Born in Chicago, IL, Melissa Huang received her BFA in Fine Arts Studio from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Currently, Melissa attends Georgia State University for her MFA in Drawing and Painting (expected May 2021). Her surreal oil paintings, prints, and videos explore digitally constructed bodies and multiplicity of identity with a focus on glitch imagery. Melissa is an Appraiser of Fine Art with a background working in galleries, museums, and archives. Her work has been featured in publications including Fresh Paint Magazine, Art House Press, and Stone Canoe. Melissa is a founding member of the Politits Art Coalition, a feminist art group that exhibits collaboratively and curates an annual juried exhibition exploring social justice issues. You can see more of Melissa’s artwork on Instagram (@melissahuangart).
The Most Beautiful Women
I first learned about deepfake around five years ago on Reddit. Users were posting about fake celebrity pornography and where to find it. The discussion centered around which videos felt the most real and how users could find more like them, or even make their own. It was an alarming concept: that famous women (and sometimes even women outside of the spotlight) were being forced into a pornographic role without their consent. This new technology raised a lot of ethical questions about privacy and rights to our own likeness.
Deepfake uses artificial neural networks and machine learning to take the person from Video A and transpose their face onto the person from Video B. Using this, you can create videos of people saying or doing things they did not actually say or do. Deepfake is most commonly used to create fake celebrity pornography, resulting in glitchy, unconvincing, and uncanny videos, although amateur users and academics have found many other applications. As an artist, I am less interested in the polished, realistic deepfake videos and more interested in the glitch imagery and mistakes discovered within the program. This video was the first in an ongoing series of deepfake artworks I am creating in collaboration with my husband, artist and designer Drew Tetz.
In this video, The Most Beautiful Women, I used found footage from Youtube, taken by a man doing a video walkthrough of the American Art Museum’s Neoclassical collection. In his own words: “I have long thought that the most beautiful women in Washington D.C. (when my wife isn’t in town) are in the Smithsonian American Art Museum – the Hiram Powers neoclassical busts and sculptures in marble. They are perfection and a marvel to view in person.”
Through deepfake technology, I have been able to create video that imposes my own visage as an Asian American woman onto these sculptures representing the western cultural ideal. What does it mean to merge with a statue, to become “yellow” flesh on white marble? Does this uncanny combination really produce the most beautiful woman?
I’ve also included two gridded images that are created by the deepfake program. You can render these sample images at points to see how well the deepfake process is coming (the longer you run it the more “real” your video can become). The sample images are beautiful in their own right as you see the AI learning how to translate flesh into marble and vice versa.
Did You Take It Yet?
Recently I’ve been exploring video applications of techniques I use in my painting practice: glitching, distorting, and reworking images of my own body. In this piece, Did You Take It Yet?, I juxtapose a composed but uncomfortably posing version of myself next to a conglomerate image of my body: bending joints, wrinkled flesh, birthmarks, blinking eyes, and wide smiles.
Much of my work explores our understanding our our inner self, our outward presentation, and how that presentation is interpreted differently by family, friends, and an online audience. I don’t believe there is one genuine version of yourself, rather our identity is composed of many fragments.
As our online identities take precedent over our appearance in the flesh we have increasing control over “avatar” versions of ourselves. We can edit our image away into nothingness just using Facetune or Snow. Here I imagine a different presentation of the self.