Words: Vanessa S Miranda
What do asteroids, cats and 50s inspired erotic photos of women have in common? They all came together in the second book of model Tessa Kuragi and her creative partner Jon-Ross Le Haye, Cat-astrophe-Sex. From modelling and the power of the female body to adorable feline photos, we talked with both artists about life, sexual expression and the imminent danger of an asteroid collapsing with Earth.
You work as a model, but not only is your work less commercial and more artistic, you have already launched two books. Do you see yourself as an artist too?
Yes, I do. Though it’s a term I feel is rather nebulous and I worry about using myself, I think it fits. All my projects seem a natural outpouring of something inside me and I’m much more interested in exploring that than modelling just anything for the sake of it. Of late, I have really been enjoying exploring my creativity with other mediums such as working in collaboration with my partner Jon-Ross Le Haye on two books. I have also accepted the role of fashion magazine editor for a new magazine so watch this space! And I recently worked with a dancer, directing and curating a performance art piece which they performed for Nick Knight’s Halloween show ‘A Beautiful Darkness’. I am not sure I could ever give up modelling completely though. There is something irreplaceable about the visceral feeling of using one’s body for expression.
Is there a difference between your persona in a photoshoot and the one you are in your daily life?
That’s a complicated question and the subject of many a session on the couch with my shrink. I think my model persona is probably an amplification of aspects of me that certainly do exist ‘in real life’. I move between a very shy, young girl to a very powerful sexual woman. Though I think frequently it’s more the latter that gets seen in published work. There are many more sides to me though that don’t get expressed at all and I like there being separate spaces for that.
Most of your work focuses around the themes of nudity, sexuality, dominance, the contrast between pleasure and pain. How do you relate to these concepts?
I guess I’m a pervert – but then isn’t everyone in private? I certainly hope so. Growing up, I used my sexuality as a source of creativity with power attached. There is also something about reflecting ‘the shadow’ to others – forcing them to see it. Sex and nudity are so natural, yet they are the source of so much primitive hate and anger. I want to make people feel that and then think about why it is so.
In fetish terms, there’s a very thin line between pleasure and pain. Is it possible to achieve that balance? Do you believe this pursuit is something inherent to all human beings?
Again, I’m not quite sure how to answer this. Personally, I can experience pain as pleasure and vice versa. As to achieving balance, well, that I think depends on the individual. For me, being as creative sexually as possible within the bounds of a consensual loving relationship is balance.
Recently, you launched a new book called Cat-astrophe-sex, another creative venture with your boyfriend, Jon-Ross Le Haye, after the sold out The Bruise Book. This book is about ‘cats, girls and asteroids’, very different concepts at first glance, can you explain what connects them?
Yes. Our Bruise Book was more an intimate story of our relationship while our latest book is a bit more light-hearted. I suppose the first connection between the two is us! It might help to say how we came up with the idea for ‘Cat-astrophe-Sex’. It started with a radio interview on BBC Radio 4 about an asteroid defence centre in North Wales. Jon-Ross heard it and for the first 10 minutes thought it was some kind of alternative radio comedy, then began to realise it was in fact a documentary about the UK’s only Near Earth Object (NEO) detection centre, which has no government funding and is run by a heroic retired army major called Jay Tate. Then came cats, Jon-Ross and I have a bit of a cat obsession (we once went to a cat cafe covered in catnip to get ALL the love from ALL the cats). Cats are also other-worldly, and we felt if anyone can offer insight into celestial issues, its cats (and owls), they seemed essential. Then came girls, Jon-Ross has a collection of 1950’s, very amateur photography of girls shot by partners in domestic settings, we wanted to recreate these shots, they lent themselves to the very low-key British response to NEO’s. I guess to sum up, its three passions rolled into one!
If the human race was to be extinct by an NEO, how would you like Earth’s new population to be?
Cats… or owls. Definitely not primates again, we had our chance. However, in Last and First Men, Olaf Stapledon predicted a species of miniature flying primates who live in the poles after a nuclear apocalypse, maybe them… they sound cute.
What’s your relationship with your cat (if you have one) or felines? Do you identify with their personalities?
Sadly, at the moment we don’t have a cat of our own as we are rarely home to look after anything. We pine after having one daily though! I kind of see them as little deities – very feminine, powerful and a bit naughty.
Model: Tessa Kuragi — Design: Jon-Ross Le Haye — Photography: Hanson Leatherby — Music: Pierre Crube — Lingerie: What Katie Did — Stylist: Nell James Grace — Hair & Make-up: Jake Gallager, Paula Delgrado — Location: Planet Sputnik — Cat: Sputnik