Tom Cubbin

Crafting Desire: An international design history of gay male fetish making

A walk around any ‘gaybourhood’ in Berlin, London, Chicago, Amsterdam, or Stockholm reveals that, in an age of globalised manufacture, there persists a shop in many Western cities with a workshop for hand-making leather harnesses, whips, cages, torture racks, and other products. Around the corner might be a club built by amateur makers containing spaces for sexual encounters and equipment for contorting the body into uncomfortable positions. As remnants of the sexual liberation of the 1960s and 1970s, how have such businesses, clubs and stores evolved? How has gay leather and fetish culture been physically made? Through a design historical approach that emphasises acquisition and transfer of skills, practices and aesthetics, the project will examine gay male leather and fetish culture through enquiry into modes of amateur and professional making. Using recent craft theories that connect the everyday experiences of making to questions of identity formation, labour, skill and time, the project analyses how a frequently anti-assimilationist network of gay men were affected by the global socio-economic changes that witnessed ‘normalization’ of same-sex relationships in a neoliberal economic setting. The three-year project comprises four investigations that combine archival research with oral histories to identify and analyse cultures of making from international BDSM networks in the 1970s, to contemporary Finnish textile printing.
Grant administrator
University of Gothenburg
Reference number
SEK 2,556,000.00
Cultural Studies