Pictures from an Exhibition: Ben


1: Bar

Ben Openshaw, Black-stained oak with leather and stainless steel fittings.

I include the bar as the first item in this collection because it represented, for me, the starting point of this exploration. A couple commissioned me to make them a bar, and showed me a number of drawings and photographs. None were in a modern idiom; the models appeared to be drawn from an ill-informed Victorian image of a medieval torture chamber or else an ill-informed modern image of a Victorian brothel. In short, they were neither elegant nor particularly well adapted to their purpose.

This bar is simply a bar. The subject can place her hands on it, or can be bent over it. Fittings are provided to attach cuffs.

[On loan from the collection of Grahame and Annabel Macintosh]


Inside, the building was airy and spacious, with great curving timbers soaring into the gloom of the roof. Towards one end, in front of floor-to-eaves windows, half a dozen big machines crouched on the wooden floor; in the middle stood an old-fashioned carpenters bench, with hand tools neatly racked at one side of it. Curling shavings lay on the bench and the floor around it, and the air was sharp with the smell of new-cut wood. The old man led the way through the workshop, through a door, into a spacious kitchen. He offered Sheila a seat at an oak refectory table, and put a heavy kettle on the Aga.

He sat down opposite her. “You said you wanted to talk about an exhibition?” he asked, quietly.

“Yes,” Sheila took a folder out of her bag and opened it, nervously rearranging papers. “We’re planning to hold an exhibition for the end of June, and Mr Macintosh — he’s the owner of the gallery?”

A faint question, to check that he understood. The old man nodded.

“Mr Macintosh wanted me to talk to you about it. To persuade you to show some of your work.”

“Did Grahame say what work he wanted me to show?”

Sheila blushed, and looked down. “It’s… to be an exhibition of contemporary erotic art. Grahame — Mr Macintosh said you made erotic furniture?”

This time the question was a request for clarification, an expression of puzzlement. The old man merely nodded again.

There was a pause, a silence. Sheila let it draw out, hoping he’d say something. He surprised her on so many levels, as he sat, weather beaten, white haired, in his generous kitchen. A big old man. A man who’d been powerful, but now was fining down with age, becoming slightly gangly, slightly ungainly. His grey eyes behind their rimless glasses looked back at her calmly. Sheila let the silence grow, hoping to provoke him into saying something; but when at last he did speak it was in response to the now-boiling kettle. Would she have coffee, or tea?

She asked him for tea, and he made it in a pot — a beautiful, hand thrown pot, with a rich temmoku glaze — which looked small in his big, square hands.

“You want furniture for an exhibition in June,” he said, quietly, offering her a mug.

“Yes,” said Sheila, sounding uncertain in her own ears.

“Who else is showing?”

“We aren’t inviting any other craftspeople,” said Sheila, still too tentative. “It will be mostly paintings and photographs. Rhodri Morgan is in, for certain.”

The old man smiled. “How many pieces would you want?”

“How many could you let us have?”

He sat back, thoughtfully. Somewhere through an open door, an old clock ticked slowly. “I’ve a couple of ideas I’m working on,” he said. His voice was soft, but clear and decisive. “And Grahame has a couple of pieces of mine, if he’d be prepared to lend them. Six or eight, I think — depending on how much room you have.”

“I’ll need to talk to Mr Macintosh, but I’m sure we’d love to have the pieces.”

There didn’t seem anything more to say. The craftsman didn’t speak. Again the silence stretched. Sheila sipped her tea. She looked round, restively.

“It’s a beautiful house…”

He smiled. “My wife and I built it to retire to.”

“Your wife..?”

“Died,” he said, quietly.

“Oh, I’m sorry!”

“It’s… a long while ago. It is a good house.”


“So what did you make of Ben?”

Sheila laughed. “He wasn’t what I expected.”

“In what way?”

“He isn’t doing this — he isn’t making furniture for money, is he?”

Grahame laughed. “Oh, heavens, no. He was an engineer… he used to design aeroplanes before he retired. This is… almost a hobby.”

Sheila nodded, slowly, as if understanding something. “But,” she asked, “erotic furniture? I thought he’d be louche. Raffish.”

“And he didn’t strike you that way?”

“No!” She sounded surprised. “No, not at all. Gentle. Thoughtful. Cultured. Grahame..?”


“Are you sure this is right? Will his work really stand up, beside Rhodri’s and Will’s and Genevieve’s?”

“What did you think?”

“He didn’t show me any.”

“Oh,” said her employer, clearly surprised. “Yes. Yes, it will.”

Erotic furniture? How could it?


2, 3: Dorsal and Ventral Stools

Ben bahçelievler escort Openshaw, Black stained beech with leather upholstery and restraints.

The bar is a simple device and perfectly functional. However, the posture of the subject is both ungraceful and uncomfortable. It was in considering these problems that I started work on the stools.

The dorsal stool was the first to be developed and is to my mind more satisfactory. Although the subject is supported only under the lumbar region, shoulders and neck, and the back is forced into a slightly arched posture, subjects find it comfortable. Restraint is at least as good as with the bar: indeed, to my mind, the throat strap adds a particular frisson to the restraint. Access for penetration is as good as with the bar. However, the dorsal stool is not suitable for flagellation.

The ventral stool was a development of the dorsal stool to address this issue. It is in fact designed to support a subject in either orientation. This adaptability however leads to poorer comfort for the subject and the additional restraints required to hold the subject in either position detract from the grace of the design. The ventral stool has proved satisfactory both for penetration and for flagellation.


Heather was clattering busily around the kitchen as usual, throwing breakfast together, talking rapidly over her shoulder to Laura, her words lost in the noise of the too-loud radio. Sheila watched them with a mixture of pride and irritation. At least since the issue of the tattoo she could reliably tell them apart — providing they were wearing sleeveless tops, which (of course) they both were. And identically too-tight jeans, with almost identical paint stains on the backsides. Sheila grinned to herself. She’d been so bloody angry with Laura about that tattoo, but… it was useful. She reached past Heather to get a coffee mug off the shelf.

“Oh, hi, Mum,” said Heather. “Didn’t see you were up. Want a bacon butty?”

“Just coffee,” said Sheila, pouring herself some. “Would you mind turning that infernal babble down?”

“Mum! It’s the news!”

“I just asked you to turn it down. I can’t stand John Prescott at this time in the morning. Why can’t you be like normal girls and not interested in politics?”

“You wouldn’t like it if we weren’t,” said Heather, reaching to turn the volume down. “Sure you don’t want a butty? I’m just going to turn the grill off.”

“Just coffee. You know I don’t eat at this time… Is Trix down yet? She’ll be late for school.”

“My name’s ‘Fiona’, Mother. You ought to know that, you gave it to me.”

“You aren’t even dressed..!”

“Oh, hush, Mother, I’ve got a study day. I don’t have to be in ’till this afternoon.”

“You will be able to get in all right, won’t you? I won’t be able to come back from work to give you a lift, you know.”

“There’s a bus, Mother. A large motor powered vehicle which perambulates lethargically about the streets, stopping intermittently to take on passengers.”

“You have got your phone charged..?”

“Mother dear, I’m eighteen. I can get to school and back all by myself.”

Sheila closed her eyes, and took a long slurp of hot black coffee. She shook her head. “All right then, Fiona. See you this evening, don’t be late for tea. Come on, twins, I need to go.”


4: Rocking chair

Ben Openshaw, Bleached beech.

I had some doubt about whether to include rocking chair (4) in this collection. Again, it represents a satisfactory early stage in the development of a concept, and, indeed, having watched it being used by a number of subjects, I now find it the most erotic item in this collection. However, in the context of this collection it is an anomaly: it is an auto-erotic device, giving the subject control over the depth and speed of her own penetration simply by rocking. The relative innocence of this item is reflected in the bleached finish used.

[Property of the artist; nfs]


“Good day,” said the phone, politely, “this is Ben Openshaw’s phone. If you are hearing this I must be out. Please leave a message with your number, and I’ll call you back.”

Sheila looked at the phone with surprise. It wasn’t so much surprise that he was out. Anyone could go out. It was surprise that he had anything as modern as an answering machine…

“Oh, Hi, Mr Openshaw, this is Sheila Grinstead from the gallery. We’ve decided to set aside a room for your work, and I was hoping you could confirm that you will have eight pieces.”

Talking to answering machines always felt odd; the impersonal silence at the other end of the line. Had one said enough? Should one sign off in some way? She looked uncomfortably at the phone again, and put it down. She looked down the list to see who was next to call. Oh, Rhodri…


“I thought it was Laura’s turn to cook?”

Without the twins, the kitchen was quiet and even spacious. Fiona was making one of her obsessive patterns bahçeşehir escort with slices of pepper, olives and anchovies on a couple of home-made pizza bases, and intermittently pushing the cat off the worktop; the cat didn’t seem offended.

“Oh, hello, Mother. Yes, it is, but I got home early, so why not? Besides, if she cooks we’ll get some dreadful bean salad thing, and I want real food.”

Sheila flipped the kettle on and reached across for a mug. “Had a good day at school?”

“OK. There’s really nothing much to do. The swots are all swotting and the lazy arses are all getting themselves into a panic because they haven’t done the work, but… There’s nothing much to do.”

“Trixie, I wish you wouldn’t be so arrogant. I know you’re clever, but it isn’t attractive.”

“How many times, Mother?” Fiona banged the oven door open. “I’m called ‘Fiona’. Oh, look out, here comes trouble…”

A twin exploded into the kitchen, looking unusually smart and clean — jeans without paint on them, for once. “Hi Mum,” she said. She ruffled Fiona’s hair. “How’s Trix?”

“Hi, Laura,” said Fiona, without even looking round. Sheila wondered yet again how she did it. Sheila herself could tell the twins apart, even without that bloody tattoo — but she had to look carefully.

Sheila sighed. “Where’s Heather?” she asked.

“Still up at college. Sorting out the sculpture hall for tonight’s gig.”

“Isn’t she going to come home for her tea?”

“No, Mum. Honestly, we aren’t children. I only really came back to get clothes for tonight — but yes, Trix, I will stay for some pizza, thanks…”

Sheila pulled another mug off the shelf and poured coffee for Laura. “I thought you were dressed up already,” she said. “What are the clean jeans for if not for partying?”

“Oh, Mum, you are so out of it. These… these are for Obi Wan. We’ll wear our scruffies for gigging. Want to come, Trixie?”

Fiona pointedly didn’t answer. Sheila looked hard at Laura; Laura affected not to notice.

“Laura,” said Sheila, “come through to the sitting room a moment.”

“OK, Mum…”

They went through.

“Laura, I don’t want you taking Fiona to your art college parties. She’s got her A levels to do, and she’s got to concentrate…”

“You mean you don’t like our friends…”

“I don’t want her to be distracted. Oh, and tell Heather not to bring David home. If she wants to sleep at his place…”

“Mum, David is so last week…”

“She’s dumped him already?” Sheila made a face. “I’m not surprised. But… just don’t bring boys home.”

Laura looked at her mother, suddenly alert. “You don’t want Trixie to get fucked, do you?”

“Laura! Don’t use that language in front of me!”

“But you don’t, do you?”

“She’s too young.”

“She’s eighteen, Mum.”

“I know, but she’s a very young eighteen.”

“Bollocks, Mum. Just because she’s clever. You know, you’d do us all a favour if you would go out and get laid. It’s five years since dad left, and you’ll wear that vibrator out…”

“That’s enough, Laura! I do not use a vibrator!”

“Why do you keep one in your bedside drawer, then?”

Sheila blushed angrily, and changed the subject. “Who’s this Obi Wan? Is he David’s replacement?”

“Heather can wish,” said Laura. “I saw him first. Mum, he is like completely amazing… he’s this lecturer we’ve got for sculpture. He’s not a full-time lecturer, he just comes in for this one course. Structures and materials… He does these brilliant things with amazing stuff, like carbon fibre and Kevlar and different foams and resins and stuff. And even just wood. He can make like any shape, and he can make things that are so strong you wouldn’t believe. And he makes you understand — not just how to do it, but how to choose the stuff you need to make the shapes you want and how to make them strong enough. He’s just… a magician. A wizard. He knows…”

“Lou, you’re not thinking of sleeping with one of — you aren’t sleeping with a lecturer, are you?”

“I wish,” said Laura, fervently. “No, I don’t think he’s interested in… any of us. But there’s no harm in trying… You should meet him, Mum. You’d… on second thoughts, no. You’re too hot and I don’t want any more competition!”

“I’m hot?” Sheila was surprised and distracted.

“Well, you are, Mum. Or you would be if you didn’t wear those bloody suits. You should borrow my jeans and a crop-top sometime, or my blue wrap-around.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Laura, I’d never get into your jeans…”

“Bet you would,” said Laura, stripping them off. “Dare you.”


Sheila was double-checking the accounts for the quarter when the phone rang. She picked it up with a sigh; she didn’t like distractions. “Good morning,” she said. “New Street Gallery.”

“Sheila Grinstead?” A soft, masculine voice. “Ben Openshaw.” Divorced from the person, the voice sounded — not younger, but — more timeless, somehow. More authoritative. Still quiet and gentle, ataşehir escort but with underlying strength. And humour. “You rang.”

“Yes,” said Sheila, suddenly flustered. “Yes, the contemporary erotica… I wanted to check you will have enough pieces. We’re setting aside a room, and… I wanted to be sure it wouldn’t seem empty…”

“I’ll have eight pieces.”

“We’ll need them here in three weeks time. You will be ready?”

“I’ll be ready.”

“Would it be possible for me to come out and see the pieces? It’s just that… I want to know how we’ll present them. How we’ll light them. And I’ll need to organise for the photographer to come out and photograph them for the catalogue…”

“Whenever it suits.” Such a calm, confident voice. “I’m out on Tuesday mornings, but apart from that I’m free.”


5: Rocking chair

Ben Openshaw, Black stained beech with leather upholstery and restraints.

Rocking chair (5) simply develops (4) by adding restraints. Here, while the chair can still be used auto-erotically, there is the potential for a restrained subject to be used in non-consensual ways.


Sheila eased her little car up the track through the beech wood again, and stopped outside the wide open double doors of the workshop. As she got out, Ben came out to greet her. As before, he was dressed in loose, battered denim overalls and an old brown shirt; his white hair fluffy in the sunlight. He was almost intimidatingly big. In his prime, she thought, he must have been a very imposing man.

Inside, standing on the floor of the workshop, was a rocking chair, something which looked like a heavy board on legs with a large, padded pipe through it, an odd sort of bench or stool, and a curious, tall…. thing. Each plainly and simply made, the joints perfect, the surfaces glowing with wax. There was none of the tacky carving that Sheila had been steeling herself for, no carven female shapes. Where there were curves, they were sensuous curves, but most of the lines were straight.

She looked at him, puzzled, and then back at the pipe thing.

“These are for the exhibition?”


“I don’t understand. What’s this?”

In answer, Ben pulled a bronze rod out of one side of the stand, and the top half of the board lifted, obviously on a spring, taking the top half of the pipe with it, leaving the bottom half open, at waist level. The implication caught Sheila suddenly, shockingly. Her legs trembled. She flushed.

“So the woman…”

“Lie forward on it, on your stomach.”

She looked at him, startled, shocked, her mouth dry; her crotch, wet.

“You won’t really understand,” he said, “until you try it.”

‘Good God,’ thought Sheila to herself as she lifted herself on tiptoe and bent into the cradle, ‘I’m going to be…’ her first thought was ‘raped’, and she mentally edited it to ‘fucked’. The upper half of the board came down, the pipe held her waist, the bronze pin slid home.

She was trapped.


He was on the other side of the board, the side where her legs were, the side where her… her cunt was. She couldn’t see him. She couldn’t hear him. She tried to twist in the pipe — it was slightly loose on her, made, perhaps, to fit someone slightly larger — but there was nothing to get purchase on. She struggled for a moment, and then lay still, waiting.


He need only undo one button, slide one zip. It would take him only a moment. There was nothing — nothing — she could do.

After a very long moment, a hand came to her arse, gently, heavily, not caressing, just lying there.

“Now do you understand?” His voice was calm.

“I understand.” Hers wasn’t.

The bronze pin pulled out; something in Sheila was disappointed. The pin was pulled out, and the top swung up on its concealed spring, and something — something — was disappointed.

She stood up, slowly, and met his quiet gaze. “I understand.”

Later, they sat on more normal stools by the workbench, and drank tea.

“Ben,” said Sheila, “I do understand, now. But… how do we make visitors to the gallery understand? It’s great craftsmanship, but… when I saw them — when I first came in — they just looked… peculiar. Inexplicable. Their meaning… one needs some help to interpret their meaning. They don’t look like I expect erotic art to look. We can’t put every woman who visits the exhibition into the stocks…”

“I’d thought about that. Come through.”

This time he led her through the kitchen into what she thought might have been originally a dining room. It was dark. Heavy, black curtains were drawn across the windows. Ben flipped a switch, and an old slide projector shone a monochrome image of a naked woman bound to the ventral stool onto a screen of thin white silk. A spotlight from above shone down onto the stool itself, below and in front of the screen.

Ben looked at her.

Sheila nodded uncertainly. “I’ll need to talk to Grahame. Do you think the images should move?”

“It’s your exhibition.”

“I know.” Sheila felt immature, inadequate. “I’ve never done this before — the erotica, I mean. It’s Grahame’s idea. There’s a fine line between… I was going to say erotica and pornography, but it isn’t even that. There’s a line between what the arts establishment will accept and what it won’t.” She looked at him, questioningly. She saw he understood.

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