It’s interesting to think about human contact and what that means several years into Covid. We are touch deprived, but also we don’t want to die…a familiar sentiment from the arrival of the AIDS virus. Technology seems to also push us further and further apart so it is fertile ground for artists explore how these aspects of life intersect.

Crash Kiss, by artist Rollin Leonard, combines a real live event where the participants are in proximity, but it’s up to the computer to create touch. The result is a terrible mashup of nearest points smashed together. It underlines what remains impossible and a hoax of the digital age: that there is any other path to human connection other than human connection.


Crash Kiss is a programmatic portrait project I started in 2011. Early versions of Crash Kiss were done manually — shifting pixels row by row until they collide producing the combined silhouette of two human profiles. Later I teamed up with my brother who created a Crash Kiss application to do the heavy pixel lifting. Crash Kiss uses the Python programming language and its numpy array library to crash faces into each other. The algorithm moves the faces together until they touch while preserving the image’s foreground and collapsing its negative space. The faces are processed in one dimension; each row of pixels is crashed in isolation of the others. The result is an unsympathetic, granular disassembly of the human subjects.

While one way to view Crash Kiss is as a playful, humorous photo booth that captures cross-screen affection between two individuals in the digital age, another way to look at the work is how our faces turn into data—how the machine doesn’t care about us, how cold its eye actually is.