Audio-visual Installation exploring the rich cultural history of Japan through the concept of “a river in time” featuring music by Midori Takada

This installation explores the rich cultural history of Japan through the concept of “a river in time”. This six-screen audiovisual work has been created by UK media artists The Light Surgeons and features original music by the Japanese percussionist and composer Midori Takada. The installation recontextualizes a collection of newly restored films from the BFI’s JAPAN ON FILM archive through the re-tracing of themes and locations found in these early cinematic views of Japan with new film footage gathered by film maker Christopher Thomas Allen in Japan in 2020.

This film footage of the past and present are woven together across these six screens and analyzed, transporting the audience into a near future where archives are continually examined and mined by semi-autonomous programs that participate in an endless form of data archaeology and memory retrieval. This “artificial gaze” is represented by an animated infographic layer, created using bespoke machine learning and AI software. This software provides the audience with a different reading of the films, presenting the viewer with a stream of labeling and tracking boundary boxes and code that presents a deconstruction of the editing process itself.

The installation seeks to provoke its audience to contemplate how all archives, past, present, and future, form a collective social memory. It asks us to consider how our understanding of these moments frozen in time will be affected by the rise of new AI and machine learning tools. Alongside this representation of past, present, and future, the installation’s six films weave together a range of different themes; from our relationship with nature and the built environment to tradition, rites of passage, and accelerated modernity. All of these come together to form a kaleidoscopic exploration and a unique meditation on time, memory, and the nature of the archive itself.

This project involved the development of some custom software. We collaborated with our friends at Artists & Engineers who created a pipeline for automatically analyzing footage using Yolo and other Machine Learning models and rendering the custom animated overlays as layers for use in the final composition. Other metadata from the footage was extracted using using AI powered software Synoposis developed by NYC-based studio Special Circumstances.

The project was originally commissioned as a new live cinema performance by the British Film Institute but pivoted into an installation in 2021 due to the pandemic. The resulting installation was presented in the BFI Southbank as part of the BFI Expanded program which showcases new forms of audiovisual storytelling by artists who work across different media. The installation ran in the foyer space at BFI Southbank between December 2021 and February 2022 for free, with generous support from Yamaha UK for providing its 6.1-channel audio sound system.

The new music composed by Midori Takada was generously supported by The Polonsky Foundation, with additional support for the project provided by The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

Media: 6 x HD Display, 6 x Brightsign Media Players, 6.1 audio
Duration: 10 min 24 sec

PROJECT Credits:

Creative Direction:Christopher Thomas Allen & Tim Cowie
Project Producers:Christopher Thomas Allen, Annie Jael Kwan & Youki Mikami
Installation Producers:Christopher Thomas Allen & Alice Ceresole
Original Music:Midori Takada
Sound Design:Tim Cowie
Cinematography:Christopher Thomas Allen
Field Recordings:Christopher Thomas Allen & Youki Mikami
Video Editor:Christopher Thomas Allen
Assistant Editors:Ida Lundø Madsen & Louis Walters
Animation:Tim Cowie & Louis Walters
Post-Production Assistants:Pierre Bouvier Patron & Blanca Regina
Technical Consultants:Rahul Somani & Anton Marini
Software Development:Arron Smith
Physical Production:ADi London

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