Amy Spiers and Lara Thoms

Lonely Hearts
Amy Spiers, Lara Thoms
Platform Public Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne
2-30 March 2012

Looking for love? (Melbourne)

Visual artists Amy and Lara are looking for single people to participate in a new art project, Lonely Hearts.

The project will profile twelve singles through photography and installation.

The project will involve an interview and portrait taken of you. You will be consulted throughout the process, helping to create an exciting new artwork and potentially a new match!

To express interest in participating contact us.

Crowds flitted past the brightly lit cabinets that line the Degraves Street Subway beneath Flinders Street station. A couple of middle-aged women sauntered past, gazing for a few seconds into one or two of the vitrines. They continued on their way. A homeless man sat on the ground nearby, his face buried in his knees. Five twenty-somethings hung out near one of the locked cases, which hosted a DVD Walkman playing some film footage. One stated authoritatively that she was surprised that no one had broken into it, because the Walkman could be worth something at Cash Converters.1

During the Lonely Hearts exhibition, eleven of the vitrines that comprise Platform Art Spaces housed photographs, objects and ephemera provided by members of the public. Artists Amy Spiers and Lara Thoms had placed an advertisement on websites Gumtree and Craigslist calling for ‘lonely hearts’ to nominate a group of personal possessions that would, when grouped in the cases at Platform, represent them to potential lovers—a sort of off-line version of their dating profile.2 In a rather bold move, the artists had even sought access to the participants’ bedrooms, looking for other items to include in the Platform cabinets. In addition to this, Spiers and Thoms had photographed respondents in their homes, amongst their things. The portraits were installed alongside the various objects.

One of the profiles on display in the exhibition belonged to ‘YVESKLEINBLUE’, the participant’s screen name rendered in vinyl type on the front of the glass case. The wide-angled photographic portrait took in her contemporary apartment with its polished floorboards and stainless steel kitchen. It showed a young female, slim and attractive, playing with her two cats, running her toes through the fur on one of their stomachs. The portrait, pinned to the back of the cabinet, was accompanied by a regiment of small, disparate items—in order: a tiny black Egyptian cat figurine, a black lozenge, a ceramic squirrel, an unidentifiable plastic object, a screw, a square-headed key, a broken piece of plastic and a statuette. Placed in the centre of the case was a lamp or a vessel, difficult to make out, swathed in newspaper. On the right hand side of the cabinet was a handwritten list of names of actresses, TV personalities, curators and artists: ‘Debbie Harry, Janeane Garafolo [sic]…Julie Zemiro [sic]…Lynnette Wallworth, Fiona Hall, Alexie Glass’, and some others who were unfamiliar to this viewer: ‘Rachel Moss, Bev Mitchell, Sooz’.

Another cabinet showcased the portrait and the belongings of ‘J_THE_FIREE’. J’s photograph showed a young, fit man wearing a singlet and crossing his arms to emphasise his ample biceps. J’s cabinet featured a page that had been torn from a brochure, with the urgent heading: ‘Become a CFA Career Firefighter’. Also included were a typewritten vision/mission statement for a Victorian fire department, a 500g tin of Nescafé Blend 43, a large tin of protein powder, a blue singlet draped over the tin, a round stopwatch, and a Buddhist scroll imparting a dictum about love:

Love
Success is not the key to happiness,
Happiness is the key to success,
If you love what you are doing
you will be successful. 

It was difficult, of course, to discern much about any of the participants from their conglomerations of stuff, other than a penchant for cats here or a love of fitness there. The displays exposed the frustrating inadequacy of this type of self-representation or self-promotion, no matter whether the format is web-based or three-dimensional, as in the case of the exhibition. Adding to this, many of the vitrines held only a few objects, which left the interiors looking white and rather sparse. As Catherine Ryan observed in the wall text that accompanied the exhibition: ‘Most of each cabinet is space. Movement, narrative, the sound of a voice: all this has been filleted out, leaving an abundance of space’.3 I would add to this that all the whiteness, dotted here and there with objects, presented the viewer with a kind of offer—a ‘Here I am!’—that was crude, bold, vulnerable, and tinged with a bottomless sense of expectation. Viewers could walk on by, leaving the invitation unanswered, or else they could try to piece together a personality, a life, from the inadequate range of belongings on offer.

Spiers comments: ‘Often participatory art is about celebrating those connections and those encounters, making those encounters positive, whereas we were aware that when you’re online dating you often have negative encounters, or no encounters, or misconnections’.4 In other words, the potential for ‘hits’ is just as strong as the possibility of misses. Indeed, Spiers and Thoms included in the exhibition an email address on which passers-by could (strictly via the organising artists) contact participants, and maybe even date them. At the time of writing, they had not received any takers. The question is: why? Undoubtedly, this has to do with the publicness of Platform’s unique ‘platform’, where the comfortable anonymity of the Internet is lost.

Lonely Hearts could have dissolved into a rather saccharine exercise—an opportunity for single urbanites to connect with each other. At another extreme, it could have left its participants uncomfortably exposed, and invoked the undesirable aspects of Hal Foster’s ‘ethnographic turn’.5 However, the resulting exhibition was neither overly sentimental nor disempowering toward the eleven participants, whom we can presume were complicit in their own portrayals. Credit is due to Spiers and Thoms. Their light-handed approach to the material meant that individuals were presented in a more-or-less open-ended, rather than a reductive, manner (considering that profiling is, by its very nature, reductive). Furthermore, the decision to situate the exhibition at Platform was an astute one. Watching people flow steadily past the cabinets, I was reminded of a website wrought in three dimensions, where individuals may, in turns, flit by without a second look or stop to connect.

Amy Spiers and Lara Thoms, Lonely Hearts, 2012. Installlation detail. Courtesy the artists. 

Amy Spiers and Lara Thoms, Lonely Hearts, 2012. Installlation detail. Courtesy the artists. 

Amy Spiers and Lara Thoms, Lonely Hearts, 2012. Installlation detail. Courtesy the artists. 

notes: 

1. Funnily enough, the day after I wrote this, someone smashed the glass in this cabinet, but did not take the Walkman. Lengths of ‘Do Not Enter’ sticky tape were crisscrossed over the front of the cabinet.

2. Spiers and Thoms prefer to be called ‘artists’ rather than ‘curators’ or ‘facilitators’ in relation to this project, indicating perhaps a higher level of authorial control over the material on display.

3. Catherine Ryan, Lonely Hearts: Five Fragments, 2012. Didactic panel to accompany the Lonely Hearts exhibition at Platform Public Contemporary Art Spaces, 2–30 March. A copy of this text is available at http://www.amyspiers.com.au/portfolio/lonely-hearts/.

4. Amy Spiers, in discussion with the author, March 2012.

5. Hal Foster, ‘The Artist as Ethnographer’, in The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.,1996, pp.171–203.