The Pink Nun, who drives a canary-yellow pickup with flame decals, can be spotted interviewing young people in and around Chicago about their attitudes toward sex and marriage or selling her signature Purity Products-t-shirts and underwear with slogans like "Keep it tucked, Brother!" and "Nature Preservation Site." We interviewed Bulten recently about her nun, her art, and the faith that lies behind them.
What is your relationship to the Pink Nun?
I work for her.
Okay. Well, can you confirm what the Chicago Reader said about you and the Pink Nun, concerning your identities?
What was that?
It says, "Bulten and the Pink Nun, who have never been photographed together, bear an uncanny resemblance to one another, right down to their identical nose rings and tongue studs."
Yeah, that's basically right.
What's the Pink Nun's mission?
She's mostly trying to promote the idea that saving sex for the right time is a way to respect your body, your mind and emotions. She's not just tied into virginity. It's more about not wanting to have sex when it's not the right time. Sex is not just a physical act for enjoyment, it's an actual sacred thing to be used to bond you to someone else, spiritually, mentally and physically.
How long has the Pink Nun been around?
I guess almost four years. She helped me at my MFA thesis show [at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago].
But she's not a real nun, right?
She's not in a cloister anymore. She did take vows at one time. But she left it because it was a little too traditional for her, and she wanted to do more of an edgy thing than was accepted.
How long ago was that?
That was about six years ago.
Can you say where that was, or what denomination?
I can't say where, but it was part of the traditional nuns of the Catholic church.
You've said you think the nun is a good symbol of chastity.
When we met up, I thought the Pink Nun was a good person to represent my messages. She had a lot of similar morals and ideas of the way sex should be looked at.
Nuns have been traditionally seen by many as anti-sex, which is not the same as chaste, right?
She's never gotten that response, maybe because of what she looks like, and the fact that she's blatantly talking about it. People see the irony and find that humorous. Some people might think it's sarcastic, but she's not going against any morality that a nun would have. She doesn't plan on being married herself. She's still a nun in that sense that nuns sacrifice that part of their life. I don't know that it's because they can't deal with sex. It's just that they don't find it the most important thing in life.
It really depends on a commitment. You can't be flighty about it. It's more than a decision, it's a certain kind of lifestyle. You have to protect your heart and mind in certain ways. If you want to make it easier, you can't be filling your head with a lot of the crap the world puts out there that continually trains your mind to think that you need it.
For a while there was this vogue for chastity going on, and singers like Britney Spears were saying they were chaste. But she seems to have fallen off the chastity wagon. What happened?
It seemed to me to be a way to make the music more acceptable for their target audience, most of whom are 13 anyway and shouldn't be having sex yet. Meanwhile, MTV is filled with shows with plenty of sex. Even Jessica Simpson's show is pretty disgusting. She used to promote the idea of chastity, but she doesn't care about her husband going to strip clubs. It totally falls apart.
People think sex sells, but I think it's a temporary thing. People are always looking for something to fill a void, and sex is the current trendy thing to catch onto and to experiment with, in any way, with whoever.
I'm not saying we need to run into a cloister. But be more picky about what you watch. Don't watch "Friends" thinking this is the way the world really works, or the way your friends are. It doesn't mean everyone is having sex just because they make it look that way on TV. Blatant sex in the movies or any popular media was always for an adult audience. Now, more and more, it's aimed at a younger audience. They've come to think it's expected of them.
So many girls and boys in high school already don't talk to each other about it. They pretend they are having sex even if they are not. One girl told me, "I didn't even think I had an option." That seemed bizarre to me, that you wouldn't even realize you couldn't say no.
Is kissing okay? Is it all right as long as you don't go all the way.
It's not 'don't do this, don't do that.' Yeah, you can kiss or hold each other or even do a little bit of touching. But the more you do, the harder it is not to get serious physically. It's better to have friendships, so you're not even dealing with that. You can learn just as much about somebody, if not more, in friendship. In dating, right away you are trying to put up this impressive front for each other. You aren't acting like yourself and right away there is the pressure of, "How long before we get physical?" What makes sex better is how well you know that person, how well you know each other and how much you're committed to each other. The commitment makes sex so much more freeing anyway.
How did your involvment in the Pink Nun start?
She was in the Loop one day talking to people. All of the paintings I was doing then were about sexual issues. They would use images or word play, and they were starting to look a little like posters. After meeting the Pink Nun, I decided I wanted to collaborate with her on some things, and figured out she would be a good representative. She would be an icon at the forefront. I started making postcards that were more specific sexual messages, starting with the one that says, "You are not a slot machine" with a picture of a slot machine with arms and legs. The Pink Nun agreed to hand those out for me in public, so she was more the spokesperson.
Was it hard for people at school to accept that?
Some people had a hard time taking it seriously.
Was there a hostile reaction?
A little bit, from a couple professors who didn't think that Christian art should exist. There are those in the art spectrum who think that Christianity is closed minded, and an artist is supposed to be open minded, and therefore art shouldn't have any kind of beliefs that don't accept every other kind of belief or something.
No, I really want to stay away from that. I don't want it to be pigeonholed, because it's not art for religious people.
So what's the relationship between Christianity and what you're doing?
Christianity is the basis for the beliefs that are behind the artwork. So it's more that I'm an artist who is Christian. But the art itself shouldn't be labeled as Christian or non-Christian, since someone who doesn't have any Christian beliefs could inspire people in the same way.
Do you have any Christian models for what you are doing?
I don't think so. I've found more inspiration from artists who don't agree with my morality, and are even doing opposite messages, but I like the way they put it out there: Barbara Krueger, the Guerrilla Girls, Jenny Holzer. Those artists all do fine art that borders on what people would consider propaganda. I think art can be public and mass-produced and still be art.
You just got married. Has that changed how you feel or what your plans are?
It's just grounded my beliefs more in letting me have a testimony. It's given me the actual physical knowledge, but it also strengthens my ideas of reasons to wait. I am with someone who makes me incredibly comfortable.
How have other Christians responded?
It made some people angry because they said I wasn't dealing with sex in a sacred enough way. They thought some of it--like the "Lock Your C--k" buttons-was such worldly words. I just say that we're trying to talk to the general audience that is not shocked by those words. And still some people just ignore it, but as time goes by I've had more people be supportive.
Is the Christian world opening to nontraditional artforms?
I'd hope so, but as a whole, I'd say it's not.
I heard that you weren't into organized religion.
I don't think religion is always in touch with God or spirituality or Christian ideas. Jesus was trying to shake people up a little, from being so attached to religion. He was preaching more about love, about being active, about loving the people around you, but not throwing away the 10 Commandments.
It seems like shaking people up is where you are in your art as well.
It's my personality to be confrontational. I guess I don't mind that the artwork is right there in your face. I want it to stay in your head because it bothered you.