The Artist Who Made Emoji IRL

From iPhone to sculpture to image again
More
“Who, me?” asks Nelson.

Use an iPhone or Android, and you know emojis. They’re little iconic enigmas—Japanese in origin and not quite hieroglyphs, they’re chunky, glossy Wingdings.

They’re also everywhere. The White House tweets them. Childish Gambino sings about them. Last year, hundreds of anonymous authors translated Moby Dick with them. (The product: Emoji Dick.) Typographica ruled the Apple Emoji font one of the best new typefaces for 2011.

The artist Liza Nelson has now given that font the adoration they deserve. In a series she documents on her website, she has sculptured just what Apple’s emojis would look like if they were physical. Her project’s fitting title?  

EMOJI IRL. LOL.

In her rendering, the eggplant emoji becomes graspable and oh-so-purple:

© Liza Nelson

A tranquil mustache guy smiles (and looks ready to slide on a chambray shirt):

© Liza Nelson

And the joyous tongue gets its Model Magic on:

© Liza Nelson

“Emojis mean everything and they mean nothing at the same time,” Nelson writes.

They’re completely personal and completely universal. They’re really quite stupid. And they’re the best thing that ever happened… By finding, posing, and sculpting emojis in real life I’ve created a set of shrines to the individual characters. Because somebody had to do it.

In doing so, Nelson dances a classic flip-flop, to borrow a term from novelist Robin Sloan. To flip-flop is to take something from digital to physical to digital back again. Nelson’s emojis start out as icons (digital), then they’re enshrined in sculpture (physical), then they become images again, part of a network and cheerfully shareable. They go from one screen to another, with a material detour in between. 

In all the flipping and flopping, though, some things can be changed. Nelson has already flipped a bare flexed bicep into a tattooed one. Right now, emojis—at least as Apple depicts them—include few people of color. Let’s hope that, amid all the transformations, Nelson can also flop a little diversity into the iconic, enigmatic world of emoji representation. 

via Charlie Warzel

Jump to comments
Presented by

Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In