Wired is a series of documentary photographs of sexual devices used by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Founded by the famous sexologist Alfred Kinsey in 1947, the Institute has always been a lightning rod for controversy – even Indiana’s own State Representative Woody Burton recently described it as a “porno pit.
Wired began as a way to satisfy my own curiosity about the inner workings of the Kinsey Institute. During my visit, I poured over rare medical textbooks and explored a vast and unique photographic archive preserving decades of behavior and attitudes toward our sexual selves. Although I had originally thought of my project as documenting the past history of the Institute, while I was there I witnessed something unexpected–a graduate research assistant cleaning a medical device that had just been used in the room next door. Up until that point, I had been unaware that psychophysiological research was still being conducted at the Institute. I stared at the instrument, wondering about the identity of the volunteer subject and the test being conducted. It was a potent reminder that sexual research is still happening, and it is just as pressing – and taboo –as it was 60 years ago.
Medical devices have always held an interest for me. The power of any object is in part how it reveals the lives and interactions of the humans who use it. Medical instruments, in particular, witness the very intimate processes of our bodies: the dramatic events of birth, sex, and death that generally happen behind closed doors. The mechanical and sterile appearance of these instruments seems at odds with the variety of individual people – “independent variables,” according to the scientific terminology – who use them. We can’t help but imagine the stories the devices carry with them: What was done with them? To whom? And by whom? And because these devices are intended to elicit and record sexual responses, they can never be fully separated from their “naughty” or “pornographic” meanings, no matter to what extent the Institute uses them as tools of science.