2018-21 Dasha Zhukova Distinguished Visiting Artist at the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology
The Invisible College
As the 2018–21 Dasha Zhukova Distinguished Visiting Artist, Matthew Ritchie began his residency with the proposal that there is an “invisible college” at MIT: a form of embodied collective knowledge and parallel co-creation that exceeds any individual perspective or institutional metric. Ritchie investigated interactions, discussions, and thought processes that take place outside of the formal structure of the Institute, even posting the existence of links between concepts and facts that no human has explicitly documented or communicated. He then compiled scientific diagrams and recorded discussions with colleagues and had a Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs)—a class of machine learning system—reinterpret those inputs. The artist 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.
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). Working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, the site-specific VR game was migrated across media to become a short AI-mediated film, re-using repurposed game footage and GAN imagery, and then finally transformed into a new video and mixed reality work, titled Color Confinement.
Color Confinement 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 Ritchie’s performance art, sound installation architecture, and cosmic garden and 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 and the site-specific AR component will be installed after the symposium.
Matthew Ritchie tests The Invisible College VR Experience on the Sol LeWitt Floor at MIT, January 2020. Credit: HErickson/MIT.
In the late days of January in 2020, Matthew Ritchie staged a beta version of his VR game, The Invisible College, in the U-shaped atrium of MIT’s Physics building, a former century-old courtyard. On the bright grid-like floor designed by Sol LeWitt, audiences wandered in fields of images generated by artificial intelligence, virtual worlds created from datasets that spanned the subatomic to the galactic, against an otherworldly soundscape by Professor Evan Ziporyn.