Tinkering around on the internet this morning, I came across this image, presented as having been created by 'scientists', overlaying faces to find the average of various countries.
The way this image has been composited has some obviously problematic elements. The fact that the taboo against race mixing has been preserved by treating white Americans and black Americans as separate, whilst reducing the entirety of West Africa to a single face jumps out as a particularly egregious example. Some quick research, however, shows that this project was not done by scientists, and the image above is obviously assembled from a variety of sources, though all apparently by the same art, Mike Mike. A native of Capetown, currently living in Istanbul, Mike's website describes the project thusly:
It deals with notions of race, place, identity and belonging on both an extremely local level as well as on an impossibly ambitious, almost Borgesian, global scale. The project is an exploration of human identity as affected by the forces of globalization and makes full use of all the tools of the modern economy – distributed work across several time zones, outsourcing to take advantages of cost disparities, an open source model that allows input from contributors, and of course the internet itself as a medium of display and exchange. Mike travels the world photographing in each city the first one hundred people he can convince to take part in his project. He then combines the faces to create one new male and female individual, which for him is a distilled representation of that place at a future moment in time.
These images are interesting to me partly because of their aesthetic qualities, their slight ghostliness and immateriality that reminds me of John Berger's description of the work of William Blake in Ways of Seeing: "he did everything he could to make his figures lose substance, to become transparent and indeterminate one from the other, to defy gravity, to be present but intangible, to glow without a definable surface, to be not reducible to objects." The work is also interesting in its relation to the humanist traditions of western art, particularly, for example, the idea expounded by Albrecht Durer, that an ideal nude figure should be composed of only the most 'ideally' proportioned components of a range of real figures. These images use a more modern, photographic form of synthesis, but seem to relate to similiar concepts, adding another layer of political meaning, though it is worth noting that the artists aims are towards realism as opposed to idealism. However, the individual people are still obscured by the artistic process. I find this emblematic of one of the key problems that pervades 'utopian' political and social thinking; how to simultaneously value the individual whilst recognising the needs of the collective. Finding ways of synthesising different points of view or conceptions together, either to highlight their similarities or to expose their differences is, I think, something that will need to be explored in this project. One of the most fundamental aspects of the thing, and one I am considering strongly as I try and envisage a form to work towards, is the fact that Utopia/Dystopia is not a dichotomy, but a continuum of viewpoints. One person's heaven is another person's hell.