Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Digital Culture

Ut[app]ías del deseo: An artistic project on utopias, desire and dating apps

Jazmín Ruiz Díaz

In the face of the pandemic, there is no need to overexplain that as a PhD student, I needed to find the right mechanisms to cope with anxiety, uncertainty and a severe case of writer’s block after the lockdown started in the UK, while my home country, Paraguay, took a much strict path that involved closing the borders and banning commercial flights. While some of my friends and colleagues found some relieve on baking, binge-watching shows on Netflix, exercising at home, or even working more hours than usual, in my case none of these strategies functioned. I was having a hard time connecting with academic work. Even the idea of reading a paper seemed too much at the moment. So it was in that context when I got an invitation from a dear friend and amazing artist that I could not refuse: To collaborate with her in an artistic project from scratch for an online exhibition. This is how Ut[app]ías del deseo (Desire ut[app]ias) was conceived, and it could not have happened – ironically – at a better time.

Ut[app]ías del deseo is a collaborative art project that explores the future of desire, pleasure and dating apps. As a work in progress, what you can see now is the result of two months of research, mentoring and creative explorations with the Paraguayan artist Adriana Peralta. The first stage of this project was presented as part of The Web Museum of the Cyborgfeminista: Expo Pop-Up Tech, an online exhibition aimed at showing interactive artwork that reflects on the relationship between gender, technology, feminism and digital rights. In May of this year, we were selected with other nine artists from Latin America to be part of an art clinic that included a series of webinars and mentorship running for the months of June and July, and which concluded in the opening of an online exhibition on the 14 of August.

Dating apps as the non-place for encounters was the initial theme that we proposed, which followed with one research question: When technology becomes the medium that shapes sexual affective encounters, what type of desire is produced? Both Adriana and I considered that the subject could not be more relevant. Particularly, we were interested in exploring the theme using our experiences as the point for departure, both cisgender Paraguayan women based in very different socio-cultural contexts: One in Asunción, and the other one, in London. From there on, we wanted to open these questions to the audience/participants, in order to try to imagine, collectively, utopias of desire.

Navigating love, pleasure and relationships nowadays implies necessarily to consider the role of technology to facilitate this type of encounters (or not). For us, it initiated an exercise of thinking in the cyborg-dimensions of desire, in the sense that required breaking the binaries between the digital and the physical world, what is considered as human and what as technology…  what is just online and what is real.

Of course, technologies such as the ones behind the design of dating apps are not neutral, and therefore, they keep reproducing social and cultural biases. However, it is undeniable that they have contributed to new ways of being, thinking, and interacting with others. Factors such as race, gender, sexuality, class and habitus, will shape and constraint the ways in which encounters mediated by dating apps happen, and also, who are the ones that are able to take part of them, and who are the ones excluded. Everything and nothing has changed in terms of the dominance of patriarchal, racist, heteronormative ways of desire in the kingdom of online dating.

This is where our interest in the concept of utopia was born. We wanted to think in this non-place of desire as a project for radical imaginations. We were inspired by authors such as the Argentinian Luciana Peker, who speaks about ‘feminism of the pleasure’ as something that is against ‘violence and abuse, that rejects uniform bodies or the vision of sex and food as a sin’, while celebrates ‘trying, eating, writing, kissing, listening, dancing and marching as forms of rebellion and enjoyment’. As Peker claims: ‘Intimacy is political’. We were also inspired by the notion of queer utopias proposed by José Esteban Muñoz when he says that:

Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. […] Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds. […] Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.

At this stage, the site of Ut[app]ías del deseo compiles illustrations, texts and quotes that were part of the creative explorations and research done over the two months when the art clinic took place. It also presents an open document (in Spanish) where the audience is invited to participate in sharing their own imaginations of desire. In a second stage, this project aims to build a deviant catalogue with the diverse utopias of desire collected.

If you would like to collaborate, please, send us an email to utappias@gmail.com and let´s imagine, juntes!