In the age of the smartphone app, looking for love (or a hook-up) seems easier than ever. Dating apps allow people to go on fantasy shopping sprees, swiping left and right in rapid fire and judging others in a second based almost exclusively on their looks. We are now confronted, for the first time in history, with never ending streams of possibilities, and the search for a mate, once codified by society or left to almost pure chance, appears to have been greatly simplified, commodified, and turned into a perpetual binary game. “Yes or No? Quick, another picture is next! Another chance at a new encounter, at sex, maybe even at love is right around the corner! Don’t miss out!”
Match/Enemy, is composed of over 200 watercolors. The series deals with single men and the way they chose to appear through their initial profile pictures on the dating site OkCupid.com. It is, in other words, a study of how they advertise themselves in a self-branding effort in order to attract a female mate and what first impression they curated. But Match/Enemy specifically looks at a subset of men who have chosen to obscure, alter, or hide their physical facial features. By choosing these portraits I explore the ideas of altered and adopted personas within social media and contemporary portraiture. Thus, the works also question how we respond to unintentional or intentional branding, advertising, and the fantasy ploys that potential mates utilize when they choose their profile pictures. And how those ideas are conveyed through environment, gaze, cropping, focus, and the mathematical algorithms developed by the programmers of the dating site.
Match/Enemy is displayed in a grid of over 200 individual portraits that incorporates the percentage of Match (left set) from 100% (top left) to 1% (bottom middle) and Enemy (right set) 1% (top middle) to 100% (bottom right). The percentages are calculated by the Okcupid algorithm based on users answers questions. If two users answer the same questions similarly, the Match percentage goes up, if they answer differently, the Enemy percentage does.
Match/Enemy can be interpreted as the visual algorithm of my own experience. The viewer is given both Match (first number) and Enemy (second number) percentages in relationship to mine in the bottom right hand corner of the works.
Each “portrait” is painted in the time it generally takes for a first date, to get to know these men better. Looking at these profile pictures and painting these portraits allows me to discover more about the individual choices of the men I have been matched with by the app. I often find myself wondering how the percentages of Match and Enemy influence the way I view these pictures, what emotions they evoke when thinking of them as potential dates, how the absence of a recognizable face change the way I view these men, what other props, words, environmental clues allow me (or us) to understand who they are.
Finally, the Match/Enemy series questions how visual communication in digital matchmaking has often replaced verbal communication, and how a number and a single picture represent who I might be best suited with. Whether these portraits offer promises, humor, intrigue, fantasy, passion, beauty or evoke danger and unease, they are a chance I took to explore what desire can mean today and the form it can take.