Flanagan met Sheree Rose in 1980, and collaborated closely with her for the rest of his life. They were also romantic partners. Through the 1980s, Flanagan and Rose focused on BDSM community education and organizing, including being 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 book Modern Primitives; the book featured (among others) Fakir Musafar. In Nailed, Flanagan nailed his penis and scrotum to a board while singing “If I Had a Hammer.” As well, Rose photographed the performance artist Genesis P-Orridge for the book Modern Primitives.
Flanagan and Rose’s work 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 (SM means sadism and masochism). It was Rose and 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. 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.”
Flanagan is featured in the widely banned music video from 1992 for the song “Happiness in Slavery” by Nine Inch Nails. In the video, a nude Flanagan is bound to a mechanical torture device which pierces his flesh, pulls on his nipples and penis with pincers, crushes his genitals with a paddle, and ultimately kills him. Apart from his onscreen “death”, all of the acts inflicted on Flanagan in the video are unsimulated.
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 1995 “Crush My Soul” video, as an upside-down suspended Christ, hoisted on to the ceiling of a church by Sheree Rose.
Selected art works
- Tell Me What to Do: An Improvisational Reading and Performance, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, Venice, August 14, 1987
- Bob Flanagan’s Sick, Art in the Anchorage, New York, August 1991
- Bob Flanagan at the Movies, Artists’ Television Access, San Francisco, April 18, 1992
- A Matter of Choice, in collaboration with Sheree Rose, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, July 1992
- Visiting Hours: An Installation by Bob Flanagan in collaboration with Sheree Rose, Santa Monica Museum of Art and the New Museum, 1994
- Slave Sonnets (1986)
- Fuck Journal (Hanuman Books, 1988)
- Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist (1993) (interviews)
- Pain Journal (1996)
On January 4, 1996, Flanagan died from complications of cystic fibrosis at 43.
The final years of Flanagan’s life, including his death, are the subject of the 1997 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. The film also documents Flanagan’s and Rose’s life together.
Flanagan’s and Rose’s collected archives are maintained at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries.