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Column: Real fake - fake real

18 October 2021

7 min. to read

Manifestations | photo by Tommy Köhlbrugge
The internet screams, sarts, flirts, and flicks at the MU exhibition Life As We Know It (LAWKI). On dozens of screens, stripped of all decorum, images of hard news and fake news, of sports matches and war fronts, high art and primitive sexual urges flash by.

This overwhelming exhibition - experience would be a better description - by the art collective ARK is controlled by a mysterious algorithm. It finds images on the web with keywords in the thirteen most important languages and catapults the results back into the real world. But not entirely without human input. In MU, sensors track the movements of visitors. Is the room empty? Then the screens turn to purple. If there are a lot of visitors, the image bombardment intensifies. But what are we looking at? When was this baseball game? Where is that angry street protest? The images are real, but at the same time, completely manipulated.

From fake news and deep fakes, to augmented realities and data-driven politics: the boundaries between on- and offline are blurring. Just look at Manifestations, the most extensive art & tech event during DDW. Last year's online exhibition can be seen in its entirety at the Melkfabriek. Artist Ines Alpha, for example. She makes digital make-up that gives us complete aesthetic freedom online. Why have bags under your eyes on Teams when you can wear flowers on your face? Even with our personalities, real and fake are intertwined.

What is real and fake is blurry. Young designer and brand new winner of a Dutch Design Award in the Young Designer category Audrey Large plays with this paradox in her enigmatic work. Large, who graduated from the Design Academy in 2019, makes quirky sculptures whose material and manufacturing techniques remain entirely elusive. At the same time, she makes animations full of digital image manipulation that almost literally splashes off the screen, right into the real world. Her physical sculptures look photoshopped, and her digital visuals are skillfully modelled.

Audrey Large is not the only designer who ventures into this twilight world between digital and analogue. Among the nominations for the Dutch Design Awards is The Fabricant, a real fashion house that uses visual effects from the film industry to create digital collections that exist only on screen, or can be viewed with VR glasses or augmented reality applications. The project False Mirror by the design studio Alllesss consists of a live VR performance and a hybrid exhibition where visitors interact with each other in a virtual environment. Alllesss is nominated for a Dutch Design Award in the Data & Interaction category that will be awarded on Friday.

And then it's just a small step to products that AI designs entirely. With her speculative project Antishape, Design Academy graduate Anna Resei is taking a step forward into the future. What if machine learning were to analyse our online data and produce an object that fully matched our 'objective' taste without human intervention? Will we see the difference? If not, does that matter? Can an algorithm be creative at all? And what does this mean for the future of the designer? These are questions that are still speculative at the moment but will soon be urgent. Perhaps sooner than we think. Or would like to be.

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