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.
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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.