Hillary Kapan: Blind Date

  • ©, Hillary Kapan



    Blind Date



Artist Statement:

    As we approach the millennium, we find that we are unsure of what we are looking for and where we are. The information pollution that befuddles the mind leaves a wake of uncertain melange of people and machines blinded by information overload.

    Our world generates a dizzying conflict of messages, desires, and revulsions within the amalgam of the post-postmodern world. It is about being overwhelmed and underwhelmed. Opposites are compressed into a new intentionally dysfunctional unity. It is about the birth of double and triple reverse psychology, double reverse satire and irony. I, myself, am suffering from plot twist overload.

    Blind Date is an interactive installation that uses a touch-screen monitor to invite the viewer to touch an image of a hand. The monitor reclines in a mock seductive pose amid sexy fabric. When the viewer touches the hand on screen, the hand becomes aroused. The tension of machine arousal is heightened by a voice that pleads,”No, oh God, please no!”

    This piece underscores the confusion over gender and body issues as we embrace technology. As technology has progressed, we have injected it into many aspects of our lives, including sexual and emotional intimacy. From pin-ups to blow-up dolls, phone sex, and bi-coastal relationships, machines have enabled the distancing of intimate behavior. A recent direction is interactive pornography on computer screen.

    Machines provide a new intimacy. Are we simultaneously intrigued and alarmed by the horribly mixed messages presented by the media and by those that we encounter in our lives?

    The Distancing of lntimacy: Toward Machine-mediated Closeness

    I would like to share my views as an artist involved with questioning the changing modes of intimacy arising from the influence of technology.

    It would be helpful to reflect for a moment on the traditional connotations of intimacy and intimate behavior. The term,”intimacy,” as commonly defined, includes the innermost, most private or personal thoughts or activities of a person. Intimacy requires closeness and familiarity, and can be a deeply personal expression of thoughts or feelings through voice, touch, or gesture. It denotes a wide range of human behavior—from sexual intercourse to revealing oneself verbally, to the interaction of a painter with a brush and paint, to an auto mechanic rebuilding an engine. Something personal is revealed in each of these acts. For me, the cornerstone of intimacy is personal revelation.

    Technology is becoming an intermediary for intimate expression. This creates a physical, emotional, or conceptual distance between the participants in an intimate act. Protected by distance and anonymity, a participant in a discussion group on an electronic network can reveal highly personal information to strangers or to invent alluring fictions. The physical protection afforded through networks acts like a barrier against assaults on the self, thus allowing great latitude for newly invented intimate behaviors.

    The new, more distant intimacy is increasingly commonplace. Increasing use of long-distance transportation and communication allows remote contact. As distance is spanned more conveniently than ever before, we will intensify our contacts over distance, while diminishing involvement with contacts of proximity. In fact, for many people, long distance is more than “the next best thing to being there”—it is preferable. Years ago, some found it useful to keep relatives at a safe distance in a nearby town or city. As transportation improved, the perceived separation decreased, so that today many adult children prefer to avoid living in the same time zone as their parents. Some long-distance love relationships work in spite of their difficulties, only to crumble when the partners eliminate the miles between them. Indeed, many find remote intimacy more comfortable. By keeping those close to us at a distance, potentially damaging confrontations are limited.

    The physical presence requisite in traditional notions of intimacy is be­ing redefined. Virtual presence through immersion in cyberspace will overtake physical presence. This shift brings profound implications for hu­man interaction. The ultimate cyberspace might be one that cannot be distinguished from original reality. As cyberspace becomes increasingly sophisticated, intimate behavior will increasingly direct itself into virtual reality and away from material reality. As greater numbers of people spend greater percentages of time in the vir­tual domain, human-to-human com­munication—and skills of intimacy in general—will diminish from lack of use. In the near future,many of us may experience diminished interpersonal skills. This is already evident among children who become absorbed by video games and television. In a world of deteriorating social skills, the appar­ently less threatening world of cyberspace may serve as a haven for an increasingly dysfunctional society.

    New products will arrive that plunge us deeper into an expanding definition of cyberspace. We can al­ready envision a market for commu­nication devices that mediate be­tween people in conflict. Acting like a language translator for two people with a common tongue, the device listens to the words of each, decodes the essential meanings, strips them of inflammatory, racist, gendered, or other objectionable language, then presents the cleaned-up translation to the other person. Thus, the distanc­ing of intimacy might be viewed in terms of the number of layers of me­diation or its complexity.

    As we become increasingly accus­tomed to machine mediation, our tol­erance for human patterns of inter­action will be tested. Today, most people recognize that humans are more fallible than machines. I can’t help but wonder if we stand at the threshold of a massive human inferi­ority complex, in conjunction with increasingly mixed emotions toward both people and machines. At what point might someone abandon all at­tempts to deal directly with others and retreat into the embrace of a machine-mediated reality?

    I don’t want to imply that intimacy will necessarily fade away, but rather that new kinds of activities that feel intimate are already evolving. Human-­to-machine intimacy is increasing within both mundane and grandiose arenas. An office worker may have more physical contact with a computer keyboard than with any person. In ad­dition, on a non-physical level, the worker most likely has detailed knowl­edge of the inner workings of her fa­vorite programs and understands how to avoid making them angry (crash­ing), and can negotiate their quirks and weaknesses. On a grand level, the virtual reality community is pushed by an incredibly powerful drive for im­mersion into an intimate interplay with machines. To what extent will human-VR intimacy provide a safe, convenient alternative to human-to­-human intimacy?