Museum of the Moving Image explores the emergence of "deepfake" videos in new exhibition
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Museum of the Moving Image explores the emergence of "deepfake" videos in new exhibition
Installation view of "In Event of Moon Disaster," an Emmy Award–winning project co-directed by Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund. "In Event of Moon Disaster" is an MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality production. Photo: Thanassi Karageorgiou / Museum of the Moving Image.

ASTORIA, NY.- Museum of the Moving Image is presenting Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen, an exhibition that considers the emergence of “deepfake” videos—deceptive content created with advanced AI and machine learning technology. Contextualizing this phenomenon within the history of nonfiction moving-image media, with a focus on manipulation, misinformation, and propaganda, the exhibition is on view from December 18, 2021–May 15, 2022 in the Museum’s third-floor changing exhibitions gallery.

The centerpiece of Deepfake is In Event of Moon Disaster, a startlingly convincing video co-directed by Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund, that uses deepfake technology to present an alternate history of the Apollo 11 mission, presented on a television set in a period-appointed living room. In Event of Moon Disaster is an MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality production. The video depicts President Richard Nixon informing the public that the Apollo 11 astronauts did not survive their mission—a speech written for Nixon that he never delivered. By presenting an alternative version of a world-renowned historical event, the installation demonstrates that the representation of both the past and present are subject to powerfully effective technical manipulations that can challenge our belief in what is real.

The six-minute film is part of a multimedia storytelling project of the same name that includes the website In Event of Moon Disaster won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Interactive Media: Documentary earlier this year.

In Event of Moon Disaster is contextualized by an exploration of the potential harms and benefits of deepfake technology, including excerpts from To Make a Deepfake (2020), produced by Scientific American, and a wide range of deepfake videos. To conceptually place deepfakes in a historical continuum, the exhibition also offers examples of contested depictions of actual events from throughout the history of the moving image—from Spanish-American War reenactments (1899) to Frank Capra’s Why We Fight (Prelude to War) (1942) to the Zapruder footage of the JFK assassination (1963), and work from the 21st century.

Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen was organized by Barbara Miller, MoMI’s Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, and Joshua Glick, Assistant Professor of English, Film & Media Studies at Hendrix College and a Fellow at the Open Documentary Lab at MIT.

The exhibition is accompanied by the series Questionable Evidence: Deepfakes and Suspect Footage in Film, which features screenings and other public programs that probe synthetic media from a variety of perspectives, looking at the myriad ways evidentiary footage has been manipulated or mimicked in film.

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