Bag Heads

In the 1950s Francis Bacon painted a series of heads. Since first seeing them I have wanted to create a series of head paintings of a similar nature but which stem from my practice and not as a “copy” of his work. This work is part of that on-going enquiry, following Blood Head, Helmet Heads and others.

In 2014 I did a series of head photos of Roy (of west African and native north American descent) with his head painted white and a grid drawn drawn across it. The work was about colonialism and the use of mapping to stake a claim to a territory. I found myself looking at them again and realised why they resonate anew – because of how facial recognition systems measure the location of certain key features of the territory of the face.
The photos of Roy were part of the image sets used to train the neural networks on the AI system used in the making of this work.

This collided with watching a documentary called “Coded Bias” on Netflix about a “woman of colour” researcher at MIT and how her face was not recognised by AI systems until she put on a white mask.

Prompted by the talk by Artes Mundi in which all four of the speakers were women and three of which were of colour – yet another art “establishment” jumps on the band wagon to try and atone for the legacy which they caused or inherited of years/centuries of active discrimination against artists who were women or were of colour. Now they are using the same methods of discrimination to “atone”…

“Bagism” was something created by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the 1960s to satirise prejudice and stereotyping. If each of us was in a bag, then we cannot judge each other based on our bodily appearance.

During the pandemic our bodily appearance online has been restricted to face/head and shoulders. So we should therefore wear a bag over our heads. Paper bag?

Having our head in a paper bag also satirises the use of AI algorithms by social media (Facebook group) and other media providers such as Netflix to show us what they think we want to see based on what we have seen, resulting in an ever shrinking echo chamber. It is suffocating.

A bag over our head also has an impact on our ability to breathe. This becomes more laboured and we become acutely aware of it.

Bag head is a slang name for drug addicts, presumed to derive from glue and solvent abusers who put the substance into a bag and then breathed in/out with a protracted breathing with the bag over their mouth. Now it refers to smack users too.

The soundscape for Bag Heads is woven from a recording of a single long deep breath.

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