When you see a look filled with love, you know it. But how? And what would it look like as a physical, concrete object? Those were the questions that Chicago-based designers Helen Maria Nugent and Ron Kirkpatrick sought to answer with Manifesting the Look of Love, currently on display at the Istanbul Design Biennial.
At first glance, the exhibit looks simply like a collection of graceful, curvilinear sculptures – even bowls. But each object's dimensions come from the data of a lover's gaze.
"I wondered, what's something that's really intangible, and yet everyone knows it? It's the look of love," Nugent said. "And I wondered what that might look like."
For the project, Nugent and Kirkpatrick – themselves romantic partners for 20 years – tweaked eye-scanning software, which had been created for a scientific-lab-like (and wholly unromantic) setting.
Their 14 couples, who had been together for anywhere from one to 34 years, sat in a room and looked at each other through a Plexiglas screen. (Nugent and Kirkpatrick were the first to go.) Hundreds of thousands of data points were collected, including where each couple’s eyes scanned, where they focused and for how long. Each gaze was given a 3-D topography.
For five of the couples, the two shapes were then joined into one physical object using symbolic material, such as paper for a first anniversary.
But for other couples, the gazing didn’t translate into a typical object.
“I thought I’d find some very specific thing that happens when people are in love for longer. That’s not really how it works. People look in very idiosyncratic ways,” Nugent said. Most people scanned their lover’s faces continually, which led to basket-shaped objects. A few, though, “bored a hole in their lovers’ face and focused on their eyes,” she said, laughing, making a gaze shape that was more like a spike – part of the reason why the 25th-anniversary couple, for example, wound up with two separate objects that fit together.
The pair plan to expand the project and will put out a public call for pairs in Chicago soon. They envision it as a future service where, on a couple’s anniversary or as a wedding gift, they could receive a sculpture that memorialized a “moment of looking,” Nugent said. In the meantime, interested couples can always e-mail Nugent and Kirkpatrick at their firm’s site, haelodesign.com.