Sobriety made me brave enough to put a Hoover up my bumby Harry Clayton-Wright
Sobriety made be brave enough to put a Hoover up my bum. There I said it. So glad to finally have that off my chest.
Deep Clean, a short film by myself and GRAMMY nominated slash UK Music Video Awards winning director David Wilson, is the proudest moment of my career so far. A story of self-pleasure and objectophilia (the love of objects), brought to life on screen by an incredibly talented crew. My dream of living a Hollywood production number fantasy finally came true, but at every turn it almost never happened.
Let me set the scene: Blackpool, 2013. Bored while doing the housework and feeling some kind of way, I stood for a moment and stared longingly, lost in the phallic nature and girth of the vacuum cleaner handle flirting in front of me under the stairs. Thinking to myself one thing and one thing only: Yeah, I could take that. As a burgeoning performance artist, a flash of inspiration. This would make an incredible cabaret act. While it had possibly been attempted at home before, I’d certainly never seen someone insert the handle of an upright vacuum cleaner into their anus to do the hoovering on stage as a performance piece. It was my new calling. eBay was my immediate destination and I hopped online to browse, page after page, my feelings were that it needed to be an older model to really appreciate that architecture of vintage design. Settling on a Hoover De Luxe Model 652 (circa 1959), an eager imagination and my nervous hole waited patiently for its arrival.
Weighing roughly 9kg, with a single-speed motor of 385w, 8900 rpm (on carpet), I was surprised to see that my purchase was still completely operational, with the light on the front in full working order. Excited though I was, this was an act that was going to take bravery and commitment to execute, and hell of a lot of practice. Seemingly, courage or conviction lacking, I just couldn’t find the nerve and dishearteningly placed the object under the stairs where my dreams and ambition sat for over two years gathering dust. This was also period where my partying had escalated and relationship to drink and drugs, which had always been fractious, changed as a result of the sexual trauma I’d experienced. When a friend who knew of my situation and recurring misery asked me, “Do you think you have a problem?”, the question had never been framed to me like that before. I couldn’t tell a lie. Of course I did and it had to stop. I had to stop. The reckless path I was headed down was one of clear catastrophe. I became sober on 11th October, 2015. It was a a decision that has changed my life and provided so much clarity and focus in the work towards becoming the best me that I can be.
Duckie, the performance art club night founded at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in 1995, had asked me to be their Artist in Residence in Winter 2015, performing a new act every Saturday night for four consecutive weeks. With a clear mind and a want to push my craft for their well versed audience, I decided to finally create the act I’d envisaged those years before. It was time to hoover. Sobriety had given me hope and a new perspective on life. I was so grateful to be feeling happiness again and I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. What did I have to lose by performing this? The act debuted on the 28th November, 2015, originally as a performance piece to The Girl and The Robot by Röyskopp, featuring Robyn. For some strange reason my first iteration of the act involved water in a washing up bowl, so as I penetrated myself on stage in front of an audience for the very first time, I could have easily slipped on the wet floor beneath me, seriously injuring myself and my poor bum. It makes me wince to even think about that possibility. I knew that using my body in this way would illicit quite a reaction and within ten minutes, a photo of the act’s climax had been uploaded by someone in the crowd. It was out there now, but I didn’t feel shame. Progress.
While I was very proud of myself and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I didn’t find an outlet for the Hoover again until Spring 2016. It’s silly that I didn’t see it beforehand and honestly, it only hit me years after I bought the appliance and months after its first performance, but this framework, the device and new skill of mine would make a great Freddie Mercury tribute performance. I Want To Break Free (The Hoover Act) debuted on the South Bank at Miss Behave’s Gameshow and, if I say so myself, brought the house down.
At the East London Life Drawing class in 2016, I met the incredible David Wilson while posing as a model at a cruising ground – one of my ten minute poses was me sniffing a bottle of poppers – and we became close friends immediately. While chatting online one day, I sent David a video of my Hoover act. He loved it and commented that it’d make a great concept for a music video. Flattered, knowing his work as a director, that was an honour to hear. Then, as if by serendipitous magic, a song came to David for him to pitch on. Sexual by Neiked featuring Dyo. It was a hell of a catchy song, this would be a perfect fit. He set to work writing the act up as a music video treatment. Could this be the moment?
It was not to be the moment. Our pitch didn’t get selected. A music video didn’t get made for song in the end. Not that the song suffered, it was a top ten hit in many countries.
Some time after, the act well and truly worn in – I’d flown my Hoover around the world to perform that act on many hallowed stages – David approached me again in 2018 with a steely determination and fire to finally translate the act from the stage to the screen. After messaging Neiked directly to ask for their permission to use the song for our film, they remembered our treatment and said an instant yes. We had a green light. It was on the way to happening now, right?!
Wrong. Insurance companies wouldn’t touch us. Five locations turned us down. But with ambition, grit and the help of an incredibly talented team, we wrangled production into place and shot the film in January, 2019. A day I’ll never forget. Full of laughter and happiness. It felt like such a thrill and I treasure those memories of being on set. I’m so glad we have the photos to look back on too.
The film is a reflection of the queer symbiosis in my friendship with David and shows something that gives me so much pride: His belief in me as an artist. Though the experience shows that even with David’s impressive CV, working with the likes of Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga, Arctic Monkeys to name but a few, this still might have never happened. If we’d listened to the doubts or the chorus of no, there wouldn’t be this piece of work in the world expressing radical queer sexual joy and a committed love to housework.
Deep Clean was selected by SXSW, The Iris Prize in Cardiff, NewFest in New York and Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest in London. Little White Lies slated us as one of the six best new LGBT+ short films from around the world and said of our short: “Truly stunning. A work of legitimately radical power”. The Oxford University examined our film at a Queer Studies Research Lunch “to talk on the anus as the universal black hole into which rush genders, sexes, identities, and capital”. Obsessed with that.
Now I’m even more grateful to have had this experience as a performer and to have made this piece of work, right before the world changed, feels extraordinary. I think the chances of it happening are even slimmer now. Thankfully, it’s not stopped me from working as I’ve shifted focus from stage to page and steered my practice into the art of making zines. You Otter Know (available to read and consume for free at youotterknow.camp) is my brand new publication, in collaboration with independent publishing house Polari Press, inspired by a love erotica and desire to explore sexuality. Heavily influenced by the graphic design of top shelf publications from the 70s, 80s and 90s, it’s been deliberately created to look like it was found in a basement and uploaded for your pleasure. Or as someone told me recently, it resembles the sort of seedy magazine you’d find in a bush (the highest form of compliment if you ask me). While I do miss the gasps and shocks of audiences who haven’t seen a household appliance used quite so provocatively, I’m so very glad there’s still an outlet for my art.
If I could offer one piece of advice to you at the end of this article: Make the work you want to see in the world, you never know what will happen and if you don’t try, you may always wonder what if. There’s a phrase that floats around the internet that this story is a testament to. A powerful seven words that I live by: Anything’s a dildo if you’re brave enough. I hope you find that bravery.