The Ethical Deceptions Artists Make

What is at stake when artists working with audiences, communities and other participants blur fact and fiction?

This research report, funded by AHRC through Clore Leadership seeks to understand how artists use ‘deception’ in their work, the ethical considerations they engage with, and (to a lesser degree) the impact of their decisions. The report can be divided into two. The first three chapters examine the demand for artists to act ethically and investigate some key concepts that relate to artistic deception. The intention here is develop a subject-specific vocabulary that can inflect the reading of the second three chapters, which introduce and present five interviews with individual or collaborating artists, thinking through the implications of artistic deception, especially in the context of artist leadership. Research is presented without protracted analysis. Preliminary interpretations are offered but the emphasis is on laying out the research findings. The report is a first step in what is conceived as a developing inquiry over the coming years, both in and alongside art practice. As such, it is imagined that the dissemination of the research beyond this report will take form in both academic contexts (teaching and publication) and in professional artistic practice.

Download the full report HERE.

The following chapter by chapter breakdown summarises the content:

Artists across all genres are engaging with audiences in new and psychologically complex ways. Whereas analogous practices in the social sciences have best practice models for ethical engagement, the sparsity of such models in arts practice has induced an ethical demand.
Carrie Lambert-Beatty has identified a trend in contemporary art practice that she names ‘parafiction’, in which “fictions are experienced as fact”.
What are the implications of parafiction on audience response and the categories of fact and fiction?
3.(i) Audience Response and the Neural Parliament
The “spectrum” of parafictional potency cannot be translated to audience experience, which is simultaneously multiple.
3.(i.i) Aesthetic Production of Doubt
Caroline Jones describes the “aesthetic production of doubt” in audience response to works that present fiction as fact.
3.(i.ii) Act of Fiction
Einat Amir, Joshua Sofaer, and Mikko Sams, offer the concept of “act of fiction” to describe the simultaneous experience of multiple realities when experiencing art.
3.(i.iii) Metaxis
Augusto Boal uses the term “metaxis” to describe participants’ simultaneous experience of the reality of their lived-experience and its unfolding stage depiction.
3.(ii) Ontological Overlap: Fiction and Fact are not Separate
Fact and fiction cannot easily be separated out with discrete boundaries.
3.(ii.i) Fabulation
Drawing on the work of Gilles Deleuze, Ronald Bogue defines the term “fabulation” for literary analysis.
3.(ii.ii) Parafictional Personas
Kate Warren considers “parafictional personas” as an example of a cultural phenomenon where reality and fiction overlap.
3.(ii.iii) Factish
Bruno Latour finds commonalities in the way in which science and religion come into being, coining the term “factish” to describe this congruence.
Why it might be worth examining artist intention, even though it is subject to the vagaries of self-reporting.
The methodology for working with interviewees.
5.(i) WHITE BALANCE: Robin Deacon interviewed by Joshua Sofaer
Considering “narrative privilege”, unreliable narration and the purpose of telling untruths in relation to a pet dog that wasn’t dead but now is.
5.(ii) THE FALSETTOS: Stacy Makishi interviewed by Joshua Sofaer
Real people, real lives, retold and emmeshed with fiction, in a practice in which meaning trumps truth.
5.(iii) LUCKY CHARMS: A discussion between Ke-Wei Wu, Yu-Jou Tsai and Joshua Sofaer
The ethics of community fieldwork and the interrelation of fact and fiction in place-based storytelling.
5.(iv) LOVE STORY: Lucas Melkane, Philip Pilekjær and Piet Gitz-Johansen interviewed by Joshua Sofaer
The reverberations of hiring an actor to be you and do your artistic work.
5.(v) CATHEXIS 1: TRUTH ON TRIAL: Nick Millett interviewed by Joshua
A semi-fake start-up presents Trubē justice technology, which extracts and analyses biometric data, provoking debate.
The introduction of a neologism – aethics (atypical ethics) – as a way of thinking about how artistic deception can reveal and displace prevailing power structures.
Closing remarks.

The Ethical Deceptions Artists Make © Joshua Sofaer, 2023.
Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council through Clore Leadership.
This research was supervised by Professor Brian Lobel, Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. Design by David Caines.