Bob Flanagan

Last updated
Bob Flanagan
Born(1952-12-26)December 26, 1952
DiedJanuary 4, 1996(1996-01-04) (aged 43)
Known for sadomasochism, performance art, cystic fibrosis activism
Notable work
Why, Visiting Hours
Spouse(s) Sheree Rose (1989–1996)

Bob Flanagan (December 26, 1952 – January 4, 1996) was an American performance artist and writer known for his work on sadomasochism and cystic fibrosis.

Performance art artistic performance presented to an audience

Performance art is a performance presented to an audience within a fine art context, traditionally interdisciplinary. Performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated, spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent. It can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience. Performance art can happen anywhere, in any type of venue or setting and for any length of time. The actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work.

Sadomasochism giving or receiving of pleasure from acts involving the receipt or infliction of pain or humiliation

Sadomasochism is the giving or receiving of pleasure from acts involving the receipt or infliction of pain or humiliation. Practitioners of sadomasochism may seek sexual gratification from their acts. While the terms sadist and masochist refer respectively to one who enjoys giving and receiving pain, practitioners of sadomasochism may switch between activity and passivity.

Cystic fibrosis Autosomal recessive disease

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder that affects mostly the lungs, but also the pancreas, liver, kidneys, and intestine. Long-term issues include difficulty breathing and coughing up mucus as a result of frequent lung infections. Other signs and symptoms may include sinus infections, poor growth, fatty stool, clubbing of the fingers and toes, and infertility in most males. Different people may have different degrees of symptoms.



Early life

Flanagan was born in New York City on December 26, 1952 and grew up in Costa Mesa, California, with his mother, Kathy; father, Robert; brothers John and Tim; and sister, Patricia. In childhood, Flanagan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, from which his sister, Patricia, who died at age 21, and a second sister, who died soon after birth, also suffered. At age 14, in 1967, Flanagan was named the first poster child for the North Orange County chapter of the National Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation. [1]

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Costa Mesa, California City in California

Costa Mesa is a city in Orange County, California. Since its incorporation in 1953, the city has grown from a semi-rural farming community of 16,840 to a primarily suburban and edge city with an economy based on retail, commerce, and light manufacturing. The population was 109,960 at the 2010 United States Census.

Poster child

The term poster child originally referred to a child afflicted by some disease or deformity whose picture is used on posters or other media as part of a campaign to raise money or enlist volunteers for a cause or organization. Such campaigns may be part of an annual effort or event, and may include the name and age of a specific child along with other personally identifiable attributes.

Flanagan graduated from Costa Mesa High School, [2] and studied literature at California State University, Long Beach and the University of California, Irvine.[ when? ] He moved to Los Angeles in 1976. [3]

California State University, Long Beach public university in Long Beach, California, United States

California State University, Long Beach is a public university in Long Beach, California. The 322-acre campus is the third largest of the 23-school California State University system (CSU) and one of the largest universities in the state of California by enrollment, its student body numbering 37,776 for the Fall 2016 semester. The university continues to receive record numbers of applicants; for Fall 2018, it received 102,879 undergraduate applications—the most of any CSU campus. The school has a 28% acceptance rate. In 2017, 17,650 out of 63,048 applicants were admitted making Cal State Long Beach a highly competitive school to get into. As of Fall 2014, the school had 2,283 total faculty, with 36.7 percent of those faculty on the tenure track. With 5,286 graduate students, the university enrolls one of the largest graduate student populations across the CSU system and in the state of California. The university is located in the Los Altos neighborhood of Long Beach at the southeastern coastal tip of Los Angeles County, less than one mile from the border with Orange County. The university offers 82 different Bachelor's degrees, 65 types of Master's degrees, and four Doctoral degrees.

University of California, Irvine public research university in Irvine, California, United States

The University of California, Irvine is a public research university located in Irvine, California. It is one of the 10 campuses in the University of California (UC) system. UC Irvine offers 87 undergraduate degrees and 129 graduate and professional degrees. The university is classified as a Research I university and in 2017 had $361 million in research and development expenditures, according to the National Science Foundation. UC Irvine became a member of the Association of American Universities in 1996 and is the youngest university to hold membership. It is considered to be one of the "Public Ivies," meaning that it is among those publicly funded universities thought to provide a quality of education comparable to that of the Ivy League.


On January 4, 1996, Flanagan died from complications of cystic fibrosis at 43. [3] He was survived by his wife and close artistic collaborator Sheree Rose. [4]

Sheree Rose, is an American photographer and performance artist. She is best known for her collaborative work with performance artist Bob Flanagan, and her photography documenting a wide range of Los Angeles subcultures, especially in relation to BDSM and body modification.

The final years of Flanagan's life, including his death, are the subject of the Kirby Dick documentary SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist . Flanagan's participation in the film was contingent upon his death being part of the completed project. [5]

Kirby Dick American film director, producer and screenwriter

Kirby Bryan Dick is an American film director, producer, screenwriter, and editor. He is best known for directing documentary films. He received Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary Feature for directing Twist of Faith (2005) and The Invisible War (2012). He has also received numerous awards from film festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival and Los Angeles Film Festival.


Flanagan began reading his poems around Southern California in the mid-1970s, and was part of the poetry community at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center. He published his first book, The Kid is the Man, with Bombshelter Press in 1978. [6]

Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center

Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center is a literary arts center located at 681 Venice Boulevard, Venice, Los Angeles, California, founded in 1968.

Flanagan met Sheree Rose in 1980, [7] and collaborated closely with her for the rest of his life. Through the 1980s, Flanagan and Rose focused on BDSM community education and organizing, and were founding members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Janus. Their work in performance art began with the 1989 piece Nailed, presented in conjunction with the release of the RE/Search publication Modern Primitives . [8] In Nailed, Flanagan nailed his penis and scrotum to a board while singing "If I Had a Hammer." [9]

Visiting Hours, first shown at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 1992, combined text, video, and live performance, and explored the convergence of illness and SM. It was Flanagan's most widely toured museum exhibition. In the center of the gallery, Flanagan lay in a hospital bed and interacted with museum visitors for the duration of the exhibit. [10] According to curator Laura Trippi, "The installation is designed like a crazy stage set of a children's residential hospital, replete with a torture chamber lurking amidst the institutional cheer." [11]

Music videos

Flanagan being tortured in the almost universally banned Nine Inch Nails music video for "Happiness in Slavery". Happiness in Slavery video.jpg
Flanagan being tortured in the almost universally banned Nine Inch Nails music video for "Happiness in Slavery".

Flanagan is featured in the widely banned music video for the song "Happiness in Slavery" by Nine Inch Nails. In the video, he plays a slave who worships a machine. He offers a candle to an altar, before ceremonially undressing and washing. He then lies down on an intelligent torture machine that molests and ultimately kills him, with a mixture of pain and pleasure on his face.

In 1993, Flanagan appeared in the video for the Danzig song "It's Coming Down". In the uncensored version of the video (near the ending), Flanagan pierces his upper and lower lips together and then he hammers a nail through the head of his penis before bleeding on the lens of the camera recording him.

Flanagan also had a small role in Godflesh's "Crush My Soul" video, as an upside-down suspended Christ, hoisted on to the ceiling of a church by Sheree Rose.

Selected works

Partial bibliography

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  1. McRuer, Robert (2006). Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: NYU Press. p. 187.
  2. Curtis, Cathy (May 12, 1993). "Flanagan Finds Depicting Pain Is a Pleasure : Art: Survivor of cystic fibrosis and his lover give a 'toned-down' presentation of masochistic works at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  3. 1 2 Smith, Roberta. "Bob Flanagan, 43, Performer Who Fashioned Art From His Pain". New York Times. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  4. Levy, Emanuel (8 February 1997). "Review: 'Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist'". Variety.
  5. SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist DVD Commentary Track
  6. Mohr, Bill (January 4, 2016). "Bob Flanagan – On the 20th anniversary of his death" . Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  7. "Sheree Rose". New World Writing. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  8. Takemoto, Tina (2009). "Love is still possible in this junky world: Conversation with Sheree Rose about her life with Bob Flanagan". Women & Performance: A journal of feminist theory. 19: 95. doi:10.1080/07407700802655588.
  9. Sandahl, Carrie (2000). "Bob Flanagan: Taking It Like a Man". Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism: 97–105.
  10. Reynolds, Dawn (2007). "Disability and BDSM: Bob Flanagan and the case for sexual rights". Sexuality Research and Social Policy. 4: 40. doi:10.1525/srsp.2007.4.1.40.
  11. "Exhibitions: Visiting Hours: An Installation by Bob Flanagan in collaboration with Sheree Rose" . Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  12. "Visiting Hours: An Installation by Bob Flanagan in collaboration with Sheree Rose". The New Museum Digital Archive. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Flanagan, Bob (1993). Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist. San Francisco, CA: Re/Search.
  14. "Bob Flanagan - Pain Journal". Retrieved 2016-03-04.