DESIRE PATHS
(2021)


Desire Paths is a digital installation exploring the spatiality of online queer space by disrupting user interface elements used to access it. It works like a video game, allowing its users to take control of how they interact with the work.

The project is an attempt to question how technology not only facilitates spatial interactions in real life, but also creates ontologically new spaces existing simultaneously in the digital and material realms.


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Desire Paths is heavily influenced by Sara Ahmed’s discourse in Queer Phenomenology, in which she studies how the world around us is shaped through the lived experience of queer bodies. Concentrating on the “orientation” part of sexual orientation, Ahmed questions what it means for bodies to be oriented towards something, and therefore what is means for them to take up space and time. Exploring both the sexualisation of space and the spatiality of sexual desire, the book suggests that:

“... spaces are not exterior to bodies; instead, spaces are like a second skin that unfolds in the folds of the body.” (p.9)

Ahmed’s train of thought becomes especially interesting when put together with Graham Harman’s seemingly contrary argument in Object-Oriented Ontology, a new school of philosophical thought, which rejects the idea of analysing objects based on the way humans experience them, instead arguing that they exist independently of human perception, and their links with humans or other objects do not define their true nature.




I want to argue that certain areas of the internet could be considered to have a spatiality of their own - according to OOO, these ‘spaces’, even though created directly through human interaction, can be considered to be self-contained objects, existing independently of their perception by humans. Our orientation towards a digital space shapes its form and structure, however once established, its spatiality lives on beyond the data which constitutes its architecture.

Location-based apps such as Grindr allow to search for nearby users, unveiling a network of connections within broader society. The architecture of Grindr exists in equal parts virtually and physically, allowing its users to navigate the city with access to an additional layer of meaning, imperceptible to non-users. The app replaces the need for traditional queer spaces such as bars, clubs, saunas, cruising spots, replacing them with online self-construction of the subject. (Jaque, p.78)





However intangible, this invisible system of connections has real physical consequences, sending data through cellular networks, creating waves and vibrations imperceptible to human senses, and producing a new way of occupying space together without the need for physical proximity - yet the only way for us to experience it is on a flat screen of a mobile device. My work plays with the idea of physicality of this communication; the graphic elements used in user interface design, which serve as visualisations of specific concepts, can also be treated as objects in their own right. In my project, I try to explore the digital and physical spatiality of user interfaces, affording them a three-dimensional materiality in a game environment.




The graphic elements in question convey information in a non-verbal way, creating opportunities for expressing ideas without the use of words. Language can be augmented with non-verbal cues, allowing for more efficient communication, or disguising a layer of meaning; from handkerchief code to the use of emojis to signify one’s intentions on dating apps such as Grindr, queer communication often goes beyond the standard lexicon. Similarly, internet cultures create new layers of meaning, where the user can be ‘in’ on a joke or reference, even if they struggle to articulate its meaning to an outsider. Both queerness and online cultures form new means of communicating through a system of repeated symbols and reappropriating the meaning of others. My project communicates ideas both in writing, and by using emojis and other visual cues, attempting to subvert traditional modes of communication. Perhaps these visual neologisms can help us express our ideas more efficiently in a non-verbal way.




I am also interested in how a simulation breaks away from the linearity of a story and a fixed perspective, completely disrupting how the world is shown in photography and film. Our memories are often linked to specific places but the way photography and video preserve them is not the most objective. In a simulation, the viewer is free to explore the environment autonomously, rendering each interaction different from any other, and thus arguably more genuine and personal. This first-person perspective also links to queerness, allowing the viewers to interact with environments on their own terms; I consider the medium of an open-world game to be quintessentially queer.

This is also where the title of my work stems from - a desire path is a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by foot traffic. It occurs in areas where an official route, such as a pavement, is not the most efficient one to take. Desire paths are a form of anarchism, where the official way of behaving is not the most favourable one. To me, they serve as a metaphor for finding new ways of behaving in a world where queerness is often not anticipated. Thinking of Queer Phenomenology, a desire path might be a way of being differently orientated, and not in line with the official way of doing things - in other words ‘not straight’, but rather queer and slanted. A desire path is a visual remainder of anarchic actions taken by other people.



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Installation plan:






Bibliography:

  1. Ahmed, S. (2006) Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Other. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  2. Clark, A., Chalmers, D. (1998) ‘The Extended Mind’, Analysis, 58(1), pp. 7-19.
  3. Harman, G. (2018) Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. London: Pelican Books.
  4. Jaque, A. (2017) Grindr Archiurbanism, Log 41. Working Queer, 2017(2), pp. 74-84.
  5. Palmer, J. (2019) Spatial Interfaces. Available at: https://darkblueheaven.com/spatialinterfaces/ (Accessed: 25 May 2021).
  6. Palmer, J. (2020) Spatial Software. Available at: https://darkblueheaven.com/spatialsoftware (Accessed: 25 May 2021).


© Juliusz Grabianski 2021