This art project puts you right inside a scene from Titanic

What would Jack and Rose look like in 2017? A Truly Magical Moment takes on romance in the era of FaceTime.

What would Jack and Rose look like in 2017? A Truly Magical Moment takes on romance in the era of FaceTime

It doesn't seem like much, but this is "A Truly Magical Moment." (Courtesy of Adam Basanta)

Titanic turns 20 this December, and to mark the occasion, it returns to select cinemas this week. 

The film was a phenomenon back in the day — a pop culture force about as unavoidable as an iceberg. Maybe you sobbed through three boxes of Kleenex when you saw it in the theatre. Maybe you rented the two-tape set from Blockbuster. Or maybe you've never seen the thing at all.

That's the boat Adam Basanta​'s in. A 33-year-old artist from Montreal, he's lived through Leo Mania, but Basanta admits that he's never actually seen Titanic beginning to end.

Still, he definitely knows this scene.

And he's betting you do, too.

Basanta's the creator of something called A Truly Magical Moment, a kinetic sculpture that recreates Jack and Rose's spin on the dance floor using iPhones and a couple of selfie sticks.

And so long as you can FaceTime, you can be right in their dancing shoes — locking eyes with a friend (or stranger) for 60 seconds of artificial romance.

The sculpture is currently set up as part of the Pixxelpoint Festival in Slovenia to Dec. 12 and the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland to May 13, but you don't have to be in either place to experience it.

If you have an iPhone or Mac, the thrill of young Edwardian love can be yours.

FaceTime — and find someone to call at the same time. It takes two to work.

Once your calls are connected, the kinetic sculpture will activate. You'll see an iPhone — and the other caller in the screen. They'll see the same. And suddenly, you'll begin to spin, as the background — puzzled gallery patrons, included — melts into a dizzying whirl. While you turn, a deliberately cheesy mish-mash of Tchaikovsky and Motown plays to a crescendo. It's your soundtrack to a minute in heaven.

See it in action.

"I think people usually understand that there's a tongue in cheek element to it," says Basanta. "It's a bittersweet joke. This is truly not a 'Truly Magical Moment.''"

But he's not doing it entirely for the lulz.

"I travel a lot for work as an artist, as a musician," says Basanta — and in long distance relationships, video calling is a fact of life.

It's a bittersweet joke. This is truly not a 'Truly Magical Moment.'- Adam Basanta, artist

A Truly Magical Moment isn't as much about Titanic as it is about technology and how it affects the way we relate to one another.

Think about what happens when you FaceTime the piece. You'll actually see more of the phone than the other caller. Technology is the creep tapping on your shoulder, asking to cut in.

That's not necessarily bad, says Basanta, nor is it necessarily good. But in making the piece, he says he was thinking about how technology affects the way we relate to one another.

You're connecting with someone, sure, but the physical distance obviously still remains, and the fact you're staring at a screen, and not the actual person, is just another reminder of the reality. It's not real intimacy. The experience — just like A Truly Magical Moment — is a superficial stand-in for the real thing.

"It's this contrast between the ability to bridge distance and to bring loved ones together and yet [having] the feeling that there's actually even more distance," he says. "I've always been struck by how as much as we can talk about tele-presence there's actually a tele-absence there. Like, video chatting with somebody, to me, doesn't feel as intimate as talking on the phone."

So, why Titanic?

"That scene appears in other movies," says Basanta. Just think back to Beauty and the Beast — or just about every Disney princess movie ever, for that matter. Hell, just look at every movie in this GIF.

Titanic? "It's just the ultimate version of that scene," he says — and that scene is a well-trod Hollywood take on romance. 

"What is the equivalent of that scene today — with media technologies, with long distance relationships, with this kind of world that we live in?" asks Basanta?

It's sitting in front of a phone — while FaceTiming another phone — re-enacting a scene that's been copied so many times that you might not remember if you first saw it in Titanic, or a GIF or any one of these memes.

"It tells us something bittersweet about how we live our lives," says Basanta, talking about A Truly Magcial Moment. But at the same time, he admits the whole thing is, in some ways, just a truly elaborate joke.

"If somebody just gets a laugh out of it, that's great."

Adam Basanta. A Truly Magical Moment. To Dec. 12 at Pixxelpoint Festival, Nova Gorica, Slovenia; To Feb. 4, 2018 at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Winterthur, Switzerland; Jan. 25 to May 13, 2018 at Themuseum, Kitchener, Ont. 


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.