The figure on screen is a Bulul, an artifact from a living society in the Cordilleras, Nothern Philippines. 3D scanned and rendered in real time, its texture and form are continuously generated and transformed by deep neural networks that were trained on materials from the region.The artifact’s purpose in its original context is to receive the negative energies channeled during rituals to protect the rice stored in granaries. In its original material form, it is a powerful symbol whose existence orbits along the cycles of life, rhythm and ritual. Digitally, its presence is contingent on a series of numerical operations, through which an object is transformed first into its own numerical representation, then into an image that is continuously re-presented.

This work questions the ontology of analogue and digital materials, asking to what extent symbolic figures and objects are able to create a meaning beyond themselves and to have effects on their material context. Is the digital representation inseparable from its material counterpart, or has it “learned” enough to acquire an agency of its own?

This work celebrates the life of a symbol, as it is upheld by a group of people in a specific time and place, and explores how its meaning changes when it is deconstructed, synthesized and represented digitally. Placing itself in an ancient tradition of art theory, this work revisits the vexed question: whether the task of art is to represent nature as it is, or to replicate the generative activity that constitutes the essence of nature itself.

Accompanying exhibition booklet: download

The Sound Design and Composition is by Alex Gruz

Many thanks to Mark & Wendy Watan (Musician and Ethnographic Advisor), Jamie Oakes (Instruments, Ethnographic Advisor), Piotr Migdal (Machine Learning Advisor), Kevin in the woodwork studio and all those who helped me out.

Special thanks to Federico Campagna for all the advice.
© 2021