Emoji Art, From 'Moby-Dick' to Hollywood
“The Emoji Movie” is the apotheosis of Hollywood’s consumerist blockbuster trend, where the smartphone is recast as a playground, and tech companies spin their products into sparking baubles to sell to children. In the film, three emoji characters chase their dreams while sailing down Spotify streams, scaling a level of Candy Crush and ascending into the cloud through every child’s most beloved app, Dropbox.
The movie cements emojis’ place as defining symbols of global capitalism — a form of expression that transcends language barriers and lends a gloss of emotional affect to our cold, unfeeling devices. But before emojis went Hollywood, plugged-in artists were leveraging them in their work to invoke the wonders and hazards of the digital era. Here are landmark moments in emojified art.
— ‘Emoji Dick'
In 2010, Japanese emojis hadn’t even made their way to American smartphone keyboards, but Fred Benenson was already working on an all-emoji translation of “Moby-Dick.” “Emoji Dick” was both crowdfunded (on Kickstarter) and crowdsourced — the translations were performed by hundreds of workers recruited from Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s online jobs marketplace.
It’s safe to say that “Emoji Dick” does not rival the original. “Call me Ishmael” comes out as a telephone emoji, a man emoji, a boat emoji, a whale emoji and, finally, the OK hand emoji, as if to say, “Just deal with it.” But the translation made its mark as an experiment in digital language and labor. The Library of Congress acquired it in 2013.
— The Original Emoji
Emojis themselves are intriguing design objects, embedded with clues to the culture in which they are created and shared. Last year, the Museum of Modern Art acquired the very first set of emoji characters. Designed by Shigetaka Kurita for a Japanese mobile provider, the set of 176 emojis — each was constructed in a 12-by-12-pixel frame and cast originally in black and white — first hit cellphones in 1999. His designs are a mash-up of the creative and the consumerist, taking cues from manga and corporate advertising.(Amanda Hess)