FACETS - Face Aesthetics in Contemporary E-Technological Societies

Understanding the Meaning of the Face in the Digital Era

FACETS has two complementary research foci, the widespread practices of face exhibition in social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tinder and minority practices of occultation, including the mask in anti-establishment political activism (e.g., Anonymous) and in anti-surveillance artistic provocation (e.g., Leonardo Selvaggio).

Arguably, the meaning of the human face is currently changing on a global scale, through the invention and diffusion of new visual technologies (e.g., digital photography, visual filters, as well as software for automatic face recognition) or through the creation and establishment of novel genres of face representation (e.g., the selfie) and through new approaches to face perception, reading, and memorization (e.g., the ‘scrolling’ of faces on Tinder). Cognitions, emotions, and actions that people attach to the interaction with one’s and others’ faces might soon be undergoing dramatic shifts.

In FACETS, an interdisciplinary but focused approach combines visual history, semiotics, phenomenology, visual anthropology, but also face perception studies and collection, analysis, and social contextualization of big data, so as to study the cultural and technological causes of these changes and their effects in terms of alterations in self-perception and communicative interaction.

In the tension between, on the one hand, political and economic agencies pressing for increasing disclosure, detection, and marketing of the human face (for reasons of security and control, for commercial or bureaucratic purposes) and, on the other hand, the counter-trends of face occultation (writers and artists like Banksy, Ferrante, Sia, or Christopher Sievey / Frank Sidebottom choosing not to reveal their faces), the visual syntax, the semantics, and the pragmatics of the human face are rapidly evolving. FACETS carries on an innovative, cross-disciplinary survey of this phenomenon.

Project FACETS – Face Aesthetics in Contemporary E-Technological Societies
Researcher (PI) Massimo LEONE
Call Details Consolidator Grant (CoG), SH5, ERC-2018-COG



Artificial Visages in Arts and Technologies: the Agency of Representations in Society

Neurophysiology and cognitive psychology, visual history and digital art, artificial intelligence and plastic surgery constitute the daring cross-disciplinary perimeter of the present research project, carried out in the first year of the ERC Consolidator Grant FACETS: Face Aesthetics in Contemporary E-Technological Societies. Within this perimeter, a specific issue is investigated: the agency of facial images.

The idea of facial images made by a non-human agency is old. On the one hand, human beings are neuro-physiologically inclined to pareidolia, that is, the tendency to see faces in natural environments (tree-trunks and clouds, for instance); on the other hand, ancient sources in many cultures narrate of images of faces prodigiously appearing in stones, gems, landscapes, etc. In religion too, deities are often thought to manifest themselves through miraculous facial images, called “acheiropoietai”. The project will survey this fascinating tradition and compare it with current trends in the creation of “transhuman portraits”: in technology, through generative adversarial networks and in robotics; in medicine, through aesthetic surgery and face transplantation; in the arts, with special attention to the provocative creation of “artificial faces” by contemporary digital artists like Leonardo Selvaggio.