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Show RCA 2019

Julian Tapales

Show RCA work

Major project:


The figure on screen is a Bulul, an artefact from a living society in the Cordileras, Nothern Philippines. 3D scanned and rendered in real time, its texture and form are continuously generated and transformed by deep neural networks that were trained on materials from the region. The artefact's purpose in its original context is to receive the negative energies channeled during rituals to protect the rice stored in granaries. In its original material form, it is a powerful symbol whose existence orbits along the cycles of life, rhythm and ritual. Digitally, its presence is contingent on a series of numerical operations, through which an object is transformed first into its own numerical representation, then into an image that is continuously represented.

This work questions the ontology of analogue and digital materials, asking to what extent symbolic figures and objects are able to create a meaning beyond themselves and to have effects on their material context. Is the digital representation inseparable from its material counterpart, or has it 'learned' enough to acquire an agency of its own?

This work celebrates the life of a symbol, as it is upheld by a group of people in a specific time and place, and explores how its meaning changes when it is deconstructed, synthesised and represented digitally. Placing itself in an ancient tradition of art theory, this work revisits the vexed question – whether the task of art is to represent nature as it is, or to replicate the generative activity that constitutes the essence of nature itself.


  • Julian Tapales is a new media artist and researcher. Interested in materials, symbols and the frameworks that contain them, his research process draws from traditional design and craft disciplines, computer science and anthropology.

    His work explores the cultural context around new technological systems and the conceptual structure underlying them.

  • Collaborators

  • Alex Gruz
Royal College of Art