Ryan Scavnicky

In November of 2015 the Oxford English Dictionary released the word of the year. It was 😂, otherwise known as “Face With Tears of Joy” or Unicode U+1F602. The word itself is an emoji - a graphic icon meant to express an emotion in electronic conversation. When we examine what that means for communication as a whole, we first must consider a common misconception that all speech is 7% verbal and 93% nonverbal. This is due to a famous study conducted by Professor Albert Mehrabian at UCLA in 1967, which only proved that tonality and body language may help distinguish meaning when communication is inconsistent or contradictory. In other words, nonverbal communication is most useful when we must understand the intent behind what is being said. This takes a stronger effect in completely nonverbal environments like the internet. For example, Poe’s Law is a phenomenon created entirely by and of the internet which states that it is impossible to parody an extreme view without an obvious sign of sarcasm. This nonverbal sign is most often shown through emoji. For example, if I write that I am “totally thrilled,” it would certainly read differently if followed by 😄 or 😑. This increased era of digital communication has, in opposition to many naysayers, brought with it an increased focus on the written word. As anyone will tell you who uses Instagram, the intent of the post itself is not always in the image itself but in the caption. These captions are increasingly augmented by emoji.

It is 2018 and I am constantly reassessing a brilliant statement from Susan Sontag in Against Interpretation which states plainly and decisively that “the mask is the face.” While certainly not written regarding digital communication, I cannot help but draw a correlate between that statement and our contemporary political, mimetic, and ontological state. The emoji is a crux of electronic communication. Most of our posts today are augmented heavily by the caption. Thus, this project takes the position that “the emoji is the face.”

Without a specific program, scale, or site in mind, this exploration is an exercise in boolean operations delivered by skewed representations of three basic emoji - the smile, the heart eyes, and the laugh. The resulting form of this operation is a contemporary reflection of Ezekiel’s cherubim, a head with four faces. Reduced to three faces with non-orthogonal intersections, the emoji is reborn as an ever-interpretable abstract figure haunting the human intimacy of an Instagram-worthy picnic.


Ryan Scavnicky is the Visiting Fellow at the School of Architecture at Taliesin, a producer of theory films with SCI-Arc Channel, and a practicing Architectural Designer with studio TECHNE.