texts by Brigitte Felderer

On FACELESS part I

FACELESS is an exhibition exploring the basic role that faces play in our media-defined culture. Many faces are familiar and known to us; we recognize them, associate biographies, scandals, and stories with them. Even though we are only confronted with media surfaces, we think we are gaining an insight into a personality and are able to witness an entire life. We deduce character traits from facial features, infer unmistakable identities. But in the end, the physiognomies we encounter only reflect our own personal concept of happiness, recognition, attention, and success.

The sugarcoated appearance of flawless models defines overbearing ideals that remain unattainable and yet constantly challenge us. The standards seem more powerful than we are and impossible to live up to. The comparison makes us insecure, defines how we deal with ourselves, and influences our consumer behavior, our desires, and our fears.

The grotesque faces the media bombards us with not only affect our sense of self, not only confront us with unequal reflections, but also ensnare us in excessive self-control. They have long since left marks that are indelibly engraved in the almighty web. Eternalized in the book of faces, we become findable, identifiable. Ultimately, all our projections and desires are revealed, and worse yet are divulged to entities of control both legal and secret. We emerge and can never disappear from view again.

This exhibition explores the various strategies and projects of revolt and self-empowerment in the face of these overpowering standards that we can never satisfy. It shows that not only outsiders and critical artists are developing their very own subversive methods to escape: even popular culture long ago started to respond to the glut of faces, to the notion that we should forever be recognizable.

Faces do not disappear: they hide themselves behind masks, are manipulated beyond recognition, sometimes disfigured. This exhibition on faceless faces, then, can also be read as an ironic, angry, and above all justified criticism of our media reality.

 

On FACELESS part II

The exhibition project explores a potentially controversial phenomenon. As computer users who communicate and exchange information in digital space, we are eternally findable there. Our virtual appearance is subject to a process in which images are constantly filtered and manipulated. We are perceivable and yet we do not want to be recognizable. We don’t want to be delivered to an unknown public in offhand way. We want to be recognized and understood without ever losing face.

Part two of the project focuses on works that show us various ways of appearing in the neverending book of faces while evading any tracking and measurement. The desire to not be simply consumed and digitally processed in a facial sellout is more than just a purely aesthetic undertaking. With sharp wit and justified anger, the works exhibited demonstrate concrete recommendations and critical methods that can help us succeed in maintaining privacy, intimacy, and secrets even in the face of the all-too public world of the web. A face and an expression can give away too much about us. But all the more creative are the means to change these only seemingly defined surfaces, make them illegible or even invisible without running the risk of suffering social death and ceasing to exist in this world.

The works and projects presented are also media policy interventions and instructions on how to manipulate our appearance to escape being identified beyond our control and yet not give up our own identity.

In an exemplary contribution to the exhibition, artist, activist, and researcher Zach Blas formulates a communiqué in which he makes it clear that a face can also be used as a weapon. He opposes the fact that biometric data is used to deduce sexual orientation or ethnic backgrounds from facial features and hence create categories of marginalization and defamation. The artist developed a digital mask composed of facial features from many people. Collective overinformation becomes an instrument against the violence of invasion for surveillance purposes.

The exhibition supplies at an once defiant and ironic bid against a dynamic force that has long ago infiltrated our lives and that we inevitably feed. But it’s not too late to resist.

Brigitte Felderer
University of Applied Arts Vienna