The Red Earth Project


Introduction
  1. Overview    
  2. Research
  3. A Lecture at Princeton

The Book
  1. About
  2. Red Earth in the Paris Review
  3. Themes
  4. Form
  5. Where to buy

Process and Output
  1. Conceptual Development
  2. Photography
  3. Prose
  4. Computational and Subjective Translation
  5. Digital to Physical
  6. Process 1: Process and Theory
  7. Process 2: Making
  8. Compositions

Selected Works
  1. Red Earth, The Book
  2. Ever Abeokuta
  3. Colonial Enterprise
  4. Red Earth
  5. Amor Fati
  6. Direct Translation Diptychs 1, 2, 3 & 4
  7. Sixteenth Century Technology
  8. How Can Time Become a Circle
  9. Deference
  10. Solitary Breath

Exhibitions & Performances
  1. Studio Hanniball
  2. Archive of Forgetfulness
  3. Listening to the Red Earth, a film

Community
The Red Earth Playlist

Shop

Related Works
  1. Planetary Portals

Next Steps

Object Int’l —
Info
  1. The Red Earth Project is an ongoing artistic, interdisciplinary study centred on prose reflections and machine translation, drawing attention to the precarious status of non-western cultural heritage, knowledge systems and practices in the increasingly dominant Western systems of data, virtual architectures and AI technologies. This research asks how alternative cosmologies can be better represented within virtual architectures powered by probabalistic computation. 

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1. Overview




Ore II
(Detail) 
Sculpture is a result of direct computational translation from the artist’s prose:
Text to image data translation from deep learning model. 
Virtually hand-modelled sculpture from data output. 
3D printed sculpture.
2022

Where do the resources sustaining and developing AI and virtual futures come from?
Which cultures and languages will be preserved in a virtual afterlife?
Who gets to live forever?

Red Earth is an ongoing artistic, interdisciplinary study by Michael Salu, which is centred on prose reflections and machine translation, drawing attention to the precarious status of non-western cultural heritage, knowledge systems and practices in the increasingly dominant Western systems of data, virtual architectures and AI technologies. 

This research asks how alternative cosmologies can be better represented within virtual architectures powered by AI innovation. 

Transhumanist ideologies of a singular ontological history imply a determined ‘post-human’ future. Colonial legacy is bound up in the etymology of programming languages and statistical and probabilistic methodologies facilitating this development. With a universal ‘morality’ built from this ontological history, there is no room for indigenous cosmologies in a virtual “post-humanity” built from selective data, while extraction of natural resources from the African continent, from rare metals to human data and cheap labour, powers the future of increasingly energy-intensive computer hardware. 

This evolving art project, takes inspiration from non-linear time within the Yoruba tradition, resisting defined edges, beginnings or endings and renders the link between the monotheistic intentions behind early statistical methods, which inform today’s AI aspirations, and the use of Christian morality as a method of colonisation across Africa for resource access. Red Earth asks how can other knowledge systems be visible within virtual architectures powered by AI innovation. 

Red Earth, a primarily theoretical study, appropriates machine learning methodologies to synthesise relational objects that could indicate potential new pathways between divergent cosmologies, with the focus of this particular study on the origins of West African language and thought. 

Red Earth is art led by original narrative prose written by the artist, which will be published as a book in October by Calamari Press NYC. This prose delves into different cultural understandings of time and morality, to help understand the relationship between natural resources and virtual time. This project employs machine learning methodologies to synthesise relational objects to imply new pathways between divergent cosmologies, currently focusing on the origins of West African language and thought. 

Exploring Western morality in an original work of prose written by Michael Salu, language translation models are used to translate the work into a data topography. Inspired by Yoruba oratorical thought and manifestations of language within physical objects, this data is then used as raw material to sculpt a series of virtual totems, sculptures for a codex imbued with aggregated thought, distilling the exchange between text and data, colonial and inherent language. 

Machine translation combines with intuitive, cognitive translations of ideas between artistic forms to explore whether syntheses of memory, beyond object and material, can suggest ways we might develop alternative cultural heritages or whether computational methodologies based on statistical analyses can ever be in dialogue with other metaphysical origins and ‘uncertainties’. 

Machine learning is used to translate the prose into data topographies. Inspired by Yoruba oratorical thought and manifestations of language within physical objects, this data is used as raw material to sculpt a series of totems, for a codex imbued with aggregated thought, distilling the exchange between text and data, colonial and inherent language, physical and digital worlds. 

Rather than definitive artworks, Red Earth is process-based, creating a series of ‘translations,’ both computational and poetic, between art forms and languages, intermittmenttly providing a series of outputs, as interconnected works combine photography, prose, sculpture, installation, video and machine learning models. Red Earth aims to draw attention to intricate cross-cultural realities and creative practices neglected by technological advancement from a singular knowledge system. 

Computer translation combines with intuitive, cognitive translation of ideas between artistic forms to explore whether syntheses of memory, beyond object and material, can suggest ways we might progress alternative cultural heritages, or whether computational methodologies based on statistical analyses can ever be in dialogue with other metaphysical origins and ‘uncertainties’. Blurring distinction between physical and digital—increasingly demanding, and straddling spatiality across physical and digital divides. 

Red Earth suggests the beginnings of alternative virtual archives of culture for the emerging digital future of Africa.

The African continent has a young, tech-literate population for which Google is building a subsea data cabling route from Portugal to South Africa. In Red Earth, converting the red clay of West Africa into soil nutritious enough to nurture and grow life serves as a metaphor for shaping the process-based, linguistic, visual and computational ‘translations’ used to reflect on Africa’s digital future.

The project interrogates how colonial legacies and practices are bound up in the knowledge architecture of programming languages. Equally, extraction of natural resources from the African continent, from rare metals to human data and cheap labour, powers the future of increasingly energy intensive computer hardware.

With a focus on the new scramble for Africa, key to current geo-political wrangling over the economic world order, this project focuses on cultural visibility of a sizeable percentage of the Global Ethnic Majority.

This project aims at increasing awareness of the disparities nd power dynamics implicit within the technologies integral to living, working and learning today. Red Earth aims to contribute to a crucial dialogue between the computer sciences and the humanities, as we try to understand how to live in a socially and environmentally changing world, with growing disparities. 




Michael Salu is a British-born Nigerian writer, artist, scholar, editor and creative strategist with a strongly interdisciplinary practice. His written work has appeared in literary journals, magazines, art and academic publications, and as an artist, he has exhibited internationally. He runs House of Thought, an artistic research practice and consultancy focusing on bridging creative, critical thinking and technology and is part of Planetary Portals, a research collective.