Prepare for the latest head-scratcher from that strange genre known as “performance art.” In “Save the Date,” the German-based artist Mischa Badasyan aims to explore the connection between sex and loneliness using popular gay “hook-up” apps, such as Grindr and Scruff, as well as other traditional means like cruising and bar hopping.
Badasyan will sleep with a different man every day for an entire year, collect small tokens from each conquest, and simultaneously be filmed for a documentary.
The 26-year-old’s pursuit comes from personal experiences of casual encounters, which left him feeling void. “I would go to [the park] every night and have sex with guys … until 5 o’clock [or] 6 o’clock in the morning,” Badasyan told Arts.Mic. “And I always … I felt very bad, I was crying all the time. I am always sad after these kind of meetings.”
Well, no shit. Being used for sex isn’t the most uplifting of interactions. When I was told about Badasyan’s upcoming piece, I simply gave a side-eyed meh to my friend. His foray into sexual “discovery” wasn’t shocking. It wasn’t interesting. It wasn’t even stimulating to say the least. If anything, it’s pathetic: a far cry from “art.”
In the art world, sex can be the ultimate attention-grabber, one of the best forms of shock and awe. At least it used to be. There was a time when exposing a nipple or too-close encounters of intercourse caused an uproar in public realms and popular culture.
In 1998, British artist Tracey Emin created My Bed, a sculptural piece which featured her own sex-stained mattress complete with soiled sheets and underwear, condoms, and other objects from the artist’s own emotional bender. Before her, Robert Mapplethorpe’s images of BDSM sparked outrage with lawmakers. Even Gustav Courbet’s 1866 L’Origine du monde was strongly detested for its blunt portrayal of a woman’s vagina.
Now, overt sex in art is an old-familiar: artists have lost their capacity to shock, leaving sex-themed art forced to become more bizarre and extreme.
Such was the case with art student Clayton Pettet, who, earlier this year, planned to lose his virginity to a man in front of a live audience. He grabbed international attention, but failed to follow through.
Instead, he turned a highly publicized and sold-out performance into a somewhat unoriginal and PG presentation of body paint and bananas. A genuinely transgressive art moment reeked of elementary school art project.
Through attempting 365 different partners, Badasyan hopes to confirm the idea that loneliness is created from these casual, and sometimes anonymous, interactions.
But is Badasyan right? As an openly gay man, I have had countless conversations with friends and family, strangers and lovers about the “hook-up” culture among my community, especially with the dawning of the app age, and the effects it has on gay culture and people, both internally and externally.
Casual hook-ups serve their purpose: a desire to connect with another, if only briefly. But it can also be a bit of a mind-fuck—especially for those who genuinely want more from the encounter. These interactions are only there as an option. We, as individuals, choose whether or not to take a bite of the proverbial apple in the garden of good and evil. As sour as it may be, we must accept it for what it is. Or choose not to partake.
These brief encounters, and the sexual endeavors of the gay community, have been a heated topic of conversation for many years. The popularity of hook-up apps has further pushed the stereotype that gay men are sex-obsessed. But not all of us are.
The popularity of Truvada, a pill which reduces the chances of contracting HIV, puts sexually active minds at ease while reawakening a long-standing conversation about promiscuity. Ultimately, we are, and have historically been, more up-front about sex.
The apps, which Badasyan decries, have their own subtleties. Yes, our phone screens may be filled with headless torsos and “looking?” statuses, but if you spend more than 10 minutes sifting through the profiles, you’ll see equal amounts of disclaimers stating “not looking for hook-ups” or “dates preferred,” showing that not all gay men use these apps for immediate sex.
The apps are what you make them. The convenience and fast approach of social dating suits our lifestyles, while the veil of a digital connection allows less confident guys to approach others more easily than at a bar or on the street. This isn’t to argue that they are not disconnecting in some ways, or have their own negative after-effects; just that they are varied, and people use them in varied ways.
However, Badasyan sees these apps as “non-places,” or what French philosopher Marc Augé describes as transient places of no significance, such as supermarkets, hotel rooms, shopping malls and other places with a large sense of anonymity. “In these places, you don’t have to talk to anyone or feel a sense of belonging,” Badasyan explained to the Huffington Post. “That creates loneliness.”
Indeed, “you don’t have to talk to anyone or feel a sense of belonging” but you can if you choose to. It’s an option. Scruff and Grindr are options. However, Badasyan sees them as terminal and hopes to become one of these “non-places” to further confirm his loneliness among a sea of unemotional encounters.
Honestly, he seems a bit masochistic. And while he is looking to solve his own emotional conflicts doing the very things he says make him feel terrible, he is also looking to involve others. “Generally, I’m not going to tell my dates about this project,” he told Vocative. “People won’t like that. It’s horrible actually.”
On top of his “general” secrecy, Badasyan hopes to take a personal token from each encounter. “I am going to meet a lot of people, each with [his] own story and background,” he continued. “I want to keep these moments. Collecting 365 pieces of each guy will help me create a collective installation body and make all of the non-places into a place.”
The artist is also hoping some will even speak about their experience on camera for the accompanying documentary. Therefore, the exercise is not just wholly narcissistic, it is also a little cruel if he really intends to somehow co-opt possessions and on-camera participation from his unsuspecting sexual conquests.
Throughout it all, Badasyan’s own pain and conflict seem to feed the apps-are-soulless orthodoxy rather than challenge it. What he says may be true, at least for him, but his performance isn’t art—it’s a lot of sex masked with the label of art, sounding every bit as exploitative as the sexual culture he seeks to indict.