Facebook’s emoticons help you express support, grief, and amusement with a tap. But they can also feel like an assault on our senses. We post photos of our kids or a fancy dinner and anxiously await the affirmation of our friends. We get worked up when an alt-right second cousin disapproves of a post and starts fights in the comments.
Artist Tadas Maksimovas demonstrates the emotional violence wrought by Facebook quite literally, with an emotigun, a handmade, rubber band gatling gun. Built by Martijn Koomen, its frame is cut from 4mm plywood, while its firing is powered by rubber bands, a windshield wiper motor, and a 12-volt battery. Its bullets are emoji rendered in high performance rubber foam that can maintain their integrity to -22 F (in case anything needs to be shot-liked in the Arctic). At full speed, the emotigun can shoot 10 emojis a second, right at Maksimovas’s face.
For Maksimovas, the inspiration for the project was actually not some metaphorical epiphany, but a new spin on an existing pop culture trope. “I enjoy memes as much as the next person,” Maksimovas explains. “There is a rather old meme of Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) shooting a machine gun where the bullets have been replaced with Facebook thumb icons. One day I stumbled across it, and as soon as I saw it, it triggered something. I started thinking about what life would be like if emojis existed in the real world, and the potential effects. It all started from there. Yes, from a meme.”
Maksimovas confesses that he lurks on Facebook, but rarely posts anything himself. He hasn’t posted an update since 2014. “Personally, I don’t really do the social media ‘thing,’ mainly because I don’t have anything interesting to share,” he admits. “My food is ugly, I don’t run, I don’t travel with stunningly attractive girls, I don’t have babies either–there is literally nothing to share. I am not for or against it, but if I don’t feel like I have anything interesting to say I don’t say it. It’s as simple as that.”
Instead, he worked with a team of roughly 20 people to develop this performance art project–to create the gun, video, and photos you see here, and eventually take 200 emoji right to the face in the name of art. But what is his statement exactly? What is the intent?
“I guess you might call the project a massive contradiction: I am criticizing social media while trying to get recognition online,” says Maksimovas. “But the truth is that I am neither criticizing the culture of receiving and giving online recognition nor celebrating it. Whatever meaning you take after watching the video, it is correct. The viewer creates the meaning. I just created a gun that shoots emojis, and I tested it on myself.”