Dating is the Medium

Susie J. Lee's dating app Siren debuts mid-April.

Last September, artist Susie J. Lee was sitting with a friend outside Molly Moon’s when he pulled up Scruff, the gay cruising app. Lee had never used anything like it. Intrigued, she started looking into other hook-up apps available for men and women.

She found little to recommend. Tinder and OkCupid were tedious to get through, overrun with trolls and useless information.

“I thought, I know how to do this better,” Lee says.

Lee’s interests have always revolved around physicality, tactility and the malleability of human relationships. She graduated with an MFA in ceramics from University of Washington in 2007, but her work rapidly exploded into mediums that exploited technology and social engagement, earning her the title “new media sensualist.”

Lee’s answer to deficient dating apps, Siren, is scheduled to launch in mid-April. Siren includes familiar functions like viewing and messaging users, but also challenges assumptions about what sparks interest.

“It’s inspired by the analog signals that work in real life,” Lee says, “so it’s about movement and encountering something unexpected. Instead of a résumé of traits, Siren’s profiles are layers of updated user responses to curated questions and micro-videos. Women can control their visibility so they’re not inundated by endless pigtail-pulling ‘hi’s.’”

The app also relies on the matchmaking skills of friends to build a private, crowd-sourced network for introductions. And Siren’s “call” feature allows women to ask for what they want in real time, whether coffee or a quickie. The call is viewable by a select audience for an hour then disappears from the radar. 

For Lee, being CEO at her own startup is terra incognita that has a parallel in the art world.

“Perhaps to the amusement or aggravation of others, I continually find analogies to the art world,” she says. “Office culture is art practice, VC is prestigious museums, start-up events are art openings, angel investors are collectors, a pitch deck is a slide presentation, ‘bootstrap’ means ‘we didn’t get grant money but we’re doing the project anyway,’ CEO is lead artist.” 

If all goes as planned, Siren will do more than spark a few romances. At the conceptual heart of the project, Lee throws down a challenge to antiquated definitions of where and how art exists in the world.

“I chafe when artists are relegated to entertainment or cultural vitamins,” Lee says. “Siren wonders, what does it mean to have an artist intervene in the business world? In romance? How does an artist invade the startup space? That’s the exciting part of the project.”