Six weeks ago, I came across LUST— a posh, immersive fetish event that is hosted at the House of Yes. This unique party invites guests to eat dinner off nude models and features shibari rope tying performances and an interactive wax pouring installation. The party is so inviting that a journalist covering the latest event ended up in a hot tub- naked! Curious, I researched it further and I came across Abby Hertz, the young woman behind LUST.
I was interested to learn more about the artist who designed such a widely embraced event. I luckily had the opportunity to meet and talk with her, and I quickly learned that she is a very knowledgeable curator and artist, who specializes in transforming environments into interactive, artistic spaces based on periods in art history.
Over drinks and grilled sausages, I got to know this talented entrepreneur, who bravely uses themes of sexuality in her work, but whose artistic expressions are not defined nor limited to it. We sat down to discuss art history, the fetish scene, third-wave feminism, and what has kept this successful artist motivated.
What inspired you to create LUST?
I was an art history major in undergrad and then I went to grad school for art criticism and theory— so a lot of my work is based on art historical movements. There was a Meret Oppenheim piece in the 1950's where food was served off the naked body, like a banquet. I wanted to do a party expanding on that and have a completely immersive theatrical experience with anywhere between 8-12 naked bodies and include fetish performances. It’s designed to be erotic and sensual but not a fetish play party and not a sex party. I wanted it to feel safe for people that didn't go to sex or fetish events.
I was also really unhappy with all the fetish and sex parties I went to. I just didn't feel comfortable at any of them, or inspired or sexy. They felt forced and really slanted to males. Even female-produced sex parties I've been feel like it's for the male gaze.
I designed it to be a sort of genderless experience. Most of the feedback I got back from LUST was that it was very gender bending and that it wasn't a gay party or a straight party. It was for everyone. I wanted it to be equally enjoyable for men and women of all orientations with more focus on sensuality rather than have men hungry, and have expectations of what they are getting from women when they walk in. Men, well not all men, but a lot go to sex parties with these expectations — and I can feel that energy radiating off of them. If you take those expectations away and they know they're not going to hook up or play but just have a sensual experience and enjoy a theatrical night, it’s a more organic environment, and I’ve found, a more enjoyable environment for everyone.
And you also have your own company?
Yes. AHZ Concepts which is focused mostly on art clients, art collectors, museums, galleries, and more art-focused private events. I bring in performers, performance artists, dancers, installation art, visual art sometimes sculpture — or anything that is going to enhance the environment for the themes.
You career is inspiring. I read that you curated your own events back in undergrad?
I had a pop-up art gallery for nine months — a different themed show every month — and I featured students, faculty and I'd bring in someone more nationally recognized and showcase their art together.
You’re also a painter as well. I saw a bit on your website, a lot of them are vulva shapes. And I read that you also use your blood to paint?
Yes. I also have a cut here (motioning to her forearm). I've used that one since I was 18-19. I haven't opened it up for a while but I can just paint right from my arm.
How did you get started on the Vulva paintings?
I was 19 and studying feminism and also taking a few art classes as part of my art history major. I was taking a printmaking class and I had a homework assignment to make a creative print. People came in with vegetables they had made prints out of or flowers they had found — and I was like “Vagina!”
What did your teacher say?
So...she was surprised and reacted a bit negatively at first. But then it was shown in the student case in the hallway...so that was nice! It started in my apartment in Orlando, which wasn't climate controlled at the time, and I was working, totally naked because it was so hot. It kinda took off from there. I started showing them and then when I moved up to NY — just 3 weeks into moving here, a producer asked me to perform it as an act on stage, which I had never done before. I got a lot of press right away for it — and it really freaked me out. So I cut it back a little bit.
Negative press or positive press?
Super positive. But I would walk around the lower east side and people would be like, “oh it's the vagina woman." I didn't want to be pigeon-holed as just the vagina woman. I'm not the type of person that wants to be fawned over by people.
Do you feel like some of your fans just see you as a sex object?
Yes, definitely. Some people just think I'm a pussy painting, fire eating, sex goddess. It's just fraction of who I am as a fully form developed human being and I find it very limiting to not be seen as a whole person. I don’t know how people with more visibility deal with it, honestly.
A lot of feminists sometimes think anytime a woman works with her body, it can be objectifying. Do you come into contact with that?
Sometimes. Mostly during my undergrad and many of my classes didn't include any third wave literature in the program. I was only taught 2nd wave feminist literature. But, I had a really good 4-hour discussion about it at a conference with really well-known feminists because a lot of them didn't want to let go of the idea that I was objectifying myself through my performance art. For me, Third wave feminism is like: I can sleep with whoever I want, I can dress however I want, I can make whatever choices about my body that feel empowering for me, and those are my choices alone...and the older 2nd-wave feminists were like, “no don't you understand that's for the male gaze” — which was patronizing...and what about queer feminists?
I brought up that I am queer since a lot of erotic art can be for female attention or female-identifying male attention. I was married to a queer guy. I’ve dated gender-queer people. Gender is not that simple. The discussion about gender hadn't really been happening yet when I was in undergrad. There wasn't even any talk about trans men and women and even hetero-cis males that identify with being gender-queer in our classes.
Do you feel your work is getting you away from objectification and helping de-stigmatize the vagina?
Definitely. I was very into Eve Ensler in college and The Vagina Monologues. I produced and brought it to my college- and that was, of course, a big inspiration on me. The best compliment I had about my vagina painting performer was that “it looks like a little kid having fun and painting.” This guy came up to me and said he didn't even sexualize it because he could tell I wasn’t placing myself on stage as a sex object. Of course, I do sexier performances, as well, but not every performance is overtly erotic.
Do you feel a lot of people feel inspired and connect with your work?
I really like when people connect with my work in a meaningful way. After a performance, if someone says that it really helped them process things or that drawing connected with them on an emotional level- I really love those conversations.
What has kept you motivated through the years?
There is the artistic motivation- I'm an artist and if I don't create I die. There is so much I have wanted to do between being a performance artist, a visual artist, and an event producer and I have been able to pursue all my passions. But mainly I need to support myself. I don't have parents or a lover supporting me- it's just me, which I think helps drive me as well.
Top photo Flambeaux and Abby Hertz's interactive human candelabra installation featuring model Sarah Sparkles at the Chashama gala
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Patricia is a writer, activist, and aspiring journalist. She likes writing about politics, sexuality, and feminism. She is a bit of a wanderer and has lived in Morocco, Australia, and India. Recently moved to Brooklyn, she is currently learning to navigate NYC subways.