “Nordic Model” removed laws that made the direct act of selling sex illegal, while criminalizing the organization and promotion of selling sex, punishable primarily through fines. In 2014, Canada followed suit and passed similar legislation on sex work with Bill C–36.
On the side panels of Nordic Model, Anna depicts the Amnesty International logo: a yellow candle entwined with barbed wire. A red lamp post stands paralell to the long yellow candle, and beautiful plants with intricately stitched leaves and fruits weave along the barbed wire. On the central panel, Anna has embroidered a detailed image of a traditional Norwegian house with grass growing out of its sod roof, walls built of stone with white framed windows and a rust-coloured door. Anna used French knots and dense stitches to make the moss and grass of the roof especially lush. Below the house, text that reads “Operajoin Housless 2007–2011” is embroidered in black thread. Translated, this means “Operation Homeless,” which is the name of a Norwegian police operation that pressured landlords in Oslo to evict sex workers from their homes between 2007 and 2011, though it continues unofficially. This textile work comments on the right to housing lost by sex workers forcibly evicted from their homes.
Anna’s other tapestry in the Living Room is Moral Code, a work on natural grey linen hung on the wall by the window. Here, the artist has embroidered a quote from Bill C-36, also known as the “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.” The text reads: “Whereas the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns about the exploitation that is inherent in prostitution and the risks of violence posed to those who engage in it.” It is significant that in the title of this Bill the protection of an undefined community is placed before the exploited person. Flanking either side of this text are lampposts, below which two beavers mill about. Red umbrellas – the symbol for the sex worker rights movement – are featured atop and bottom-centre. Roses and wheat, symbols for the women’s labour movement, are also incorporated throughout the border. This composition – with text in the centre and figurative and pattern components as a border around the written message – references the historical practice of stitching samplers practiced by European girls and women. Bill C-36 made it a criminal offence to purchase sex, to “live off the avails” of sex work, to communicate in public about or to advertise sexual services, to conduct sex work indoors or to run a bawdy house. So, while sex work itself is not illegal under this Bill, much of the activity that supports this work is criminalized. This Bill increased the risks posed to sex workers, forcing them to work in more covert ways without support which puts them in considerable danger. This seems at odds with the Bill’s stated concern about the safety of those engaged in sex work. “Embroidery samplers historically include a line from the Bible or a moralizing quotation,” Anna notes. “By using the traditional format of the embroidery sampler I hope to highlight the moral biases of lawmakers.”
Of these textile works, Anna states: “My embroideries entitled Moral Code and Nordic Model neither endorse nor oppose the decriminalization of sex work. Instead I try to illustrate the ways in which the structures of law serve to make sex work systemically more dangerous. These tapestries are delicate, as are the topics which inform them.”
Displayed inside the glass-top coffee table are nine hand-built, hand-painted ceramic sex toys made by Anna over the last four years. As you sit on the couch or in one of the armchairs you can take your time observing the intricate details of these tantalizing works. Some of the pieces resemble conventional sex toy shapes, such as the four butt plugs in varying sizes painted with sweet blue flowers and little green leaves. There is also a pony tail – a ceramic butt plug with a tassel of leather strips – and a slimmer shape formed by stacking balls of clay into a curved bulbous form. Other forms are more fantastical and unusual. There are three tentacle-like toys with small pearly nodules cresting through delicate lips at their tips, with ribbed suction cups along its length painted in soft pink hues. A similar pattern of blue flowers and green leaves covers each tentacle. The tentacle toys push gender binary associations by blending sexual organs – a phallus and lips, nerve clusters and otherworldly features – that defy categories and break boundaries and binaries. In this work, Anna presents wonderous fantasies that offer a way to move through inner and outer intimacies that inspire pleasure in comfortable and okay-feeling ways, potentially navigating the hard edges of sexual trauma and transphobic messaging and violence embedded in our society’s sexual culture. By using sci-fi-inspired imagery that hints at either outer-space intrigue or deep-sea adventures, Anna playfully and powerfully imagines unfettered queer futures.