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BERLIN — Few social media performance artworks have been as polarizing as “Wanna Play? (Love in the Time of Grindr)” by Dutch artist Dries Verhoeven. After hundreds of public complaints, and numerous articles, host venue Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) has ended the engagement prematurely.
On Sunday, October 5, only five days after the project began, HAU announced via Facebook that it would not continue for its proposed 15 day duration, on the grounds that, “The project had led to numerous complaints from the public.” (From their website: “Die Aktion hatte in der Öffentlichkeit vielfache Beschwerden zur Folge gehabt.”)
The ethics, morality, and even legality of the project — in which the artist lures users from the popular sex-dating app Grindr to the installation site, with the contents of those conversations projected in public — have been called into question. The Huffington Post published this response from Grindr itself: “While Grindr supports the arts, what Dries Verhoeven is doing by luring Grindr users under false pretenses is entrapment. This is an invasion of user privacy and a potential safety issue.”
Last night, HAU hosted a public conversation to address the ongoing criticism of the project with Verhoeven, sexologist and author Martin Dannecker, and HAU director Annemie Vanackere. But the early conclusion of the project did little to assuage the concerns of the gay community in Berlin.
“I cannot sit idle and let one individual in a position of power, funded by an arts organization, and the Dutch government, control the autonomy and dignity of another individual,” Parker Tilghman, one of the first participants in Verhoeven’s project and one of its most vocal detractors, read from a prepared statement. “Our unwilling participation in the project is not being reimbursed,” he added.
The results of the discussion at HAU are as yet inconclusive, the reaction to the cancellation split: some regard it as a triumph for the gay community in Berlin, and around the world, that their outcry successfully altered the project’s course; others see the project’s cancellation as an act of censorship.
A German blog offers: “What Verhoeven shows us is how delicate and fragile the illusion of privacy on the Internet actually is.” (“Was Verhoeven uns zeigt, ist wie delikat und zerbrechlich die Illusion von Privatsphäre im Internet eigentlich ist.”)
For its own part, Grindr confirmed in a statement to other media that Verhoeven’s profile has been banned from the service.
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