Environment Built for Absence

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by Tivon Rice

Beginning in 2017, the demolition of the Netherland’s Central Bureau of Statistics office provided a type of slow cinema for railway passengers traveling between The Hague and Amsterdam.Over the following year, as the building was methodically deconstructed from the top down,I visited the site each month to document the gradual erosion. Using a drone and a digital mapping process, photogrammetry, I created an archive of virtual 3D models. As the building’s architecture and its inevitable collapse were reminiscent of author J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel High Rise, I further sought to accompany this scene with the voice of a machine learning system trained on the complete corpus of Ballard’s writing. This recurrent neural network generates texts that describe the materials, invisible bodies, and possible narratives residing within the broken grounds of the building. This A.I. speaks about the ghosts hiding in the cracks of urban spaces. Made possible by The Modern Body Festival (NL), Yukun Zhu, Google Artists and Machine Intelligence (US), Maxwell Forbes, and the University of Washington Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (US). Narration by Kevin Walton.