The Milanese writer Nanni Balestrini, who died on 20 May 2019, could be considered the inventor of the algorithmic love story. Every copy of his novel Tristano is a unique sequence of 300 paragraphs, one of 109,027,350,432,000 possible narrative unfoldings. While the prototype was made in 1966, the first print run became technically feasible only in 2007 (the same year that launched both the iPhone and the global financial crisis). How might we interpret Tristano given its simultaneous endurance and contingency of meaning? On one hand, it suggests that love is different for every reader; on the other, it reveals the creative act as little more than a set of combinatorial coincidences.
If we needed more evidence for an ontology of aleatory senselessness, modernity could offer us no shortage of examples, as much in art and design as in war and natural disaster. But the general impression of our recent history would imply the opposite, that is, a system of intention, explanation, analysis, critique, and rationalisation. Art and design have proven particularly amenable to this apotheosis of rhetorical meaning; love, however, seems both sacrosanct and impervious to any such regime. Love would appear to be transhistorical, innate, inexplicable, and enigmatic; love might be shareable as interpersonal emotion or affect, but it could never be given as information, performed as service, alienated as object, or generated on demand. In other words, love could never be invented, designed, or fabricated as an outcome of creative production.
That idea certainly has its charm, within a lived experience of a perpetual beta version of the present. But as my copy of Tristano (#13726) begins: “According to this vision everything that can be of benefit to humanity can also harm it.” And a bit further: “I don’t think it can go on like this.” Perhaps love is what we need to design and reimagine more urgently than anything else. The Sandberg graduation projects that evoked this feeling did so by posing critical questions, revealing vulnerable reflections, and offering poignant speculations on the matter of love.
A LOVER’S INTERLUDE
A study of exchange as if people mattered. (LR) Money can buy you love. (ER x BK) Pay me. (DC) We disenchant love. (FR x SZ) We worship full-on opacity. (AB) You could love an image of air. (VVZ) Because we are traveling in the same direction. (ET) Can we get together? (LR) Feels just like the real thing. (HF) How dare you imitate (FR) my narcissistic desire to suffer? (DC) When did you become a heterosexual? (RB) Between now and never. (MD) We are slowly becoming ourselves ... our own monsters. (ZK) Exit Athena (SK) and enter Pandora. (RE)
IS LOVE MORE OR LESS THE SAME, OR PRECISELY NOT THE SAME?
Do we love what we love because it is like us, because it is not like us, because it is what we expected it to be, because it is nothing like what we imagined? Or are these only trivial distinctions within love as the act of wanting, imagining, trying to become like or trying to become? If so, the active creator is, by extension, the lover, and – ironically – the passive desirer is the artificer, illusionist.
I wanna be like you-oo-oo. (FR) You are not yourself. (ER x BK) Euphoria in unhappiness ... to love and hate what others love and hate. (ER x HM) An object of desire is a cluster of promises we want someone or something to make us and make possible for us. (ER x LB) The labour of love trumps the reality of mass production. (HK)
Fabian Reichle throws three balls in the air to get “Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line” by John Baldessari (1973); he seeks comfort in “Seeking Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair” by Bruno Munari (1944). Evita Rigert sunburns Nike swooshes onto Monsanto plant hybrids and patches together printed leather and fake fur in a crossover between Gucci and Disney’s The Lion King. Love is a striving that circumstantially produces its own unintended consequences – the unacknowledged lovechild, the bastard, the unauthorised clone, the fraternal twin, the uncanny mutant.
TO TAKE OR TO REMAKE, THAT IS THE QUESTION
But is the lover’s desire to capture what one does not own or to recreate something as one’s own? Is the object of desire more loved for being your own or for the exact opposite? Is the recreated facsimile less lovable for not being the original, or is the original less lovable for no longer being the only one? As more and more technological facilities become available in order to make anew what one loves, the phrase “to render obsolete” acquires a double meaning. The act of rendering makes that which was once needed no longer necessary as surrogates take the place of one true loves.
The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of a car approaching you from the opposite direction. (DC) The encounter between two powerful forces. (MD) The heart spins until your loved one opens the lid and discovers your message inside. (VVZ) It confirms who we are or who we want to be. (DC) It makes us think we are loved by many. (VVZ x CP) And then for a brief moment, it feels as if you are. DC For her it was the image of happiness ... she had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. (VVZ) Come here, I want to see you! (VVZ x AGB) But you can’t see anything, because of all that fucking light. (DC)
Valerie van Zuijlen films a helicopter imitating a bird of prey in “AIREAL” flight paths; she models a woman’s face with slightly pocked skin and jagged lips and eyes, a photorealistic skin draped over a geometrically unrealistic skeleton frame. Daan Couzijn’s simulation is a heartbreakingly “Beautiful Impact”, a rain-drenched young man with bloodied lip and scraped chin and nose, blinking and breathing subtly against a sped-up sunset video background, his shaggy black hair preternaturally frozen around his face. Marijn Degenaar records human bodies and pieces of earth as alien constructions, disfigured by ephemeral veils of sand, foam, and incandescent light. These reiterations make grotesque what is charming, make beguiling what is familiar, make poignant what is automatic.
JEALOUS BY NATURE, SLEEK BY DESIGN, LOVE IS A STRANGER, FALSE AND UNKIND (AL + DS)
If to love is to appropriate and to reproduce, imperfectly and with poetic license, then it is also to apprehend unawares, to seize haphazardly and grasp blindly without knowing beforehand where the process might lead – to attempt to imitate something without actually knowing what it is, exactly. In that sense, artistic techniques of registration, animation, composition, and interpretation without predetermined objectives or strictly authorial mechanisms – like Tristano and its logic of order and disorder – could constitute a new form of love in an era at a time when all contingency and happenstance are being designed out of it. The challenge is to engage in the creation of the unknown without slipping into the production of meaninglessness.
The render has so far played the role of incarcerator ... could real-time render be the virulent infection that will re-animate the Timeline’s corpse? (AB) Demasking Eros in single-handed combat, so that he dissolved into immateriality and turned to vapour in the atmosphere, freed from the pain of servitude of the whimsical gods. (SK) The random variations between copies enact the variegation of the human heart, as exemplified by the lovers at the centre of the story. (AB) Stories don’t have a middle or an end anymore. They have a beginning that never stops beginning. (AB x SS) I want my voice to be covered by the lyrics of this song. (LR) As if the rest of the song didn’t have to be there. (AB x RP) If you say I am a product, why can I not see it? (LR) Why can’t I draw this fucking apple? (LR x JP)
In Selma Köran’s work, olive-like grapes roll down a rollercoaster plasticine tongue; phallic protuberances swell and droop like a sea anemone; nipples cover the surface of jugs. People covered in paint, jewellery, masks, and wrappings shout and gesture towards one another in the chaotic flux of narrative ethos. Emilia Tapprest’s characters float through swimming pools, highways, abandoned concrete structures, urban megalopolises, and beaches in search of information, meaning, and one another. Rowena Buur documents the moment of reunion with an estranged parent, but opens up the spectator’s experience of the encounter by layering different perspectives and angles taken with film cameras, webcams, and archival footage; this form destabilises how we read a relationship with a father. Love is an apple – the apple of knowledge, the poisoned apple, the Apple computer, the apple of discord.
AB Alessandro Bertelle (GVN908)
AGB Alexander Graham Bell
AL Annie Lennox
BK Barbara Kruger
CP Crystal Pitch
DC Daan Couzijn
DS David Stewart
ER Evita Eva-Maria Bianca Rigert
ET Emilia Tapprest
FR Fabian Reichle
HF Harriet Foyster
HM Herbert Marcuse
JP Jaakko Pallasvuo
LB Lauren Berlant
LR Léo Ravy
MD Marijn Degenaar
RB Rowena Buur
RE Rebecca Eskilsson
RP Ron Padgett
SK Selma Köran
SS Steven Spielberg
SZ Semir Zeki
VVZ Valerie van Zuijlen
ZK Zsofia Kollar
Tamar Shafrir is a design writer and curator based in Amsterdam. She was acting co-head of the Design Curating & Writing master’s programme at Design Academy Eindhoven and also teaches theory at Sandberg Instituut and London College of Communication. She collaborates with Arif Kornweitz in the design research studio A Control.