Artist Statement

Installation of 34 paintings, 2014, oil on canvas

“The Captcha Project” aims to highlight the undefined boundaries between humans and machines, originals and copies. The project started as a reflection on immaterial labour and artistic practice in a neoliberal network society and takes the form of a series of paintings created by Chinese painters from the village of Dafen. Despite the fact that their work consists of a mechanical reproduction of preexisting images for the Western market, Dafen painters consider themselves artists and value their work. I signed an agreement with them, splitting the costs and profits of this project in half and sent them screenshots of CAPTCHA codes, which they transformed into precise oil reproductions. CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) codes aim to obstruct criminals and companies whose goal is to use online services en masse, using bots and automated processes. They are easy for humans to decipher, but impossible for bots. However, it is possible to replace bots with human workers in poor countries, who manually solve thousands of tests every day. These people are required to perform a mechanic type of work that a bot is unable to perform. CAPTCHA was invented partially to distinguish humans from machines, but its effect is the partial transformation of other humans into machines. At the same time, artistic production is shifting. In 2004, Dafen Oil Paintings Village, with its 5000 artists mainly involved in creating accurate reproductions of Western masterpieces for the Western market, was officially declared a “Chinese Cultural Industry Model Base”.

  • EMILIO VAVARELLA (USA) ’s methodology presents a combination of four different but interconnected lines of research: using new technologies with alternative (non-productive, poetic, dysfunctional) goals in mind; imagining technology’s future effects through the use of speculative fiction; misusing technology to reveal and highlight its hidden mechanisms; and decontextualizing technology to gain new perspectives and insights. His work is based on interdisciplinarity and is not limited to any particular media but instead uses a flexible approach that allows for the creation of art projects in different (online, offline, collaborative, interactive) ways and embraces multiple techniques and media simultaneously. In Vavarella’s current research, ample space for theory exists as part of his interdisciplinary approach, making theory an integral part of the process. But he is not interested in the construction of any theory a priori but rather he builds theories through experiments and self-reflection. Vavarella’s projects include both collaborative and collective efforts, employing a methodology that aims to be always open and never definitive. One of the most important goals of this open methodology is to balance online and offline activities, abstract thinking and tangible results. Additionally, a methodology that is open will produce fragmented and dynamic art projects, the process of which can be seen as an ever-changing final product that mediates its relationship with the public and disrupts the conception of art as mere commodity.  emiliovavarella.com

Full text and photo (PDF) p. 278-279

This project was made possible thanks to Shenzen Dafen and Deco Co., LTD and DafenVillageOnline