Project 2: Eggplants in the Library

Background & Incentive for the Collection

Since my initial idea for the collection failed miserably mostly due to locational limitations and technical issues such as the overhead lights being movement sensitive, I started exploring new ideas which could somehow take into account the location's significance and reveal a new taken on the location's significance.

The secret exhibition "Eggplants in the Library" focused mostly on sexual additions inspired by many stories and legends around the Rush Rhees library's bottom basement of the stacks. The story that's told among students says that for decades it's been the location for many students but also some faculty to occasionally release their stress with some romantic partners or peers. Now mostly avoided by many students due to its mysterious reputation I spend a whole day experimenting and observing the space, familiarizing myself with the sounds and energy present there as if I were a guest in a haunted house.

The lowest floor of the stacks located in the heart of a library is quiet with occasional surprising noises of the elevators welcoming the unexpected visitor. It's both meditative and anxiety-provoking because while mostly being a relatively quiet space it's also one of the oldest areas of the library with its aging heating system occasionally reminding its existence. While being there I kept thinking about all the stories that I'm heard and many "proposals" I've received through various online "dating" apps, which made me wonder about the space and the dynamics of a historic location of an archive and the inability of today's campus population to find sexual shelter anywhere else but this area. It almost reminded me of something that I was told when visiting Athens, Greece, about a historic park which is known to be a touristic location by day and a gay cruising spot by night taken over by people seeking for some form of connection or even shelter.

Personal Experience and The Exhibition

Based on personal experience the closest I've come to this "library cruise" behavior has been receiving various online messages on Grindr from various "hardworking student". The messages often times sound innocent yet burry hidden messages. Once a person told me that they were "just bored", yet when congratulating them on their brief moment of boredom they responded, "I have things to do, just don't want to", to which I responded that "it's not boredom, it's called procrastination".

These online conversations that take place on location-based apps such as a gay dating app Grindr, and chatroom app Yik Yak (which users were investigated by the university for racially offensive language in 2015) inspired me to create four images with short initial messages on them to showcase the beginnings that hypothetically lead people too meet up in secretive locations such as the bottom floor of the stacks. Bringing conversations from the digital sphere to real life and projecting them on books, falls, and the floor will act as a metaphor for traces that get left behind in hidden corners by occasional visitors. The Projectors were usually placed in dark corners or between tightly located stacks of books to surprise the visitor with illuminated words.

Sexual Addiction and Commentary on Re-appropriation of Space

The exhibition is a further commentary on online communication, location-based apps, sexual behaviors on campus, and sexual addiction. The latter is something that occurred to me after the exhibition. The messages and communication patterns really resonated with one of my friend's story. A member of a gay community in Rochester, NY, once explained to me his sexual addiction which at first I discarded as simply over sexualized gay lifestyle, or just a lifestyle that's particular to a large part of the community. Later on when he explained to me his family background and when I did more research into sexual addictions I began to realize how concepts of online dating, sexual addiction, and traumatic experiences together make sense. He was kicked out of his home at an early age for being gay, then moved to Rochester and lived with a few friends who had shared a similar experience, eventually took a few courses at UofR and finally ended up working for a small company in the city. While he had figured out his professional life and received a decent education, he got stuck in a social group which glorified short-term sexual relationships and subjected anything long-terms to harsh critique.

He also told me about numerous casual experiences he had in the library and how many college students who were closeted would message him, eager to get a quick "study break". A Huffingtonpost article about sex addicts and gay culture draws a parallel between traumatic past experiences and compulsive behavior, which is both applicable to my friend's story as well as storied he told me and messages I've personally received through various online communication channels.

Homophobia and shame drive addictive behavior ... The emotional isolation, coupled with the fear of being “found out,” amplifies the experiences and behaviors that contribute to addiction. -Robert Weiss, Cruise Control.

As my experiences and his experience are both limited to a very specific community I wonder how much of it is true for heterosexuals, and how the online communication differs between networks/mobile apps. A few years ago I analyzed this phenomenon of linguistic differences between dating apps (password: wrt261), but also purely focused on male-to-male interactions now f-to-f or m-to-f.

Co-Existence of the Times

The fascinating part of this project is the intersection of online communication, library quietness and hidden stories embedded underground. The way in which these bottom floors of stacks are rarely used now and how they have become a buffer zone, a quiet area, in the middle of the library building for some intimate interactions and getaways. The fact that within my 10h session at the library I encountered one couple, two girls lost, and one random guy, illustrates well how rarely it is used and how these artifacts stores on the shelfs have lost their audience probably due to rapid digitization or simply disinterest in topics located there. It was also interesting to place flirtatious messages from online dating sites on books that go in depth on mental health and brain behavior. Many of these books on the bottom level were about mental health, anthropology and human behavior.

 

Summary

Exhibition: "Eggplants in the Library"
Date: March 20, 2PM-11PM
Description: The exhibition explores hidden lives and stories that are told among students about events taking place on the bottom floor of the stacks, which is rarely used for its original purpose. Four projected visuals illustrate online conversations that take place between students in location-based dating apps, suggesting a sexual intention. The projections are overlaid on books about mental health, human behavior and cognitive science.
Display format: Projections
Documentation: Photographs
Keywords: Online communication, campus behavior, sexual suppression, sexual addiction, locational re-appropriation, human behavior, merging realities.

What could have been improved?

I struggled heavily with the overlays, and had to change my initial project due to the movement sensitive lights located in the space. I should have prepared more to cover up the movement sensors so that the projections would have been more visible. It was hard selecting spots that have individually controlled lighting where a single movement sensor only triggers one light not the whole row, also finding electricity outlets was difficult, and fitting the projector into the space. Next time would definitely consider using a different space, or try figure out how the lights could permanently be turned off on this particular floor.