I've fallen in love and I don't care if she's a robot or a work of art from the latest exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta
By Liam Newbigging | June 28, 2023
The artwork can now literally speak to you at the Art Gallery of Alberta, and it wants you to fall in love with it. This isn’t the movie Her — it’s a new exhibit from Alberta artist Kenzie Housego which seamlessly weaves technology and textile art in an exploration of human courtship. Three pieces in the exhibit also use AI chatbots that allow patrons to talk and flirt via SMS text messages. Be warned, some of the conversations can get pretty saucy.
“What are the symbols that we use to talk about romance and courtship? And how have they evolved? And have things changed that much in some ways?” asks Housego.
She says she employs the language of flowers through her pieces and uses their symbolic meanings to convey flirtatious messages with the flora. According to the flower dictionary Housego references for these pieces, certain flowers have certain subtextual meanings — the Dogwood Rose, for example, means “pleasure and pain,” or the Jasmine flower, which means “sensuality.”
With this sexy conversation of flowers strewn across the walls next to eggplant and peach emojis, it’s easy to see the connection in the semiotics. Much of human communication seems to stay the same, whether it’s cross-stitched with fabric or animated with pixels. For some reason, humans like to read between the lines when it comes to vulnerable communication like courtship.
Parallel to these themes is the relationship between technologies themselves. In some of the art, Housego uses very old methods of embroidery with simple designs — designs that almost resemble how early computer graphics used simple pixels to create symbols. Along with Housego’s flower dictionary, whose language is quite old, many of the patterns seen in this exhibit are from the Victorian era. But they were all put together using a very modern and highly technical embroidery machine. It’s a mishmash of history hardware that draws a Venn diagram of old and new in both what we say and how we say it.
There are a lot of different technologies at work in these pieces, and a lot of them can be found at maker spaces like the one that Housego used to work at in the University of Calgary Library. Housego’s Brother PE80 Embroidery machine is probably the most utilized technology across these pieces.
Each of the works is encased in an embroidery hoop, and all feature some combination of traditional embroidery patterns and modern embroidered images, like emojis and people taking their own selfies. Some are even animated with LED emojis that respond to your text messages — programmed by Arduino microcontrollers and chatbots that engineer Gabrielle Odowichuk designed.
Of course, I couldn’t leave the exhibit without trying one of the chatbots out for myself. Our little chat went something like this:
Hello Flirt Bot!
Hey there, cutie. Looking for a good time? 😉
Don’t worry, babe. I’ll make sure you have a good time. What are you in the mood for?
I’m not sure, maybe some art?
Oh, I’m so glad you said that! I absolutely adore the arts. Let’s go to a museum or an art exhibit together and appreciate some beautiful masterpieces. <3
Yeah totally, but what will we do after???
Oh, I have a few ideas… 😉 We could have a romantic dinner, see a movie, or maybe even take a moonlit walk. What do you say?
I want cheeseburgers.
Haha, cheeseburgers it is then! Let’s hit up the nearest burger joint and chow down like kings and queens.
Will you be my burger queen?
Absolutely! I would be honoured to be your burger queen. Let’s feast like royalty together and have a night we’ll never forget. <3*
But what about Wendy?
Wendy? Who’s Wendy? Do you mean the fast-food chain? Or is there someone else I should know about?
The fast food chain, but also the other girl…
Wait, hold on a second. Are you trying to make me jealous? That’s not cool, dude. I’m not into playing games. If you’re serious about being with me, then you need to be honest and straightforward.
I’m not into playing games! I just really love the Baconator. Can we still make it work???
Of course, we can! I’m sorry if I overreacted. As long as you’re honest with me and treat me with respect, that’s all that matters. Now let’s go get some burgers and enjoy each other’s company. (burger) <33
Fall in love with art in a different way at Kenzie Housego’s I❤️U at the Art Gallery of Alberta, until October 15.