Type. Swipe. Search. Upload. Download. Post. Stream. These are the new verbs of desire. Our most intimate thoughts, fantasies, and urges are now transmitted via electronic devices to rapt audiences all over the world. These transmissions—from sexts to webcam masturbation feeds—are anonymous yet personal, individual yet collective, everywhere and nowhere, and they are contributing to the largest sexual record to date. In short, desire has gone viral. But what does this mean? And what does it reveal about us? This exhibition explores these very questions through a lens of digital experience by examining what we are searching for, how we do it and what we leave behind on these electronic devices. In piecing this together, we begin to expose staggering truths about who we are and how we interact in this ever-changing world of modern sexuality.
“As human behavior becomes more clickable than physical, we can’t help but wonder what this means for our most basic, biological impulse: sex.” says Mark Snyder, Director of Exhibitions and Co-Curator of Universe of Desire. The exhibition explores this very question by examining what we actually search for on the internet and what we leave behind.
Neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, authors of the best-selling book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, provide much of the inspiration for Universe of Desire. Ogas and Gaddam gathered and coded 400 million internet searches, 55 million of which (or roughly 13 percent) proved to be searches for some kind of erotic content. The findings mined from analyzing the internet habits of tens of millions of people worldwide will be on display in Universe of Desire.
These anonymous searches bring to question our identity by revealing both the expected “kinks” and “squicks” (squirm-inducing kinks), as well as the broad categories of shared desire that account for 80 percent of internet searches, including “cheating partners”, “youth”, “mature” and various genitalia. Confronted with this research we begin to see just how similar and different we all are as humans.
Supporting this content is a variety of media that amplifies and humanizes the scientific findings of A Billion Wicked Thoughts. Showcasing artifacts from Science, Culture, Art and Technology, Universe of Desire explores the virtual cataloging of our sexual wants, infatuations and yearnings by walking patrons through the kind of sex we, as humans, look up on the internet.
Photographer Natacha Merritt, author of Digital Diaries, has documented herself digitally for the last 14 years. As one of the first photographers to capture erotic imagery in a digital medium, a selection of this pioneering artist’s work is exhibited for the first time in its chronology, offering a visual timeline as example of photographic evolution, serving both as record and expression of our sexual desires through the last decade.
Further exploring the relationship between digital imagery and sexual fantasy, visitors to Universe of Desire are invited to engage with a series of video and interactive experiences. Highlights include a digital mirror created by Kevin Bleich and Gabriela Gutiérrez which literally deconstructs patrons into pixels, and projects avatars of their “digital selves” onto the walls of the gallery, while an interactive video collage from Johnny Woods lures visitors into a virtual romp of sexual artifacts designed to stimulate, provoke and delight audiences.
Additional artwork and artifacts from Science, Culture, Art and Technology include selections from The Sex Diaries Project: What We’re Saying About What We’re Doing by Arianne Cohen, a larger-than-life Facebook conversation between Rep. Anthony Weiner and Blackjack Dealer Lisa Weiss, and a giant patchwork quilt of facial expressions by Laura McMillian + Kristin Reger, ripped from beautifulagony.com, a user-generated site that invites contributors to upload images of their faces in the midst of orgasm.
Director of Exhibitions, Curator
Ogi Ogas, Ph.D.
Sai Gaddam, Ph.D.
Arianne Cohen and The Sex Diaries Project
Kevin Bleich and Gabriela Gutierrez
Laura McMillian and Kristin Reger
Ogi Ogas, Ph.D. and Sai Gaddam, Ph.D.