Romance ain’t dead, 2Fik!
On the dating site Romanceala2fik.com, the multidisciplinary artist embodies 100 characters, all of whom burn with an ardent desire. The public is invited to interact with them. A game of love and chance, in the era of avatars.
After enchanting audiences with his zany and caustic reinterpretation of the legend of La Chasse-galerie in 2016, multidisciplinary artist 2Fik returns to the FTA. A wizard of transformation, he designs his own dating app and flamboyantly embodies a hundred different profiles, each with their own physical characteristics, ideas of love, expectations, and sexual criteria. Choose your own potential partner!
2Fik explores the vagaries of romance in the digital age. Though they are designed to make people feel less isolated, these apps instead tend to discard differences, refusing bodily diversity, and formatting human beings, leaving them as lonely as ever. The performer alternates between humour and cruelty, wavering between fantasy and reality, and becomes the master of a role-playing game that questions the dynamics of seduction at play in the age of dating apps. The performance lasts eight days, and for over seven hours daily, 2Fik simultaneously chats with several audience members and goes on to meet them. You can choose to be the seducer or the seduced, a participant or a mere witness. Love in the age of profile pics.
Produced by Toufik With a Two
Created and performed by 2Fik
Set Design Max-Otto Fauteux
Lighting Design Paul Chambers
Sound Design Jérôme Guilleaume
Characters’ movements Mélanie Demers
Executive Producer Natalie Dion
Production Manager Jeanne Gosselin
Technical Director Catherine Moisan
Video Design and Creative Programming Hugues Caillères (HUB Studio)
Creative Programming Assistant Raphael Baron
Digital application silverorange
Lead Developer Charles Waddell
Design Lead/Developer Jacky Gilbertson
Developers Cornelius Smith + Malena Andrade
App Development Design Nick Burka
Technical Advisor Mike Gauthier
Design Advisor Steven Garrity
Project Contact Isa Grant
Project Manager Clare Raspopow
Co-produced by Festival TransAmériques
Developed with the support of National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund (Ottawa)
The creation of this work was made possible with the support of all the donors of the Kickstarter campaign Romance À La 2Fik.
Presented in association with Place des Arts
Written by Diane Jean
Translated by Luba Markovskaia + Jeff Moore
Premiered at Festival TransAmériques, Montreal, on June 2, 2021
At once artistic director, stage director, and model for his own works, 2Fik creates fictional realms where his likeness is multiplied and transformed to provide the illusion of a diverse and varied community.
Presented over the past decade, his works examine issues of identity, also focusing on various beliefs, sexuality, and immigration.
As of his first photographic series, 2Fik or Not 2Fik, showcased in Montreal, Toronto, Regina, and New York, he was already exploring the notions of individuality and distinctiveness. In 2Fik’s Museum, presented at the Using C in 2015, among other venues, the artist reinterpreted famous classical paintings by staging them in a contemporary manner, infusing them with a new aura by desacralizing them. In his photographs, he examines the sociocultural context and customs conveyed in the works he pastiches.
As of 2013, he began reanimating emblematic paintings by great European masters and assigning them new meanings: at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, he provided the attending audience with an in-situ photographic creation experience by reanimating a work by the Croatian artist Vlaho Bukovac. In 2014, he returned with 2Fik Does Strongbow and Aoife; combining sexes, ethnicities, and couture, he revived nearly 80 characters from the painting by Daniel Maclise, Le mariage d’Aoife et Strongbow, to create his contemporary version, focusing on the sense of belonging to the Irish land, and on issues such as religion, abortion, and history.
Staged at the FTA in 2016, 2Fik court la chasse-galerie is in line with this artistic endeavour. As the performer transforms before the audience’s eyes, he reveals the construction and evolution of each of the characters of his living fresco. The monumental work, located at the Place des Festivals, cheerfully invites those attending to question their own identity.
To create Romance ain’t dead, 2Fik!, you spent a lot of time on various dating apps, which gave you access to thousands of profiles. What did you learn from this experience?
In real apps, I saw just about everything: racist insults, Islamophobia, threats—and I even got homophobic insults on a gay site! What is supposed to be a site of seduction and pleasure has become a place of violence and anxiety. This space of vulnerability in which you want to please, to seduce, to be told that you are beautiful, that you have charm, becomes a place in which people can say terrible things to you.
I wanted to play with this notion of vulnerability, but where you know from the start that it’s all wrong. We know in advance that we can play the bad guy or the good guy; we can also choose to be romantic, without fear of consequences, because we’re in a performance.
I’ve been working on this project for six years, but I’ve had a fascination with dating apps since 2011. The way in which they’re structured doesn’t allow for any humour, any creativity. And on top of that, they let people be racist, misogynistic, homophobic. What is it that leads us to give a free pass to this kind of behaviour? I’ve been thinking about peer pressure, about self-representation. You have to assume that you are a product, that you are both the prey and the hunter. Ideally, you have to be a prey for many people in order to be able to choose who you will give yourself to. And at the same time, if you don’t hunt, nobody comes to see you.
First, you created a hundred character profiles that we can chat with. This is a digital relationship between one person and another. After this intimate contact, what happens?
We chose to create an ambulatory, a space where you could walk around. The room is not a static place, but rather a place where people can move from one point to another as they wish, where the characters with their profiles are placed on the seats of the Cinquième Salle. While I answer messages, three screens show the exchanges in real time, the characters who are chatting and a list of the most attractive or most repulsive profiles.
We are in the realm of voyeurism, no longer in the digital world, but in the concrete, physical world: we walk around the room to observe what’s going on, to read the live discussions. A choreography develops on the spot. So what’s interesting is the physical performance aspect, because people who are in front of their apps are usually hunched over their phones, alone, for hours and don’t feel any time pressure. I want audiences to understand the “performative” aspect, the pressure that I will have to respond to everyone, to leave no viewer unanswered.
If you and I meet in the street, we chat, we find each other charming, we go for a drink together. We have the chance to see the non-verbal, the energy, the potential pheromones… we know if something works or not. In an application, you create a profile; my profile plays at seducing your profile. Two avatars seducing each other.
In fact, it’s an immersive show, immersing the audience in the experience of virtual dating, the stress of dating apps. I think it’s a great idea to have a guy with a phone running around the room for eight hours a day for several days.
The limits of human beings are at the heart of the performance. I might get out of breath, I might get fed up, I might fall down the stairs, but it’s this idea that I love of being so physical in something so digital. I want the audience to realise how stressful it all is. It’s not a physical immersion, but an emotional one. I want to take the audience and put them in a bath of unease, of excitation, I want them to have butterflies in their stomachs, to be aware that something is going on, to be immersed in the most intimate emotions that one can experience when it comes to seduction.
As in 2Fik court la chasse-galerie (FTA 2016), you choose to introduce the characters, but you also show the audience the artist who is constructing them. Is this a process that is close to your heart?
There is digital art, visual art, performance art, but also the notion of theatre, of creating characters. Each of my characters is there for a specific reason. Each one will come to life in front of the audience. The “voyeurium,” the set of three rooms in which the encounters between a spectator and one of the 100 characters ultimately take place, will be used throughout the event, to eat, to rest.
I am not always performing, I can also be vulnerable. And the audience has as much access to the characters I invented as to me, 2Fik. They can walk around, stop, observe as they please. The de-sacralization of the creative process is very important to me. You can look at the action from different angles, make your own story, with the different profiles and discussions. However, there will be constant access to the artist who faces all his avatars, the monster he has created. I find the notion of vulnerability in performance quite magical.
It’s the same for the continuous performance that’s always required in dating apps. It’s interesting to copy this concept and apply it to the real world, with all the diversity of the human race. I am fundamentally in love with people as they really are. The fact that we are all different, that we have different skin colours, accents, voices, experiences, makes us all the more beautiful.