“The Captcha Project” by Emilio Vavarella

  • ©2014, Emilio Vavarella, The Captcha Project
  • ©2014, Emilio Vavarella, The Captcha Project


    The Captcha Project

Artist(s) and People Involved:



Creation Year:



    Installation of 34 paintings, oil on canvas


    350 cm x 200 cm

Artist Statement:

    The Captcha Project aims to highlight the undefined boundaries between humans and machines, originals and copies. The project started as a reflection on immaterial labour and artistic practice in a neoliberal network society and takes the form of a series of paintings created by Chinese painters from the village of Dafen. Despite the fact that their work consists of a mechanical reproduction of preexisting images for the Western market, Dafen painters consider themselves artists and value their work. I signed an agreement with them, splitting the costs and profits of this project in half and sent them screenshots of CAPTCHA codes, which they transformed into precise oil reproductions. CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) codes aim to obstruct criminals and companies whose goal is to use online services en masse, using bots and automated processes. They are easy for humans to decipher, but impossible for bots.

    However, it is possible to replace bots with human workers in poor countries, who manually solve thousands of tests every day. These people are required to perform a mechanic type of work that a bot is unable to perform. CAPTCHA was invented partially to distinguish humans from machines, but its effect is the partial transformation of other humans into machines. At the same time, artistic production is shifting. In 2004, Dafen Oil Paintings Village, with its 5000 artists mainly involved in creating accurate reproductions of Western masterpieces for the Western market, was officially declared a “Chinese Cultural Industry Model Base”.


    This project was made possible thanks to Shenzen Dafen and Deco Co., LTD and DafenVillageOnline.