art projects
Currently hanging: The Lover

Currently Hanging: YOU Are the Lover
Posted by Jen Graves
on Thu, May 19, 2011 at 11:53 AM

The artist, James Coupe, captured on his own camera in The Lover.

The artist, James Coupe, captured on his own camera in The Lover.

When you walk into the entrance of the museum, signs notify you—and implicitly gather your consent—that you are about to be filmed while in the galleries.

There is a path you can walk if you don’t want to be filmed, but everyone else is a potential actor in Seattle artist James Coupe‘s piece The Lover.

The Lover is based on Harold Pinter’s play of the same name, in which a husband comes home and asks the wife, “Did your lover come today?” The lover, it turns out, is the husband, playing the role afternoons on his lunch hour—and the wife, meanwhile, role-plays as a seductress for him. When the husband wants to confront the lover, all of their arrangements start unraveling.

In the museum, the cameras collect video of people walking through the galleries, and the video is then run through a software program that can detect age and gender based on a demographic database built from 9,000 images of people with their profiles.

The program assigns and age and gender to each gallerygoer, then matches them up in husband-and-wife pairs. (You might look older or younger depending on many factors, including what you’re wearing, whether you’re tired, whether you’ve, say, showered and gotten all fixed up. Presumably you might also not “look” your gender.)

When you arrive in the final gallery, you may find yourself on screen with your newfound spouse—someone who may be right next to you in the museum. (A new Match.com, anyone?) A voiceover and subtitles “speak” Pinter’s lines for you. The camera cuts back and forth between spouses.

Coupe’s The Lover would be perfect in The Talent Show, the contemporary exhibition about surveillance and desire that’s now at the Henry Art Gallery (my review).

But unfortunately, it isn’t showing in Seattle—it’s at the Harris Museum in the UK (warning: that web site is pretty useless). Here’s hoping we get to see it here someday soon.

UPDATE: Coupe is indeed giving a talk at the Henry during Talent Show. Yay!

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