The Face of Tomorrow is a new series of works by Istanbul based photographer Mike Mike. It deals with notions of race, place, identity and belonging on both an extremely local level as well as on an impossibly ambitious, almost Borgesian, global scale. The project is an exploration of human identity as affected by the forces of globalization and makes full use of all the tools of the modern economy – distributed work across several time zones, outsourcing to take advantages of cost disparities, an open source model that allows input from contributors, and of course the internet itself as a medium of display and exchange. Mike travels the world photographing in each city the first one hundred people he can convince to take part in his project. He then combines the faces to create one new male and female individual, which for him is a distilled representation of that place at a future moment in time. On a personal level it is one artist’s search for identity and belonging and the relationship of self to the larger world. On a deeper level it as an exploration of the systems behind globalization and how these systems might influence the future make-up of each individual locus. Having grown up in apartheid-era South Africa, educated on four continents and currently living in Istanbul, itself a “schizophrenic city” sited on two continents looking east and west as well as north and south, it is understandable that these issues arising from globalization would form the central thesis of his work. The project has now taken on a life of its own, like a computer code or virus, and at present there are people in Colombia, Japan, Germany and Holland working on the project independently of Mike.
Mike’s journey of discovery began a few years ago, on a trip to London. “Sitting on the underground train, I was intrigued by the sheer diversity of the place – Somalis, Indians, Americans, Zimbabweans, Scandinavians and a hundred other nationalities vying for their place in the metropolis. I thought “what is this place, what is a Londoner?” A few weeks later I was in Istanbul and looking at the relative uniformity of the population I realized I was looking at the future of London. A thousand years ago Istanbul was the capital of the remnants of the Roman Empire – home to an astonishing variety of peoples from Greece, Rome, central Asia, Arabia and the Russia. Yet now this diversity had coalesced around a mean – almost everyone dark haired, brown-eyed and olive-skinned. And I thought if one could merge all the people in a place like London one would be looking at the future of that place – one would have some notion of what a Londoner is or will become.”
Taking as his reference point the early work of Francis Galton and more recent works by Gerhard Lang and Nancy Burson, which explore issues of identity through a layering photographic technique, Mike has established a systematic almost census-like approach to this theme. Asking the question “What does a New Yorker, a Londoner, a Parisian look like?” he attempts to find an answer by photographing one hundred people he stops at random on the street and then combining those faces to create a new individual – someone that doesn’t exist right now but someone it seems quite real – almost familiar.
The Face of Tomorrow is intensely site-specific as we meet individuals from different locales around the globe and it is also extremely broad in its scope as it attempts to distil these individuals into one face that somehow captures the “look” of a city or place. “The process of merging the faces and coming up with someone new is really exciting. Archetypal creative stuff. You end up with a new person. Someone who didn’t exist before. Someone who doesn’t exist now. But someone who is nonetheless quite real.” The work is thus at the same time a document of a place at a moment in time and also an extrapolation of that place towards some utopian future where all differences of race or individuality are forgotten. It is this juxtaposition between the real and the unreal, between the foreign and the familiar, between the ordinary and the extraordinary and between the photographic and the painterly that allows the work to resonate beyond its immediate spatial and temporal references. It allows connections to be made despite these limitations as we see that different places around the world can sometimes produce dramatically similar results. These disjunctions allow viewers to question their own notion of self and identity and to perhaps come away challenged on one level and appreciative of an underlying connectedness between all humanity on another.
born 1964 Cape Town, South Africa studied Goldsmiths College, London; University of Southern California, LosAngeles; Sydney University, Australia lives and works Istanbul