Love has never been straight forward. It enters our lives with too many complex layers to unpack. With the pandemic still raging on, we continue to live in isolating times that bring emotions of desire and loneliness to the surface. We are craving human interaction and communication more than ever, making us want to further explore online relationships. Today, many artists have been persistent in exploring the comparison between digital age dating and their own use of social media to platform their own work. The virtual exhibition Swipe Right at Profile Gallery successfully addresses these new forms of romance in this digital age, reflecting on each participating artists personal experience of digital encounters.
Digital introductions are the new normal and yet there is still a nervousness surrounding the online world as the 'rules' are ever evolving. Make the wrong move and you can land in someone’s figurative bin. ASL used to be the abrupt introduction to others for the first digital greeting. There is now a profile you can curate in the form of a dating app. It is no longer an abbreviated question answered with objective facts, but rather a lengthy profile that is made in the interests of others.
It is in a quiet omission that we reshape our personas and images into one that we are happy with. For artists, it' s the same when sharing our artwork to the world. People want something new and different, fast and affective. We want to show our best work and our best selves. Emerging artists are desperately grasping onto the small fragments left of originality while most creative practices have been forced to fit into the digital framework.
Through various mediums and strategies, the six artists that feature in Swipe Right - Chloe Austin (myself), Jaclyn Brown, Louise Burns, Rodrigo Domingos, Charlie Steele and Colette Slater-Barrass - have explored the pivotal shift in online dating and social media use through a self-reflective practice.
PG’s Space #2 investigates how society at large has shifted by the internet as a social space, encouraging a new type of connection. It is a truism that the digital world has changed nearly everything about the society we live in, from how we pay our phone bills to how we view the world around us. We are now creating new and uneasy feelings through digital footprints.
It is becoming clear to many that language is fundamental to this process of representation through a virtual lens. Jaclyn’s drawings represents the awkwardness of her personal dating experience, using eye-catching colour schemes that draws you to inspect the compositions and hand-written humorous text messages. Her work is inescapably relatable and encourages us to think about the language used in this context. Within my own work, I also explore the use of language, often raising questions around the lack of human contact through performative video. My practice revolves around the concept of absence and presence, often concerning the loss of a secure language in our digital environment.
What is at stake with this loss of secure language is the understanding of what is real and what is not. Both Louise and Rodrigo explore this constant search for authenticity. Louise’s work is based on the ideas of originality and how we present ourselves through the social media lens, aiming to provide us with this sense of ‘realness’, using the layout of Tinder to create a familiar and interactive artwork. Concerning this abstraction of reality that we are faced with in today’s world, we are invited to reflect upon Rodrigo’s paintings. His work is saturated by interesting compositions with layers of context, negotiating his personal experiences of identity and digital age dating.
A Digital Cemetery in the Age of Authenticity?
Similar to that of online dating, presenting art through digital means - practice of curating art exhibitions online - has been criticised for lacking what Walter Benjamin calls the ‘aura of authenticity’. What he meant by this is the tactile and sensory experience that you receive from being present with an artwork in a unique time and space.
However, what is at stake for online dating apps and what is at stake for the experience of art through digital means is incomparable. There is a risk that these online dating and social media platforms will become the cemetery of our lonely minds. Instead of becoming amplifiers, these online dating platforms have a terrifying potential of becoming isolating orders. Not only have we been isolated from others, but we have been isolated from ourselves. We have created romanticised stories of our lives. When something happens that reminds us that our real lives aren’t as happy and rosy as our social media personas, it can be difficult to accept. It can feel like we are stuck living the worst version of our best life.
Despite the romanticisation being somewhat troubling, Colette's work reminds us of the power of long lasting connection. We are confronted with photographic pieces that reflect on being apart from our loved ones throughout the seemingly never-ending lockdown periods. The romanticised element is exaggerated by warm colour scheme present within the works, as if we are looking at the screens through rose-coloured glasses.
Charlie's work also adds an element of warmth to this potentially difficult subject. Through his humorous illustrations he engages us to think deeper about the desire to be disembodied in the virtual world, a desire to disappear. The humour allows us to relate with the rollercoaster of emotions dealing with virtual communication.
This is all new.
While the growth of social media may have impacted our day-to-day relationships with both ourselves and others, it has also provided artists the platform where they can continue to be both visible and versatile, both suggestive and transmissible. Whilst the period of isolation continues to overwhelm us, artists have taken this time to explore techniques and processes rather than rush to complete projects; they have been able to explore techniques and processes rather than rush to complete projects. Art today has become an exciting and experimental practice. The various mediums and artistic styles present in Swipe Right is a prime example of this.
These approaches to creative practices have only heightened the motivation to address such important concerns and insights that we all face today within our digitally-mediated environment. This is all new and different but we are making the most of it right now.
But what is the future of online dating in a post-pandemic world? Check out Beth's article within this 'In my humble opinion' series on The Future of Online Dating.