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  • Writer's pictureM Ritchie

The Invisible College

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

As the 2018–21 Dasha Zhukova Distinguished Visiting Artist at MIT, I've created a new four part transmedia artwork in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team of MIT artists, faculty, and students. The Invisible College project was originally manifested as a beta test of a site specific performative wireless VR game embedded inside the MIT Sol LeWitt floor piece, Bars of Color within Squares (2002).

The project began as a proposal that there was an “invisible college” , at MIT, a form of embodied collective knowledge, a parallel co-creation that exceeds any individual perspective or institutional metric. I investigated interactions, discussions, and thought processes that take place outside of the formal structure of the Institute, posting the existence of links between concepts and facts that no human has explicitly documented or communicated. I then compiled scientific diagrams and recorded discussions with colleagues and had a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN)—a class of machine learning system—reinterpret those inputs. I paused or influenced the machine’s processes, isolating visual forms and narrative passages that gesture toward the conversations and ideas at work in the invisible college. Working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic once the campus was closed, the site specific VR game was migrated across media to become a short AI-mediated film, Invisible College: Latent Island using repurposed game footage and GAN imagery, and then finally transformed into a new video and mixed reality work, titled Invisible College: Color Confinement, which features animated AR avatars as embodiments of elementary particles, leading the viewer on a haunting search through the empty campus.

These humanoid embodiments of scientific and creative forces appear in the film in scenarios and locations that are deeply specific to MIT, while also referencing the masked figures and geometric forms that often appear in my work evoking vastly divergent scales of existence from nanoparticles to dark energy. AI-generated and human voices provide a quasi-narrative for the characters based on the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), while never fully resolving into clear and distinct statements of meaning or fact. MIT composer, Evan Ziporyn, and singer-composer Shara Nova, provide a musical score. The film element of Color Confinement will be premiered during the symposium from April 1-9 and the site-specific AR component will be installed after the symposium.

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