Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Art of Hoaxes

Sorry for the long delay between posts. It's gotten harder to find new stuff. Suggestions and discoveries from my VAST audience is always welcome.

Today I want to point you to HOAXART. It's a small collection of hoax videos. I think ///nightview is the most compelling hoax since they use the lack of video quality to hide the digital manipulation making it much more believable.

So is this art? I certainly think so. It's a definitely a creative endeavor for the creator. They have designed and crafted their conception of what an alien craft could be and furthermore presented it in a compelling way.

Is it skeptical? Totally. Hoaxing is something of a mainstay of skeptical thinkers. It's a wonderful way to show people how fallable they are and how easily they can be beguiled. The most famous photo of nessie, and the origin of crop circles are both famous hoaxes that their creators revealed years later.

More recently Penn and Teller did a Bigfoot hoax for their show Bullshit.

They purposely made it extremely poorly and still it garnered attention from the cryptozoological community. (Yes, that is a real word.)

So my conclusion: Well constructed hoaxes are a way to express a person's ideas of what could be while demonstrating to others how their own sense of reason can be manipulated.

I kind of want to make one now.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Hoaxes of Art

Is there anything more beautiful that a masterfully executed hoax? Is there a more cunning way to force a people to admit that they can be fooled? I think not.

There have been some wonderful hoaxes throughout history, though it would seem that the 20th century saw the creation of a new kind of hoax: one that is meant to be found out. There have been snake oil salesmen, artifact and art forgers and liars of all sorts as long as there has been a market. The normal theme, though, is to profit and get out before anyone suspects anything. Or better yet, to keep the hoax going and gain a following of believers.

An apparently modern twist is to purposely expose the hoax as a fraud after it has been successfully executed. The purposes of this are varied but normally involve some level of making the hoaxed look foolish and making the hoaxers feel brilliant.

What does this have to do with art? Well there is of course an art to creating a good hoax, but that's for another post. Today I want to look at some hoaxes perpetrated with fine art.

The Museum of Hoaxes has a rather nice repository of good art hoaxes and I want to talk about a couple. The first is the incident of Pierre Brussau. Pierre was a modern artist working in the early 1960s in a non-representational or abstract, modern style. He was also a chimpanzee. His work was shown in an art show in sweden to rave reviews. The whole endeavour was to expose the fact that the abstract style couldn't be analyzed meaningfully by art critics. It showed that it was basically arbitrary whether or not the critics liked the work or not.

Another similar hoax was perpetrated by Naromji in 1946. Naromji was another modernist artist and was actually a man by the name of Jim Moran pranking the critics. He created the most meaningless colage he could think of and submitted it to an art show where it hung amongst other famous artists of the time. The interesting twist on this is that the value of the painting bounced around as different people claimed authorship. When Antheil delivered it, the association took it as a powerful work. When Moran exposed the Hoax, the painting was garbage. When an artist by the name of Kester later claimed it was his, the value was restored. As far as I'm concerned that made this hoax even more powerful. It exposed a painful truth in the art community that the name on a work is more highly valued than the work itself and the criticism that a work receives is heavily biased by the critic's view of the artist.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The language of truth

This is actually what started me on the whole skeptical art idea, the visual language used by museums.

When I was a kid I went to the Royal Ontario Museum and was fascinated by all of their impressive displays about the evolution of dinosaurs and how evolved into lizards. When I went back years later the same dinosaurs were there, but they were evolving into birds.

Now that I'm an adult I can visit a museum and read the signs deeply enough to catch the caveats and disclaimers about this being what "evidence suggests" and "the scientific consensus" scattered here and there in the longer blocks of text that everyone skips over to look at the compelling and scientific looking graphic beside the awe inspiring sculpture.

That brings me to my jump off point to all of this inquiry: What is a scientific looking? Why do we believe what we see in a museum with credulity? I have lots of hypotheses. I'm going to start with this.

We believe what we see in a museum because that's what the word "museum" means. A museum is where we keep history so that the public can see it. Scientists and learned people put those things there so they must be true. When we enter a museum, we leave our skepticism at the door and absorb everything we see as fact. Museums, at least those that I have visited, have a certain structure to their exhibits that tell us that what we're seeing is a museum piece. The cases, the labels the lighting and the poses of the sculptures all contribute. Also, the complimentary graphics that tend to emphasize form and detail over movements and composition tell us that the truth is more important than entertainment.

This visual language seems to have become so well understood that it can be abused. Enter the Museum of Creation. I shit you not. This is a real place. Their agenda is to present an interpretation of history that is coherent with a literal interpretation of the bible. How do they do it? By creating the same environment as a genuine natural history museum. Take their virtual tour. This is the same place as I visited as a kid but with different labels. If I wasn't versed in the sciences I would be entirely unable to discern between the facts being presented at each.

So my conclusion? We have, as a society, created and conformed to a visual language that lends credibility to its subject. That language can now be exploited by anyone with the resources to do so.

My solution? Introduce paradox. Create and present items using the visual language of the museum that can't possibly be true. Force the viewer to think critically about what they're seeing and hope that they can then apply that to future exhibits. My dream is to make a whole museum style exhibit full of visually compelling nonsense. Here's my prototype:

(I did say in my first post that at some point I would stroke my own ego)

In my mind I have an exhibit with interactive displays and fake fossils and some bigger skeletons and a whole evolutionary history based entirely on lies. I'm convinced that it will work because two strangers have already asked me if this guy is real.