PARADISE, a two-person auditory experience designed to explore the complexities of intimate partner relationships, premiered at South by Southwest on March 13, 2022. Co-directed by Gabo Arora, senior lecturer at the School of Arts and Sciences Advanced Academic Programs and executive produced by Nancy Glass, professor in the School of Public Health and independence chair in nursing education at the School of Nursing, the piece allows couples to facilitate a communication between one another around sensitive subjects such as sex and abuse.
PARADISE is unique in that it operates exclusively in the auditory realm — participants download a proprietary app onto their phone but must buy tickets to the “show” like they would at a normal movie theater. Once downloaded, an artificial intelligence (AI) leads couples through a series of questions that attempt to tease out possible quandaries and cracks in their relationship before they can turn into chasms.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Arora spoke on what the experience was trying to provide for its participants.
“The best way to describe this project is as couple’s therapy in the near future, where an AI helps you reflect on your relationship, and you kind of think of where you are on the spectrum,” he said. “Abuse isn’t always physical, and you realize through the experience that a lot of times it is often associated with jealousy and control. We wanted to weave in kind of being playful and being serious.”
The project was funded by a Hopkins Discovery Award, which seeks to connect faculty across fields of study to produce interdisciplinary works or research.
Arora would go on to explain the reasoning behind pursuing partner violence and communication as the topic of production.
“Traditional methods of dealing with this issue are kind of challenging, and we wanted to do something with this topic that had never been done before. It really is about relationships,” he said. “During the pandemic, we have probably all thought about our relationships in a deeper way. We have to think about who we are locked down with, and what’s important to us.”
The problems associated with intimate partner violence have compounded during the pandemic. According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, U.S. domestic violence cases increased 18 – 27% in March 2020 compared to March 2019 depending on region. With PARADISE, Arora and his collaborators wanted to use audio and AI to hone in on the ways abuse can take place in ways that don’t necessarily look or seem alarming at first glance.
PARADISE is an experience meant to connect intimate partners in unexpected and meaningful ways. While most reported cases of intimate partner violence are of a man against a woman, intimate partner violence can occur across the spectrum of gender and sexuality. And so the question naturally arises: How does PARADISE resonate with those who do not occupy the heteronormative “norm?”
As Arora explains, the experience can resonate with couples regardless of each partner’s sexual orientation. However, although it is LGBTQ friendly, Arora clarified that does not mean the experience is compatible with all types of relationships.
“We are not heteronormative; it’s not just for heteronormative couples. It’s about relationships, but it is for couples. It’s not, say, for polyamorous people, not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he said.
Arora is the founder and director of the Immersive Storytelling and Emerging Technologies at Hopkins. He has focused his work on the intersection between social justice and virtual reality, creating works such as Clouds Over Sidra and Waves of Grace. On the topics of his work, of the aspects of it that lend itself toward dealing with the problems of our world rather than simply its aesthetics, Arora spoke on the importance of creating art that resonates with current issues.
“I don’t like the term social justice; I know how that can be interpreted. But I am against entertainment for entertainment’s sake. If you create art or a story around a topic related to social justice it can kind of touch people or deal with an issue in ways that people don’t normally think about,” he said.