Currently reading : TECHOFLESH! Ghost Crawl : Celebrity Lookalike Surgery
Technoflesh is a monthly column by Simone C. Niquille for Sang Bleu, writing about technology and/with/on the body, investigating how body modification, as a form of self expression performed on the body, influences modes of 21st century surveillance and biometric identification.
GhostCrawl: Celebrity Lookalike Surgery
During the second World War the United States Army deployed a unit of artists (among them Ellsworth Kelly and Bill Blass) to perfect the craft of camouflage and deception. Like a travelling road show they set out to deceive the enemy by imitating other U.S. Army units. Pretending to be where they were not, adding visual and literal noise to keep the actual tactics and whereabouts hidden. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, also known as The Ghost Army, were equipped with inflatable tanks, sound trucks and fake radio transmissions. Many of the artists found their way to the Army via camouflage classes at NYU & Cooper Union, later joining the Army’s 603rd Camouflage Engineers unit which was responsible for visual deception within The Ghost Army. They were so successful as to make whole battlefields disappear and fake ones appear. A diagram illustrating a mission on the Allied front in the Ardennes displays The Ghost Army’s three warfare tactics: Truth, Distortion and Pure Fiction.
Is the job of the modern camoufleur the plastic surgeon? Biometrics, the translation of bodies to data for later identification and verification, has gained wide reaching implementation and development support after the events of 2001. The War on Terror was announced to a faceless enemy by the U.S., foreshadowing obsessive identification and suspicion in the unidentified. From dating website Match.com offering to find partners that look like your exes, to the FBI generating the largest face database to date, facial recognition has found it’s way comfortably within commercial services and surveillance systems. In 2011, following the London Riots, Google groups with names like ‘London Riots Facial Recognition’ started appearing online. The groups goal was to identify photos of suspects by scouring the Facebook database for identifying matches as they were posted to Flickr by the Metropolitan Police and to Facebook by strangers using the face.api facial recognition algorithm provided by face.com (purchased by Facebook one year later in 2012). Easily accessible face recognition technology allowed the possibilities of crowdsourced forensics questioning trust in seeing machines as investigator and the danger of misidentification by relying on biometric data.
As biometric identification relies on a set of previously collected data, stored in a database to be later compared with a photo or scan, it functions as binary identification of pass or fail. Once a match has been achieved, it would be up to the person ‘identified’ to prove the system wrong. The data, as the prerecorded translation of body into bites, cannot be wrong. The digitised face can be transported to places far removed in time and space form the body belonging. Having minimal control over where and when our face is entered into a database, we can use visual decoy, distortion and pure fiction as deception, turning a face crawl into a ghost crawl.
By creating noise around our visual identity with imitation, we might yielding not one match but many for our face and identities. For twins and Lookalikes this poses a problem and a chance. To identify twins correctly high resolution imagery is needed, currently not provided by most standard surveillance cameras. Having a lookalike minimises the chances of a correct identification, the matching face in the crowd adds fog around your own identity. Next time someone should compare you to a famous face, see it as a successful corporeal VPN reroute. Using Orbeu’s “Face Rekognition” online demo inserting celebrity lookalike head shots off booking agent websites, the real Kim Kardashian scored lower in matching percentage than one of her lookalikes for hire. Anonymous’ Guy Fawkes mask on the other hand got repeatedly identified as John Lennon and Angelica Huston.
Lookalike deception driven to it’s extremes takes the form of plastic surgeons as modern day camoufleurs, celebrity lookalike surgery procedures as the xeroxing mechanism of deception. MTV’s 2004 reality show ‘I want a famous face’ followed participants in their pursuit to gain matching looks to their celebrity idols. Undergoing multiple plastic surgery procedures with the hopes of reaching resembling looks to their aspirational celebrity faces. Among the most demanded looks were Britney Spears, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez. Post-surgery, patients visually embody H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man, removal of their facial bandages reveals them as celeb simulacra or CEbS+, ghostly decoys of celebrity lookalikes. The Ghost Army of WW2 operated under the motto “Deceive to Defeat”. A CEbS+ Ghost Army of the 21st century, visually matching faces misleading machine vision, messing up photo tagging and SmartGate airport security. Instead of air pumped into shapeless plastic, forming a decoy tank, botox injections to the face. A future of pirating famous faces for your own privacy, hacking celebrity for shared anonymity, facial surgery as extreme privacy measure.