E.E.G. Kiss, quantifying the unquantifiable


“And what is a kiss, specifically?” asks Edmond Rostand in his “Cyrano de Bergerac,” adventuring into a series of world-famous poetic definitions, and, in a way, also proving the impossibility of forging any adequate ones. One of the most mysterious and powerful human acts has until recently escaped attempts to be scientifically quantified. Entering this untouched field “E.E.G. Kiss” by Karen Lancel and Hermen Maat is a project that investigates “how a kiss can be translated into data”, asking whether it is possible to “measure a kiss and what kissers feel together.” It’s of course a very open and complex, if not provocative, question. Would any amount of collected data be sufficient to ‘measure’ it? The artists are using E.E.G. (electroencephalogram) headsets in performances and experiments to carefully measure brainwave activity during kissing. But this is only category of data: what about breathing, oxygenation, the temporary composition of blood, endorphins, oxytocin level, skin sensitivity, as well as factors we may not currently appreciate as relevant? One goal of this project is to develop is a “digital kiss ritual” – a shared ‘protocol’ that would enable people to ‘kiss’ remotely, in one way or another. The dream of eliminating spatial distances, especially between lovers, is a powerful narrative and the gesture of trying to quantify what is likely to be unquantifiable (or at least what is very difficult to be distilled into a limited series of parameters) is a conceptual challenge that adds another piece to an already complex puzzle. The irresistible attraction that we learn (or not) to manage at a distance is still the primary force that compensates for the dramatic absence of touch, and what we invent in between is meant to reinforce our intimate narrative of proximity, which we never want to give up.