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Insight: SWIPE RIGHT! Data, Dating, Desire, how a perpetual bodiless connection reshapes love

Text by Giulia Ottavia Frattini

Noémi Iglesias 
Off Love, 2021
Mixed Media 
Copyright Noemi Iglesias & Los Bragales Art Collection
Off Love, Noémi Iglesias (2021). Copyright Noemi Iglesias & Los Bragales Art Collection 

Our feelings and sense of togetherness take place and unfold in different layers of reality. We inhabit different dimensions simultaneously, and they are subsequently becoming more and more interdependently linked to each other. At times, what cannot be performed in one is transmuted in the other since its realisation becomes feasible given the precise terms of existence and establishment granted by different circumstances.

In this specific instance, we refer to the intensified interaction between the physical and the digital world. While there is a somewhat plausible wariness in understanding these spheres as significantly overlapping, it is, on the other hand, crucial to raise an ever-increasing level of recognition of the mutual influence they exercise on each other.

Among others, the humanistic domain comprising the artistic discourse and emerging philosophical speculations bring in entries able to offer a variety of perspectives on such dynamics. An illustration of the discussion about emotions and relationships shaped by and within the virtual world is presented in the exhibition titled SWIPE RIGHT! Data, Dating, Desire is on view until February 6, 2022, at iMAL, an art centre focusing on digital cultures and technology in Brussels.

SWIPE RIGHT! Data, Dating, Desire features a variety of artists, collectives, writers, platforms and queer initiatives such as !Mediengruppe Bitnik, Elisa Giardina Papa, John Yuyi & Moises Sanabria, Noemie Iglesias, Ingo Niermann & The Army Of Love, Dani Ploeger, Addie Wagenknecht & Pablo Garcia, and Crosslucid among many others.

The project is curated by Valentina Peri, independent curator and author. Her critical research revolves around technology’s impact on contemporary culture and society, focusing on love, romance and intimacy within the Internet and digital age.

SWIPE RIGHT! Data Dating Desire pushes forward the reflection of my previous exhibition, Data Dating. This second project also finds various themes and subjects already present in the first instalment. Still, here the focus I adopted is on digital intimacy and dating through the lenses of the global pandemic. The idea is to question the consequences of social distancing, the imposed non-contact for our bodies, and the new processes at work in this huge expansion of relationships mediated by technological devices. There is no precise data on the phenomenon.

Still, lockdowns have prompted many people to try new love and intimate experiences in the digital world, broadening the often endless search for partners favoured by the libidinal economy of online dating. SWIPE RIGHT! Data, Dating, Desire attempts to explore all these processes and tries to map unprecedented connections between desire, emotions, technology, and economy triggered by the global pandemic and the forced isolation. Valentina Peri explains to CLOT while giving an overview around the primary intentions behind the conception of the artistic intervention. 

An exhibition of this nature serves as a particularly inviting prompt for contemporary audiences as it can activate thoughts that pertain to shared experiences firmly rooted in our present. Peri, in fact, firsthand engages in collective conversations triggered by the artworks displayed in the venue. The selected pieces created by fourteen artistic positions act as doorways through which theoretical debate leaves the space of mere study and research to encounter the real, showing the tangible effects of the digital daily immersion through the public’s takes on the topics addressed.

The opaque boundaries between humans and nonhumans, the practice of sexting, the definition of the self within social networks, the thin line existing between exposed nudity and pornography, the obsessions to screens and mediated remote relationships, the permanent state of control and surveillance are among the most relevant concepts touched upon in the show.

Joana Moll & Tactical Tech 
The Dating Broker, 2018
The Dating Broker, Joana Moll & Tactical Tech (2018)

According to curator Valentina Peri and the theoretical strands that inform her practice, the Internet manifestly has an extraordinary influx on how we conceive, frame, and construct our identity and confront ourselves with the external to connect to others. The scope of the visual, through the content we post on our profiles, accounts, or however avatars, thus carry a major significance in this process of exposure and outreach to the outside world, which may be more or less markedly staged and leveraged by capitalist purposes exploiting data

Romance is practised today in an environment where screens, interfaces, algorithms, data protocols and non-organic objects shape and organise the emotional encounter, infatuation and pleasure. As I try to show in both exhibitions, my position is far from the polarities of techno-scepticism and techno-enthusiasm. […] Technology and the Internet help us find love and have sex, as well as brag about our relationships and accept their loss more easily and efficiently.

Through platforms, social networks and apps, we can readily access all sorts of experiences and encounters. […] We can be instantly immersed in an ocean of romantic possibilities and infinite choice in the blink of an eye. But choice and freedom are not the same thing, even if we tend to confuse them. Most of the time, we are trapped in this false idea of freedom, and what happens is that too much choice changes the preferences and the very structure of desire. 

She also adds: One of the most interesting processes brought about by pervasive digitality is that pleasure is always postponed in the name of constant excitement and a bodiless desire. In the current ideology of self-expression and self-fashioning, desire is mobilised against itself, and imagination does not meet the plane of reality, as the self is always dislocated from a sort of constant anticipation. We live in the present in a projection of something that is awaiting us.

The constant connection lets us continue the social, informational and affective flow, but at the same time, we renounce the contact of the flesh, the sharing of vocal vibrations and breath. […] From the standpoint of current relationships between human and machine, intimacy, feelings and emotions are increasingly becoming objects of technological design.

Tackling subjects and issues that have no consolidated record and are in constant transformation, if on the one side represents a challenge due to the natural lack of any prior references, on the other, it leads to the possibility of crafting the discourse about these questions in a kind of live state. Specifically, in the case of Valentina Peri and her sharply targeted research, each project is conceived as the evolution of the previous one, a somewhat radical attempt to cope with the present with its continuous unwinding to investigate.

What Peri imagines as a further progression within her work reflects the notion of post-capitalist desire, intended as a counter-libido that strives to transcend some of the consumerist capitalism’s logic infiltrating our cultural and social mechanisms. The bond to technological development and its pervading effect that situate the human in perpetual symbiosis with the machine appears here evident and, therefore, urges it to be explored.

(Media courtesy of Valentina Peri)
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