Sting in the Tale: Art, Hoax, and Provocation

Sting in the Tale book cover

By Antoinette LaFarge
Foreword by G. D. Cohen

416 pages with 16 pages of color plates
August 2021. Softcover.
$49.95 | 9781733957953

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An illustrated survey of artist hoaxes, including impersonations, fabula, cryptoscience, and forgeries, researched and written by Antoinette LaFarge, herself a “fictive-art” practitioner.

Stealthily occupying the remote corners of history, literature, and art are curious fabrications that straddle the lines between fact, fiction, and wild imagination — non-existent people and poets, Edgar Allan Poe’s hot-air-balloon to the Moon hoax, crypto-scientific objects like fake skeletons, psycho-geography, faked inventions, and staged anthropological evidence. From the intriguing Cottingley fairy photographs, “captured” in 1917 by teenage sisters, to the Museum of Jurassic Technology and the Codex Seraphinianus, an encyclopedia of an imaginary world, “fictive art” (the author’s term) continues to reframe assumptions made by its contemporaneous culture.

The shift from the early information age to our “infocalypse” era of rampant misinformation has made this genre of art with a sting in its tale an especially radical form. Cataloging historical projects and those from the late 20th and early 21st century that probe this confusion, LaFarge foregrounds the medium’s potential for run-away creativity. At its center, fictive art is secured as fact by creating series of evidentiary objects and by employing the language and display methods of history and science. Using documentary photographs and videos, created historical artifacts and relics, explanatory texts and didactics, lectures, events, and expert opinions in technical language, artists have created constellations of manufactured evidence attesting to their artwork’s central narrative. This dissimulation is temporary in most cases, often surprisingly revealed in a self-outing moment; other times, it is found out. With all the attendant consequences of mistrust, outrage, and rejection, what we can learn from fictive art practitioners both past and present bears on the fragile trust that builds societies, and that when broken, brings them to the brink of chaos.

Readers of A Sting in the Tale will be amused, delighted, and soberly engaged in thinking about what the role of art could be in shaping discord or discourse.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Antoinette LaFarge is an internationally recognized new media artist with a special interest in speculative fiction, feminist techne, and alternative histories. Her artwork has taken form as new media performance, computer-programmed installations, public exhibitions and interventions, digital prints, and artist’s books. LaFarge was the founder and longtime artistic director of the Plaintext Players, a pioneering Internet performance troupe founded in 1993 that appeared at numerous international venues, including the 1997 Venice Biennale, documenta X, and UpStage festivals. She has authored several books, including Louise Brigham and the Early History of Sustainable Furniture Design (Palgrave Macmillan 2019) and Monkey Encyclopedia W (ICI Press 2018). Her writing and artwork have appeared in Art Journal, Wired, Leonardo, Ada, Gnosis, the Southern Quarterly, the MOSF Journal of Science Fiction, and elsewhere, as well as in anthologies from MIT Press, Oxford University Press, and other international presses. She is a longtime contributor to Wikipedia, where she focuses on filling gaps in coverage of women and people of color.

LaFarge holds an M.F.A. in Computer Art from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and she is currently Professor of Digital Media in the Art Department at UC Irvine, where she co-curated two early exhibitions on computer games and art: “ALT+CTRL: A Festival of Independent and Alternative Games” (2003) and “SHIFT-CTRL: Computers, Games, and Art” (2000), both at UC Irvine’s Beall Center for Art and Technology.

G. D. Cohen is an artist, curator, and scholar of visual culture with a focus on experimental cinema, photography, and appropriation art; landscape theory and aesthetic philosophy; cultural memory and experimental archives; the history and theory of architecture and urbanism; and the intersections of post-war avant-garde art and radical politics. A Continuing Lecturer in Latin American Cinema and Visual Culture at the University of California, Los Angeles, he has served since 2012 as Co-Curator of the Festival of (In)appropriation, an international showcase of experimental found-footage cinema and moving-image art. From 2012 to 2019, he also served as Associate Programmer for Los Angeles Filmforum, one of the longest-running organizations in the U.S. for the screening of experimental cinema. Cohen’s work in video, photography, and installation has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and he is the creator of numerous ongoing multi-media and multi-platform projects, including Grupo Anarquitectura (rama argentina) and The Valaco Archive (featured in issue 6 of Limn magazine).