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The namesake of this collaborative project (the “Duchenne smile”) is Guillame Duchenne de Bologne—a neurologist who worked under Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris in the middle of the nineteenth century. During his time at the hospital, Duchenne subjected patients to an array of electrocution techniques to stage portraits of different types of facial emotions. Many of the resulting photographs made their way into Charles Darwin's popular treatise, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and the Animals, 1872. The psychologist Paul Ekman coined the term “Duchenne smile” in 1989 to refer to a genuine smile, as distinguished from a posed or disingenuous one, identifiable by the spontaneous actiation of the orbicularis oculi muscle that surrounds the eye. In this two-channel video installation, the artists explore the history of research into the Duchenne smile from the staging and construction of this “real” expression by practitioners of 19th century neuroscience through to attempts to capture facial expression in contemporary facial-recognition software.
The project examines the implications of the ability to distinguish between a pose and an authentic smile. Duchenne's Smile asks whether images and the isolation of “real” facial expressions are part of a social and technical system that have the power to construct "authenticity". If so, what kind of affective and institutional politics arise from the creation of a typology of “real" emotions? The artists explore how this typology of authenticity supports a variety of organisations and regulatory forms, including the police force and other areas of law enforcement, the public relations and marketing industries, and the media’s imaging of contemporary politics. Of particular contemporary relevance to the project is the aforementioned use of facial-recognition software in the context of increased and intensified national security concerns.
Duchenne’s Smile has been exhibited at the FILE Festival, Sao Paolo, 2010; the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, 2010; and REAL Emergency, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney, 2009.