Sonae Media Art 2019: Colective Tiago Martins, João Correia and Sérgio Rebelo

Within the last few decades, societies, and specifically the entities that govern them, have propagated an intense culture of surveillance; our continued proximity to technology has not only become usual but serves to maintain watch on us at all times and all corners.

Umbigo spoke to the collective comprised of Tiago Martins, João Correia and Sérgio Rebelo about their work Portraits of no one (for which they were selected as finalists of the Sonae Media Art Award 2019), the diffusion between artificial and natural and the consequences of these interactions. Portraits of no one is on show at Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado until 2 February.


Myles Francis Browne – To me, the installation became evocative of surveillance culture and how technology has always provided new means of imposing yet more control and infringements upon privacy. Were these ideas you sought to discuss?

Tiago Martins, João Correia, Sérgio Rebelo – Yes. Photographic representation, with its ability to capture reality with a high degree of verisimilitude, quickly became an excellent means of identification and a tool for social surveillance. However, the contemporary context is distinct. Our society is more and more pictorial and the number of images produced is enormous. (We can even affirm that our experiences only become real through the mechanical eyes of our cameras). The vast majority of these images are processed by artificial intelligence systems and computer vision, which are getting increasingly intelligent. At the moment, it is not only about surveillance and control. It is also about taking and executing concrete actions, near automatically, based on this information. It is an absolute social change and citizens are not fully informed, nor has the subject been discussed consistently.

According to this perspective, one of the main conceptual bases of the installation Retratos de Ninguém is to create a space to reflect and discuss how technological breakthroughs and the omnipresence of intelligent systems are changing our relationship with the world. Especially the way we look at images and how our data can be used.

MFB – Equally, and not unrelated, one cannot help but see the influence social media culture. The viewer experiences the portraits of others much like the interfaces of so many apps. Yet, the steady mutation of these portraits makes it unlike the uniformity to which we have become accustomed on these platforms. How does this speak to our engagement with, and often psychological dependence upon these platforms?

TM, JC, SR – The installation Retratos de Ninguém always had the objective of inculcating doubts in the visitor, promoting a space that allows reflection on the fragility of the border between the artificial and the real, in the contemporary technological and social context. To achieve this, during the process of conceptualization and development of the installation, we try to explore the idiosyncrasies of contemporary society, to create an immersive and familiar environment for the visitor.

The way the photographs are exhibited refers directly to how we tend to see others and how others see us. Today, looking at someone through their portrait (or profile photo) is the most common way to look at someone. Social networks have had a great impact. Social networks are (and will continue to be) a very important social agent and one of the great fruits of this digital technological revolution. Therefore, when we intended to create a space for reflection on our daily lives and our relationship with technology, social networks and the way we depend on them to see, relate and judge others was one of the topics we wanted to address.

MFB – The constant mutation of the portraits is at times amusing, and others disconcerting. Upon entering into the exhibition, one near instinctively begins a process of evaluating these faces. Yet it is interesting that what, or rather, who we are evaluating is, in actuality, no-one. Do you feel the installation serves to capture not the image of others, but rather, of our own biases and prejudices?

TM, JC, SR – We can look at the projections as a mirror to another dimension. A dimension very similar to ours, because the people on the other side of the “mirror” are no strangers to us. This makes the observer see the projected faces as the faces of real people (previously, observers as well), watching and judging them as they normally do, even if these people are nobody. It is a reflection.

It is also interesting to notice the change in attitude when people see some of their facial parts (or someone they recognize) in a portrait of nobody. At that moment, a feeling of empathy arises with that “no person” and with the strangers who are also part of it.

MFB – The collection of data has become a rather insidious process. Browser cookies masquerade as helpful tools yet, in actuality, serve to provide uncannily accurate data and personal profiles of users to the digital/powers-that-be for economic and even political gain. Is our reality not already augmented entirely by consequence of this digital culture?

TM, JC, SR – The digital realm has transformed and will transform contemporary society. The reality of each individual has been amplified through digital means, opening new doors and possibilities. The installation Retratos de Ninguém shows this. Feeding only on the reality of the visitors, this installation manages to create another amplified digital reality, bigger than the original.

MFB – The work stratifies itself between the realms of the artificial and the natural. Yet the dissolution of the already thin barrier between the two poles it not unseen or unheard by any means. Can you conceive of artificiality ever replacing the natural? Has it already happened?

TM, JC, SR – Nowadays, we are already constantly relating to intelligent artificial systems. We depend more and more on this intelligence. Regarding the natural being replaced by the artificial in the future, we do not know. In the present, we believe in symbiotic relationships and collaboration between the natural and the artificial.

Myles Francis Browne is an arts journalist & writer, originally from London, now based in Lisbon. He has worked with such publications as Nicotine, TANK, Vogue Portugal, and now currently writes at Umbigo magazine.

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