Take a good hard look at yourself: Autoscopia and the networked image

In Art Power, the curator-critic Boris Groys writes: ‘A digital image, to be seen, should not be merely exhibited but staged, performed….one can say that digitalisation turns the visual arts into a performing art.’ In other words, contra Walter Benjamin’s prognosis that, in the age of mechanical reproducibility, the distinction between original and copy would be thoroughly reduced or transformed, we now witness the emergence of a new division even more radical than that of original and copy. This division — a consequence of our new post-convergent media — is that between data and its modulation. All digital data, detached from its original semantic source, is formless and placeless until modulated into a display register. Although devoid of qualities, it can thereafter be modulated into any display register, contingent entirely on parameters decided by some kind of agent, whatever that agent may be. Under this description, early 2000s concepts of mediacy and hypermediacy become simply potential vectors of the usability of images, rather than defining characteristics of the digital universe tout court. This presentation discusses Autoscopia, a collaborative online artwork commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery Canberra for an exhibition entitled Doppelganger in 2009. The work uses multiple image and text searches to produce composite ‘portraits,’ that is, artificial identities that are thereafter recursively reincorporated into the search-results themselves. These portraits are therefore network performances, with undifferentiated data as their elements and resulting in a new kind of performative image.