Ryan Harrison Gould

The Guy Making Art Out of Porn Scene Titles

We all have our preferred search terms — those words we type into search engines or the search fields of porn sites that represent our most private and/or most urgent, desires. For example, the four most popular key terms searched on PornHub: “Lesbian,” “hetai,” “MILF” and “stepmom.” Or two other recent trending terms on the tube site: “fidget spinner” and “Rick and Morty,” both of which indicate the way pop culture informs porn culture (and vice versa).

But while these descriptors organize the way we experience the seemingly endless amount of porn found online, there’s another text element to these scenes that often gets overlooked — their titles. Proper names like: “Chinese Sexfight,” “HOT STUD FUCKS GIRL ON HIDDEN CAM” and “assgang — Scene 4.” These titles, however, fascinating 31-year-old L.A. artist Ryan Harrison Gould, whose work deals with the influence of porn as well as its relationship to art history and whose signature project, Is Subjective!, draws attention to porn-scene titles by cropping their words and crafting lightbox images out of them.

I recently spoke to Gould about the intersection of art and porn; how porn has influenced his own life and sexuality; and the ways in which he plans to make art from old Girls Gone Wild DVDs.

How did Is Subjective! begin?
I was searching for various keywords and trying to pick words that could either be a jab at the way we perceive sexuality, or a comment on pornography and its influence on contemporary culture. There’s an interesting middle ground in terms of art history. There’s a long history of art dealing with the nude figure and erotic images. There are illustrations of ancient “man caves,” where men would be seated in a smoking lounge and the wall behind them would have a curtain in front of it, concealing a pornographic painting. This is well before the invention of photography, and many of these pieces that originally functioned as porn are now famous paintings on display in famous museums.

In the series, I have a piece called “Fine Art,” showing this woman who’s kinda tied up in bondage. It’s a direct reference to this photographer named Nobuyoshi Araki who photographed Lady Gaga in this style of Japanese bondage. The piece calls into question whether the piece is porn or art. So it’s like, is it art? Is it porn? Can it be both? I’m not trying to tell people what to think about it, I just want to raise these questions. Some people are quick to say it’s totally art; others may find it totally pornographic; and yet more believe it’s totally interconnected.

Have you ever shown your work to anyone who makes or does porn?
No, but I’ve had random porn performers comment on my Instagram feed, and they all seem to like the work. It’s interesting because I think the work inherently seems like a critique, so it’s cool that people in the industry can tell that I’m not necessarily critiquing what they do as much as I am wondering about how we consume and perceive it. I would never yuck someone else’s yum. The only bad porn is non-consensual porn.

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48”x48” Duratrans print in lightbox

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How do you describe your own sexuality? And do you feel like it influences your work and the way you see these images?
I’m a cis, white, heteronormative dude. I certainly have my kinks, but you know, I’m not stretching too far beyond any bounds. We’re living in this time where a lot of people have this mentality that men like me should just shut up and listen, and I’m the first one to say that too, but it’s also important to have conversation directed at other men, other straight cis guys, other viewers of porn, and question how watching porn has impacted us.

In your experience, do you think most men recognize the way porn has impacted their sexual preferences, behaviors or values?
Not at all. Most men think their sexuality is their own and that their interests haven’t been influenced by anything beyond personal desire. But that’s bullshit. Our sexuality has been influenced. I’m wholly influenced by the images I saw growing up, and when I began having sex, I reproduced the actions I’d witnessed in media, which I think is what most guys do.

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Reposting this oldie. Happy #valentinesday ya'll.

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What else do you want to tackle?
I have some new projects on the horizon. One deals with Girls Gone Wild. I’m 31 and grew up watching Comedy Central, and they’d always play these late-night commercials for Girls Gone Wild. I was strongly impacted by these commercials, but when I revisit them today, I recognize that there’s this interesting pattern where the men ask the women to take off their tops and they always say no. The women are bashful, but the men keep asking until the woman does it.

For my project, which is still in development, I will make a four-part image series that shows this sequence of events along with subtitles: The girl gets asked; she gets shy and says no; they ask again; she does it. This messaging is super problematic because it teaches men that if you just keep putting pressure on women, they’ll do whatever you want.