In the run up to CSM’s highly anticipated fine art degree show, we were especially excited to talk with the fascinating Amy Kingsmill. As a performance artist, her work draws from surrealist and fetishistic influences and confronts audiences with issues that they would usually rather avoid. I talked with Amy about life on London’s club scene, the legitimacy of artistic context and the beauty of submission.1granary_1granary.com_central_saint_martins_fine_art_amy_kingsmill_1000Frieze art fair 

“I’ve stepped into something completely bigger than I expected.”

Amy started her foundation at CSM completely unaware of “how much of a big deal it was”, finding it strange that some peers had dreamt about coming to the college since they were children. The course uniquely enabled Amy to pursue fine art, textiles and fashion, as well as the fact that she’d seen Alexander McQueen featured amongst CSM’s alumni. Her diverse range of both playful and haunting works allude to these principal interests, drawing from an eclectic mix of masks, garments and props, both manufactured and hand made. She is convinced that there is something very important about studying in London as it gives much more opportunities than anywhere else. In terms of comparative institutional experiences, Amy recalls her interview with Goldsmiths who found her “too wacky”. On presenting work that featured a sensory deprivation box, “they looked at me and they looked at the metal dog collar I was wearing and they said, “this is something fetishistic isn’t it?”, in this way that I was like dirt on their shoe.” She points out that sensory deprivation is linked to meditational techniques that feature in her own life rather than being solely fetishistic. “I never had that problem with Saint Martins”.

 Untitled (Dunce) Worn at Subversion 06/2012; Untitled (Patient) Worn at Club Rub 2011

I wanted to discuss a photo I’d seen of Amy at the Frieze Art Fair because, as it transpires, she was asked by Frieze security staff to leave in relation to her clothing. Most people, myself included, assumed that the decision was based on the fact that she wore a small veil across her eyes and that there might have been security concerns. The staff however claimed that she had not purchased the correct ticket to be able to promote herself as an artist at the fair. Amy had worn the clothes because she wanted to and hadn’t intended to make a statement. Although it does seem a tad presumptuous, Amy explains to me that she was made more conscious about the importance of one’s presentation as a performance artist; all clothing becomes an extension of one’s practice and is judged as such. She asks what would have happened if Lady Gaga or Grayson Perry, two high profile artistic figures, had turned up at Frieze in their typical extreme garb. Nothing. There would have been no issue because their high status legitimises their dress code in an art context; something Amy believes stifles new talent. She remarks, “I thought I dressed well, I thought I dressed interestingly” and the fact that Frieze felt threatened by her clothing showed it was worthwhile to dress in this way. Her dissertation, “Pervarts”, discusses the ways in which an art context legitimises certain decisions in terms of being part of an art practice rather than a lifestyle choice. There is thus an interesting contextual discrepancy that arises from the references to BDSM and fetishism in her artwork.1granary_1granary.com_central_saint_martins_students_fine_art_Amy_Kingsmill_1006Untitled 1hr 30 I walk to my position, hold my pose motionless and gaze straight ahead for as long as possible, then leave. 2013

“Life as Cynthia Icorn”

“I don’t want to piss people off at a private view,” she continues, explaining the necessity to dress appropriately. She points to her appearance today; Lolita clothing, a back brace, leg brace and shaved head. People want to “step up” what they wear at a private view but Amy concedes that this could be too extreme. Not to say that some people won’t go to these wonderful extremes, people such as Grayson Perry. It was the mention of Perry, whose persona Clare comes to mind, that lead me to ask about Cynthia Icorn, the lady who gives her name to a series of beautiful photographs entitled “Life as Cynthia Icorn”. The pseudonym is derived from Amy’s performances and work on the fetish scene. As her work is autobiographical, she sees no division between Cynthia and Amy. It depends on “who, where and what” in terms of how people refer to her, with masks being more closely linked to Cynthia. She stresses that these are artworks rather than documented “looks” or costumes; “to be pedantic, they begin as looks”. Reframing is key as she chooses to recontextualise and present her work in the fine art realm.

Bloomers by Marnie Scarlet; Untitled (Prison) Worn at Torture Garden 10/2012; Untitled (Stripes) Worn at Antichrist 03/2011


Amy establishes that “there are varying levels of extremes” with fetish club clothing but highlights her caution in introducing “taboo” work into the fine art context. Her performance, “Hogstess”, took place in the Street at CSM; a public space. Amy’s work is mostly created at home with performances then taking place in the public domain. She is dressed in a pink skin tight mask and skirt, draped in pearl necklaces and wears a pig snout and ears with breasts exposed. Endurance is key; she remained still for an hour and a half. As a life model, she knows how taxing stillness can be. The motionless stance conjures the sense that “this is art”,  the onlooker’s gaze drawn towards the mesmerising gravitas of the still figure. This is a far cry from some nightclubs which seem not always to be such a safe place; she admits to have been groped by those who find her work too exciting. In terms of “Hogstess” she says the reaction was positive despite receiving a letter about her nudity. Away in her workspace at home, she hadn’t considered this as being an issue. She affirms her attitude that she doesn’t see the female body as sexualised, although others do. “If it was a man performing, there wouldn’t have been a problem”.1granary_1granary.com_central_saint_martins_students_fine_art_Amy_Kingsmill_1002

The Virgin Madonna (Detail) Worn at Whiskey Mist 12/2012

“Horrific acts… tenderness and beauty.”

We continued to discuss ideas of endurance in her collaborative performance with Adam Electric, a ritualised piece in which Amy pierces her eyebrows and arms with hypodermic needles. “Piercing isn’t an endurance act”, she explains and relates it, like ritual, to her own life . Although she has explored the endurance of pain in other projects, she finds there is “more endurance in stillness”. She does however go on to describe her performance “His Kisses” in the Untouchable exhibition at Mori and Stein, curated by Franko B, in which she recreated the marks impacted on her body by her dominant. A descriptive audio piece is used to portray the “horrific acts” with “tenderness and beauty”. Here, Amy seeks to express the beauty of submission, alluding to martyrdom. This was the first time she presented S&M in a white cube space which, pleasingly for her, brought together both her fetish following and members of the art world. Presenting a physically injured female body obviously has its’ own social implications but she affirms that the starting point wasn’t strictly based on domestic abuse. She doesn’t deny it being political but affirms it is autobiographical. There is the exploration of sadomasochism as an art form; “endurance in reflection”.1granary_1granary.com_central_saint_martins_students_fine_art_Amy_Kingsmill_1004

Performance with Adam Electric.

I enter with a bag of salt, a bowl of water, a crystal and a plate of hypodermic needles. I kneel, pour salt into the water, wash myself with the water, I then was the Angel with the water, I wash myself again and place the crystal in my mouth, I then hold my head under water as long as I can, when I return I leave the crystal in the water. I ten take a needle from the plate and pierce my eyebrow, I continue to do this five times and then, removing the needles anoint the Angel with my blood, I then pierce each forearm with a needle and salute the Angel.

Photography by Jan Fetishclubpix

“The works direct themselves. They affect the body… they affect the mind.”

Amy’s pieces feature a range of physical restrictions which she describes as affecting the body and thus the mind; “they direct themselves” in the same way that one might “wear a frilly dress to a picnic or leather at a punk gig… Some clothes feel sexier, creepier, or more surreal than others”. Using objects for new purposes and juxtaposing specific components all help to dictate the end result, rather than relying on particular visual cues to inform her performance. She gives me the example of a teddy bear head piece which acts as a visual cue for the audience (not her) to imply playfulness. People in the club ended up wanting to hug the said bear (although she admits one person in the studio wanted to run away from it). By being inactive rather than interactive in performances such as “Hogstess”, these works are rendered “processable”.1granary_1granary.com_central_saint_martins_students_fine_art_Amy_Kingsmill_1000The Matriarch (Detail) Worn at Club Rub 10/2011

For Amy’s final exhibition, a different performance will be presented twice each day for at least two hours as well as the presentation of accompanying documentation. In terms of her marvellous future post CSM, she has already created a high profile for herself in clubs and will continue to perform and collaborate in London. I love to see Amy’s infectious excitement about exhibitions and performances across the city and these are some of her recommendations:

  • •The Spill Festival of Performance and Empress Stah
  • •The artist Martin O’Brien
  • •Rocio Boliver at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern; “a wonderful person who glows fantastic insane art”
  • •The Wellcome Collection
  • •Marnie Scarlet; “a fantastic cabaret performer on the fetish and alternative scene”

For Amy’s portfolio:

For more information about Amy’s upcoming performance in the degree show:

For more information about the CSM Fine Art 2013 exhibition:

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