Anna Ehrenstein, 2017/2024

Real Thomas Metzinger

Real Thomas Metzinger

Real Thomas Metzinger takes the nose-job as an occasion to (re)consider and diagram the self, the face and authenticity in the age of cosmetic surgery, consumer AI and networked culture. Ehrenstein grapples with the notions of identity and authenticity and troubles the idea of a “true self” that ultimately serves to police her body after the cosmetic procedure.

The artist’s decision to undergo a nose job serves as a catalyst for probing societal attitudes toward authenticity and self-expression. While neuroscience has not yet reached a consensus on what the self or consciousness is or whether it even exists, reactions to Ehrenstein's surgical alteration revealed a societal insistence on a fixed notion of the authentic self. Meanwhile, neuroscientists such as Thomas Metzinger posit that the self is entirely a constructed entity, a hallucination of the mind rather than an inherent truth. The “brute fact” is that behind every face, rather than a transcendent self, “there is nothing but material substance.”

Around the same time, the proliferation of deepfake technologies, transitioning from hitech to consumer-level, further complicates the relationship between facial appearance and personal identity. Applications such as Mug Life enabled consumers to let other people’s faces say what they wanted them to—Oprah Winfrey and Elvis Presley end up as little more than lo-fi digital mouthpieces in the artist’s process.

On screen, Ehrenstein performs a series of tasks and exercises that, according to various online guides, are supposed to reconcile her surgically altered face with a truer self. Collaged with the aforementioned deep fake-generated footage overlaid with quotes from Metzinger's “The Ego Tunnel”, the artist decenters the authenticity of the self in favor of a more malleable, unfixed, glitchy version.

Ehrenstein extrapolates these coinciding moments spanning the personal, the societal, the technological, to question whether an unalterable self exists in the first place, reconsidering identity, and reality in an age where physical appearance can be surgically and digitally manipulated, and perceptions of selfhood are constantly mediated by technological advancements. – Felix Ansmann

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Real Thomas Metzinger
Anna Ehrenstein
1 channel video, Color video, stereo audio
1248px x 1664px, 3'38"