In the Studio with Darya Diamond

Words by

Sofia Hallström

In the Studio with Darya Diamond

In your practice, your work spans sculptures, prints, and mixed media, notably featuring a series of collargic prints on bedsheets. Could you elaborate on the source materials you draw upon for the visuals incorporated into these prints?

The images in the work are from various source materials: pornography film stills that I have featured in, erotic films, images from Playboy, provided by clients. These films and the experiences with clients are like stamps to me. I generate all the text for the work from recorded sessions with my clients. Just like you would record an interview, I capture sound recordings during our sessions, and then I translate and transform them into textual content. It's worth noting that I used to exhibit a more extensive collection of actual audio recordings, but I've scaled back due to the complexities surrounding consent. It's a challenging conversation, but that's the reality I navigate. I use the bedsheets that were used during sessions with clients, printing and naming them based on the respective hotels of origin.

£1950, £1950”, 2021-23, bronze and patina, Dimensions variable, Edition of 3 + 1 AP, Copyright The Artist

I want to ask you about the artefacts from personal sessions with clients that are used in the work. How do you navigate the boundaries between personal intimacy and the public gallery space that the work would be presented in, and what do you hope viewers take away from this intersection?

These prints and works are not particularly erotic despite my intentionally erotic source material. However, I find significance in the sheets themselves, as the process spans over several months and becomes intimate to me in a new way. The sheets, laden with the physical sessions, hold a personal connection. They take me months to complete, so they are thoroughly saturated with my time, my mark, and my labour over and over.  In the context of a silenced or invisible labour sector, the act of reproduction itself becomes my medium. What does authentic representation look like in a labour sector that leaves no trace? I'm attempting to reveal the profound nature of these interactions, exploring emotional transit and conventional intimacy. The challenge is transforming these artefacts of eroticism or pleasure, into a new context of intimacy and care.

What's the process of making the stamps?

Technically, I would categorise it as a block print due to the pressure application on the material. Traditionally, block prints are used for printing text or patterns on textiles. I make my own linocut blocks and then adhere them to stamping blocks for easy repetitive application. This process of printing for me, is grounded in the concept of reproducing and repeating images, stories. The repetitive action of printing this way  is closely tied to the repetitive synthesis of emotional attention, the act of repeating an image being akin to synthesising an authentic experience. Prostitution, as a performance and an occupation doesn't always demand a dominant presence; for the kind of sex work I do, it is more about repeating the role consistently. I see similarities to the physical performance of mark making through print. Every stamp is objectively the same, but as the medium is applied by a human body, every application will be different.

Installation View, Primodial Workplace, Sebastian Gladstone, 2022

Do you think that there's a different conversation around sex work in the United Kingdom is there is the United States?

That's an interesting question. As a prostitute, I thrived more in the UK than in the States, possibly due to what I like to call my genetic capital. In Los Angeles, being a Mexican American is ubiquitous with the common population.  In the UK,  I was exotified, and that worked to my advantage. Being a Latina in the UK brings a whole new set of experiences. Also, sex work isn’t persecuted as aggressively in the UK as it was in the US following the SESTA/FOSTA legislation that passed in 2018. The conversations and perspectives in the UK are distinct, and clients approach the interactions in a way I hadn’t encountered before. When I came to London I found an abundance of anonymous and free health care resources. I discovered radical sex worker run spaces,  and collectivised grassroots organisations like Radio Ava, Decrim Now, and Sex and Rage. I met other sex workers that were radical, compassionate, community oriented, and proud. All of those factors changed my lived experience as a sex worker in the UK pretty dramatically. Looking ahead, my artistic focus remains on creating work related to prostitution. However, I've also delved into exploring other realms of invisible labour. Specifically, the field of labour behind creating and fabricating artwork for other artists. I spent over a decade fabricating artwork for other artists and I still do every now and then. I've observed that this field lacks the visibility it deserves. While many understand that artists don't exclusively produce all their work, there's a notable absence of recognition for those contributing to the process. I'm motivated to shed light on this aspect of invisible labour that, despite its significance, is both ubiquitous and unacknowledged. I suppose I’m interested in the anonymity that surrounds a hidden workforce of creative labour toward a different form of capitalist reproduction. I enjoy the simple, slightly sarcastic poetry of casting the work boots worn while making a $285,000 sculpture on an hourly wage of 9 pounds an hour. I've cast not only my work boots and gloves but also projects I've made for others. For me, the choice of medium becomes a deliberate act for representation, contributing to an intriguing exploration of ownership, authorship and the visibility of labour.

The images of your own optic nerves feature prominently in your printed works. How do these images serve as an extension of your body, and what message or experience do you aim to convey through the juxtaposition of a healthy eye and a malformed one?

For me, these images you are operating as an extension of my body as a primordial workplace, the naked eye as a portal into an experience economy. Furthermore, as one eye is sharp and one eye is contorted, or slightly malformed as you say, we are maybe confronted with a literal duality of perception. Much like the hotels where I worked, the confessional spaces I  embody, or the persona I perform, the optic nerve is constantly redefined by its environment. Maria [Darya’s sex worker name] is a mirror. Just like the motel, she is defined by her content. She is a heterotopia. She is constantly redefined by her client, she is reflectively performing a projection of their desires.

The literal duality of perception in your work, reflected in the contorted optic nerve, speaks to a broader theme. How does this duality manifest in your exploration of the physical remnants of sex work and the embodied, political labor associated with it?

Duality is a pretty expansive thread throughout the work, but I suppose you can say that about anything. On one side we see the physical remnants of sex work, which often serve as easy targets for shallow judgment. And on the other hand we see the embodied, emotional labor of sex work – which I think reveals the reality that all work, as in labor, has the potential for a political reflection. How we see or consider that labour matters. I guess you could say that duality manifests throughout my work between what we see and what we don’t, production and reproduction.

There are recurring images of religious icons, including Jesus and the crucifix, as well as references to Jewish celebrations or holidays in the titles of some of your work. How does religious symbology contribute to the overall narrative you aim to convey?

For me the appropriation of religious iconography is kind of about judgement, or what Judith Butler would call the psychic life of power. The images of Jesus that I use in my work are appropriations from the Bibles commonly found in the bedside table of motel rooms. Occasionally, I do work in motels, although more often hotels. It's common practice to place small Bibles in bedside tables in the states, and pretty much everywhere. I find it amusing because, in a way, there is an assumption that guests will engage with these bibles and they never do of course. I am interested in that nexus of morality and ethics that so often appears in a session. It could be a subtle admission of guilt, a self-effacing comment about having a sexual appetite, or more often than not some sort of justification for why a John might seek out my services in the first place. As if the mere implication that transactional intimacy is morally wrong- isn’t wildly offensive to someone who offers those services. These kinds of comments are totally transparent to me, and they tell me that even though nobody actively engages with those little bibles, everybody is feeling judged.  Many individuals pay for services that they feel are simultaneously wrong, and it's intriguing to observe how people navigate those aspects of their lives.  Sex workers create real intimacy, single handedly provide emotional sanctuary, physical trust and maybe even an orgasm for our customers so they can continue to perform as good little productive cogs. The material exchange for an immaterial service – cash – is up front and transparent, nevertheless half my clients couldn’t even acknowledge the validity of that service. I've translated these bible covers into screen prints as you can see on my larger bedsheet pieces, because I believe the image carries really relevant undertones of ethics and morality in the context of transactional intimacy. There's this particular work called "Yom Kipporno," which is what I think you are referencing when you mention the Jewish Holiday. The piece involves a cast of a ram's head mask that I once had to wear for a client, as well as some panties cast in rubber. It struck me as humorous because, symbolically, Yom Kippur as explained in the Book of Leviticus, is a day for atonement, purification from all sins, following the banishment of the goat who carries away the sins of the community. I’m pretty sure this is where the scapegoat comes from. That piece, the goat's head in my studio, and the images I’ve used wearing the mask, speak to the weight of this work. Simply put, to be a sex worker is to be a scapegoat in the contemporary political economy of the body. A scapegoat for men grappling with a sense of sin or guilt or discomfort with their internalised stigma towards sex workers. Or for women who are exchanging sex for other things that are more socially acceptable like a different kind of financial stability, children, a house, or proximity to male power, but feel somehow that sex workers are the true culprits. Or worse, they think we are all victims. A scapegoat for folk who feel threatened by the power of autonomous sexual care and deeply undivided attention disqualified by the state. I guess the goat's head  is a powerful symbol for me.

RELEASE AGENT II, 2022Cast latex10”H x 10”W x .25"D

Your work is described as a political gesture that brings visibility to an otherwise obscured labour sector. Could you elaborate on how your work aims to challenge societal perceptions of sex work and its role in reflecting broader issues related to class, capitalism, and contemporary life?

The reason the work is a political gesture is because it brings visibility and subjectivity to an otherwise invalidated and obscured labour sector. Often invisible, this work is in demand for healthy, regular, boring humans who require diverse forms of support and care. As sex workers we refuse the  convention of the unrecognised - unlimited nature of the work of women. I make visible that labour power, its deep complexities and its contradictions. My research, and the artwork I make, are motivated by a resistance to the public erasure of valuable labour and the elevation of what is realistically part of the care sector.  The service that sex workers provide is an invaluable extension of support, a form of psycho-sexual inventory, and a mutually consensual sexual and emotional exchange. I feel like the criminalisation of sex work is a lived hypocrisy in a world where we all sell ourselves, our bodies, and our skills for money.  How is the body a site of mutual aide, power, pleasure, and labour? Casts and personal surveillance footage provide my main resources from which to re-appropriate or re-contextualise and eventually exhibit an ethics of care. The focus of my practice is materialising the subjectivity of a hidden work force and the designation of invisible systems of support. A substitute human is disenfranchised in as much as her/their very existence is illegal, stigmatised, and pretty aggressively  eradicated from public view. Furthermore her anonymity is part of her job description. The repetition and reproduction of images, audio recordings, porn clips, lingerie, work boots etc. become proof of the surrogate human.  A pair of fishnet stockings worn during housewife cosplay.  A push up bra hanging from a wall hook. They are just another piece of detritus left over from the surrogate girlfriend and her corporeal provision of care. Relics from a sacred, albeit entirely unholy exchange. Sex work leaves no trace: its entire existence hinges on anonymity. So the bed sheets alongside the cast items (of clothing etc.) become relics of exchange and utility. They are  tools for good service. Artefacts left over from holding space for someone. Documentation. Proof. Proof of subjectivity, the production of fantasy, the experience economy.

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Studio Photography by Sofia Hallström