Deep Fakes: Art and Its Double poses crucial questions about the potency of digital replicas to absorb audiences in enduring emotional encounters with universal art treasures. This exhibition opposes the use of ‘deepfakes’ for manipulation and misinformation, to explore very different perspectives, reimagining objects through advanced computational techniques.
Decades of computer science and engineering at EPFL have revolutionized the tenets of verisimilitude and representation. Today’s ‘perfect pixels’ coalesce in imaging techniques designed to replicate cultural artifacts with ultimate fidelity. As artificial intelligence re-performs and reprocesses the visible, it is exposing the optical unconscious of art, questioning objecthood itself. With its propensity for peripheral vision, machine learning has amplified the possible futures for curatorial and artistic practices, antagonizing outdated notions of authority, authenticity and access. Harnessing artificial intelligence approaches for art reproduction, cultural deep fakes are generating perpetually new archival artifacts, concurrently formed and formless.
Cultural deep fakes have manifold significance. They are technologically empowered to offer forensic insights into invisible dimensions, generating unforeseen hypotheses and connections. These panaesthetic art-science phenomena also propagate powerful auras that rise to the surface entangled with the sensory and affective qualities of their originating sources. As cybernated doppelgangers, cultural deep fakes are able to draw us into unparalleled tactility with the textures, patinas, forms and 3D geometries of their counterparts. Digital facsimiles also decolonize objects, defying hegemonic narratives to liberate them from their untroubled entrapments, confronting ownership, historical sedimentation, and contested social relations. Through 21 installations at EPFL Pavilions, the exhibition grapples with the applied and critical implications of the digital materialities of objects in their post-original form.
Deep Fakes: Art and Its Double is conceived in two parts. Part I in Pavilion B comprises 19 installations that engages with these cross-cutting themes, traversing the simulacrum, mirrorworlds, digital twins, cryptocurrency and machine intelligence while engaging the issues of mimesis, reenactment, memory and decolonization. The exhibition’s installations cycle us through some of the antitheses of the real and the fake around which the history of art has been circumscribed. Just as postmodernism challenged the assumed meaning of things, cultural deep fakes have become a central pivot for a new significance of objects. Recognizing their importance opens the way to redefine the dominant techno-cultural logic of our contemporary era.
Part II in Pavilion A examines issues of heritage at risk alongside archival and digital memory and its reconstruction. One installation, Recreated Reality, is focused on the UNESCO world heritage site of Palmyra, Syria, along with related archives of Swiss archaeologist Paul Collart from the collections of the University of Lausanne, who excavated the Sanctuary of Baalshamin in the mid-1950s. After the temple of the ‘Lord of Heavens’ was totally destroyed in 2015, the UNIL Collart-Palmyre Project was conceived. Today, the Collart-Palmyre archive remains the best source in the world for the preservation of this heritage. The other installation in Pavilion A takes us into the famous cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris to experience the new modes of knowledge-making being opened up through its historically-informed digital reconstruction by the computer game company Ubisoft.
The 21 installations in Deep Fakes: Art and Its Double re-present seminal objects of pan-Asian art and architecture from China, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The Middle East and North Africa is represented by important sites in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Sudan. The United States of America and significant European heritage sites in Armenia, Germany and Italy complete an encyclopedic offering made tangible through state-of-the-art imaging and interactive immersion.