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‘The Lost Passage’ weaves art & technology through a swarm of artificial pigeons

The Lost Passage comments on the historical event of the passenger pigeon's Holocene extinction through a collaborative initiative.

by STIRworldPublished on : May 06, 2022

Art and technology have a long and impactful past of working collaboratively and influencing one another. They have greatly evolved with one another in numerous aspects to come at their existing place in the world; a digital age in which they continuously intersect as well as depict fresh concepts. The Lost Passage is a digitally recreated setting of a swarm of artificial passenger pigeons that became extinct in the early 20th century. They occupy a never-ending, majestic, yet destitute remembrance of a vanished environment in this digital world. On closer inspection, however, they are truly restricted inside the four walls of this enclosure. Commenting on the historical event of the passenger pigeons’ holocene extinction by resurrecting a recollection of a lost passage, the Lost Passage evokes a sense of being trapped and confined through the sublime imagery.

04 mins watch Video documentation of The Lost Passage | STIRworld
Video documentation of The Lost Passage Video: Amay Kataria

The Lost Passage is a collaborative initiative created in 2021 as part of the BeFantastic International Fellowship programme. It was created by Amay Kataria, a Chicago-based new-media artist, in collaboration with Shaohui Kwok and Yu-Jeng Kuo, both from Singapore. There was a dismal awakening in 1914 when passenger pigeons threatened extinction — this demonstrated industrial humanity's propensity to demolish even the most abundant natural resources. The Lost Passage reflects on this historical juncture of Holocene extinction by resurrecting a recollection of a lost passage with the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Thus, the exquisite imagery evokes a sensation of being trapped and constrained. The audience can dwell in a habitat with the spirit of a species they previously exterminated, which is both ironic and bizarre.

A snippet of the audience interaction from the Singapore Sustainable Gallery | STIRworld
A snippet of the audience interaction from the Singapore Sustainable Gallery Image: Courtesy of BeFantastic

Organised by the Embassy of Switzerland and curated by BeFantastic, The Lost Passage was recently showcased at an exhibition in Singapore. Integrated with the permanent exhibition of the Sustainable Singapore Gallery at Marina Barrage, this exhibition will be enriched with a showcase of three thought-provoking and interactive art pieces that seek to challenge our relationship with our environment. Curated by the techart platform, which envisions a positive, sustainable future leveraging creative tech, the artworks are a result of the recent international fellowship program with BeFantastic Together.

Artificial flock of passenger pigeons, 2021, Digital Image | STIRworld
Artificial flock of passenger pigeons, 2021, Digital Image Image: Amay Kataria

This space is a reconstructed habitat for a swarm of passenger pigeons that are resurrected from the dead using digital technology, creating an interactive web experience that subtly draws the audience into a virtual world. The last known flock of these pigeons was carefully raised in captivity near Chicago. Because of their endangered status, the flock would travel from city to city via the confines of a freight train. The box environment in The Lost Passage, loosely inspired by this anecdote, highlights this contradiction in which a species that once gracefully migrated with freedom was eventually constructed within the walls of a crate to ensure safe passage.

04 mins watch The Lost Passage (process), 2021, video | STIRworld
The Lost Passage (process), 2021, video Video: Amay Kataria, Courtesy of BeFantastic

According to Kataria, the walls of this reconstructed environment are painted with a moving image of a surreal landscape crafted with machine learning algorithms to deliberately create a perception of a fictitious movement. Finally, each of these pigeons is a ghost, an avatar, a substitute for the real pigeon, whose agency is now driven by artificial intelligence that helps them navigate this world. The audience is brought in close proximity to this flock and given the control to observe these pigeons’ new habitat. Through that, one can perceive the boundary of the walls within which these pigeons are forced to reside. The juxtaposition of this ghostly flock of pigeons within a restricted environment of a never-ending landscape references the irony of migrating passenger pigeons through a cage. Perhaps, this may evoke a feeling of sublime beauty or a sense of discomfort for the viewer, who’s experiencing this extinct species in relation to a crude, but visceral image of a moving landscape.

Left to right: Amay Kataria, Shaohui Kwok, and Yu-Jeng Kuo | STIRworld
Left to right: Amay Kataria, Shaohui Kwok, and Yu-Jeng Kuo Image: Courtesy of the artists

(Text by Vatsala Sethi, Assistant Editorial Coordinator (Arts))

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