Two years ago, Mischa Badasyan, a Russian-born, Berlin-based performance artist, set himself a challenge: to organize a date every day for a year. More importantly, he forced himself to have sex every day, whether with that date or not. While it may sound like a convenient way to live out a fantasy, for Badasyan, the project—titled Save the Date—was often a harrowing experience.
The concept made for easy headlines, and Badasyan received a slew of American media attention at its outset, both positive and critical. (I wrote about his project for Mic at the time.) But none of those outlets have followed up with Badasyan since its end. One year later, having had a chance to reflect, what may be more interesting is how it has changed him. The 28-year-old, who had not previously been in a relationship, says he now may never be in a serious relationship ever.
At the project's outset, it seemed as though the result would reflect upon the easy consumption of sex brought about by the location-based dating-app revolution—apps like Grindr and Scruff, which make finding people nearby to chat with, meet, date, and hookup easier than ever, and which have changed a large swath of gay culture.
But Badasyan said responses he received on apps, where often people not only declined his offer for a date but launched scathing attacks upon him, were too upsetting to bear. So he tried a more traditional approach—cruising Berlin's parks and streets. The experience quickly became the opposite of fulfilling. "I didn't like the dates, I didn't like the sex, I didn't like anything," he told VICE.
Badasyan was also aware of the similarity of his work—which was becoming an occupation—to that of sex workers. He began interviewing people on Kurfuerstenstrasse, in the red light district of Berlin, and having sexual encounters with escorts there. Eventually he started working there as a sex worker himself, though he didn't take money.
He found that his sexual encounters, as one might expect, became quick and emotionless. Ordinary intercourse became routine, and he looked for ways to intensify the experience. "I had to use violence to enjoy sexuality," he said. "I was punching people. I became a machine."
Some of the men he met on the Kurfuerstenstrasse also turned violent. "They didn't punch me, but they were screaming at me, one guy was about to hit me with a car, another smashed me with a bottle of beer," he recalled. He also received an online death threat from a neo-Nazi, and just before he finished the project, he was pepper-sprayed by a man in the street, for reasons that remain unclear.
Good emerged from the project as well: "Some of my dates became friends, art partners, and buddies," he said. He's kept in contact with many and has come to incorporate a few into new art projects.
One of the last dates Badasyan had was with 20-year-old student Ahmed Baldr, who identifies as heterosexual.
"I had never had any sort of relationship with a man before, and I was curious what a date with Mischa would be like. So I wanted to be a part of the project," Baldr told VICE. Their date involved dinner, partying at a club, and the necessary sex act. From then onward, they discussed Badasyan's project almost daily.
Badasyan slept with a huge variety of people over 365 days and nights, from a 76-year-old journalist to a Berlin-based Scottish yoga instructor and at least one Serbian porn star. During the year, Badasyan traveled to and slept with people in Sweden, Denmark, Holland, the Czech Republic, and Poland.
He also dated several HIV-positive partners. He had previously worked in HIV activism and had been provided free condoms for the project by a German HIV organization, but the project marked his first time sleeping with positive men. "I was always scared of sexual contact with positive people," he wrote on Facebook. "Save The Date changed my life and my reality."
Badasyan said he didn't want people to interpret his project in any one way. "For some, it's about sexuality; for some, it's about freedom; for some, it's about loneliness," he says.
Loneliness was definitely part of his own experience. In a comprehensive diary he kept throughout the year, he showed me how daily entries went from detailed accounts of dates to single sentences.
The response to his project has surprised him.
Other artists have painted his portrait. An undergraduate thesis was written about him. One dancer in Los Angeles, Kevin Lopez, created a piece inspired by Save the Date and then visited Berlin to be one of Badasyan's dates.
"Mischa sees nothing but art and beauty through his eyes," Lopez told VICE, but he could also see how the project was taking its toll on him. "I did feel as if he just wanted to know what my deepest darkest secrets were before learning anything about me," Lopez says.
Badasyan has been hard at work in the year since. He tells me he's been working in the biggest refugee camp in Germany and provides support to queer refugees. He is also working on a new project, TOUCH, "an attempt to rebuild the connection between myself and other people. In order to understand something, you have to touch it."
"My sexuality is very strange now," he said. "I don't go on dates with gay people anymore. The only way [I can] enjoy sex is voyeurism in men's bathrooms, and by picking up of straight, bi, and undecided guys in the street in Berlin."
When I spoke with Badsayan at the end of his project last August, he showed me a poster someone had made for him to commemorate it—it depicted a silhouette representing every man he'd slept with that whole year. "It's almost impossible… I had to be so focused, so disciplined for the whole year," he said. "I slept with so many people. Isn't it insane?"
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