Elvis is a two-channel video portrait of the artist as Elvis and Elvis as the artist using a machine learning technique known as deepfake face swap.
Since Elvis and Libby have different facial structures, there’s a subtle blurring of identity – a non-binary Elvis – an uncanny hybrid of them both.
Audience members come to the piece with the assumption that both screens are showing the original Elvis, but then notice the differences due to the deepfakes. The piece highlights the constructed nature of gender, particularly in relation to recent digital technologies. The work questions the notion of male author genius and also talks about our desire and consumption around the cult of celebrity.
Elvis invites the audience into a reimagined history where the King of Rock and Roll was actually a womxn.
The following video is a short take on Elvis in situ at Highcross – enjoy!
What are deepfakes?
The word deep comes from the old English word deop “having considerable extension downward,” especially as measured from the top or surface, also figuratively, “profound, awful, mysterious; serious, solemn,” from Proto-Germanic *deupaz.
The exact origins of the word fake is unknown, but verified in London criminal slang as adjective (1775, “counterfeit”), verb (1812, “to rob”), and noun (1851, “a swindle;” of persons 1888, “a swindler”), but the word fake is probably older.
The etymology of these words gives us a wider understanding of deepfakes.
We might ask how deepfakes have “considerable extension downwards” when transplanting a face onto an/other’s body appears to be very much a surface phenomenon. In most deepfakes the transplanted face sits slightly awkwardly on the actor’s bones, the transplanted lips move with a subtle strangeness and the new eyes are somewhat dead, like the young Robert de Niro’s in the film The Irishman. For computer scientists, the word deep in deepfake of course refers to the deep neural networks that underpin the learning process integral to the technology.
However, to Heaney, deep refers to deepfake videos’ unparalleled ability to extend the races to the bottom in, for example, fake news and revenge porn. It is well known that fake news has a huge impact on elections and increases the polarisation of societies. In porn, where a shocking 96% of deepfakes are distributed – a famous woman’s face is transplanted into pornagraphic footage. This is deeply disturbing and the shaming of women has profound and serious consequences for society in general and of course for the dignity of the women involved.
It is therefore important to ask: As this technology is increasingly popularised and used, what further facets of reality will deepfakes ‘rob’ and ‘swindle’ us of? How might this technology be used more purposefully instead?
In Heaney’s work with deepfakes (and generally), the artist looks to subvert the typical alienation and control propagated by technology and instead create hybrid realities and reimagined histories that propose alternatives from existing polemic structures.
Libby Heaney’s post-disciplinary art practice includes moving image works, performances and participatory and interactive experiences that span quantum computing, virtual reality, AI and installation.
Heaney’s practice uses humour, surrealism and nonsense to subvert the capitalist appropriation of technology, the endless categorizations and control of humans and non-humans alike. Instead, Heaney uses tools like machine learning and quantum computing against their ‘proper’ use, to undo biases and to forge new expressions of collective identity and belonging with each other and the world.
Heaney has exhibited her artwork widely in galleries and institutions in the UK and internationally including solo exhibitions as part of the 2017 EU capital of culture in Aarhus and at the Goethe Institute (London 2019) and in group shows at Holden Gallery (online 2021), Somerset House Studios (online 2020), Arebyte Gallery (online 2020), LUX/Hervisions (online 2020), Tate Modern (London 2016, 2019), ICA (London 2019), V&A (London 2018), Barbican (London 2019), Somerset House (London 2019), Sheffield Documentary Festival (2018), Science Gallery Dublin (2017, 2018, 2019), Sonar+D (with the British Council, Barcelona 2017), The Lowry (Manchester 2017), Ars Electronica (Linz 2017), CogX (London 2018), Telefonica Fundacion (with the British Council, Lima 2017).
Heaney has received a number of Arts Council England projects grants to support her work and is currently a resident of Somerset House Studios.
She lives and works in London.
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