Visions of The Last Forest King


Animations, paintings and 3D printed sculptures made using 3D machine learning

Visions of the Last Forest King tells an imaginary story of a computer that recovered memory fragments from an Anglo-Saxon King living in an English forest during the invasion of William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Using machine learning, the computer attempted to reconstruct the throne of the Forest King and trees from his forest, which are displayed as morphing 3D animations on vertically mounted TV screens. On the walls are hanging scrolls that combine ink paintings with invisible recreations of the Bayeux Tapestry, periodically revealed as secret images by ultra-violet lights, 3D printed trees decorated in gold leaf and a short fictional text in English and Chinese. This work was inspired by Simon Schama's writing on how the Norman Invasion changed our relationship to trees, from a world that surrounds us, to a modern concept of trees as property and economic resources. It was also inspired by Philip K Dick's vision of a machine that could reconstruct memories from the past. 

In October 2020, medieval archivists and computer scientists reconstructed the written record of a minor Forest King, witness to the Norman conquest of England. Pieced together from 300 words of textual fragments, these text strings were combined with references to other Forest Kings found in Norman texts and used by the researchers to reconstruct a complete autobiographical account from this minor Saxon king. In addition to this landmark feat of historical reconstruction, scientists were able to reconstruct  3-dimensional models of artefacts derived from actual memories inferred from the textual fragments. They produced probabilistic 3D models of trees from the pre-Norman forest and a probabilistic model of the throne of the Forest King. Widely regarded as a breakthrough in archaeology, the reconstruction of the Last Forest King's vision and artefacts presents a fascinating glimpse at our ability to see the past and reconstruct it. The artworks in this exhibition combine a short text from the Last Forest King with three dimensional renders of trees and the throne reconstructed from his memory, alongside a more historically familiar representation of the Norman Invasion found in the Bayeux Tapestry. The Last Forest King writes:

"Timeless oaks are falling around me...deer are being released throughout my forest for The Hunt...what was once a glade is now but a collection of trees...planks waiting to be revealed for ships waiting to be built. These trees are now owned by the monarch...a forest now defined by the mills and boundless oceans. The garden that remains will be a monument to what once was...this new forest will be a sporting ground for the hunt and sculpture to represent their new word Nature...the roots of my throne will be cut and it will be transformed into a chair."

This fictional account was reconstructed by the artist Peter A C Nelson, and offers us a privileged glimpse into a history that never existed.

K11 Art Mall, 2022

Cloud Museum Shenzhen, 2022

First draft of the Throne animation, based on 3D models output from a machine learning system

Latent space walk animations of trees made using 3D machine learning 


Tree paintings that combine machine learning with ink and brush painting, overlaid with images from the Bayeux Tapestry that can only be seen under ultra-violet light

Visions of The Last Forest King

Still image from the Throne animation. The visual style is inspired by Francis Bacon's reworking of Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X