This article was originally published on February 10, 2017, but we think it still rocks!
Timothy Leary certainly had a vivid imagination, but even he might not have imagined that his ideas would one day be used as the conceptual framework for an exhibition created from a clickbait-style quiz. The Shape of Things, a project by interdisciplinary artists Kayla Mattes and Justin Seibert, consists of a website with a 24-question quiz that generates unique shapes based on participants' answers. Each of these shapes can be printed out and folded into small sculptures, which the artists will print, fold, and display in an exhibition at Front/Space in Kansas City, Missouri.
So, how does the idea for such an idiosyncratic exhibition come about, and what does Timothy Leary have to do with it? "The idea was to be able to frame the space as a sort of ecosystem of individual pieces," Mattes and Seibert tell The Creators Project. They wanted to find a way to entice participants to supply data that could be used to create individual pieces. "In order to keep the data lively, we decided to draw inspiration from things we know to be fun and addictive like Buzzfeed personality quizzes and horoscopes readings. We became particularly interested in the Interpersonal Circumplex, which is a system designed by Timothy Leary in 1950 that visualizes a personality by organizing traits along several concentric axes. We used this as a basic framework for our own pseudoscientific personality scale that drives the results of our online quiz and data collection platform."
With questions like, "which outfit would you wear?" hovering over a selection of exotic beetles, their quiz might seem a little extraneous, but Mattes and Seibert say the project is intended to question the way that we define meaning in a world saturated with information. "The data is precise and tied to real values, but like more than a few political polls, probably not very reliable or even accurate. We have to consider that it may all just be a reflection of ourselves. The predominance of introversion might be the result of our own personalities leaking into the quiz. Or perhaps it's that of reaching a fairly like-minded audience of friends and family and fellow artists who heard about the project."
Both Mattes and Seibert's individual practices informed the origins of The Shape of Things. Mattes works across multiple mediums, including weaving, which can be seen reflected in the similarities between the shapes generated by the quiz and a woven garment pattern. Seibert is a programmer whose work makes comparisons between natural and simulated environments, which is illustrated by the project's manifestation of data as a sculptural installation. "Hopefully, the exhibition will be able to open up a deeper conversation about what the shapes mean, beyond the calculating logic of our algorithm," says the duo.
Although Mattes and Seibert worked on The Shape of Things throughout the past year, they say recent events related to the U.S. presidential election played a critical role in the final stages of the project's evolution. "We feel our foundation of self-indulgent internet distractions pairs well with the current crisis of fake news and post-factual bubbles. In the end, each person is just one of several colorful, wonky shapes. It's all pretty abstract but we hope that engagement with the project instills a sense of mindfulness and understanding about one another." As the duo points out, participants are not only helping to create work for the exhibition, they also get the opportunity to print out and make a sculpture of their own. "It's a digital project that results in something tangible and personal. We hope participants will gain a better understanding of themselves through personal contemplation."
The Shape of Things is on display at Front/Space in Kansas City, Missouri, through the end of the month. You can see more of Kayla Mattes' work on her website and Justin Seibert's work on his website. And visit circumplex.us to determine the shape you're in!