Aashna Arora performing at Yamuna Ghat, New Delhi. Production photo by Purva Joshi.

Poetics of Garbage: Plastic Prāyaścitta

The Poetics of Garbage project manipulates waste material via performance, computer vision, object recognition software, and a language model, translating it into a poetic narrative as an expression of how trash can be rationalised by a machine to produce language.

Plastic Prāyaścitta is a single screen film shot in the streets and hinterlands of Delhi. The process of making the film reflexively generated a commentary on the shared relationship between humans and garbage. By reclaiming trash from the ‘realm of the useless’, it is redesignated with value and transformed into cultural icons integrated into a performance. The title of the film alludes to the trope of ritualistic pilgrimage, a journey into the unknown in search of new or expanded meaning. We imagined this sense of altered meaning being achieved through the actions of the body and its interplay between waste material and predictive technology.

This is a collaborative project made by Aashna Arora (performance & costume), Bruce Gilchrist (concept, video edit & text generation), Chaitali Kulkarni (software programming) and Thaniya Kanaka Mahalakshmi (narration & language translation) as part of a BeFantastic Beyond Fellowship 2022-23 (India), co-produced by BeFantastic (In), FutureEverything (UK), and supported by the British Council.

Music by Traitor.

Cameras: Purva Joshi / Rahul Naag / Jonathan Peters.  
Additional language translation: Malvika Jha / Champa Lakshmi.


As part of the FutureFantastic exhibition in Bangalore, we created an interactive, live-camera installation to demonstrate the underlying principle of Poetics of Garbage. The displayed costume in the gallery was subject to the same object recognition algorithm but used a different language model—an RNN text generator—that was trained on the text corpus that was originally generated from the street performance. In effect, the live-camera installation performed an algorithmic remix of the Plastic Prāyaścitta narrative when a gallery visitor changed the position of the camera.

Photography by Bruce Gilchrist︎︎︎

The artworks showcased at
India’s first AI + Art festival at
Bangalore International Centre, 03-2023.

Presented in Seattle, USA, as part of CVPR 2024.

Initial concepting images (2022)︎︎︎
generated in Midjourney from a text prompt and subjected to an object recognition algorithm.

Selected projects & collaborations by Bruce Gilchrist © 2024