[The art happens here]
Annka Kultys Gallery’s online platform dedicated to the showcasing of digital art in its natural habitat, so to speak. The creation in 2020 of [The art happens here] provides a natural extension to the gallery’s offline programme which has as one of its strengths the presentation of “digital natives” or artists making art that engages with technology and the internet.
Annka Kultys is pleased to present Bill Posters: Dissimulation, an online exhibition of two ‘deep-fake’ new media works that critically interrogate humankind’s relationships with new technologies of power, hierarchies of knowledge and the wider systemic tensions that exist concerning dataism (the ideology related to the primacy of data mining created by the emergence of Big Data), privacy, surveillance capitalism and democracy.
Today it is easy to feel as though the truth has become fake. World leaders routinely dismiss real world events and lived experiences as fabrications, hoaxes or fake news. Surveillance capitalism has arguably realised the digitization and commodification of human experience in its entirety. The mediation – and simulation – of lived experience appears to carry more meaning as humanity carefully curates and broadcasts its constituent ‘public faces’ to the world via social media. It is against this context that Posters’ critical world view, as embodied in his work, emerges.
Both of Posters’ works in Dissimulation are made up of a series of visual narrative deep fake new media pieces featuring monologues on the foregoing themes from the artificial intelligence (AI)-synthesized personas of current global celebrities. Running through each work is the leitmotif of Spectre, a hyperreality concept created by Bill Posters and Daniel Howe (its name a possible nod to the nefarious criminal organisation bent on world domination created by Ian Fleming for his James Bond novels, which shares the same name and has been reprised in the most recent Bond films). The synthesised persona of the actor Morgan Freeman notes of Posters and Howe’s Spectre: “truth is you’ll never achieve real influence without worshipping the gods of silicon valley. And Spectre be thy name.”
The first of Posters’ videos presented, Veridical fakes (2020, 4 min 52 sec), comprises ten pieces with titles such as ‘Friendly Totalitarianism,’’ ‘Digital Dadaism (Dataism),’ ‘Absolute Certainty’ and ‘Third Enlightenment.’ The celebrities whose synthesised personas feature in Veridical fakes are: Morgan Freeman; Kim Kardashian, the self-styled business woman and social media influencer; the current president of the United States, Donald Trump; Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook; Marcel Duchamp, one of the founders of Dadaism and arguably the most influential artist of the twentieth century; and the popstar and gay icon, Freddy Mercury. Veridical fakes continues to develop Posters’ key themes as it explores the power of the big tech companies, the pernicious effects of social media and the insidious and destabilising nature of fake news. For example, in the piece entitled ‘Colonialism (In Silico)’ Mark Zuckerberg’s persona earnestly says to camera “Spectre showed me how to trick you into sharing intimate data about yourself and all those you love, for free. The more you express yourself, the more we own you.” And later, in a piece called ‘Hypernormalisation,’ Zuckerberg’s persona goes on to note “Spectre showed me that in order to obtain unprecedented power I needed to offer up the privacy of billions of people. And it worked…” In a similar and equally foreboding vein, Kim Kardashian’s persona in ‘Voluntary Disclosure’ breezily espouses “Spectre is about humanity’s future because whoever owns the data, owns humanity.”
Posters’ second work on show, Big Dada (2019, 3 min 05 sec), was created with Daniel Howe and comprises a further six ‘deep fake’ new media pieces. Like Veridical fakes, it features the AI-synthesized personas of Marcel Duchamp, Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian, Morgan Freeman and Donald Trump, with the addition of a persona for the world-renown performance artist Marina Abramović. Trump’s persona meditates on the power that can be derived from algorithms and big data, Freeman’s on the public’s connivance with Spectre by freely furnishing its data, Duchamp’s on the parallels between dadaism and dataism. Kardashian’s persona muses on the exploitative nature of social media: “When there are so many haters out there I really don’t care because their data has made me rich beyond my wildest dreams …. I feel really blessed because I genuinely love the process of manipulating people online for money.” Big Dada was inserted by its creators into Instagram as a digital intervention in June 2019 and quickly went viral leading to global press coverage and unexpected – and contradictory – official responses from Facebook and Instagram concerning their policies regarding synthesized media on their platforms.
The noun ‘dissimulation’ describes the act of faking one’s true feelings. One’s dissimulation of happiness might fool strangers but close friends can tell it is all an act. Dissimulation implies that the wool is being pulled over someone’s eyes, or they are being fooled or tricked by someone’s deceit. Throughout history, the artist has attempted to ‘‘see what is hidden by what we see” in the world as presented by the senses, cultural logics and by powerful corporate and political forces that seek to influence the understanding of reality.
In today’s post-truth, hyperreal age, it can be said that reality is presented under false appearances. Manufactured consent, disinformation and fake news obfuscate reality much in the same way that social media platforms do with their black box technologies, echo chambers and automated surveillance architectures, all designed to influence decision making and future behaviours. The works presented in Dissimulation seek to give materiality and form to the concept of hyperreality whilst also posing the questions: where do we collectively find truth in the age of surveillance capitalism? And can we trust the artist in a post-truth age? Especially when seeing is now not necessarily believing.
Dissimulation is an extension of Spectre, the hyperreality concept created by Bill Posters and Daniel Howe.
Working under the pseudonym Bill Posters, Barnaby Francis is an artist-researcher, author and facilitator who is interested in art as research and critical practice. Posters’ works often interrogate the persuasion architectures and power relations that exist in the public space and online. He works collaboratively across the arts, sciences and advocacy fields on conceptual, sculptural, new media, net art, installation and synthesized video art projects.
Since 2017, Posters has extended his focus to explore computational forms of image making including deep fakes and deep video portraits whilst critically interrogating the associated online architectures that define the digital influence industry. This marks a natural progression for the former street artist into an alternate ‘commons’ and reveals interesting territory for the application of critical theory to contemporary issues concerning computational propaganda, dataism, human rights, surveillance capitalism and democracy.
Bill Posters was born in 1983 and lives and works in Manchester.
His works have recently been shown at the Museum Jorn, Silkeborg; the Artmossphere III Biennale, Moscow; the Centre for Contemporary Art, Barcelona; the 50th International Poster Biennale, Warsaw; the Architectural Association, London; and the Design Museum, London.
Posters’ works are held in the collections of the BFI National Film Archive, London; the People’s History Museum, Manchester; and the Poster Museum at Wilanów, Warsaw.