A Critic Critiques Herself: Conversation Prostitution

A pursuit to understand performance art has developed into an art of my own. I am an art critic as well as a “conversation prostitute,” who practices pseudo-therapy sessions sans legal license by simply talking and listening with viewers. During the opening of Wild House presented by WE-ARE-FAMILIA at The Yard, 2-26 50 Avenue, I sold a conversation for one dollar.

I derived my performance from a conversation between Jennifer Garcia (WE-ARE-FAMILIA), David Trumpf (WE-ARE-FAMILIA) and myself. We discussed the difference between psychoanalysts and psychics. Although I refused to quit therapy, I facetiously stated that I could open my own practice after nearly twenty years of sitting in a very stereotypical arm chair in a psychiatrist’s office. I even admitted that I had wished to post a “Conversation Prostitute” advertisement on Craigslists but was impeded by the news of New York City’s serial killer. Garcia suggested that I turn my idea into a performance.

As an art critic, I analyze art from the outside by assessing formal elements and historical background. I search to find that unwritten guideline that outlines criteria of contemporary art yet realize that it is built by society. Although I strive to be an objective judge, I occasionally breach the “laws of criticism.” Living in New York gives me an extra edge because many art works, of which I have written, have been produced by artists whom I have met. However relativity between critic and artist hinders criticism.

A photograph of me during the performance

Therefore, I purposed an objective piece of criticism, a review of my performance written by me. Jacques Lacan purported that a human could not perceive his or her own “reflection,” deeming self-reflection a fallacy due to the paradox that the “self” was a human construction. (Mr. Lacan died in 1981.) In accords with Lacan’s theory, I only know myself because of the imaginary and the symbolic, “public system of meaning and language,” (philosophical definition of symbolic) of my culture. Essentially, my opinion of my performance would reflect the viewers.

For a little over two hours, I spent the night as a work of art. I sat in an office and viewers would enter, sit across from me at the desk and put dollar bills into a jar. I had not prepared a script nor an opening line, so I relied on audience participation. Surprisingly, no allusions to illicit prostitution arose. We simply spoke.

The artificial setting established a very real refuge. Sessions were untimed. Conversations usually lasted longer than fifteen minutes and unfurled quickly. I became quite involved in these people’s lives. A few asked for my honest advice; others advised me. The physical boundary between us rendered my superficial authority. Chats turned to consultations.

Never had I expected that I would lose myself in the illusion; however I had.

The performance has been well received but has ended inconclusively to me. As a critic, I intend to explain “why” art is art; as an artist, I abandon that reasoning. Notably, I do not wish to infer that all artists approach art similar to me. Ultimately, I realize that I have read Lacan incorrectly; the self is formed as reality is formed, implying that neither are very reliable but both individuate our memories. Consequently, these memories constitute our lives. In conclusion, my brief performance confirms a few of my theories: art is palpable to a large number of people; the definition of art may be a social construct that is defined by historical and/or social criteria; art generally elicits an emotion from the viewer; art is recognizable in and of itself. I happily accept my position as an art critic, albeit the conversation prostitution on the side.

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About Megan M. Garwood

Megan M. Garwood is a New York City-based editor, art critic, commentator and aesthetician, as well as the Associate Director at Leslie Feely Gallery on 68th and Madison. Her guilty pleasures include metaethics, morality, conceptual art, and Coney Island side shows. Feel free to contact her via email at megan@whitehotmagazine.com.
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