London’s sex workers are no strangers to bizarre requests but, as this exhibition shows, often the most baffling interactions are the ones that occur outside the bedroom.
Whether that’s a brush with the bible in Canary Wharf, a Lincoln’s Inn Fields picnic in November, or trying to find a removals company who won’t ask too many awkward questions about your various items of er, “furniture”.
Objects of Desire exhibition was a collaboration between workers and artists which examined the everyday experiences of the capital’s sex workers via the weird and wonderful objects they were offered or given by clients… and where those exchanges took place. Here are some of the objects included in the exhibition:
The New Testament
“I met this client at a hotel bar near Canary Wharf. He had instructed me beforehand to wear something sexy, approach him at the bar as though we were strangers and attempt to seduce him.
“I was shocked when he showed up in priest’s robes and this copy of the New Testament. I stroked his thigh and tried to convince him to take me up to his room.
“Two days later a company he had invested in imploded and he lost half a million pounds. He feared that he was being punished for his priest stunt and felt compelled to give me the bible to set things right. As he passed it to me he looked up at the ceiling and said ‘I’m sorry! Please don’t destroy me!’”
The Blue Balls Fucking Machine
“My client insisted on giving me the money to buy a Blue Balls Fucking Machine.
“I tried to use it once and although there was something vaguely hot about getting fucked by a machine that looked like it belonged in a 19th century factory, I was too scared that the thrusting arm would slip out and bash me in the perineum to really enjoy it. My boyfriend tried to fuck the flashlight attachment but ended up laughing so hard that he lost his boner.
“When I moved house from north to south London I took it with me which elicited some questions from the removal man. It's since become part of the furniture at my new house, with all of the phallic attachments stored in an empty laundry detergent box for discretion.”
The golf visor
“A client who I see every few months at a hotel on Fleet Street decided he couldn’t call me Lily because it was too much of an ‘escort name.’ He said when he shouted ‘Hey Lily!’ in public, he might as well be shouting ‘Hey hooker!’
“He said he initially wanted to call me Gretsky after the record-breaking hockey player, because he had broken his personal jerk-off record thinking about me. Then he decided he disagreed with Gretsky’s support of the Bush Administration, so he chose Mizuno after the Japanese golf brand, because of their slogan, ‘Nothing feels like a Mizuno.’ So he gave me this visor and started calling me Mizuno.”
The salt and pepper shakers
“My favourite client gave me these pig shaped salt and pepper shakers. I’ve never actually used them, I always have them sitting on my kitchen window sill at my home in Kentish Town. Looking at them makes me smile when I’m doing the washing up.”
The carbon monoxide detector
“This was from my favourite client. I recently realized how many of his gifts were protective. That day when I went to see him the first thing he did was clean my new belly button piercing with antiseptic. Then he asked what the stove was like in my new house. He gave me the carbon monoxide detector and told me a story about some kids in Greece who died in their sleep. He knows I'm studying at King’s College, so he gave me a USB stick because he was afraid I might delete all my uni work. That’s useful. I was thinking, wow this guy has really got my back.”
His ex-girlfriend's clothes
“I call this client Picnic Man because for our first meeting he insisted on having a picnic at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, even though it was November and the weather was really cold.
“He turned up to our meeting with four large holdalls full of gifts. There was a gift set of teas, toiletries, a fleece jacket, a cape he had bought in Camden Market and lots of his ex-girlfriend’s clothes. He didn’t want me to wear them for him he would just bring them and say ‘I’ve brought you some riding jodhpurs and a riding shirt because they can be really useful to have.’ And I was thinking ‘In what scenario?!’
“But then because he knew I suffered with a bad back, he bought me a plug in electric heat pad - I still bless him for that!”
The Punch-style print
“Once a client turned up with the most horrible print. It’s like one of those old Punch cartoons of this Victorian bloke leering round the corner at two women in petticoats and it’s just hideously rendered. I never put it up because it was too repulsive for me to even consider and he never mentioned it again. It’s still in its original packaging and it’s still got the sticker from the shop it’s from on Charing Cross Road.”