Barbara Schaefer’s been told more than once, “I’ve masturbated to your work.” The whole point is to have people be turned on, for them to jerk off or rub one out because they see her art and just can’t help it. And the pieces lead you to do it, with their plump, juicy fruits, big dicks, and frumpled crotches.
Her art is a delightful mixture. Much of it is natural (the clippings and photos all involve plants and fruits and human bodies); it’s bright (a la the fruit); it’s chaotic (as most things in nature are when looked at closely); it’s minimal (most of her pieces have only five or six cutouts, sometimes as few as two, that are puzzled together, each looking like its own gestalt unit morphed into some unreal abstract plant-life hybrid). On top of all this is the sensuality and blatant sexuality that pervades each piece. Body parts intermingle with fruit, text messages, and iPhone icons in a way that makes you reconsider what can turn you on.
PM: So where are you coming from now? Where do you work?
Barbara Schaefer (aka Plantasuculenta): My actual job? I work for a gastroenterologist. I'm coming from there—not very interesting.
“I’ve masturbated to your work”
It is interesting, it's surprising. Doesn't scream artist to me. Is sex an important part of your life?
Umm... you would think it was. But actually not too much—I mean it is, it is a big part of my life. I'm the most sex-positive person you've ever met in your life. I used to work for a sex shop. And I do study and read about sex constantly, so in that sense it is a big part of my life. So, actually yeah it is.
How long did you work in the sex shop? Did that influence your art?
I worked there for about eight or nine months. Here in New York. I'm not going to tell you which one. But then I quit because it got a little bit too real. But it didn't influence me as much as sex already did. That's always been a really big part of my life—not so much physically, but more mentally it’s something I'm really interested in.
How would you describe your art?
I think generally it’s sex-oriented, if that can be a genre.
Why did you start working with fruit?
I think you think I only work with fruit. [Laughs.] No—but I have always liked fruit and plants, as a concept. Mainly, my using them started when I became interested in Frida Kahlo and other Mexican folk art. It's bright, colorful, juicy, sexy.
Did you find the sexy after initially being drawn to the brightness or vice-versa?
I think fruit has always been sexy [to me]. A lot of different kinds of fruit look like genitalia. Fruit’s also the product of a different kind of sex, which I really like. I like that it is a gift from the Earth. Each fruit is kind of like a little womb or like a baby. Or some kind of orifice depending on what fruit it is.
How about a favorite body part?
On other people, I really like collarbones. On women, I really like when a woman sits down, the crease between the crotch and the thighs. Right below the belly, right on top of the thigh, where the top of your crotch is. It's just like a fat roll, but it's so cute. And then on men, I really like wrists. There are many more erogenous zones on the body than you would think and the wrist is a very sexy place. It's very sensitive, I think the veins there are really pretty. It's super good for foreplay—making out with a wrist.
Where do you get the nudes you use in your pieces?
Tinder—also from people I'm dating. And then I use [pictures of] myself a lot. I don't feel uncomfortable about showing my body at all. And then a couple are girls from Instagram that I'll message and ask if I can use some pictures and they'll send me some. They all come from the Internet.
Do you have any influences you'd like to share? Anything that inspires you?
Dating. Dating completely inspires me. And dating platforms. A lot of the pictures that I use—though not many of the collages that I have shown on my website—were made with selfies that I solicited from Tinder and Instagram. So this one [pointing to a collage from the Real Bodies collection on her website, plantasuculenta.com] is the only one that I have up that was sent to me from Tinder. I told the person what I was going to use if for; I told them I would give them credit if they wanted it.
They said no?
They said no! I find Snapchat really interesting. I find the whole digital sex exchange extremely inspiring. I really, really like it. It doesn't freak me out at all. I don't know what that says about me.
And then also, when people tell me that they get turned on by my art, I love it. It's my favorite thing to hear. Even though it's a creepy thing to tell someone. But it's very common that somebody's like, “Your art totally gave me a boner, and I don't know why.” That just makes me so happy.
Do you have an audience in mind when you're creating a piece?
Anybody! I don't have a specific audience. Maybe someone who isn't a fan of art but may like porn. Maybe they'll see it and think it's interesting. I don't know. Somebody who isn't typically into that sort of thing and might find it arousing. I wanna turn people on. That is the main goal, to turn people on to unordinary things.
Do you think about the line between art and pornography when you're making something? Is porn art?
Art and pornography are the same thing. Essentially the same exact thing. I would say for the most part porn is art. I have seen some really, really bad porn that I would not call art. But filmmakers like Erika Lust and Candida Royalle, they make art—and it's really inspiring to me. If the director is actively trying to make something beautiful, it's art. And I think art can be pornographic too. It's not a bad word.