The Pick Up Artist is an exhibition by Jennifer Lawint, featured at the Art Gallery of Mississauga. The exhibition has an investigative nature: it delves into the world of pick up artists, or men who use manipulative psychological strategies as a means to solicit sexual favors or attract potential romantic partners. The exhibition uses video and text in order to convey its investigation.

The exhibit, albeit small, was made up of many artworks that spanned from an interview of someone who was a victim of a pick-up artist’s technique, to a YouTube clip of what pick up artistry is all about, and even footage from a 1992 talk show where a pick up artist (PUA) and a men’s rights activist (MRA) addressed an all-female audience.

The pick-up artistry movement is composed of a community of men who, according to Lawint, often use tactics of “manipulation and misogyny” in order to pick up women. After her relationship with a PUA, Lawint conducted an investigative art project going undercover in PUA forums to find out what PUA masculinity consists of, and how to challenge it. This project ultimately became the exhibit which I was looking at.

Upon entering, I saw a screen playing a video of a woman who was talking about her experiences with PUA and MRA doxxing. This artwork was called “Vanessa” named after the woman in the video. Vanessa is an artist who spoke out against PUA mastermind Roosh V. A PUA forum singled her out and doxxed Vanessa and her mother. Doxxing is a term that describes publishing private information about a person on the internet, usually done with harmful intentions.

Vanessa spoke about waking up to a flurry of texts and abhorrent comments about her from PUAs and MRAs, mixed with questions from friends and family wondering about her safety. She described her mother also being harassed in the same manner. After Vanessa explained how a PUA forum decided to get a hold of her to harass her into silence, her mother’s first responses were “What did you do?” and “You must have done something.” This was only the first obstacle Vanessa had to face in getting the world to believe her.

After Vanessa explained to her mother the notorious world of PUA forums, her mother was baffled and understandably so. She experienced victim-blaming again when reporting this incident to the police as well. Vanessa found herself, yet again, educating the police on things like doxxing, cyber harassment, PUAs, MRAs, pro-rape, and more. This Internet phenomena “can have an impact in real life,” according to the placard under the monitor playing the video.

The bulk of the exhibit, and the most eye-catching, was the collage of screenshots from a pick-up artist forum where Lawint, disguised as an alpha PUA guru, gave advice to men on how to pick up women. This piece, was entitled “The Forum.”

Lawint went undercover in PUA forums under the username “Jay Lay.” Lawint’s intentions were noble—she went on this forum to make the guys rethink their actions, guide them toward genuine respect for women, and encouraged them to work towards self-improvement for the greater good instead of picking up girls, while using the PUA rhetoric.

The idea of men feeling entitled to a women’s attention and sexuality was a strong theme in this exhibit. This idea permeates not only pick-up artistry, but also the sex scandals oozing out of Hollywood’s underbelly into the limelight. With corroborated reports ranging from Louis C.K. coercing women into watching him masturbate, all the way to allegations of Weinstein being accused by women of harassment, assault, or rape, still being debated in forums and comment threads under news articles, we continue to blame the victim.

The Pick Up Artist runs at The Art Gallery of Mississauga until January 1, 2018.

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