Sex as performance art – why shocking audiences is business as usual

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Performance art is a kind of catchall genre born out of Cabaret Voltaire, Dadaism, Futurism, and the “happenings” of the Fluxus movement. It’s more or less silently conceded that it can be anything as long as it’s intentional. 

Shock and controversy are often the preferred methods for performance artists. To wit: Marina Abramovic’s “Rhythm 0” (1974), Chris Burden’s “Shoot” (1971), and Guillermo Vargas’ “Exposicion N° 1” (2007). Each of these pieces challenged conventional notions of authorship and artistic decorum. In “Rhythm 0,” Abramovic laid 72 objects on a table and invited spectators to use them on her body however they saw fit. In “Shoot,” Burden was literally shot in the left arm. And in Exposicion N° 1,” a starving dog was tied up in a gallery for three days while patrons watched it suffer.

 

Some artists choose to not perform in front of an audience, but rather live out their performances in real-time and exhibit the documentation later. In Linda Montano’s performance “Three Day Blindfold” (1974), she blindfolded herself for three days while attempting to navigate the world as usual.

Berlin-based performance artist Mischa Badasyan is raising the stakes of performance art with his new, year-long piece “Save the Date.” He plans to use his body as a canvas during sexual encounters with new partners over 365 consecutive days.

His inspiration was the feeling of emptiness often associated with “hookup culture,” particularly among gay men. Badasyan will use apps such as Grindr to underscore the relationship between sex and loneliness. This project already mirrors his personal life to a degree: The artist has never been in a long-term relationship and haunts online dating sites such as Gaydar and GayRomeo. 

He is also interested in the philosophical idea of “non-places” that perpetuate a loss of identity—supermarkets, airports, highways. These are places where you can be anyone and nobody pays attention to individual identity. He plans to stage his sexual meet-ups in such anonymous places, which, again, reflects his previous adventures in sexual anonymity. “I would go to [the park]every night and have sex with guys … until 5 o’clock [or]6 o’clock in the morning. And I was always … I felt very bad, I was crying all the time. I am always sad after these kind of meetings,” he has said.

Since the artist is cutting out the audience entirely—and the performance can’t (or shouldn’t) be recreated—Badasyan will create photo and video installations of his experiences, as well as sculptures made from bed sheets. 

Concerns over sexual safety are only natural with such a project, and the artist has explained that a German safe-sex organization will supply as many condoms as needed. Badasyan has also been tested for HIV.

But beyond STDs or potentially unsafe environments, the project also takes on enormous emotional and legal risks with Badasyan’s refusal to inform his sexual partners that they’re part of an art piece. The resulting vulnerability, violation, and outrage is part of the project. 

“I don’t deny that it’s a bit egoistic…it’s performance art, and a performance artist should always be pushing his own body and the performance,” Badasyan says.

Let us bear in mind that shock is contextual. When Travisnky’s “Rite of Spring” was first performed in 1913, the audience rioted. Now, it’s canonized and performed by ballet companies around the world. Maybe “Save the Date” just needs 100 years before it can be considered passé. 

Read more about the project here

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