Performance Documentation in an age of Omnipresent Surveillance
You maybe be familiar with this particularly famous "New Yorker" cartoon by Peter Steiner from 1993:
How times change. These days, you can't keep your Canine status a secret for long. Anyone curious enough to comb through the online annals could freely discover what breed you are, how many puppies you have, your favorite dog food, your veterinary records and let's not forget that if you truly were a dog, you’d be computer chipped.
Anyone who uses the Internet leaves an extensive and intricate data trail. It's not only the expected communications like Facebook messages or tweets that are surveilled, but even temporal actions like scrolling are increasingly being logged and analysed. Google could be listening to your spoken conversations right now.
Sure, naive Internet daters still get catfished, but it's harder to get away with it now that you can search by image and see where else a suspicious profile pic might be circulating on the web. The Internet is not anonymous. Of course there is still Tor and onion routing, there are still spies and hackers. But the average dog on the internet can be sniffed out pretty quickly.
It is in this context that I chose not to document Giselle Dates. If I were to record the dates, it would feel far more like asking people to participate in what will ultimately be a video artwork than asking people to go on a date. And while there is nothing wrong with that, it would create a very different artwork. Giselle Dates would be less like looking for interpersonal affinity and more like auditioning for “The Bachelor”. I'm not totally against the latter, but life is all about balance.
I wouldn’t even consider recording people without permission. How could I bemoan the loss of privacy online yet unscrupulously ignore it when it suits me? Recording people without consent is not only unethical, but often illegal.
In any case, privacy is romantic. It is worthwhile to note that ‘in private’ doesn’t necessarily mean at home. It was the opportunity for anonymity provided by the densely populated urban milieu and the chance to escape the parental scrutiny of home that pushed courtship into public space and formed the practice of dating as we know it today.
More importantly, documenting a hetero date bears the additional complication that to ‘kiss and tell’ carries a greater penalty for women, which is seen in the social phenomenon of ‘slut shaming’ and the recently criminalised offense of revenge porn.
So if you do decide to date me, I can’t make any promises about Apple or Google or anyone who just happens to be in the gallery with us, but I won't have any devices listening in. Let’s keep our date between me and you.