art projects
Warriors at ICP
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James Coupe

International Center of Photography, New York City
Jan 23rd – May 17th 2020

The International Center of Photography (ICP) will open its new integrated center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with James Coupe: Warriors, one of four inaugural exhibitions. It will be on view at ICP at 79 Essex Street at Essex Crossing from January 23 to May 17, 2020.

The exhibition uses Walter Hill’s 1979 cult movie The Warriors as a narrative template. Hill’s movie follows a Coney Island street gang, the Warriors, as they battle twenty rival gangs during a journey from the Bronx back to Brooklyn. Each gang has distinct demographic, stylistic, and sexual preferences, which they communicate through linguistic, sartorial, behavioral and visual signifiers .

The exhibition makes use of a customized version of the notorious Deepfakes algorithm, which can switch peoples’ faces for those in existing video footage, and has become indelibly associated with “fake news.” Faces swap at a variety of speeds and resolutions, and do not attempt to be seamless in all cases. iPads around the ICP building capture peoples’ faces and then run a series of demographic, personality, and other classification analyses on their images. Using Deepfakes technology, this catalogue of faces are analyzed and grouped into “gangs”, before being auto-composited onto members of given “gangs” from original footage in The Warriors.

The exhibition consists of three works, each using a key scene from Hill’s film that involve confrontations between gang members and illuminate demographic differences of race, gender, and class. The centerpiece of the project focuses on a 9-minute scene at the beginning of the film, in which over one hundred rival gangs gather in an outdoor stadium at the invitation of Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs gang.

Cyrus’s speech contains a Marxist-inflected demand for class solidarity and armed revolution against the corrupt city police force, in which he hails the various gang members as “soldiers” in a unified army of collective resistance. This dramatic call-to-arms culminates with his sudden assassination, positioning Cyrus as a Che-like revolutionary martyr.

The character of Cyrus is retained, not swapped, but all other characters will be gradually swapped over the course of the work’s exhibition. Due to its durational and interactive composition, the work evolves in relation to the profiles of the people captured by the cameras. Hence the new gangs generated by the work reflect patterns of immigration, gentrification, and demographic shifts in a neighborhood that exemplifies the historical image of the United States as a “nation of immigrants.” Visitors will find themselves algorithmically segregated, an experience that is “participatory” yet not “democratic,” since it forecloses any sense of control over how one’s profile is instrumentalized.

As a result of bearing witness to the speech, the visitor becomes implicated in Cyrus’s call to action, and hailed as a potential “soldier” in the army of resistance. In an increasingly divisive political climate where state-sanctioned violence, white supremacist and xenophobic hatred, police brutality, and massive economic inequality are coupled with a widespread distrust of mainstream journalism and the concept of “fact,” Deepfakes have emerged as a key mechanism for manipulating the public through false propaganda. And yet, by the same token, the Warriors project insists that this technology can also be deployed as a mechanism for questioning and critiquing official media sources, promoting skepticism, and perhaps most urgently, imagining alternatives to existing narratives.

“Coupe’s work shows how technology can be used to create content with unintended and often problematic consequences. The collision of past and present highlights the social tensions portrayed on screen and their contemporary relevance,” said Erin Barnett, ICP’s director of exhibitions and collections.

Warriors sheds light on how these mechanisms of power and control operate in public and private space, on city streets and online, typically relying on tacit consent. Warriors reflects on how personal data—including images—is continually mined, manipulated, and (mis)categorized, and on the resulting widespread distrust in mainstream media, evidence, and facts.

Categories: News, Uncategorized -