Are there "fakes" in digital art?
Four professionals in the field respond
Anne Laforet, independent researcher
"Digital art — and netart in particular — has a different ecology and economy than other artistic fields. It was born out of the artists’ desire to bypass the production methods and the usual circuits of visibility and commercialization. It is perceived as liberation from the creation and distribution systems that normally go through institutions. Here, distribution is done in an autonomous way, and works can be produced anonymously or come from a collective effort.
Despite the user friendly aspect and technological immediacy of the cut-and-paste, I don’t know of any confirmed cases of 'fakes' in the digital world. As for the issue of 'fake', to me it brings up several things, the first one being tied to the notion of value. Aside from spectacular auctions and a few artists who manage to sell their productions, the netart economy is precarious while forgers, by definition, are all about money. Perhaps the lack of economic valuation makes the copying of works uninteresting in view of their misleading marketing. Then, some people like to acquire copies of objects — of paintings and sculptures— for the pleasure of looking them at home whenever they like. But with netart, all Internet users can access the works posted on line for free and at any time."
"You cannot state that data is authentic, in fact people prefer to speak about honest data."
The fake also raises questions about the real. One of the big question marks with netart concerns the authenticity and life span of digital files that can be duplicated to infinity and without any losses. You cannot state that data is authentic, in fact people prefer to speak about honest data. Let’s take the example of Rafael Rozeendal: he buys several domain names where he installs sites and sub-sites with the goal of selling them to collectors. A forger could conceivably duplicate their content and upload it on a similar URL. There would then be in existence the works of the artist, the forger’s copies, but additionally there would certainly be backups of these works, either complete or partial, on the Internet or on hard drives. The authentic works would then be the ones posted on the URL chosen by the artist… But we can only debate on the status of those more or less complete copies coming from the artist himself !
Then, digital art forms shatter notions relating to the paternity of ideas. Some artists have noticed that others following them had taken some of their concepts and met with some degree of success with the new approaches. I’m thinking for example of Christophe Bruno, whose work Fascinum has been emulated ever since it came out in 2001. But can we for that matter consider the copies fakes? No! Those are other works produced by other artists, even though they borrow the same concept and work the same way. It’s the execution of the idea, not the idea itself, that is protected by copyright law!
Finally, we can list a lot of digital project hijackings, from websites generally, but they aspire to engage people in conversation. I have several examples in mind: Graham Harwood, who had created a website that mirrored the Tate’s website and received five times more visitors than the original; and the Yes Men, whose websites duplicate and alter the content of the official sites of multinationals and politicians. By ruse, they get messages across to a large audience. And what is interesting is that the activists spoke of their website as a hijacking, whereas Bush called it 'fake'. Maybe with netart, the distinction between fake and hijacking is in the eye of the beholder.”
Anne Laforet is the author of the book Netart in the Museum. Conservation Strategies for Works On Line.
(credit: Centre Presse)
Thomas Cheneseau, netartist
"There has always been forgery in art, so it is therefore plausible that we uncover it someday in the field of digital art, even though at the moment the fragile economy of it seems like an obstacle to me. I think that regardless of the nature of a work of art, it remains a unique production born of the act of a single creator, which can then become formalized, and appear in different forms.
I remain convinced that, in the field of digital art, the identity and copyright of the authors are respected; there is recognition of the work coming from one person in particular. Traditionally, artists have always drawn inspiration from those that came before them, from those that are around them. Quoting or borrowing from works that already exist, whether duplicating them or reworking them to make them our own are established creative phenomena.
We can look at the cut-and-paste as a form of design, strictly speaking. The cut-and-paste has always been a bit taboo, even though it is completely grounded in the habits of an entire generation. Contrary to what you often hear, I think the cut-and-paste is virtuous. It’s part of a way of constructing thought that extracts what it finds interesting in order to make new aggregates, in order to meditate on these new constructions and not to accept them as they are. As a selection, it is representative of the author’s individuality. »
"A forger on social networks would be the one stealing the identity of the artist rather than the one stealing his concepts."
"The issue of 'fake' remains a real issue, especially in digital art practices that take place on social networks. There is now a mass duplication of content as can be seen with glitch. Glitch is the use of typefaces that are reused, hijacked, and programmed to appear in Facebook and Twitter status pages in the form of symbols and graphic patterns. And, of course, these status pages are soon copied and pasted and distributed.
On social networks, I regularly communicate about my work with reminders, blurbs, quotes about the origin of my works. I made and sold a fake profile of Marcel Duchamp; that account is blocked and only the collector has access to the content thanks to the encoded connection. I take credit for the concept and execution.
I’ve seen people inspired by my work incorporate some of my visuals or methods into their own models, but that is a characteristic of digital art that you have to look at as a tree. If you take the 2.0 as the subject, then it is normal to accept that its productions are reused. At any rate, I accept that.
Regarding my own approach, a fake would not be the concept of a Facebook profile for a deceased artist, but rather that same concept done in my name! Maybe a forger on social networks would be the one stealing the identity of the artist rather than the one stealing his concepts."
(credit : ADaM Project)
Anne-Marie Morice, Director of Synesthesie
"I don’t think it is possible to find fakes in digital art, because if there were fakes, then that would mean there were originals! First we would have to agree on what is real, what is authentic on the Internet: and those criteria are different than the ones practiced in the art market.
Usually, you identify the original, the authentic one, thanks to the work that is made into a finished object. Digital works are in motion, they can transform in a second, in a refreshing of the page. Nobody is really sure about what’s in front of them, nor can they claim that it’s really the original. I’m mainly talking about the Web, but once taken out of the Internet and objectified, you fall back into the notion of goods with things that are printed, limited or numbered editions, signed by the artist, etc.
Additionally, many works are conceived in an open way, in open data and open source. They can be altered anytime. It’s becoming tough to know whether the work in front of you is authentic, real, unique and original, and these words do not seem relevant when it comes to describing these types of products. Doubt is always there and it’s precisely because of that that art forms practiced on the Internet are interesting. They shatter the collectivities phenomena and the art object fetishism. They ask us to renew the postulates and positions we hold with respect to art."
Nicolas Thély, art critic and professor of digital humanities at the University of Rennes 2
"In the context of digital culture, this English expression implies a humorous and denunciatory power of the image. Using the word 'fake' makes it possible to qualify vernacular and artistic practices of the Internet that use doctored images or deception. With the fake, there is something at play between inventiveness and misuse, imitation and counterfeit.
Besides, it is disturbing to see how the concept of counterfeit has returned to the agenda in order to reflect on the uses of the Internet. Ideally that word would not be used — temporarily. What I mean by that is that it should be used parenthetically while its new meaning is being discussed because clearly, it was put through ACTA’s semantic and ideological wringer. What I see is that the use of this word in any argument inevitably leads down a slippery slope that I thought we were done with: having to distinguish an original work, not from its many instances, but from its copies (implied to be authorized).
That would be the same as returning to a very strict and controlled understanding of the technical reproducibility of works, whereas with digital, we passed into a regime of erratic and circulated reproducibility of works. It is that aspect of the culture that we need to ponder and support if what we aspire to accomplish through research is to produce concepts and theories. That is why talking about 'fake' to qualify counterfeit seems to me to be an arguable abuse of language: it’s like using the word 'start-up' to refer to businesses emerging at the time of the Minitel..."
«it is in that opening, between inventiveness and deception, that new forms and theories of art are germinating.»
"From the standpoint of contemporary creation, to me the notion of 'fake' suggests three types of art forms practiced on the Internet. The first one is the art of pretense, of trompe-l’œil. I’m thinking of Christophe Bruno’s Google Adwords that exploited an advertising service to guide users towards his personal website — the small ad displayed on the Google page could be considered a fake. The second type has to do with fictitious corporations and identities, examples of which you can find in the work of Luther Blissett and Cornelia Sollfrank. Finally, the third type brings together extremely innovative artistic practices that you can find on sharing platforms and that I would call 'discreet works': they’re videos, animated gifs, performances, and musical compositions from the amateur world that are too encoded to attract large numbers of users and artistically too weak to gain the approval of art professionals. Yet it seems to me that it is in that opening, between inventiveness and deception, that new forms and theories of art are germinating.
If by fake we mean the art of the forger, of the one who can dupe the most expert art amateur, what would the forger of digital art look like? I can see two: the first would be the forger in spite of himself, the amateur who owns the exhibited version of a digital work (print, photo, drawing) that he received for free and without any certificate of authenticity after the exhibit was taken down. In that case, you would need to consider that version as vintage, the same way that historical prints have been considered in the field of photography for the past few years.
The second type of forger is that artist who is an expert in the art of code and who tries to hack into a deliberately locked program to reproduce it, and not just by simulating the effects. These fakes, if they exist, are about challenge and skills, and do not aim to disturb the economy of Internet art in its infancy. I’m convinced this kind of fake exists on the hard drives of some geeks and artists, and it would be nice to have a show…"
Nicolas Thély is the author of the book The Digital Turning Point of Aesthetics
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