In a sensory unraveling of digital reality, Tara Subkoff's exhibition foresees a future where women have been replaced by robots
Motion-sensored eyeballs, a sculptural face that spritzes perfume, and Miranda Kilbey-Jansson perfecting selfie angles under white silk sheets were just a few of the unique elements of Tara Subkoff’s Deepfake. Currently on view at The Hole, Subkoff’s multimedia work is equipped with pieces that transcend our typical understanding of sensory-immersing art. From the haze of incense wafting as you enter the room to the popping sound of shoes against the exhibition room floor, Deepfake explores themes of altered reality, self-obsession in the digital age, and how people grasp information in an environment of fast-paced consumption.
Subkoff started conceptualizing the elements of the exhibition four years ago after her film came out and when she discovered she was pregnant with her daughter. Over the course of its development, she was also consulting on the creative for an artificial intelligence company, and started questioning a future where women have become surplus, replaced by eternally youthful humanoid robots. Document spoke to Subkoff about the experiential and performative nature of her work, delving into the ideas she prompts and what her questions signify for the future of technology, women, and the notion of being present.
Rachel Cheung—Which element of the multimedia exhibition did you begin with, and how did that inspire the succeeding mediums?
Tara—I started writing the video piece I shot back in November or December 2015. I was pregnant and going through a divorce at the same time. It was a very challenging time for me, and I was exploring the concept of women being replaceable to men in our society. What it means to get older and for there to be a “newer upgraded version” for consumption, how we are valued in society not depending on how successful we are, but by who we are with, how much wealth we have, what we look like, and how young we are or can look. The concept of having A.I. robots, ‘companions,’ ‘social companion humanoid robot,’ and ‘robot companions’ poses the question of what will happen next? Since it is possible to procreate with IVF and surrogacy, what will happen to relationships and how will women be valued or devalued because of these available options? What will the A.I. mistakes or glitches that occur result in? The chatterbot Twitter situation that happened back in 2016, for instance. Terrifying, right? I mean, let’s imagine that happening to a female humanoid robot companion that someone in power falls in love with…where could it go?
Rachel—The centerpiece of the exhibition is presented on four screens, sometimes one. What led you to present the film across multiple perspectives?
Tara—We view over 4,000 to 10,000 images per day that are advertisements. It’s so challenging to break through to someone’s attention with any moving image. Usually, when I see a teenager’s phone, they have multiple screens open at once. This multiple-screens-at-once viewing is becoming the norm. We all have cultural ADD and find it hard to focus on one thing for longer than a few seconds without checking our phones for the promise of something better happening than whatever the present moment is.
The four screens together at once create a multi-dimensional sculpture. At some point in the future, my plan is to have the film projected on 4 walls, but for this exhibition and my upcoming Performa 2019 Biennale performance on November 5th, I wanted to show it this way.
Rachel—Deepfake sets exhibition-goers in a sensory experience. What was the thought process and intent behind the olfactory and auditory elements of the exhibition, as well as the motion of Miranda Kilbey-Jansson’s live selfie performance?
Tara—The performance had two oppositional forces: the narcissism of the actress in her bed looking at only herself for three hours and one humble Tibetan monk doing a blessing for the benefit of all beings.
The incense burning in a Tibetan blessing or puja represents the teaching of impermanence. The mouth with the perfume spraying out or dribbling out is the feeling of the acid reflux or regurgitation of what we are as ‘females’ supposed to be and smell like, even when not humanly possible. What we should look like, how we should all as women always hold our tongues, act nice, and smell like roses.
Rachel—What was your intention with the placement of the motion-sensored eyeball installation as it juxtaposed with others in the exhibition room, and what inspired the idea of using mirrored materials?
Tara—Mirrors are how we have always been able to see our own reflection until the smartphone replaced them. We are currently obsessed with our own image more than ever before with inventions such as Instagram, Snapchat, and all the latest social media newer, cooler digital inventions that rely on the addiction to selfies. We are in a selfie image-obsessed culture presently. The animatronic eyes looking at you as you look at yourself—there is a lot to this piece. It poses more questions as to what we are paying attention to as a culture, as individuals, and where we are heading because of it.
Rachel—What is your hope for viewers of Deepfake, and what are the questions and takeaways you hope your audience walks away with?
Tara—I always hope to pose questions and give enough information that then pose more questions. Answers always change depending on someone’s life experience and perspective. Questions hopefully do too. It is extremely important to me to think and be around other people who are also thinking. The last four years of living in Los Angeles made me really miss NYC for this reason.
I’ve realized how much of our country doesn’t think, how this affects our politics and our environment. What we are doing about it or not?
Rachel—Do you have any plans of expanding the work of Deepfake, or are there other projects you’re working on that you’re excited to share?
Tara—Yes, I would like to show Deepfake again in Los Angeles and expand the show and performances. I want for it to travel and to go around the globe. I’m currently looking for the right spaces for it. I’m also working on another film project which is in the works presently. I’m conceptualizing more “props,” which are movable animatronic sculptures that will be used in another performance. Possibly the next Singapore Biennale and some other upcoming pieces. I’m happy to share with you when they get a little closer to the date.