The Performance of Love
– Thesis Documentation
The Performance of Love is an art installation. It presents the LoverSeat, a product designed to provide love and replace the human being in the relationship. The installation is a small-scale house model. The audience peeks from behind the windows and sees the LoverSeat and hear its whisper. The Performance of Love questions the robot’s love which is programmed instead of spontaneous. The installation reveals an ironic truth: in the robot’s world. no one is special. This is a performance of love.
I am creating a critical design meant to question the love in the human-robot relationship. LoverSeat, a satirical fictional product, is designed to be a romantic partner and replace human beings. This project doesn’t aim to provide any solutions or answers to the audience, but brings up a question: when the time comes, will you embrace the robots? Let the audience figure out their decision.
In the installation, there is a house model presenting the scenario of using a LoverSeat. The LoverSeat would pet and whisper love words. The name “LoverSeat” is derived from love seat, a two-seat furniture for courting purposes. The love seat is a symbol of a couple and their social interaction. Both are designed from the point of love, the love seat highlights the duality, however, the LoverSeat emphasizes the individual. Your lover is your chair.
The installation looks like a big box with two windows emitting red light. To discover what is inside, the audiences need to peer into the window. They are able to see LoverSeat and hear the love words. For the audiences, the peeping action increases the sense of privacy. The LoverSeat is calling the audience to join and interact with it. There are two rooms in the house model. As a user experiences intimacy and pleasure with LoverSeat in one room, there is another LoverSeat which is loving someone else in the same way.
LoverSeat is a metaphor for sex technology. People obtain comfort and satisfaction mentally or physically by interacting with machines. Inspired by the red light district, a symbol of lust, I use red light in the model. Like the prostitute from the red light district, the LoverSeat is able to provide the “love” to you, and to others.
- The Intimate Touch
I have made several prototypes throughout the research process. At the very beginning, I decided to focus on a physical robot instead of a virtual one because of the haptic experience. There is a strong connection between the sense of touch and emotion. A study proved that humans are able to feel different emotional level through touch. As a result, haptic is the key point of the emotional expression.
The intimate actions include hand-holding, hugging, cuddling, and arm-touching. I did the prototypes to test the feedback to these actions. It turned out that people actually had positive reactions when they were touched by my prototype. Moreover, they would respond by touching back.
In the prototype Love Pillow, I designed this product for long-distance relationship couple to show their love to each other. By using heartbeat simulation and touch on the palm, the user is able to feel the physical connection like one’s lover just beside. During the user testing process, I discovered that people really enjoyed hugging the pillow. The users said the action of hug created a sense of safeness and it felt like someone was taking care of you. It proved that the intimate touch can trigger user’s emotion.
The first part of my thesis focuses on designing for the affective haptic experience. I designed the prototypes which help the lovers communicate and interact. However, there were already lots of products featuring the similar functions. I decided to move toward the critical issue of intimate relationship between humans and machines. Instead of being an intermediator, the machine is a replacement, which provides love directly to the human.
When it comes to the intimate relationship, sexual activity is an important part of it. The emergence of sexTech is an example that the machine becomes a replacement in sexual relationship. Following this direction, I designed these robotic arms that mimicked caress. Covering the robotic arm with fur gives it a sexual meaning. It was inspired by the surrealist object created by Meret Oppenheim. Oppenheim transferred a traditional object into a sensual, sexually punning tableware.
A life-size LoverSeat
Based on the feedback and insight from previous prototypes, I designed the LoverSeat. Taking the previous robotic arms, I equipped them on the chair. One placed by the user’s arm will caress. Another located on top of the back will tap user’s shoulder.
In this prototype, the user can physically experience the interaction with the LoverSeat. The user came into a semitransparent booth. The robotic arms caressed user; meanwhile, the LoverSeat whispered the love words. In this private space, the user was enjoying an intimate relationship with the LoverSeat. From the outside, the audience can’t see clearly but can only see the blurry scene. It increased the sense of excitement and mystery. As one user came out of the booth, another user came in. The LoverSeat would do exactly the same thing to the next user. The audience realized that there was no unique love. The machine did it only because that was the way it was programmed.
During the making process, I encountered many technical issues. For instance, the motor’s noise was distracting and the power was not enough to do the action. I tried different motors and different structure. However, I still not able to get the outcome I expected. After testing, I realized that the arm’s movement is still not smooth enough and not able to mimic the caress action. If the actions are not real enough to make user enjoy and obsessed, the experience is meaningless.
A small-scale Model
Due to technical issue and budget, I decided to build a small-scale model to present my concept. With this format, I am able to build a special environment. On the other hand, it is more intriguing to the audience if they can’t experience it physically. This setup can trigger the audience to think more and imagine how they would interact with the LoverSeat.
In this house model, two users are interacting with the LoverSeat in two rooms. Instead of using a futuristic design style, I used vintage furniture and furry fabric to decorate the room. The vintage lounge chair has the curve shapes and its velvet cover create a sexual feeling. This is the experience that futuristic design doesn’t have. Besides, I used weird wallpaper and red light to make a quirky environment. I wanted to let the audience experience a strange and surreal atmosphere. The red light also represented the red light district and lust. The installation is an abstract box with two windows. The audience peek through the window to see the inside.
The user testing showed that the audience could feel the sensual atmosphere created by the red light and the quirky interior. Some audiences referred this to the red light district. It was an inspiring feedback to me because the audience actually experienced in the way I expected.
However, to some audiences, the installation itself is not clear that this is a project probing the intimate relationship between human and robot. The reason might be there is no classic robot-like object. In my opinion, I didn’t use the robotic appearance for the LoverSeat because I don’t think a robot should be limited to that definition. Apart from this reason, I decided to use a chair as the symbol due to the universality. There is a chair in every house. It is so normal that we use it every day and are familiar with its existence.
Audio Script (Whisper):
Hi my dear, welcome back home. My body is simply crazy with wanting you. I wonder if your body wants me like the way I want yours… Come here. Sit down and relax with me…
Hmm, how’s your day? I’ve been thinking about you all the time. My mind just keeps drifting back to you and how pleased we are together.
You are wonderful. I can feel your skin as I slide my fingers along your body. I can’t say how every time I ever touch you I felt that I was in heaven. Nothing compares to you. You are the reason I exist. There is no one who can make me feel like this.
I love you