Artists and Escorts: Kim Ye’s Notes from the Studio

3 Mar

NOTES FROM THE STUDIO
This week your friends at Catalysis Projects introduce the second in our series of new columns – brief notes  from the “lost and found” desks of our Core and Resident Artists. In these posts, our artists offer a glimpse into one of their interdisciplinary, collaborative projects, including artifacts from the flotsam and jetsum that litter their creative spaces. This week our Core Artist Kim Ye’s asks whether ARTISTS and SEX-WORKERS hold parallel positions in our current economy?

Below is an excerpt from a discussion I’ve sent to Miwon Kwon as a project proposal. The writing that would result from this line of exploration would be for a seminar called Exchange Rate in which the changing economics of dematerialized art is addressed:

I’m interested in exploring parallels between the artist’s position as a service provider and an escort or sex worker’s position as a service provider. Specifically, I have Andrea Fraser’s Untitled and Art Out Artist Escort Service in mind. In both cases, the artist is taking part in the experience economy, but the experience is of the artist’s body and/or subjectivity. What is the nature of this exchange? What does the client/guest receive and what does the artist receive in this encounter both materially and symbolically?

I was thinking about the interview you did with Andrea wherein she states that while she does have moral dilemmas in regards to selling art work, she does not have any in regards to sex work. In addition, she mentioned that her intimate relationships have helped sustain her financially over the years. While Untitled subverts the client/escort relationship in certain ways, I am thinking about how analysis of artistic practices can be applied to the practices of high-end escorts and vice versa. My hope is that through this comparison, I can answer (or begin to answer) the question of  “What is the nature of–or what is behind–the economic value being added in the experience economy?”

I would start by stating the following:

Sex work in the United States is becoming increasingly professionalized and entered into as a voluntary career path. With this shift, highly-paid escorts start to embody members of Veblen’s cultured class; their clients expect to receive not only a physcial/sexual encounter, but also a “girlfriend experience”–the consumption therefore becomes that of the escort’s subjectivity, and not only of her body. I would argue that this shift from service to experience-production of the sex worker parallels the shifting position of the artist.

Artout (and other works like Andrea’s Untitled, Abramovich’s The Artist is Present, and others?) exchanges the client’s economic contribution and bodily involvement for the opportunity to “experience the artist” both physically in real time/space as a companion for an activity, and psychically/symbolically as a form of cultural capital which augments one’s social position.

What is it that the client is getting out of this type of “intimate” encounter that allows him to pay $250/hour for an artist’s companionship? Perhaps here is where we can draw additional vectors that connect the artist to the sex worker.

On the other hand, it might be interesting to ask what position within the experiential economy do artists occupy? Up to here, I’ve assumed that artists are the producers of the experience, and viewers/participants the consumers. But, in acts of condensation, aren’t artists also transforming the experiences they have consumed (art school, for one) or delineated for themselves (I’m thinking of Helen Molesworth’s mention of Process Art) into art objects? So, in this way, for certain artists, their capital is in their body experiences. Again I find myself thinking of Abramovich (especially in her performances with Ulay), where the strength and intensity of the work is located within the artist’s actual experience.

Perhaps this last section gets a little murky/tangential and perhaps there is a more contemporary practice I can reference there (Francis Alys’ melting ice block perhaps?), but I think there is potential in using sex work as a frame for analyzing contemporary experiential art practices.

Video still from Andrea Fraser's Untitled

For further reading:

Dirty Money on CNBC.com: http://www.cnbc.com/id/26869953

Andrea Fraser’s “What do I, as an artist, provide?”
http://www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu/exhibitions/2350

Confessions of a Client: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/27651436/ns/today-today_people/

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