The project "Portrait of Protesters" is the result of Human and Artificial Intelligence (Neural Networks) cooperation. The consequence of this work is a portrait created from multiple photos of the faces of the members of the Belarusian protests of 2020.
The purpose of "depersonalizing" individuals in this case is not to deprive them of their unique traits, but to demonstrate the power of the collective, to illustrate the individuals participate in achieving a common goal by coming together. Thus in this case the "erasure" of individuality is a tool to give significance to each individual participant in the protests by creating a common portrait, as an allegory of a single great goal: just as a puzzle assembled from thousands of pieces cannot be complete if even a single piece is missing.
Furthermore, in a situation where every protester is at risk of being detained and convicted, it is incredibly important to maintain their anonymity. Thus the average portrait is an expression of appreciation and gratitude for each protester, without the chance of de-anonymising them.
The project culminates with a performative act: setting the portrait on fire. This act is the parallel to the act of self-immolation. Self-immolation as a form of suicide is, on the one hand, the extreme point of a person's powerlessness in the face of the situation they are facing; on the other hand, it is an act of the utmost self-sacrifice. In the case of setting fire to a portrait, the destructive and purifying fire is compared with unlived emotions such as fear, anger and the feeling of powerlessness in the face of a Ruthless State Machinery. Caused by the actions of the security forces and the inaction of the people caught up in the regime, these emotions are like fire: if they are not allowed to be released, they will burn a person to ashes.
Text by: Nastassia Batashova