Ian Cheng

Ian Cheng

A Portal to Infinity

Watch Ian Cheng, a rising star on the art scene, talk about his trilogy of animated live simulation works – ‘Emissaries’ – which work like a never-ending video game in real time: “It was a process that was on-going as life is on-going.”

When reading the book ‘The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind’ (1976) by Julian Jaynes, Cheng was fascinated by its theory that people in ancient times didn’t make conscious, reflected decisions, and that it wasn’t until recently that we got what Cheng refers to as “the app of consciousness.” This inspired Cheng to make the Emissary works: “I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s certainly weird, and it definitely captured my imagination for making these works called ‘Emissaries’.”

“Technology is maybe the one underlying force that forces us as human beings to consider what the container of a human being really is and how much it can stretch or where it will break.” Cheng has always been very interested in artificial intelligence, and the live simulations were his opportunity to create his own model of the composition of the mind.

The look of ‘Emissaries’ is inspired by the Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki, where everything in the background, such as nature, is unique: “I wanted to fuse the disciplines of procedural generation with traditional 3D animation to make unique motion capture, to make unique 3D models, to make unique rocks, plants and animals as a way of replicating this sort of cartoonish nature.”

Ian Cheng (b. 1984) is an American artist known for his live simulations, which explore the nature of mutation and human behaviour. His simulations, commonly understood as “virtual ecosystems”, are less about the wonders of new technologies than about the potential for these tools to realize ways of relating to a chaotic existence. Cheng’s work has been widely exhibited internationally, including MoMA PS1 (‘Emissaries’, 2017) and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, Hirschorn Museum in Washington and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Torino. For more see: http://iancheng.com/

‘Emissaries’ (2015-17) is a series of live simulation works (‘Emissary In the Squad of Gods’ (2015), ‘Emisary Forks At Perfection’ (2015-16) and ‘Emissary Sunsets The Self’ (2017)) created using a video game engine. Described by the artist as “a video game that plays itself,” the works are comprised of computer-generated simulations like those used in predictive technologies for complex scenarios such as climate change or elections. The simulations evolve endlessly as self-contained ecosystems.

Ian Cheng was interviewed by Kasper Bech Dyg at his studio in New York City in September 2017. The Emissary works was filmed at MoMA PS1.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Produced and edited by: Kasper Bech Dyg
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2017

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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