By some unknown luck, today I strolled past Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar’s 2008 I Want You To Want Me project. Here comes the hard part - I LOVED the project, BUT I think it is perhaps the most ugly, problematic, stereotypic, uninteresting, un-informational, interactive installation I have seen in some time. AND IT IS KILLING ME INSIDE!
I cannot tell you how excited I get to address the world’s fascination with romance. I would talk about it all day long, if someone would listen. I am a romantic, by which I mean, I believe in love and connection (I edited out “human” here, because it seemed way too limiting…). For several years I was obsessed with generating an online persona that would be able to reflect and represent my actual self (I know these terms are inherently problematic, but I use them because I have very poor English skills, yet it is my only form of verbal communication). I spent hours looking at how we could scientifically label and characterize personality traits, creating bins separating personal taste and experiences with the like. Attempting/believing that I was data, that could in essence be classified into a binary code (I do still believe this is possible… however the kind of data needed for this exercise seems not yet quantifiable within my current understanding). And this code, could be easily analyzed and matched with some other inherent romantic that felt equally alone and pressured to believe that: A. Life is always better when you are with other people or/and B. That that perfect someone exists.
So I made the person I believe to be the love of my life (last year) make an okcupid profile that could be matched with my already existing profile. The results of this are still being looked at, computed data against the actual lived data. Stay Tuned.
Back to what I think is the crux of my discomfort with the I Want You To Want Me. It claims to be looking at Romance represented by the internet, and I buy that. However, I think that it could be more forthcoming about the inherent issues with attempting to do just that. Yep. I have a problem with the representation – that balloons are at the epicenter of this. I understand the argument that for art to be accessible by the masses it has to relay on certain social tropes. But this piece seems to have a balance in the direction of reinforcing social stereotypes’. Neither artist in their statement addresses their role in this exercise. They created a platform for exploring and interacting with highly personal data, that is visually different from how it is traditionally viewed. However, they must be held accountable for decisions that they have made regarding aesthetics. They both claim to be artists on their website – credible, to say the least according to their biographical background.
This is not a new way for us to look at data, this is a way for us to look at the way you think data and personal relationships could be looked at. Though I am not an expert, I feel it was done with poor taste. I feel, humbly. And I am not just jealous (maybe).
Displayed on a 56” touch screen monitor, the piece portrays an interactive sky filled with hundreds of pink (female) and blue (male) balloons, each representing a real person’s online dating profile collected from any one of several dozen Internet dating websites. Viewers can touch individual balloons to reveal personal information about the dater inside, and can rearrange the balloons in various ways to highlight different aspects of the world of online dating, including the top turn-ons, the most popular first dates, and the top desires.
I Want You To Want Me is a collaboration with Sep Kamvar.