Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Unseen Garden

Unseen Garden

Chris Hamamoto & Federico Pérez Villoro


Curated by Diane Hau Yu Wong

March 1 – March 29, 2024

Opening: March 1, 5 – 8 PM

Gallery Hours: Wednesday to Saturday, 12 PM – 6 PM

The relationships between images and language are in a process of being computationally established due to the recent mass adoption of machine vision. These systems are constantly iterated upon and retooled to perform “better.” Yet communication goes both ways, and humans are also learning to speak the language of computers — or rather adjusting our colloquial speech to their understanding. This exhibition explores these developments through the in-transferability of meaning between text and images, and the politics behind organizing visual content into semantic structures. 

Unseen Garden is a technical reenactment of NeuralTalk, an early image-to-text software that pioneered automatic image interpretation. Rather than simply labeling an image with metadata, NeuralTalk attempts to determine relationships among the objects it recognizes, using the statistics of formal composition to determine intent. By experimenting with this technology using unexpected inputs, the pieces included in this exhibition make explicit the unstable relation between images and their conceptual representations.

The projected video A Shadow of a Man in the Mirror uses footage of a United States propaganda film meant to illustrate the economic value of manual labor and of industrial tools. Re-edited with auto-captioning by the custom software, the piece creates a computational mise en scène — portraying how the relationships to our hands have changed since the advent of the smartphone. Near the entrance to the gallery a website displays a roulette of images taken from NeuralTalk’s demo website, highlighted for their unintentional humour and vexing nature. 

The centrepiece features timelapses of flowers blooming and decaying — each of the four monitors in the greenhouse structure displaying the model at a different stage of training. The algorithms over-identifies human forms due to their architecture. By applying the software to images of plants in stages of transformation, this exploration makes cite of the anthropocentric mischaracterization coded into computers and the limited capabilities of machine vision when confronted with information that falls outside of a specific worldview.

The ability for computers to segment and operationalize visuals as textual data marks a major shift in photographs today. With different fields of artificial intelligence meeting in the complexity of linguistics, their implications extend beyond vision to the ways in which societies are conceptually organized and the categories through which the world around us is programmatically narrowed.

Read Jayne Wilkinson’s essay on the exhibition, here.

Check out the namesake web-based project, Unseen.Garden, here.

Artist Biography:

Chris Hamamoto and Federico Pérez Villoro’s collaborative work investigates the impact of emerging technologies in contemporary culture and politics.

Chris is based in Seoul, South Korea and works as a designer and educator. He is an assistant professor at Seoul National University, and has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, California College of the Arts, and University of San Francisco.

Federico is an artist and researcher living and working in Mexico City. In 2019, he founded Materia Abierta, a summer school on theory, art, and technology and has served as a faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design and the California College of the Arts.

Chris and Federico have lectured as schools such as ETH Zurich, Rutgers University, CalArts, The New School, UNAM, KARTs, and Hongik University and their work has been exhibited, published and recognized by institutions such as Printed Matter, the Walker Art Center, OCAT Shenzhen, The Serving Library, Gwangju Design Biennale, IDEA Magazine, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Special Thanks to: Dyana Kim, Ellie Chung, Greg Monroe, Henry Heng Lu, Soyeong Park, Tiger Dingsun

Supported by BC Arts Council and the New Faculty Startup Fund from Seoul National University

Centre A would like to acknowledge the generous support of Canada Council for the Arts, BC Arts Council, and Vancouver City Council, the Simon Fraser University David Lam Centre, and the Toshiaki Ogasawara Memorial Foundation for the realization of this exhibition.


Accessibility: The gallery is wheelchair and walker accessible. If you have specific accessibility needs, please contact us at (604) 683-8326 or [email protected]. Centre A is situated on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. We honour, respect, and give thanks to our hosts.