We have one of those friends, and we bet you do, too. That person who can't finish an e-mail message without some sort of smiling, winking, tongue-sticking-out face using a combination of punctuation marks and numbers. Then there's the worst of all: the heart, the sideways one using a "less than" mark and a number three. All of these are then topped off with at least three exclamation points. We don't know what they put in their coffee, but it must be some top-shelf stuff.
There are Internet communication theorists (yes, those really exist, and no, we don't drink coffee) who say that emoticons--short for "emotion icons"--are a necessity. E-mail robs us of human subtleties such as intonation and body language that could convey sarcasm or concern, and we need a way to transmit these without the sound or sight of the communicator. Dallas artist Jennifer Pepper probably agrees.
In her new exhibit of recent works at Fort Worth's Gallery 414, Pepper explores through drawings, paintings, mixed media works and site-specific installations how hardware and sterile technology have changed the ways humans communicate emotions. Two of the installations employ emoticons. One is a line of reading glasses of differing strengths that have the character codes etched on the lenses, reflecting onto the wall beneath. The other is a giant vinyl balloon printed with lines of "colon close parenthesis" smiley faces (or is it really "colon open parenthesis" frowny faces?). Other works include "Heart and Home," in which a "home" button from a keyboard is centered on a glass etching of a heart, and the series called "Touch Type Forensics," in which fingerprints are printed in oil paint to show how users leave traces of their DNA on their machines. A soundtrack of typed e-mail conversations is piped into the gallery. Meet Pepper at the opening reception, but leave the keyboard at home. It probably needs a night off.