When was the last time you actually laughed and cried simultaneously? Even my most emotional friends seem to do so at most a few times per day. And yet, this emoji, , shows up incredibly often in messages I receive. I’m guilty of using it frequently myself!
The popularization of emojis is just one example of how the internet has transformed how we communicate. This is especially true in romantic relationships.
The exhibit weaves together old and new symbols through embroidery and digital technologies, exploring how romance has changed, or stayed the same, over time.
As someone formerly in a long-distance relationship, I’ve experienced some ways in which an online environment changes the experience of love. The good: instant communication and using angles to hide that pile of laundry on video chat. The bad: the possibility of ghosting and the difficulty of reading between the lines — especially over text.
But I have to admit that despite all these changes, love itself still seems to have the same ups and downs it has always had. One of my favourite pieces from I❤ U was an embroidered colour wheel with various short phrases and acronyms matching different experiences of romance and heartbreak. There are phrases such as “the one,” “real deal,” and so on in a hot red colour. The other side of the colour wheel has words like “catfish” and “ghosted.”
The first time I engaged with I❤ U‘s interactive art, I completely missed one of its signature elements: three art pieces have phone numbers that will instantly reply to your texts using artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots, similar to the technology behind the controversial website ChatGPT. When I returned a second time, I tried them out. Two replied with strings of emojis, while a third responded with fluent text. One art piece even has LED lights that display a new emoji in response to each text you send.
Including AI chatbots is a refreshingly forward-looking move for an art exhibit. The bots do a good job of reflecting your own mood back to you, acting almost as an emotional mirror. The chatbots might even be the highlight of I❤ U, although the embroidery and interactive LEDs are gorgeous.
I’ve spent some time messaging modern online chatbots before. Every time, I felt a sense of shallowness in doing so, and this was no different. Reward models train the bots to be kind and understanding almost no matter what you say.
Despite being aware of the ruse, my heart melted a little when Flirt Bot sent me the first message.
“Just wanted to let you know that I’m here to support and care for you, both emotionally and romantically,” the bot said.
The experience left me thinking about how easy technology makes it to be an emotional mirror to others. Perhaps we are not so different from AI chatbots in that respect. It’s all too easy to say what the other person wants us to say while hiding our true feelings behind emojis and memes.
Although I mostly appreciated the exhibit, I felt conflicted because some displays seemed to reinforce the male gaze. Even though a female artist created the artwork, the only nudity in the exhibit is of female bodies. The colour wheel also subtly reflected a male perspective. For example, the only explicitly gendered phrases were “playing bachelorette” and “right girl.”
Perhaps Housego did this deliberately to draw attention to the sexism inherent in online dating culture. However, I felt that the artwork was more of a reflection of existing dating culture than a critique of it.
Whether you’ve been in a relationship or not, you’ll undoubtedly find something to relate to in the AGA’s I❤ U exhibit.
I❤ U was unveiled on June 9 and will stay open until October 15. Admission to all exhibits at the Art Gallery of Alberta is free for students with a valid student ID.