Tinder: I've used it, you've probably used it, your friends have also used it. Whether for dating, hooking up, or even just finding friends in a new city, it's an app we all know - be it a love or hate relationship. For South Korean-born, Berlin-based artist Ji-yeon Kim, Tinder is not only a place to meet people but also an endless source of inspiration. "When I first moved to Berlin, I didn't have any contacts, acquaintances, or friends," she says. "I wanted to meet people with dating apps." The various faces Kim saw when swiping right fascinated her, and she soon began painting them from their photos on the app. In an exhibition at Ex Berlin ending today, (City of Singles - Portraits of Tinder) she shows exactly 50 acrylic portraits of anonymous individuals. Though she employed her personal abstracted style and changed the subjects' names and ages, each face remains distinctly recognizable, perhaps even enhanced by the paintings' stark white backgrounds.
"I chose people not because of a typical beauty but because of a special character," the artist continues. "For this exhibit, I wanted to show the people's loneliness and identity crises."
As a whole, Kim says her artistic practice is driven by a passion to explore how she can portray humans in a contemporary manner. She investigates digital self-representation, questioning how the photos we post on platforms like Tinder, Instagram, and Facebook might reveal subconscious motivations, desires or dreams. Before tonight's closing party, we asked Kim about her Tinder Project, which will include 100 paintings when finished, as well as her artistic background.
When did you first become interested in art? What do you find so interesting about the human figure?
Art has always been a part of my life and I can't remember exactly when I first became interested in it. Since I was a small child I have always painted and drawn portraits. At some point I began to question how I could present new interpretations of people through portraiture, rather than painting them exactly how they appear. I'm fascinated by the question of how I, as an artist in the 21st century, can portray people. I've always had favorite artists, but they've changed with time. Right now I really enjoy work by Luc Tuymans and Gerhard Richter.
Where in Korea did you grow up? And why did you move to Berlin?
I was born and raised in Incheon, South Korea and studied fine arts at Seoul National University. I didn't sell any work for three years, so I decided to move to a new country where I could continue developing my practice and learn new things. I originally came to Berlin because I was offered a job, but the city gave me new inspiration; I started painting more, so I quit the job to pursue painting.
I know you used Tinder when you were new in Berlin. At what point did you think, "I want to paint these people"? Why Tinder and not another dating app, like OkCupid or Bumble?
I'm particularly interested in people, so when I see an interesting face, I need to paint it. With Tinder, I could choose my models according to my aesthetic tastes and that was extremely practical. On Tinder, a user sees each person individually-not many people at once-so despite there being a lack of commitment and having the ability to quickly swipe left or right, it was easier to concentrate on individuals.
At some point my friends asked me if I could do this in terms of personal privacy rights and I honestly wasn't sure how far I could go as an artist. With "Portraits of Tinder" I don't want to anger or annoy the users who became my models, but rather start conversations that deal with how we all think about and use Tinder.
With my work I question humanity and the perception of others. In the digital world we often forget that we are dealing with real people and I wanted to draw attention to this fact through singular people. The whole project is, of course, relativized by the fact that multiple people-in this case images of people-come together at once, much like in the digital world. When the images are static, the viewer is more likely to realize how strong a particular image is within the masses.
Why did you change the names and ages of the people you painted?
With new names and ages, the paintings can distance themselves from the original photos and models. The portraits are also symbols. I didn't change the names and ages because of privacy protection.
What did you learn from this project? Was anything unexpected or shocking?
I learned that Berliners are ready to criticize art. Nothing shocking has happened, but a few funny things. For example, a few visitors recognized some of the people I painted-"Ah! I went on a few dates with her!" "I would never show myself like that on Tinder!" Many people have also started to discuss the meaning of Tinder in the middle of the room and whether the exhibition is totally stupid or an eye-opener. A few people who were visiting the exhibition also exchanged numbers. It's exactly what the title promises: a small "City of Singles."
This interview was originally conducted in German and translated by the author.
Come to the closing party of the show in Berlin tonight.
Text Emily McDermott
All artwork courtesy the artist