A series of exhibitions with artists and collectives who use photography to contest dominant visual narratives of conflicts


The Potemkin Project

An exploration of the falsification of reality in media and new frameworks for civic integrity

Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Memory
  • Politics / Economics
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Center for Media at Risk at the University of Pennsylvania


Ivan Sigal


Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce The Potemkin Project, an exploration of the falsification of reality in media and new frameworks for civic integrity, on display from September 18 - November 1, 2019. An opening reception will take place on Wednesday, September 18, 2019 from 6-9pm, with a public conversation featuring contributors to the project in October. The project, part of Slought's ongoing Photographies of Conflict series, is organized by Ivan Sigal, and presented in partnership with the Center for Media at Risk at the University of Pennsylvania.

Grigory Potemkin is infamous for having fabricated villages in Crimea in advance of Catharine the Great's visit to the region. Yet this story is partially myth, spread by Potemkin's opponents to discredit him. The Potemkin Project is a series of installations, initiatives, and discussions that addresses the construction and falsification of reality in media. It is an inquiry into the many media forms that assert authority over our perceptions, and of the logic that underpins those claims. It explores how media events drive and shift real-life events, from the history of war propaganda to current obsession with disinformation; from the hype surrounding virtual reality to the effects of so-called deep fakes and synthetic media.

The Potemkin Project seeks to reveal and explain the mechanisms of control, surveillance, restrictions on rights, and misinformation by governments and their agents, and to explore their complicated relationships with the technology companies that underpin our communications systems. The civic value of our networked media structures lies latent; while the internet's architecture has shifted toward massively capitalized players, the underlying structure of networks, for now, remains available to us, but only if we protect and use it.

In order to maintain a vibrant media ecology, we need to invest in diverse communities that produce legitimate information and knowledge. Committed media activists, journalists, researchers and theorists around the world are witnessing events as they experience them, and inventing new ways to document and disseminate information to advance this vision. A media ecology that aspires to be democratic in form and content needs to be rooted in activities that support our collective civic life.

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Bellingcat: The Downing of MH17

Bellingcat, an organization dedicated to forensic analysis of online media artifacts, conducts deep research into events, falsifications, and media manipulations in the service of war crimes and state power. Over five years, Bellingcat conducted research into the downing of flight Malaysian Airlines MH17 over Ukraine. Bellingcat's forensic analysis uncovered key facts in the case, including the origin and movements of the advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile system used to shoot down MH17, and the individuals involved in both the crime and its cover-up. https://www.bellingcat.com/

Global Voices: Threatened Voices and the Civic Media Observatory

Global Voices has for 15 years worked to find, verify and amplify vital stories, perspectives and voices published in citizen media - blogs, videos, social media, and other forms of online expression. Global Voices has a strong focus on countries with restrictions on expression, where countries are actively suppressing, altering and manipulating online expression in the service of its interests. Global Voices will present a methodology and prototype platform, Threatened Voices, that tracks and categorizes systematic targeting of online expression. Threatened Voices studies and reports on the experiences of individuals who come under threat for engaging in online expression with a civic, non-violent intent In addition, Global Voices will also present its work on media manipulation, disinformation, and building civic integrity. https://globalvoices.org/

Witness: Deep Fakes and synthetic media

WITNESS is a human rights organization that works globally to support anyone, anywhere to use video for human rights to do so as safely, effectively and ethically as possible. As more sophisticated, more personalized, more convincing audio and video manipulation like deepfakes and synthetic media rapidly emerge, WITNESS has run an initiative focused on how we get beyond the apocalyptic discussion of the end of trust in images and audio and rather than panic, prepare better. Their research, convening and related advocacy focuses on what we can proactively do to defend truth, accuracy, and our faces and voices. They focus on ethical, human rights-based approaches based in the experience of vulnerable communities who have already been harmed by previous and current misinformation crises and the actions of technology giants in order to work out how we best detect, confront, and regulate malicious uses of synthetic media. https://www.witness.org/ and https://lab.witness.org/projects/synthetic-media-and-deep-fakes/

Ivan Sigal: Into The Fold Of The True

Ivan Sigal is an American photographer, writer, and media producer, known for his documentary explorations of societies undergoing conflict or political transition. "Into The Fold Of The True" features mixed media montage, collage, video and code-based installation, composed from rephotographed and manipulated war propaganda taken from film and photography collections at the Library of Congress and other museum collections of war and conflict. How do we document and categorize image types that we use repeatedly in the representation of violent conflict, and that serves to mystify and occlude war? https://ivansigal.net/

Robin Bell: The Swamp

The Swamp is an examination of the people who work in the power structures that govern. It depicts leading politicians, policy makers, public figures, and journalists. It employs a range of technological maneuvers to animate still images, creating an uncanny, automated equivalence through gestures, nods and smiles. The installation is a direct response to Donald Trump's assertion that Washington D.C. is a swamp that must be drained. Instead the Trump administration has sped up the revolving doors between industry and governance, leading to unprecedented levels of corruption. The work comments on power dynamics, and a weakened system of checks and balances. By looking at both government and the fourth estate, it asserts the complicity of the media due to corporate ownership and influence.

"There is no war...without representation, no sophisticated weaponry without psychological mystification. Weapons are tools not just of destruction but of perception."

— Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (1989)

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