There is a vagueness in the word 'dating', both denotatively and connotatively, and maybe this ambivalence is not something to rail against, but to embrace. I chose the Wikipedia definition - as a collaborative site their interpretations are inherently derived from social consensus rather than specialist knowledge:
Dating is a stage of romantic and/or sexual relationships in humans whereby two or more people meet socially, possibly as friends or with the aim of each assessing the other's suitability as a partner in a more committed intimate relationship or marriage.
Dating means getting to know somebody or knowing them more deeply, it is gleaning a better understanding of another person. Dating attempts to remedy a different kind of loneliness to the one I described in relation to contemporary art, but I think there are obvious correlations.
It is not necessary to have the objective of 'assessing my suitability as a partner in a more committed relationship' to participate in Giselle Dates. Dating can be meeting up as friends, that's cool with Wikipedia. The definition above seems to entail a purposeful fluidity between 'friendship' and 'dating', which is a source of vociferous frustrations in today's metasocial conversations. This unease is evidenced by the popularity of such terms as 'friend zone' (unreciprocated romantic feelings within a friendship) and the now axed Tinder feature Tinder Social, which expanded their algorithm and interface to allow users to connect as groups, thus capturing and capitalising on the anxiety and excitement caused by blurring boundaries between friendship and dating.
Giselle Dates are a way to investigate this 'friend versus lover' tension, both by directly establishing relationships that embody such troubling ambiguity and by fostering a context in which such sociocultural phenomena (and hopefully many more) can be appropriately addressed in critical conversation.
Unreciprocated romantic desire within a friendship is not a wholly new phenomenon, but the contemporary neologism 'friend zone' can only make sense in the distinct way it does under certain social conditions. In the developed West, these include an onus on the individual to initiate and maintain courtship rituals, (as opposed to the historical practice of marriage either explicitly arranged by the family or mediated through 'calling'). So as courtship has become less formal, the rather more mysterious custom of flirting has come to the fore.
In its most innocent form the hype around friend zoning speaks to a fear of rejection, of being judged to be unattractive in a culture where sexual allure is amongst the most prized virtues anyone can possibly possess. In its more malevolent incantation, the friend zone occurs when one (almost always male identified) person's frustrated ambition for absolute agency over a relationship impacts on another (almost always female identified) person's right to make autonomous decisions about their sexuality and body when such decisions are in conflict with what the first person not only wants, but feels they have earned.
The patriarchy we are living under tends to reinforce the expectation that performing masculinity involves adopting the role of sexually aggressive possessor of the gaze. The friend zone is seen as a space of unmasculine subservience and is often articulated as a tragic fraternity of 'nice guys' tricked out of their hard earned fellatio entitlements by a bunch of stupid bitches too dumb to even know which men are good for them. This pitiable brood lament their unjust suffering in the form of memes.
So many friend zone memes...
I write more about dating and the threat of violence here, but it is worthwhile briefly mentioning that to participate in memetic cyberculture is to navigate a milieu in which rape threats, or rape 'jokes' as they are sometimes known, are just an ordinary part of the online mise en scène.
If we momentarily take a more sanguine approach and examine the friend zone in a broader historical context, we can see that yes, it does maintain the anachronistic presumption that sex is the only actualising end goal of any relations between men and women. However, if we didn't live in a world where hetero friendships were a socially acceptable possibility, there would be no confusion and therefore no angst. Friend zone is a recent addition to the lexicon of courtship.
A good friendship is a meeting of equals that can only flourish authentically under an equality of access to things like public space, education, income, and complete and legitimate personhood. Women might not yet have the full set but things are getting better. We weren't always allowed into the institutions where I have made some of my best male friends, like universities or the workplace, and in other countries in the world, women still aren't. Let's hope that this friend zone thing is like the awkward puberty that afflicts many of its 'victims' and that as we grow up as a society we will shed the 'zone' but keep the part about being friends.
Surely, the enjoyment of another consciousness in friendship is one of life's precious gifts, and thus the development of a friendship has a particular affinity with the experience of encountering an artwork. Both the making of a friendship and the making of an artwork is an attempt to relate.
By 'making' an artwork, I don't just mean the name on the wall text. Interpretation is an act of making meaning as much as it is one of perception. I made Giselle Dates in the hope that interpretation could be a socially generative action, specifically one that ruptures the assumptions of education, politics and taste that are associated with contemporary art audiences and also contravenes the accepted gendered and classist scripts of self-representation that are the convention of first date conversation. This artwork is the testing of my hypothesis that art exists to help us feel less psychically single, whether as friends or otherwise.