The opposite of a copy is not reality.
Seeing is believing. Through observations, we build theories about our physical reality — Empiricism –– at least traditionally. These acts of seeing are often transcribed onto an image, which in turn becomes the evidence that persuades us of the reality it represents. But not all images are created equal, some have more explanatory power than others. In the twentieth century, photography, prized for its “mechanical realism”, supercedes illustration in indexing knowledge. Lately, computer simulation rises as a new way of creating scientific proofs. These simulated models have become scientifically legitimate in its own right in fields of science such as astrophysics. In other words, the advent of simulations is radically redefining the nature of evidence.
If a simulated star system suffices as a proof of the existence of the real one, what does it mean to know? What does it mean to witness? And how important is ‘seeing’ in creating knowledge? Viewing the historical relationship between images and science through the lens of photo theory and media theory, the essay hypothesises on the ways illustration, photography and simulations gain explanatory power and become evidential through different ways of representing reality. Simulations pioneer an alternative mode of creating knowledge, one that is independent of seeing. In other words, simulations decentralise the human eye in knowledge production. It symbolises a novel and alternative epistemological approach, with its own set of merits and limitation. Simulation is a domain where human seeing is confronted by algorithmic vision, where the unidirectional link of the act of viewing and the image is folded into a Mobius strip, where reality began merging with digitality.
Sheung Yiu is a Hong Kong image-based artist and writer based in Helsinki. His work explores the concept of epistemological images – the visual record of human knowledge. Taking inspiration from both art and science, he poses critical enquiry on the moments during which perception is turned into cognition. Beginning as a photographer, he has since expanded into a multidisciplinary practice. Yiu’s work takes the form of photography, videos, photo objects, installations and book-making.
His work, informed by Foucault’s episteme and Flusser’s concept of technical images, manipulates a plethora of images to disrupt the naturalised relationship between seeing and knowing, scientific and objectivity. Underpinning his practice is a series of questions: What is the role of image in organising knowledge? Which picture is preferred over another in the knowledge structure we call modern science? His current research project contemplates the way simulations in scientific domain challenge the notion of reality.
His work is exhibited internationally, including Fotogallery Wien, Guangzhou Image Triennial 2017, Hong Kong International Photography Festival Satellite Exhibition 2018 and International Summer School of Photography 2016 & 2018 in Latvia. He and Samra Šabanović co-curated ‘I was there and you didn’t see me’, a series of research-based public interventions on photographic images.