Visions of The Last Forest King
Animations, paintings and 3D printed sculptures made using 3D machine learning
Visions of the Last Forest King tells the story of an imaginary computer that recovered the memory of 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 of trees with invisible recreations of the Bayeux Tapestry, periodically revealed by ultra-violet lights, 3D printed trees decorated in gold leaf, and a short fictional text in English and Chinese.
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
3D printed sculptures of trees generated using 3D machine learning
Installation at Cloud Art Museum, Shenzhen, 2022.
Trees hand-painted with ink and brush, overlaid with vector drawings of machine-learning generated trees and UV ink fragments from the Bayeux Tapestry at Cloud Art Museum, Shenzhen 2022.
This work was inspired by Simon Schama's writing on how the Norman Invasion changed our relationship with trees, from a world that surrounds us to a modern concept of trees as property and economic resources. It was also inspired by Isaac Azimov's vision of a machine that could reconstruct memories from the past (from the novel 'The Dead 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 artifacts 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 artifacts 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 into my forest for sport...the glade is now but a stand of trees...waiting to be revealed as planks for great ships...the forest defined by mills and boundless oceans. A memorial garden will remain as a monument to the past that inevitably begat this future...the forest garden will be a sporting ground for the hunt and a sculpture to represent their new word 'Nature'...the roots of my throne will be cut and transformed into a chair."
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
Still image from the Throne animation. The visual style is inspired by Francis Bacon's reworking of Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X