Public Grindr Art Display Forced to Close
The line between performance art and exploitation has always been a rather dubious one, and Dutch artist Dries Verhoeven has found the consequences of pushing this boundary. His public installation piece titled ‘Wanna Play?’ that incorporated an interactive use of gay hookup app Grindr has been forced to shut down after a nonstop barrage of public outrage over the ethical responsibilities of such a work, or the seeming lack thereof.
Held in the heart of Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood, the art piece saw Verhoeven outfitted in a high tech trailer right out of a spy thriller. The trailer was made of glass, allowing the public on the bustling German streets to look inside and see Verhoeven’s projections of his Grindr chats on the walls as well as any visitors that he managed to attract spend time with him. Verhoeven had no intention of inciting sexual acts in this public setting, but according to his website wanted to engage in every day activities, saying “I will play chess with them, have breakfast, make pancakes, trim nails, we’ll shave one another or read to one another form our favorite books.”
Despite taking measures such as blurring the faces of any Grindr profile he chatted with, his piece was met with harsh backlash due to the extreme lack of privacy. Anyone who chatted with Verhoeven was unaware that their private conversations on the app were being broadcast in a public space, an experience that was referred to as ‘digital rape’ by unwitting participator Parker Tilghman. In a damning Facebook post that went viral, Tilghman highlights the sickening feeling of seeing his interactions he thought to be private broadcast to the world, as well as pinpointing the dangers of this project for Grindr users. Grindr is a haven for clandestine interactions, as many men who use it may not be ‘out’ or an active and/or willing member of the gay community.
After a condemnation from Grindr itself, who released a statement to Dazed saying Verhoeven’s piece “is an invasion of privacy and a potential safety issue,” the artist has shut down the installation only 5 days into his planned 15 day exhibition. With this project, Verhoven had hoped to demonstrate whether or not the superficiality of gay hookup apps had become so normalized that it had eliminated the possibility of fostering meaningful connection. Whether or not he was able to achieve those ends will remain a mystery tainted by the questionable morality of the piece. Does the shutdown signify a censorship of art or the preservation of basic human rights to privacy?