Design Trust Seed Grant

Shanzhai Sonata


Film depicts Shenzhen, one of the worlds leading tech economies, as it adapts itself to host worlds largest population of synthetic replicas
created through Presense – machine learning platform which is able to extrapolate user’s behaviour patterns into any number of distant
environments. How do high resolution predictions enable life in a multiverse and how does living parallel lives change the definition of
human scale?

Shanzhai Sonata speculates on the ‘post-work’ economy emerging in Shenzhen, provenance of Shanzhai phenomenon, as more people begin to rely on their synthetic replicas for economic gains. The notion of replication is important as a power relationship existing between the ‘real’ and the ‘copy’, focusing on the condition in which a ‘copy’ is superior to the ‘original’.

Film narrates one story occurring in parallel set in Shenzhen, but also in Amsterdam and Moscow creating a feeling of three separate stories – three movements of one sonata. What holds them together is the protagonist who is a user of Presense.

About Presense

As an expanded urban design practice, Presense team is exploring the intersections of urban planning, synthetic modelling and predictive
engines, through text and film narrative. As an extension to the research, the team is developing a speculative machine learning platform, which aims to test the ideas about the capacities of human-scale predictive modelling, which is to be presented at ‘Eyes of the City’ exhibition, part of UABB, 2019.

Presense, was originally conceived by urbanist and filmmaker Igor Sladoljev, Asian scholar Gleb Papyshev, art curator Sveta Gorlatova and an architect Artem Nikitin in 2019 at Strelka Institute for Architecture, Media and Design in Moscow within The New Normal program directed by Benjamin H. Bratton and was first presented in June 2019.