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Lisa Anne Auerbach

The artist tells us why she couldn't resist picking up a discarded secret stash of torn apart porn and shares her musings on its mysterious previous owner

Back in 1989, American artist Lisa Anne Auerbach salvaged ripped up pornography found at the top of a car park in Chicago O’Hare’s Airport. Only now has she decided to use them in her work to create the series ‘Torn Porn’ where she’s blown up the raunchy magazine scraps into large scale prints. What’s interesting about Auerbach’s work is the ambiguity behind the series, who did they belong to? Why were they thrown away? And ripped up like they were? While it’s unlikely the artist and viewer will ever find out the whole truth about the origins of what Auerbach found, it becomes unimportant when seeing the power these images still have. The snippets of eroticism but also the glimpse into the past of this taboo pursuit with 80s-tinged hair and make-up making an appearance in these brief snapshots. Here Auerbach talks to us about who she’s imagined these pornographic remains belong to and the conflict between shame and desire that transpires when looking at these works. 

Dazed Digital: What made you pick up the ripped up pornography when you found it back in 1989?
Lisa Anne Auerbach:
How can anyone resist picking up a bunch of porn from piles of dirty snow? I was in a parking garage at the airport when I found the scraps. At the time I was a student studying photography. The scraps were super hot! When I saw them I thought about how much sexier the torn pictures were than any other complete images of this kind. I didn’t know what to do with them at the time, so I put them in a box and left them there for twenty years.

DD: What do you imagine about the owner of these pictures? Do you think they were discarded on purpose?
Lisa Anne Auerbach:
They were definitely discarded on purpose. The violence with which they were torn apart suggests to me that the former owner of this publication really needed this magazine to disappear. My suspicion, though perhaps I’m delving into this too deeply, is that this reader was disgusted not with the imagery itself, but with his or her urge to look at these pictures. Perhaps they thought that by destroying the pictures, they would be able to also destroy their desire. But of course it doesn't work that way.

I’m interested in the friction between shame and desire and what might spring from this internal conflict, both culturally, politically, and personally. In this case, instead of getting rid of this magazine, something new and amazing was created. I don't think they meant to spread it around the garage and into the nearby snowdrifts though. I blame a gust of wind for the distribution. I think about this person a lot when I look at the scraps. In some ways, the Torn Porn series is a tribute to them.

DD: How does the porn you found compare to the porn available today? Is there a difference?
Lisa Anne Auerbach:
In the pre-internet days, every fetish you could think of had its own magazine. Now you can see everything online. I don't think the market is big enough to sustain a lot of printed bondage mags. I went to Circus of Books in Los Angeles the other day to look for some contemporary bondage mags and I didn’t find anything. That place used to have every porn mag imaginable, so I'm guessing if they don't have them, they aren't as common, or maybe they don't even exist.

I don't really look at online bondage porn, so I don't know how it compares to the magazines from the late eighties. I’m really attracted to the printed magazines. I like the finite quality of a publication in contrast to the way porn is presented online. With websites, you can always click and click and click to find something new, but with a magazine, you’re stuck with what’s in the pages.

DD: When collated like this and enlarged, what do you think they convey?
Lisa Anne Auerbach:
Enlarging the images emphasizes both the formal qualities of the pictures and the physicality of the ink and paper. The paper is thick and a bit rough, weathered and worn. I like seeing the texture of the paper, the fibres on the edges of the tear, and the dot pattern of the ink.

DD: What projects are you working on at the moment?
Lisa Anne Auerbach:
I’m designing some sweaters for staff of the Malmö Konsthall in Malmö, Sweden, working on a uniform project with the guards at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, making a series of photographs of myself in my underwear reading bondage magazines, and knitting resolutions and ideas into banners. I’m also learning to spin wool. I want to make a sweater out of the fleece of a black sheep.