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Andrés Jaque, sex apps, and Intimate Strangers - a candid interview

It’s late. Andrés is in bed typing in a hotel room in Porto. The room is dark, the stark light of his laptop illuminates his face. I can’t see him, and I’m not sure any of what I have just written is true. I’ve never met him, or directly emailed him, so in trying to tell the story of our brief relationship I have had to use my imagination. In the same way that millions of people all over the world do when they begin a relationship that starts online. While the relationship might not be real, Andrés Jaque certainly is. True to the style of too much online journalism, Jaque, his colleagues, Jamie from Run Riot, and I, have exchanged a few emails. In spite of this, I feel like together we’ve managed to ‘talk’ about some pretty interesting things.

Jaque has carved out a space as one of the most interesting architects of our time. From within his progressive, and aptly named interdisciplinary practice The Office of Political Innovation, based in both Madrid and New York, he explores the effects of the built environment on our political cultures, and “is deeply interested in analyzing the ways architecture went wrong before 2008”. Jaque also finds the time to teach at the architecture schools at Columbia, and Princeton. Jaque and his practice have won fistfuls of impressive awards, produced a range of acclaimed publications, and have shown their work at MOMA, and Venice Biennale.

Jaque’s new installation 'Intimate Strangers' is featured in a forthcoming exhibition called Fear and Love, at the soon to be reopened Design Museum in Kensington. The work explores rapid technological progress, networked society, and the implications of social media and dating apps on our lives. I haven’t seen the piece, only the images that accompany this interview. They're arresting, thoughtful, and they've captured my attention. The use of Grindr and other dating apps by Egyptian police to locate and arrest LGBT people has been well documented, and it appears that Jaque’s work engages with this, and many other prescient issues.

The press release for the show states that “design is deeply connected not just to commerce and culture but to urgent underlying issues – issues that inspire fear and love”. It promises that the exhibition will be bold, with a global outlook that captures the spirit of our age. Get down to the museum from the 24th November and find out for yourself.

RR: Why do you think people are drawn to social media and dating apps to find love?
Andrés: With locative media such as Tinder or Grindr, one can find sex and love right here, right now. They eliminate drama and multiply experience. What people find in hook up apps is not sex but a sense of opulent serendipity, and that is more than a new step in capitalist obsession for urban availability.  

RR: Do you think finding love on an app is different to finding love through social media, or is it the same?
Andrés: Apps are designed to make it possible to scan the place where you are, whatever it is, and find strangers there that might be willing to become intimate. One no longer has to stay at home to use dating sites or chat-rooms, with smart phones and GPS, the whole world turned into a sex-finding chat room.

Apps sexualized ordinary life, by reinventing a new type of intersubjectivity, the “intimate strangers”.  

RR: So - now we’ve covered the shallow stuff - let’s cut to the chase - is Intimate Strangers inspired by your own personal experiences? Have you, or people in your studio been swiping/tweeting/instagram stalking your way through New York, and the rest of the world?
Andrés: The whole team that worked on our project “Intimate Strangers” has been using these apps intensively for almost a decade now. Places like New York or London have been reshaped by them. People go out at night knowing already what are the negotiations that are at stake. Gay scene travelled online and overlapped with straight venues. Historical LGBT bars are disappearing to make space for gentrifying condominiums. All this is part of a huge transformation in the way we collectively engage with sex, that have a lot to credit to hookup apps.


RR: Do you think dating apps, and social media romances are changing the way we experience the city?
Andrés: Totally. The role cities, disco’s, saunas had to enable sex negotiation has now travelled to a big extent to practices that combine the online with the offline space. Offices, airports, gyms or dentist waiting rooms became the places where sex search is a way to kill time. The last Grindr’s update removed the yellow frame in its interface so their users would not be exposed when checking the app at work by the way their faces would be lighted in yellow. The whole world became a potential place for sexual auction.

At the same time, it reduced the way sexual specialization was distributed in cities (there is no need for a demarcation for silver daddies if you can find those around by checking your cell phone) but it made that specificity moved from the city’s configuration to the way individuals are required to profile themselves to become marketable online. The need for specificity travelled from the city to the bodies. The urban is no longer specialized but embodied.

As sex became ubiquitous and more visible through the use of dating apps, it was opened to become normative. For instance, we are now witnessing a new role for gayness, as it is becoming generally respected in Western countries, it is being normalized. Legalized same sex marriage, is related to Grindr’s one to one relationships, and they have the cost of contributing to render gayness dequeerized. Gay people are used as the first collectives mobilized to start processes of urban gentrification. If gayness has been a source of alternative in the past, it is now becoming an important actor in the making of mainstream.         

RR: I feel that apps like tinder, grindr, happn, and bumble etc offer individuals from different urban tribes, who would not normally meet, the opportunity to do so. Many of these relationships are short, sharp, adrenaline-fuelled romances, or nightmares. Do you think the frequency and intensity of experiences like these desensitise people to traditional, stable relationships full of sacrifice and compromise?
Andrés: Maybe. But they also make available other types of intense experiences. For instance, we have been studying the way Syrian refugees found affection and support among locals they met through hookup apps as they travelled in Middle East and Europe. Relationships meant to be insubstantial, have ended up as meaningful game changing associations, in which sex was not detached from political compromise and solidarity.

Among refugees, we have found that those using hookup apps on the way found often equalitarian one-to-one relationships with locals, where social fractures were softened and cooperation and support would be built in.   

Hookup apps, have become often a space for human rights empowerment.

RR: If you spend time trawling through people caught in the nets of tinder and the like, we see an increasing frequency of people who are advertising themselves as ‘not looking for hookups’ or ‘looking for the one’ what do you make of this?
Andrés: Self-edition is not something you do to nurture your vanity, it is fundamentally needed to become part of the sphere of online interaction. Self-profiling is an act of urbanity, like watering the plants in your window or not littering in the street. It is a way to emerge in the collective space of social media and apps by contributing to produce the common space.  Something done to empower collective wellbeing as much as to the individual representation that constitutes a great endeavor 350 million people are contributing with nowadays.

In the past it was places and public spaces where collective politics were happening. Politics are now installed in the way personal online profiles are being built up and used. That is why discussions like the ones of racism in private Tinder conversations have gained a public dimension, because our societies are being constructed there.

RR: In my opinion obscurity, abstraction, and mystery are becoming a new paradigm for the display of beauty and intelligence in online dating apps. A new aesthetic for self-presentation in the digital dating context. Do you imagine this aesthetic translating into physical and urban spaces?
Andrés: It has already happened. If you look carefully the way condominiums like 432 Park Avenue in NY are sold through advertisement campaigns like the ones the architectural practice D-Box designed, you will find that they are using the same narratives of immediate love that fuel Tinder.

In the Oslo Triennial we just presented a long research on the distribution of Brazilian sex workers in Central London, called “Pornified Homes”. It’s very interesting to see that the city is now being structured both in its narrative and in its spatial structure by the kind of interaction promoted by dating apps.

RR: If the mating rituals are changing, is the sex changing too?
Andrés: Yes, sex is being experienced as a social skill, not as a means for personal expression.

Sex has also become a visual activity, more important than having actual sex, is being able to present oneself as a sexy promising candidate for sex partnership.

In countries where specific forms of sex are banned, hookup apps have provided a space for the empowerment of the alternative, as well as a place where threatens are managed collectively. In Egypt or India, Grindr and Facebook have brought a possibility for LGBT activism that would be totally impossible in the streets. The find each other, find LGBT friendly landlords, or advocate groups that can help them when things turn ugly.  
 
RR: Finally, what does a post dating app / social media relationship future look like, and what does the city around it feel like?
Andrés: We are moving towards interconnected locative social platforms, providing connections between bodily construction, environments and markets. There is no way to stop that process, so we need to understand how to operate in that scenario. What for me is important is to register what are the new forms of accountability, subversion and disobedience that we need to emerge within them. The complexity of our societies depends on our capacity to bring alternative into apps and to render them spaces of queerized contestation.

Intimate Strangers by Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation. Photograph by Jorge López Conde and Eduardo López Rodríguez.

Andrés Jaque
andresjaque.net
@OFFPOLINN
facebook.com/andres.jaque.94

Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World
24 November 2016 – 23 April 2017
The Design Museum
224-238 Kensington High Street
London W8 6AG
Info and booking: designmuseum.org