A version of this article originally appeared on The Creators Project Netherlands.
“You’re a 30 year old Female with the facial expression of sadness," I read through my smiling, decidedly male face. Rijks Emotions confronts me with that statement alongside the above picture of Pieter van Anraedt's Portrait of a Woman, a work of art hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Based off of my webcam-enabled image, the website thinks it's found my emotional doppelgänger in the titular character of a Dutch Golden Age painting. The only problem is, speaking as a 30-year-old female noble, I've never felt so happy.
That's because Rijks Emotions's website, by Thomas Bouillot, Rikke Hindborg Kristensen, Amir Ismail, and Sandra Valencia, four Swedish students of the Hyper Island school, was designed to reignite excitement in museums by matching my image up with someone from the past. "Our starting point was that young people’s opinions on museums as being old, boring, and irrelevant is because they don’t realize the societal impact painting had in the centuries before the camera was invented," Rikke Hindborg Kristensen told The Creators Project via email. "Hopefully, Rijks Emotions will evoke the desire in younger people to actually go and see how life was depicted before Instagram."
"Our goal was to somehow create a link between the past and present through something emotional; to show that these old paintings, that depict everything from kings and everyday life to meals and animals, fulfilled exactly the same needs as the millions of pictures that we take everyday." Kristensen also hopes that it motivates young people to up and actually go find their doppelgängers in the paintings.
The website works by using Sightcorp's open facial recognition API, in connection with that of the Rijksmuseum. It still has its kinks, often estimating your age too old, or assigning you the wrong gender. But the paintings really do change when you look differently, so long as you make sure your emotions are clear—and that's quite a feat, considering that the website was put together in only three weeks. "The project was made as an assignment for Hyper island to create a product, service or campaign that combines at least two different API’s. [...] We set up a website and a database to create a prototype. It's as simple as that. This is not an official campaign."
"The prototype is not perfect," Kristensen admits about it getting my age and gender way wrong. "The face recognition algorithm can only track your gender (male, female), age, mood (positive, negative), and expression (happy, sad, neutral, disgust, anger, fear, surprise). Because of our limited programming skills, we chose to only work with those three variables, which make up a total of 70 different combinations, each with its own corresponding painting."
Now, our appeal is simple:
Dear Rijksmuseum, please contact these Swedes and make Rijks Emotions an experience that can be hung in the museum, or even at the bus stop at the Museumplein here in Amsterdam. Already, I see whole groups of drunk people in front of me, all trying to evoke Judith Leyster's Merry Drinker. Or, if you're like me and have less happiness, a very sad woman of 30.
Browse some of our emotional look-a-likes here, and find your own doppelganger on Rijks Emotions (designed for use in Chrome or Firefox).