a New-Nature Documentary by Sir David Attenborough is a 45 minute audiovisual installation, where the audience is invited to listen to Sir David Attenborough as he is shooting his latest documentary.
In the story Attenborough and his crew travel to a remote area in the cotton growing region of Central India. Due to the use of agrochemicals and pesticides new forms of nature are emerging. It is the evolution of nature at lightspeed, just waiting to be captured by the BBC’s latest technology. Only as they continue their shoot during the celebration of an ancient local festival their plan goes awry…
The installation doesn't show the usual spectacular cinematic imagery we associate with Attenborough’s blockbuster documentaries. There is a large cinema screen but it remains black while Attenborough speaks. In the darkened space we solely hear his whispering voice accompanied by a dramatic cinematic score that conjures up our imaginations of the Wild. Parallelly we see the story of the documentary crew unfold on the screen where their voices appear as graphic textual elements. Through this juxtaposition we pose the question of what kind of stories and knowledges fall outside of the purview of the conventional science discovery narrative.
The mode of spectatorship proposed by the installation creates a need for a deeper listening and an invitation to imagine what nature could be. It is at the same time a research into the machinations of Attenborough's global blockbusters. How he has risen since the 1950's to the status of popular science's darling, the voice of reason and more recently an advocate for change in the fight against climate change.
What happens if one were to appropriate such a powerful voice through an AI text-to-speech model? What can we learn about the scaffolding that holds up this impressive British voice when we employ this artistic strategy of appropriation? How does this voice tell truths and undoubtable facts? And what happens if we stage the exotic natural sites shown in BBC's science based documentaries as sites of speculation?
The use of AI to generate David Attenborough's voice creates an uncanny space where truth is traded for believability. This hopefully opens up an uncanny space where we can doubt and question the colonial and extractive dimension of mediatisation of nature.
a New-Nature Documentary by Sir David Attenborough is a part of the larger Birth of Cotton project. Birth of Cotton is a long term multidisciplinary theatrical research project about the future of human-nature relationship and its collusion with western colonialism, epistemic violence, capitalism and extractive mechanisms that have been at play in the cotton farming sector in India. In this project we explore the longterm history of cotton farming in India, farmer suicides in India and the emergence of new forms of nature, such as toxic environments, transgenic cotton and other developments in synthetic biology.
Made as Intimidation Tactics with Naomi Collier Broms, Computational Mama, George Demetriou, Julia van der Putten
AI text to speech model based on: Betker, J. (2022). TorToiSe text-to-speech (Version 2.0) [Computer software]. https://github.com/neonbjb/tortoise-tts
A first audio only version of the work was presented at Future Fantastic Festival 2023 in Bangalore, India.