Traditionally highlighting the unique personality of a subject, the genre of portraiture is at odds with the increasingly disparate quality of our current experience of the self. The popularity of social media and instant communication has meant much more frequent interaction between individuals, which favors brevity and is often disconnected from place. Now being available “anytime” takes precedence over one’s location, as the disengagement of context (where and how we encounter one another) from interpersonal exchanges poses questions for the ongoing relationship between perception and identity.
Because it’s entirely possible that our online simulation of face-to-face interaction will begin to eclipse our direct perception of one another in person, the seductiveness of accumulating a seemingly infinite social sphere can make the experience of someone in front of us seem banal by comparison. If portraiture has historically meant a close scrutiny of a face to reveal the personality within, it might be worthwhile to consider how our notion of a face is transformed by its perpetual digitization, which allows for serial replication, morphing, and alteration, all the while presumed to possess some meaningful or authentic link to its referent.
Assembled from images of faces collected from the vast image archive found on the internet, Archival Portraits emphasizes the uncertainty and ambiguity associated with the “endless image,” an infinitely copied picture with which we can interact, manipulate, pass on, and re-contextualize, so that the source or author may be not only unknown but irrelevant. Because the face remains a critical arbiter of personal identification (passports, licenses, etc.), this free association of facial representations, while largely relegated to office humor and email forwards, may eventually represent some kind of threat to the authentication process of identity, which depends an identifiable correlation between an image and its representation. Focusing on the amorphous nature of identity and digital culture, the portraits included in the exhibition emphasize confusion over recognition (look-a-likes) as well as “identity agendas” (the mapping and cataloguing of facial types) which are often intended to further associations between physiology and ideological doctrines.