Beginning his talk, Dating Apps: The Art of Self-Curating and Performance, 2Fik changed the slide to a map of the world, with three points marking Paris, Morocco, and Quebec. The writing on the slide drew laughs from the audience, as it had at 2Fik’s talk the week before at the Northfield Public Library; the description accompanying each point (“Where I live now,” for Quebec) was qualified with a reflection of how others interpret 2Fik (“Where people know I’m not from”). While 2Fik presented it in a light-hearted way, grinning as he pointed to each dot in turn, the map reflected the inherently personal yet universal themes that have tied 2Fik’s three-week residency together—the concepts of the multiplicity of identity; identities that span geographic, cultural, and gendered borders; and the tensions between internal identities and external images. This past October, 2Fik spent three weeks as an artist-in-residence at Carleton, holding public performances, curating an exhibit in the Perlman Teaching Museum, and holding open office hours for students. His visit was collaboratively funded by the Broom Fellow for Public Scholarship, Public Works, and the CCCE.
2Fik’s central project is to construct 15 unique characters, each with its own individual biography, all played by 2Fik. Each character, according to 2Fik, is used to amplify a particular characteristic or theme that he’s interested in discussing or exploring, such as religion, privilege, or sexuality. In this sense, it’s clear that 2Fik’s work comes from a deeply personal existential question, but he didn’t dwell too much on this introspective aspect in his talks. Instead, what came out in each of 2Fik’s public appearances was his acute curiosity in his viewers.
In many ways, 2Fik’s work comes across as just as much a personal challenge as an existential question of identity. In Dating Apps, 2Fik grew increasingly animated as he described the growing logistics of his newest project, in which he plans to create 100 unique profiles on a fake dating app, and then allow audience members to virtually interact with them. In his current vision, the profiles would be physically visible in a large exhibition, and attendees could roam around and chat with any character while 2Fik, live and on-site, responds as each character. Every so often, one visitor will go on a “date” with a character. Upon hearing the extent of the project, several audience members in the talk pushed him on the logistics—Aren’t there too many details to this project? Won’t he go crazy?
“Yes. I love it!” he responded to each query, at one point ducking behind the speaker’s podium in mock apprehension.
Due to the nature of 2Fik’s artistic medium, many of the questions at his public talks focused on these logistics. When another audience member asked him why he takes such care to coordinate his photographic sessions to his beard growth, rather than wearing fake facial hair, he noted that since so much else about each character is changing, he refuses to photoshop or add prosthetics to his physical body; if he wants a character to look fit, he explains, he needs to work out. Similarly, in describing his artistic process at the Northfield Public Library, he notes that he may hear a conversation or see an interaction on the bus, but it would be “lazy” to just recreate that; instead, he pushes himself to create new characters, new identities, and new relationships. Indeed, he seems to revel in these challenges, excitedly showing his multi-year facial hair schedule for his Dating App project.
However, it’s important not to mistake this for a purely introspective, self-interested focus. It seems that 2Fik is just as curious about his viewers as they are about him. Throughout 2Fik’s presentations and workshops, it was clear that he is continuously awed at people’s interactions to and with his work. As he showed videos from his project, My Name is Ludmilla-Mary, in which he dressed in his character Ludmilla-Mary’s characteristic gown and heels, and walked around college campuses, including Carleton, he excitedly wondered aloud at viewer’s reactions, joking about particular expressions or body language. In Dating Apps, explaining this new project, 2Fik spent just as much time on its theoretical statement—the inherent falsity of self-representations—as he did on his own questions: What will people say to him through the chat? How will people represent themselves in the app? Who will they choose to speak with? 2Fik’s curiosity about his audience was perhaps most clear in his final event, High He High Heels, in which he taught local men how to military march in high heels, and then led them in a three-part performance which traveled from the Northfield Arts Guild on to the Northfield Public Library, and finally, to the Weitz Center for Creativity on campus. In between coordinating lines and calling out to pace the march, 2Fik would grin and shout, “Aren’t they incredible?” apparently in awe of his own performers.
2Fik’s work is publicly-oriented in that it seeks to explore how the public interacts with it; in presenting 2Fik’s characters and identities, his work interrogates those of the viewer. Throughout his talks and appearances, 2Fik again and again brought up this concept of accessibility, and how certain choices within his work have been motivated by it. When asked about the motivation behind his use of photography to explore these themes, for example, he easily explained that images speak to everyone, unlike text. Even his choice of a central artistic theme of identity seems to have been motivated in some sense by this drive for his work to be accessible to all, as he repeatedly stated that identities are universal; everyone thinks about, experiences, and struggles with their own.
At the end of 2Fik’s talk in the Northfield Public Library, in which he had detailed his process of character construction, and delved into each character’s biography, an audience member asked the question that had been floating in the air: Who is 2Fik? On 2Fik’s website, he describes “2Fik” as a “blank canvas that does its best to portray characters” and “exists only through the characters described here.” However, in this small space, he seemed to let his guard down a little, hesitating before stating that 2Fik was just a man who worked on his identity and his confidence, as we all do. Nothing more.