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Centre for Visual Arts and Culture

Iris Ordean

Ms Iris-Carmina Ordean BA, MLitt

Community and identity: the construction of rope bondage practices in the European imagination. A participatory research with communities in London, Berlin and Paris

Durham Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship in Visual Culture

School of Modern Languages and Cultures (MLAC)

Department of Geography

Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC)

Durham University

Research interests: performance and embodiment, art partnerships, sexuality, the public and the private, feminist theory and exploring the concept of the "Other", cross-disciplinary transmutations in art and performance, PAR methodologies in visual and social anthropology.

Supervised by: Prof Tom Wynn (MLAC), Dr Fusako Innami (MLAC) and Dr Rachel Colls (Geography)

Keywords: cultural transmutation, transculturation, body theory, performance, visual anthropology, participatory research methods

The doctoral project aims to articulate what rope bondage is and how it is positioned in relationship to other activities or disciplines such as BDSM, theories of the body, performance or gender and feminist studies. Employing a participatory approach working with rope Bondage communities in Berlin, London and Paris, the chosen methodology allows the participants to play an active part in the research process.

Moving well beyond associations with ‘deviant’ sexuality, pornography or obscenity, the body in Japanese rope bondage is no longer subjugated by the constraints of the BDSM narratives (an abbreviation for Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism). The bound body in ropes becomes a vessel illustrating cultural mutations of Japanese philosophy, of sexuality versus the socio-political, while showing a strong inclination towards the ritualistic and the ceremonial. Used initially as a torture method in the Edo period, rope bondage entered the sexual sphere and matured into an art form. Subsequent westernization has helped build a diverse trans-national and heterogeneous community which constantly reshapes itself, and whose identity is constantly configured and reconfigured. International artistic exchanges further complicate this phenomenon; consequently, Shibari remains a volatile object of inquiry and its identity very much ‘in the making’.

The PAR method allows informants contribute to and shape the production of knowledge. For example, a way in which they can engage is by producing visual input to illustrate their vision about the practice. Visual material, thus, functions as projective stimulus and helps build a method of collective self-inquiry and self-development. By documenting how this practice emerges from the ‘underground’ and makes its way into the ‘mainstream’ from the perspective of those who embody it, rope bondage’s relationship with pivotal concepts such as gender, feminism, stigma, trauma, performativity or identity will also be coming to the forefront.

The project is highlighting the trans-cultural implications of rope bondage practices, examines the rhizomatic composition of rope bondage communities employing methodological approaches that engage participants in a doctoral project which stands at the intersection between human geography, visual culture and performance studies. Together we aim to create a project that will exist and develop alongside other similar academic studies by members from within or outside of the rope community. Finally, it will open new fields of inquiry into the history of rope bondage such as the necessity for building monographs, organising cross-cultural studies or examining other sociological and psychological aspects prevalent in this practice.

Academic background: Having been trained as a Conservation specialist (focusing on the technique oil on canvas) in the Conservation and Restoration Department of the ULBS, Iris has subsequently engaged in art historical dialogues with a focus on performance during her Master’s degree at the University of St Andrews. Her dissertation focused on exploring the concept of heterosexual partnerships and shared authorship in performance art. Her interest for the deliberate manipulation of the body has led to her doctoral research interests on the European perception and practice of Shibari.

Professional background includes The Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice), The Venice Biennale, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Deutsches Kulturzentrum Hermannstadt and working as a restorer and documentation specialist on various independent projects.


2018. ‘RO-Archive: An Archive of Romania in Times of Transition’, book review, Revista Arta, edited by UAP (Visual Arts Union Romania) [forthcoming]

‘The Body Cinematic, Political and Transgressive: Stages of Contemporary Embodiments at MNAC (National Museum for Contemporary Art)’, museum video-projection series review, Revista Arta, edited by UAP (Visual Arts Union Romania) [forthcoming]

‘On the challenges and benefits of researching a controversial topic for your doctoral project. A succinct account from my personal experience’, Collections and Curators, available online via

‘On Being a Custodian for the National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale: A Personal Account’, Collections and Curators, available online via

2017.‘Apostrof. Totul a început cu o ezitare a portarului. Comentariu [Un experiment de critică confesională] / Apostrophe. Everything started with the Keeper’s Hesitation. Comment [an experiment in confessional critical writing]’, exhibition review, Revista Arta, edited by UAP (Visual Arts Union Romania), vol. 28-29/2017.

2016. ‘Workshop: Handling Objects at The Oriental Museum’ Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC) blog, 2.11.2016, available online via

Translation (English), Cursaru-Herlea Maria, ‘Ceramica Medievalӑ de la Capidava (sec. IX-XI) / Medieval Pottery from Capidava (IX-XI c.), Sibiu: Astra Museum, 2016.

2015. ‘Niciodatӑ Singur. O lecturӑ alternativӑ. / Never Alone. An Alternative Reading.’ (exhibition review), Revista Arta, edited by UAP (Visual Arts Union Romania), vol. 16-17/2015

Conference Papers, Presentations & Workshops

2018. ‘Bodies Re-formed: Materiality, Transformation and the Performative’, postgraduate conference co-organiser, 3.11.2018, Lindisfarne Centre, St. Aiden's College, Durham University [forthcoming]

‘Transculturation, identity and the Body: employing PAR methodologies in working with three European rope bondage communities’, Transcultural Studies Student Conference, Heidelberg University 27.04.2018 (upcoming).


‘Japanese-style Rope Bondage, European Communities: Mutation, Transmutation and Transformation in Contemporary Accounts’, Visual Intersections 2, 10-12.07.2018, Durham University.

‘Rope Bondage: Mutation, Transmutation and Transformation in Contemporary Accounts’, College of Arts Postgraduate Conference 2017: Intersections, 7-8.06.2017, Glasgow University.

‘Tied Women, women who tie: The Politics of Gender in Japanese- style Rope Bondage’ (short paper), Women, Power and Visual Culture - International Women’s Day panel, 9.03.2017, Durham University Palace Green Library.

‘Shibari: Mutation Transmutation and Transformation, from Post-war Age to Contemporaneity’, BAJS (British Association for Japanese Studies) Postgraduate Workshop and Conference, 24.02.2017, Sheffield University.

2016. ‘Reflections on Eroticism and the History of the Erotic in Shibari (Japanese Rope Bondage)’, Ustinov Global Citizenship Programme, Ustinov College, 30.11.2016, Durham University.


2018. Travel grant, Transcultural Studies Student Conference 2018, Heidelberg University

2016. Durham University Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship in Visual Culture, Durham University

2016. School of Modern Languages and Cultures, Durham University Postgraduate Travel/Research grant, Durham University

2011. Valedictorian Academic Award, ULBS

2008-2011. Merit scholarship for outstanding academic achievements, ULBS