JAMES COUPE
art projects
Sixty Thousand Soldiers
Categories: Art

Exhibition: Exhibited at International Center of Photography , New York City,
January 23 – May 17, 2020
Materials: 3-channel video projection, computers, iPads, cameras
Description: You’re standing right now with nine delegates from 100 gangs. And there’s over 100 more. That’s 20,000 hard-core members. Forty thousand, counting affiliates, and 20,000 more, not organized but ready to fight. Sixty thousand soldiers. Now, there ain’t but 20,000 police in the whole town. Can you dig it?

This work uses an excerpt from Walter Hill’s 1979 cult movie The Warriors, in which over one hundred rival gangs gather in an outdoor stadium at the invitation of Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs gang. Each gang has distinct demographic, stylistic, and sexual preferences, which they communicate through linguistic, sartorial, behavioral and visual signifiers.

Sixty Thousand Soldiers uses AI classifiers to group visitors’ faces into gangs, based on demographic, economic and occupational markers, and then uses a customized version of the notorious Deepfakes algorithm to switch visitors’ faces into the film, in place of the original gangs. Faces swap at a variety of speeds and resolutions, and do not attempt to be seamless in all cases.

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 are 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 its viewers. 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.

Credits: With thanks to the Center for Digital Art and Experimental Media (DXARTS), University of Washington. Software development by Jacob Fennell, Forrest Fabian Jesse and Yuying Hung.
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IMAGES: Sixty Thousand Soldiers Sixty Thousand Soldiers Sixty Thousand Soldiers Sixty Thousand Soldiers

Categories: Art -