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

Art and technology have a long and impactful history of collaboration and mutual influence. They have evolved a lot with each other in many aspects to arrive at their present place in the world; a digital age in which they constantly intersect and describe new concepts. The lost passage is a digitally recreated setting of a swarm of artificial carrier pigeons that disappeared in the early 20th century. They occupy an endless memory, majestic and yet devoid of a vanished environment in this digital world. On closer inspection, however, they are truly confined within the four walls of this enclosure. Commenting on the historical event of the Holocene extinction of the passenger pigeons by resuscitating the memory of a lost passage, the Lost passage evokes a sense of being trapped and confined through sublime imagery.

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Video documentation of The lost passage Video: Amay Kataria

The lost passage is a collaborative initiative created in 2021 as part of the BeFantastic Internal Fellowship program. 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 homing pigeons faced extinction – this demonstrated the propensity of industrial humanity to demolish even the most abundant natural resources. The lost passage reflects on this historical conjuncture of the Holocene extinction by resurrecting the memory of a lost passage through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Thus, the exquisite imagery evokes a feeling of being trapped and constrained. Audiences can inhabit a habitat with the spirit of a species they previously exterminated, which is both ironic and bizarre.

An excerpt from the interaction with the public at the Singapore Sustainable Gallery |  STIRworld
An excerpt from the interaction with the public at the Singapore Sustainable Gallery Image: Courtesy of BeFantastic

Organized by the Embassy of Switzerland and organized by BeFantastic, The lost passage was recently presented at an exhibition in Singapore. Part of the Sustainable Singapore Gallery’s permanent exhibition at Marina Barrage, this exhibition will be enriched with a showcase of three thought-provoking and interactive works of art that seek to question our relationship with our environment. Curated by techart platform BeFantastic.in, which envisions a positive and sustainable future through creative technology, the artworks are the result of the recent international scholarship program with BeFantastic Together.

Artificial flock of passenger pigeons, 2021, digital image |  STIRworld
Artificial flock of racing pigeons, 2021, digital image Image: Amay Kataria

This space is a reconstructed habitat for a swarm of passenger pigeons raised 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 bred in captivity near Chicago. Due to their endangered status, the herd traveled from town to town via the confines of a freight train. The box environment in The lost passageloosely inspired by this anecdote, highlights this contradiction in which a species that once migrated with grace and freedom was finally built into the walls of a crate to provide safe passage.

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The Lost Passage (process), 2021, video |  STIRworld

The lost passage (process), 2021, video Video: Amay Kataria, courtesy of BeFantastic

According to the official release, the walls of this reconstructed environment are painted with a moving image of a surreal landscape designed with machine learning algorithms to deliberately create a perception of fictional motion. Finally, each of these pigeons is a ghost, an avatar, a substitute for the real pigeon, whose agency is now driven by an artificial intelligence that helps them navigate this world. The public is brought close to this flock and has the control to observe the new habitat of these pigeons. Through this, 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 the restricted environment of an endless landscape alludes to the irony of homing pigeons migrating through a cage. Perhaps it can evoke a sense of sublime beauty or a sense of discomfort for the viewer, who experiences this extinct species against a crude but visceral image of a moving landscape.

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

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

Christopher S. Washington