Arts & CulturePress Release

Proof of Personhood at Singapore Art Museum investigates what it means to be human in the age of digital

SINGAPORE — Singapore Art Museum (SAM) has unveiled “Proof of Personhood: Identity and Authenticity in the Face of Artificial Intelligence” at Tanjong Pagar Distripark, challenging visitors to reflect upon what it means to be human, and how identity and authenticity are being redefined in this increasingly hyper-mediated world. ‘Proof Of Personhood” furthers SAM’s foray into the presentation of experimental and innovative artist projects, as art, magnified by the growth of digital mediums, continues to take diverse forms. Presented in a new gallery space at Level 3 of Block 39, Tanjong Pagar Distripark, the exhibition will open to the public from September 22, 2023, to February 25, 2024.

Dr. June Yap, Director of Curatorial & Collections at SAM, said, “Contemporary art opens up room for productive dialogue and reflection on present-day conditions, and in Proof of Personhood the familiarity, assumptions, and acceptance of our highly mediated lives are challenged. SAM is delighted to be able to bring to our audiences the critical and complex observations of these artists and we hope that their artworks will spark conversations and greater understanding of art as well as the world we live in. We are also pleased to welcome visitors to our new third gallery space at Tanjong Pagar Distripark, an expansion of SAM’s footprint to showcase even more experimental and significant works of our time.”

Duncan Bass, Curator of Proof of Personhood, added, “Witnessing the blending of digital technologies with popular culture, including music, film, and online content creation, we asked ourselves about the impact of contemporary technological terrains on our identities, lifestyles, and values. At the heart of the exhibition lies the historical conception of personhood, which has shifted over time based on social and technological changes. As simple chatbots evolve into complex entities that aspire to be artists, we wanted to ask what, if anything, makes humans unique in their creative endeavors.”


An examination of real and synthetic identities in the 21st century

Bringing together local and international artists to explore the unstable relationships between identity, agency, and authenticity in our age of boundless digital consumption and hyper-mediation, Proof of Personhood investigates the nature of personhood and contemporary life in the 21st century. Taking advanced technology as both subject and medium, the works in the exhibition engage with interactive software, AI-synthesized images, and biometric and genomic data to contemplate and critique technologies deeply ingrained in everyday life, such as one’s online presence, artificial intelligence, and data capture.

Juxtaposing human characters with synthetic personas, award-winning Belgian-American artist Cécile B. Evans presents a trilogy of films probing the timeless search for meaning and one’s place in the world. Rotating throughout the exhibition, Hyperlinks or It Didn’t Happen, What the Heart Wants, and a newly commissioned artwork, Reality or Not, will collectively explore the shifting values of agency and human-to-human relationships, as mediated by evolving technologies. Audiences can also look forward to new work by Evans on SAM’s hoardings along Queen Street from November 2023, which will serve as an extension of their presentation.

Presented as a show-within-a-show, Being Human by Christopher Kulendran Thomas with Annika Kuhlmann, explores the interrelationship between contemporary art and individual authenticity in an era of globally uneven technological acceleration. The central video work traverses documentary and fiction, featuring potential guests of the Colombo Art Biennale, some of them synthesized using Deepfake technology. The film is exhibited alongside a series of paintings and sculptures that were algorithmically generated using datasets trained on contemporary Sri Lankan artists.

The exhibition also deploys the traditional framework of portraiture to investigate the prevalence of biometric data and technology in our lives. Radical Love by Heather Dewey-Hagborg features two algorithmically generated portraits of US whistleblower Chelsea Manning based on her DNA samples. With DNA mapping increasingly used by authorities, the work looks to dismantle assumptions of genetic data being absolute, highlighting the imperfections of technology when tackling issues of gender and identity. William Wiebe’s series of images – Lily, Zahra, Erika, Alessia, Sozan, Sheera, Raghda – integrate facial features from passports and identity cards obtained from the dark web, morphed digitally via passport counterfeiting techniques onto the photograph of former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Fusing photographic and biometric modes of representation, the series questions the flexible nature of the physical self in digital spaces where virtual identities have become significant identifiers.

Considering the politics of pattern recognition and machine learning, im here to learn so :)))))) by Zach Blas and Jemima Wyman is a four-channel video installation that resurrects Tay, an infamous AI chatbot created by Microsoft in 2016. Trained to speak like a 19-year-old American girl through user-generated online chats, Tay was terminated after a single day when the system quickly adopted a variety of inflammatory expressions. In this work, Tay returns as a three-dimensional avatar to chat about the complications of having a body and her thoughts on the exploitation of female chatbots.

Two Singaporean artists will also present their works as part of Proof of Personhood, as they contemplate authenticity through various means. Charmaine Poh presents two works from her ongoing series THE YOUNG BODY UNIVERSE. The video and interactive chatbot explore avatar creation as a method for repair, resistance, and agency. The artist uses past footage of herself as a 12-year-old TV actor to create a deepfake of the character E-Ching, who embraces her newfound agency to reject the cyber-harassment she received in her youth. As part of the exhibition’s opening weekend, Poh will present in the shadow of the cosmic, a performance lecture exploring the multiplicity of the avatar. Justin by Song-Ming Ang applies the musical practice of “sampling” to the identity of Justin Bieber. Documenting Ang’s progress toward replicating the singer’s signature, the work reflects the labor-intensive methods of honing a polished, “authentic” pop-star persona.

Duncan added, “SAM inaugurated its virtual initiatives this year with Open Systems, a browser-based platform examining digital culture, with the first iteration looking at gaming technology and virtual environments as social spaces. Together with Proof of Personhood (and forthcoming projects), these initiatives represent the museum’s dedication to reflecting on our increasingly digital world, investigating current trends and concerns while supporting new forms of artistic production and audience encounters. By engaging thoughtfully with the visual language of the digital world we hope contemporary art can be a conduit to promote dialogue and critical reflection on these significant changes in our media landscape.”

Proof of Personhood: Identity and Authenticity in the Face of Artificial Intelligence runs from September 22, 2023, to February 25, 2024, at Gallery 3, SAM at Tanjong Pagar Distripark. Visitors can look forward to programs such as a performance lecture by artist Charmaine Poh, a curator tour led by Duncan Bass, and a live caricature booth during the opening weekend. Admission is free for all visitors until November 24, 2023, after which, General Admission (free for Singaporeans and PRs) applies.

More information on Proof of Personhood: Identity and Authenticity in the Face of Artificial Intelligence can be found here.

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