BIG DADA / PUBLIC FACES by Bill Posters is comprised of a series of synthetic media artworks featuring AI-synthesized personas of Marcel Duchamp, Marina Abramovic, Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian, Morgan Freeman and Donald Trump. BIG DADA / PUBLIC FACES was inserted 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 (lack of) policies for synthetic media on their platforms.
Bill, you are one of the artists who went viral with his art. How did that happen?
In June 2019, myself and Daniel Howe were launching a hyperreality project titled SPECTRE at the Alternate Realities exhibition at Sheffield Doc/Fest. We created BIG DADA / PUBLIC FACES as a piece of net art that we released on Instagram in the aftermath of a scandal concerning a ‘cheap fake’ of Congresswoman Pelosi that Mark Zuckerberg had arbitrarily decided to leave up on his platforms. It was obvious that his decision wasn’t routed in solid policy – at that time Facebook and Instagram had no policies for synthetic media (deep fakes), so we thought we would try to create a situation to explore if it would be one rule for Congresswoman Pelosi and another rule for Mark Zuckerberg by releasing a series of synthetic media works on Instagram that featured AI-synthesized personas of influencers both past and present.
So with 10% strategy and 90% luck we found ourselves and our synthetic media art at the heart of a global media firestorm after the piece featuring Mark Zuckerberg went viral overnight, and then was picked up by the Washington Post, New York Times, Le Monde, BBC, Der Spiegel and most major news platforms around the world. Our dadaesque simulation had turned into something else entirely. It launched our hyperreality project in the most absurd way imaginable.
Could you please explain for the non-tech experts what a deep fake is?
A deep fake is a piece of synthetic media that commonly takes the form of video. Deep fakes (a portmanteau of "deep learning" and “fake") are synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else's likeness. Deep fakes use synthetic media technologies such as GANs, computer vision systems (facial recognition) and machine learning to create synthetic copies of any face that the system is trained on.
We can say that synthetic media art is art that is created using synthetic media technologies and is comprised – either wholly or in part – of synthetic data.
Why did you choose among others Mark Zuckerberg, Marina Abramovic, and Kim Kardashian for this piece?
BIG DADA / PUBLIC FACES is a visual narrative comprised of a series of monologues from famous influencers both past and present. I wanted to harness the power of synthetic media technologies to create an extension of the field of new media art, and as part of this process, I wanted to hack the power of the ‘public faces’ of influencers – to influence the influencers if you will – and use the cultural power that is embedded in their personas to critically explore some of the most pressing issues of our time – big data, AI, surveillance capitalism, privacy, truth and trust.
By subverting the power of their identities, and by using emerging technologies to create a visceral, multi-sensory experience comprised of moving image and sound, this series of intimate monologues showed familiar faces and identities saying things they’ve never said before. I see part of this exploration as an extension of aspects of Pictures Generation theory as these image pieces examine strategies and codes of representation, but also the notions of power and identity via ‘re-presentation not representation’.
When selecting the influencers for the series, it was important to include some of the major social media icons of our age – Kim Kardashian and Mark Zuckerberg, as well as divisive political figures (Trump), heart-warning celebrities (Morgan Freeman) as well as artists from both present (Marina Abramovic) and past (Marcel Duchamp). The inclusion of Marcel Duchamp was a nod to Dada and Surrealism. In the words of Rene Magritte, I hack the identities of influences to attempt to ‘see what is hidden by what we see’. I believe the deep fake could well be the perfect avant-garde for our post-truth age of fake news and disinformation.
What was the feedback in general? Critique? Praise?
Initially the feedback from broad international audiences was equal part terror and amazement. Could Mark Zuckerberg really be confessing to stealing billions of people’s stolen data? How could it be that Donald Trump is candidly talking about stoking hatred and fascism online to please the algorithm? There were truths in the deep fakes, but it was a disorientating experience for most I think.
I feel that the form of the deep fake perhaps encapsulates – and gives material from to – some of the deeper mistrusts and fears we all have concerning how our personal data could be used in unexpected ways by powerful new technologies. With such a provocative multi-sensory experience that can be created, many have found that these pieces of art created a very strong cognitive – a rupture to the everyday.
The deep fake has become an emerging cultural marker for so many of our digital and technological fears. They are constantly referred to as the ‘end of democracy’ in most major media outlets with nothing more than pure anecdotal evidence to back up this incredible statement.
A few months after the release of BIG DADA / PUBLIC FACES online, the British Film Institute acquired copies for the national archive in the UK.
Instagram and Facebook were under pressure through your project. They officially responded. Has anything changed due to your project?
Yes that’s right, in the middle of the shitstorm that was created in the media, Facebook and Instagram released unexpected and contradictory statements. They said the art would be taken down, and then their third-party fact checkers marked it as ‘art’ so they couldn’t. This process really illustrated how much these trillion dollar companies just make things up as they go along with arbitrary decisions from the board – and in this case Mark Zuckerberg.
A while after the media circus had ended, the Head of Instagram Adam Mozeri held a press conference to announce that Facebook and Instagram were launching synthetic media policies on their platforms. A reporter asked if the Zuckerberg artwork would be taken down to which he replied ‘no, [because] the damage has been done’. We feel our synthetic media art intervention on Instagram performed a small piece of social sculpture in relation to new policies being developed and applied to one of the most powerful tech corporations on earth.
How did the art world react?
The art world reacted quite positively in some ways, the series was included in museum and gallery shows in several continents and we picked up some awards for the situation that this series created but this is also such a new emerging form of new media art. Art that is still in early development and the critical and art theory surrounding it is still being created and contested. This makes it an exciting time for this form of art but it will take a while before the field forms and defines its relationships with other forms of AI, synthetic and new media art. Artists like myself that create synthetic media art are in a liminal space and it feels disruptive, provocative and incredibly exciting.
I mean here we are on the eve of DEEEP – London’s first AI art fair, and I get to collaborate with misa.art and PATH galleries on an exclusive NFT drop featuring the first series of synthetic media art released on the internet. I feel incredibly lucky to be working with such inspiring people who are trying to push the boundaries of AI and digital art today.
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. His works often interrogate disinformation, persuasion architectures and the 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, installation and synthetic art.
His works have been shown at Berlin University of the Arts; Museum Jorn, Silkeborg, Denmark; Artmossphere III Biennale, Moscow; the Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona; Annka Kultys Gallery, London; 50th International Poster Biennale, Warsaw; the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London; the Design Museum, London; and Banksy’s “Dismaland.”
In 2016 Posters received Communications Sans Frontiers’ Activist of the Year Award and was the recipient of 2019 Alternate Realities Award (Sheffield Doc/Fest), 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize (shortlist) and SXSW Artist Award (2020).
The NFT DROP is hosted in collaboration with Path Galleries on the occasion of deeep AI art fair in London, 13-17 OCTOBER 2021. Please click HERE to browse through the NFTs by Bill Posters which are available until 17 October 2021 as open editions for EUR 425,-.
Bill Posters, Imagine this, Synthetic media art, Net art, 00:18 min, 2019
Bill Posters, When there's so many Haters, Synthetic media art, Net art, 00:22 min, 2019
Bill Posters, Every Single Day, Synthetic media art, Net art, 00:18 min, 2019
Portrait of Bill Posters by Jody Hartley.