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SF’s Bondage Specialist, Sexologist & Performance Artist : Midori

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The “Artist You Should Know” series highlights Bay Area artists who are doing incredible work, it’s our way of supporting the creative community and helping to keep San Francisco a strange and wonderful place.


Midori is a bit of a performance art and kink legend in San Francisco. She does dynamic, shocking, and methodical spectacle, that challenges the audience to think in real-time and to question their existing perspectives upon reflection.  Midori sees sexuality and bondage as an intellectual pursuit just as much as a physical or emotional one.  She’s been a part of the underground kink and queer communities in SF since the 90’s and she’s got some stories to tell, and some lessons to teach…

So meet Midori, an artist you should know…


Artist Name: Midori
Work title: Educator, Sexologist, Artist

Social Handle: @PlanetMidori
Site: www.Ranshin.com
Medium(s): Installation intersects with performance and social practice 

AM: What was your first job in San Francisco?

MIDORI: I wrote wholesale catalog product descriptions for cheap sex toys for a national “fuckerware” party company. Omg, I totally forgot about this until you asked. The reps were these scary steel magnolias in the south with big, big hair high up and close to the almighty. They were selling sex toys based on teaching women ‘how to keep their men but not have to do gross things’   It was such a culture shock. But it gave me a really good perspective on what it’s like outside of this land of lotus eaters called San Francisco. 

Costume by Michael Manning

I’m a sophisticated graduate with a BFA or FUCK art school!
My art school was the goth fetish club scene of the 90s so I’m a full on MFA, as in I’m a MotherFunckingArtist 

Shot by the legendary Fakir Musafar for BodyPlay magazine, wearing a custom-made Dark Garden full body corset.

You started your art career performing in queer nightclubs, collaborating with other “‘weirdo’ transgressive and experimental artists”.  What was a typical Saturday night and where did you perform at?

I don’t think I had a ‘typical’ in the 90s I was performing a lot in San Francisco. I was a fixture at the early Bondage A Go Go. It was amazing back then, Then Slick Ball, San Francisco Fetish Ball. Later in the 90’s I started performing at Mother in the Meatpacking district (RIP) of New York,  the Skin Two Rubber Ball and Torture Garden, both in London, as well as Montreal Fetish Ball, then in the 2000s Tokyo Fetish Ball, events in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Norway, UK. I slept on a lot of couches and spent waaaay too much money on fancy fetish clothes and toys. Never really thought about adulting stuff. 

Your performance art recently explores identity, perception, cultural taboos, but always seems to include audience participation, why do you fuck with your audience like that?

Short answer – because it’s fun.

Longer answer – The separation of “Artist” and “Audience” further removes creativity from people. We are all creative – but I hear so many people say “oh I’m not creative”   By giving the audience a chance to change into collaborators, I bring something unexpected into their life. Sometimes the unexpectedly goofy, sometimes unexpectedly difficult.  I also enjoy the controlled chaos and a certain amount of improvisational unpredictability in my performance. Exhilarating and nerve-wracking but always gets me super focused and way high afterward. In the performances I’m sharing something raw about myself. I’m still not entirely sure why I create such ordeals of vulnerability in my art. But I do.

You are a ‘Sexologist and Sex Educator’  you also happen to have written a book on Japanese bondage.  Do you like to tie people up or be tied up these days, and what made go into the educational/therapy side of kink?

I’ve written a few books! I wrote “Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage” in 1999. It was a groundbreaker as the first English instruction book on shibari squarely aimed at the mainstream – when that was totally taboo. 22 years later, it’s still selling strong. Back then shibari wasn’t all that popular so I had no idea it would become such a big thing.  I’ve also written four other books including Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink. Currently, I’m working on my next rope book. 

These days? I would love to get on with kinky ass tying up of sexy fierce people, but the whole Covid thing makes me hesitant. I arrived in SF in the Bay in the mid-80s and SF in early 91 so I learned to get freaky sexy fun around HIV and herpes no problem – but Covid and airborne ickiness… *shivers*  

photo by Steve Diet Goedde

photo by Steve Diet Goedde

When I landed in SF in those gritty fun glory days of 90s. I’m actually what I call a “high functioning introvert” so talking to strangers at vanilla parties can be terrifying … but I was also exploring my sexuality and back then there were a lot of cool, fun, cheap and interesting sexy things happening in town. So I’d dress up in fantastical outfits that really expressed me. (glue gun is my friend) and I could strike up conversations with interesting people.

I ended up making friends with people like Dr Carol Queen, Dr Robert Lawrence, Annie Sprinkle, Randy, Michael Manning, Steven Parr, Fakir Musafar, Raylin Gallina, Keren Mendelsohn, Layne and Kat Sunlove, Autumn Adamme, Kaye Buckly, Pat Califia, Steve Diet Goedde, Molly, Janet Hardy, and so many other people who were nice to me – and I was utterly clueless that these were culture makers of the sex-positive future.

Dr. Queen and Dr. Lawrence introduced me to San Francisco Sex Information. I trained with them for… something like 96 hours as a peer sex educator, including full SAR. I want through Fakirs professional piercer program. Did all sorts of grassroots educating, including live safer sex demo at dyke sex clubs. For a quiet kid from Japan, I had no idea that I was good at public speaking and good at explaining sexuality to people in a fun easy way. Berkeley never gave me any hint that I had such talents! 

I actually did a TEDx talk about how my early SF days got me into art and sex ed. I had no idea at the time. I just said yes to a lot of things. 

Midori TED Talk

Fast forward! Today I work as Do-director of Curriculum for Kink Informed Certification from Sexual Health Alliance. I get to help train therapists, counselors, and other helping professionals to become more culturally competent around kink and their clients. I really love this. Many therapists send their clients for coaching with me about the thoughtful and humanistic exploration of kink and creative self-expression. And I still teach regular folks through my Patreon … soon I’ll get back to my weekend intensives too.

To summarize, this was entirely accidental. Oops, I’m a sexologist & artist

Midori Performs “Kimono 2: What We Wear”

Your video performance Kimono 2: What We Wear is part of an art installation at the The National Japanese American Historical Society, what’s the deal with that place?

Oh oh oh oh! Here’s something exciting! This piece is now in the APAture annual show from the Kearny Street Workshop as one of the showcase artists. I am soooo thrilled. Kearny Street Workshop is based in SF’s Chinatown and is US’s oldest organization centering on Asian American cultural movement. 

Kearny Street Workshop
Reception is Sat Oct 8th, 1pm to 4pm. Please come by!!
www.kearnystreet.org/apature 

A wooden Noh mask and a kimono, worn during my performance by the same title <Kimono 2 What We Wear (In Vita)>, hangs stretched on bamboo.  The monitor is looping the 24-minute performance. The kimono is painted white outside and gold inside.

The performance really fucked with people from the beginning. In each of the previous times I’ve performed this it’s been in a sexualized context – an international fetish ball, a huge erotic art exhibition. People are expecting a ‘hot bondage performance’ and by an ‘asian chick’ no less. And I hear about how people want ‘authentic’ Japanese performance.’  There are sooooo many layers of Orientalist and colonialist yuck in this “flattering” attention. The first time I debuted this performance it was a full protest performance against the boring, sexist cliche.   The producer didn’t really know what I was unleashing.

At the Seattle Erotic Art Festival, however, the producers were not only in the know, but specifically asked me to perform that to bring critique into the realm of erotic art. <3 <3     Instead of a ‘dragon lady’ the performance starts with a middle-aged Japanese woman in a Captain American shirt, Micky Mouse Ears, drinking a Coke. She wanders onto the stage and proceeds to dress into a kimono (a reverse strip?) and paints her face in layers and layers of faces.

After a while, wearing a mask I can’t see through, I walk into the audience and bind myself. The stagehands offer buckets of white paint and brushes to the audience. They must make a decision.  I am performing the layers of externally imposed expectations of behavior, conflicting internal identities, and the performance of self. Beauty, belonging, American-ness, Japanese-ness, quiet or silenced, sexuality, cultural pride, and trauma, including the objectification and fetishization of the Asian femme bodies.

Autonomy is stripped away as layers of paint, projections, violations, and objectification are caked on. It’s suffocating. But is it?  I claim and own my autonomy,  governing the rules and expectations of the performance and audience experience.  

In the installation, the kimono and mask hover around and over the monitor. The viewer is positioned to feel enveloped by the hovering entity, yet the body herself is conspicuously absent. I’ve talked to many Azn femmes after they watch the video. I don’t explain anything. They just get it. We deal with so much BS. 

Geez, it feels good to put this out and on a wall! 

There are these photos of you, done recently, where you look like you’ve sprung out of the trees, where you actually seem to be wearing materials made from trees.  In some shots you look almost coy, in others, you look almost dangerous, and is some you look like a stateswoman, a matriarch.   What’s going on here? 

That’s all very very much me! Vita’s brilliant at capturing my feral and fine facets. Given half a chance and a good collaborator, I’ll flow through so many of my personas. I think I never left my child state. When I was a little kid growing up in the concrete canyons of Tokyo I still imagined myself as one of the dangerous little beings in the forests as told in so many folk tales. 

You’re sculpture is currently hanging in at Arcana in the mission, up high, basking in natural light,  tell us about them, did you make those specifically for that venue, or can they be hung anywhere?

Both!  I made it to hang in spaces that want natural texture and beauty. It’s 7 large disks, each about 6’ in diameter and representing a major tectonic plate. That’s why the title “Tectonic” it can be hung as a group in any configuration or as individual pieces.  Arcana had a contest and I was awarded the “airspace” to create my vision. It’s made entirely of reclaimed material. The “glass filaments” are from recycled bottles and the ropes were manufacturer’s quality standard rejects. Wood is from architectural salvage. 

They’re gorgeous.  They’ll hang in Arcana until next spring and then they need new forever homes to love on them! 

Any artists you think are particularly outstanding right now?

Oh my god, so many! 

For gorgeously enigmatic performance, Ron Athey.  For intensely erotic, highly imaginative, and deeply pervy graphic novel and visual art, Michael Manning. Taylor Mac and Fauxnique (Monique Jenkins) are geniuses of performing arts intersecting with really smart drag. When I need peace or to really see light, James Turrell. Al Farrow’s work is beautiful, so skilled, and contemplative for me. Social practice and activism as art medium would be Jason Wyman. Recently I’ve become friends with the Twin Walls muralists and they’re really opening my eyes to murals as a profound art form. 

Oh and there are so so many more 

How do you think SF has changed over the years?

I want to say that it was better when I was new in town. But I think that may be the case for any one who comes to San Francisco. The reality is that San Francisco, since the colonizers arrived, have been a boom town and constantly changing – a living organism and we’re just living on it. 

I wrote about this town recently. Here’s my post. https://www.patreon.com/posts/70446242

Excerpt:

This is a tough town. The romantic image that outsiders imagine goes something like this: The Beatniks, Hippies, Psychedelic Trippers, free-lovers, care-free drag queens, yogis, Leathermen, Burners, and assorted other lotus eaters create freedom and beauty with revolutionary zeal and self-actualized ease. But this town was founded on conquest, greed, boom, and competition. From the Spanish colonizers to the Gold Rush, from the war industry to Dot Com to Social Media and the gig industry, San Francisco has always been a boom town.

The curious thing about a young boom town on a remote port is this… ambition, drive, and greed supersede caste, lineage, and predetermined social placement. It’s no longer “who are your people?” It’s “what’s your hustle?” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It has the potential to be good.

Boom towns give people the opportunity to sever their roots. This becomes a frontier of identity, a place for reinvention. An individual might conceive a new industry, concoct a new worldview, or a way of life. All of which involve cutting off and rejecting old ways. Some will thrive. Others will not. Some wither without the support of the roots they severed or were made to sever.

Without a doubt, San Francisco has been, and is, the bleeding edge of social change in many aspects. This progressive potential of San Francisco is inextricably tied to capitalistic ambition and the bleeding edge of economic shifts. A strange two-headed hungry monster. The very same condition that allows individuals relatively free self-expression creates unsustainably expensive living conditions. This city promises gold. A few will grasp the gold. But many (most?) break their backs hauling others’ gold, even as they’re crushed under its weight.


Oscar Wilde said, 

“It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.”


As ever, his fabulousness is spot-on.  For some, it’s nirvana; for others, it’s a different side of the river Styx.


What’s coming up next for you? 

I’ve got that new rope bondage book to finish. 

And I am itching to make more large installations and special performances. I’ve created entire alternate interior-scapes with rope as well as architectural sculptures for clients. Need to get my fingers back in to that! There are several intense performances that I want to find the right venues and curators to collaborate with. And I have ideas for new performances and installations that challenge identity and existential comforts.     

Also… Aside from Tectonic at Arcana, I have a solo photos show and am in a group show now. 


Kearny Street Workshop’s 50th year celebration continues with our annual multidisciplinary arts festival, APAture, this October 8 – 30.

Kimono 2 What We Wear (Reliquae) – This installation is part of “Rise, A Visual Arts Showcase” for APAture 50 exhibition by Kearny Street Workshop, which focuses on Asian American cultural movement. There’s going to be a fabulous opening reception that I hope you’ll join me! Saturday, October 8, 1 pm – 4 pm (PDT) at Arc Gallery & Studios, 1246 Folsom Street, San Francisco.  

www.kearnystreet.org/apature

Men In Rope – Dramatic photos I created in collaboration with queer and gay men in the aughts. I worked with the men to bring forth their fantasies and narratives, making them the heroes (or villains) of their own stories. I wanted to put dreams into form. I was both the interpreter and witness. The result is fantastical photo narratives of the masculine and mythic, hinting at stories bigger than our own. This is on view through October 30th at Madison Young’s very new community gallery, The Arbor Gallery, 465 S. Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. To arrange gallery visits or purchase limited-edition photos, please contact Madison@MadisonYoung.org 

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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