New York

R. Luke DuBois, A More Perfect Union: Lonely, 2011, ink on paper, 18 x 24".

R. Luke DuBois, A More Perfect Union: Lonely, 2011, ink on paper, 18 x 24".

R. Luke DuBois

bitforms gallery

R. Luke DuBois, A More Perfect Union: Lonely, 2011, ink on paper, 18 x 24".

Curious about the geographic distribution in the United States of men and women who characterize themselves as, say, submissive, shy, bored, or lonely? If so, you’ll likely be delighted by R. Luke DuBois’s project “A More Perfect Union,” 2008–, for which he created statistical maps of the nation describing the ways in which people represent themselves on online dating services—and the qualities those people are seeking in a possible mate. In 2010, DuBois, who might be considered something of a polymath (he is an artist, composer, performer, and a coauthor of the software Jitter, which facilitates real-time manipulation of data), joined twenty-one online dating services (these included match.com, chemistry.com, eharmony.com, christianmingle.com, gay.com, blacksingles.com, and jdate.com); then, utilizing custom software he had been developing since 2008, he compiled and analyzed the online profiles of roughly nineteen million Americans, culling more than twenty thousand key words from the dating data. From this swarm of information, DuBois generated two sets of maps that propose alternate cartographies of the United States.

The more visually appealing of the two is based on the map of US congressional districts; rather than indicate political polling data, however, each district signifies the quantity of men and women in the region who have characterized themselves according to a given adjective. So, for example, we are presented with the “kinky” map, the “shy” map, the “funny” map, the “lonely” map. (More appear on the artist’s website.) Each district is colored a different shade of purple, with the concentration of a given demographic apparently indicated by the saturation of blue (for men) and red (for women)—a play on the red state/blue state divide. In their conversion of sociological and subjective data into visual language, these maps do have a certain sensuous, aesthetic vibration (albeit in a kind of reductive digital-painterly manner)—not to mention a utility in identifying the social enclaves inhabited with potential love partners.

Moving to a smaller scale, the other set of maps (occupying most of the gallery) focuses on individual states and cities of the union, substituting place names with key words that predominated in the dating profiles of the inhabitants from that area. So, in the New York City map, we find words such as painter, curator, and galleries in the Chelsea area, and words such as hipster, clichéd, perverted, and psychiatrist in the Williamsburg area. These maps take on a more minimalist aesthetic, even if populated by a surfeit of black words and roadways indicated by brown, blue, and red lines. Each map also provides pertinent statistical information, with New York City, for instance, assembled out of 413,872 online dating profiles, from which DuBois extracted 5,082,387 words.

Has DuBois generated what Fredric Jameson called for in 1984, a “new . . . aesthetic of cognitive mapping”? Or, to use more contemporary discourse, does the project articulate territory as a constellation of nodes that pictorialize agglomerated individualities and desires? In either case, one would need to consider the social politics of this mapping procedure, taking care to cast a cold eye on the utopian claims about online social media, which all too often subtend net-based forms of power. And what are the implications of DuBois’s basic procedure of harvesting quasi-private/quasi-public data for info-aesthetic ends? Is he reproducing online market research as a means of producing art, while at the same time interrogating the social and political effects of such procedures? It’s difficult to say. And we may also want to consider the ethical side of this since, as a software author, DuBois is in a privileged position to both shape and redeploy massive amounts of human information, which implies a significant amount of control, even if the objective is to produce a mode of service-based artistic practice.

Perhaps, though, these maps are best understood at face value: They reflect the lengths to which people go to find a love match, while also functioning as a guide for singles in search of concentrations of kinky, sarcastic, or boring people—or whatever human niche market one prefers.

Joshua Decter