Saturday, May 21, 2016

Ian Cheng: Emissary in the Squat of Gods

One measure of good art is that it engages you into becoming part of a conversation that began with a given creator speaking through a particular medium of choice. Such a piece then grows with comprehension and involvement as we become engrossed. The work often takes on a life of it’s own and we are in turn transformed within the process.  Ian Cheng is an artist who does all of the for-mentioned as he welcomes the viewer into his universe and goes beyond to uncharted places.

Cheng began his artistic journey as a video story teller but wanted to take his work to a place not yet quite charted. He focused on a new video language that depended not on narrative but on something more akin to artificial intelligence.  Ian Cheng’s Animation Simulations are mutating, evolving algorithms that act, interact and exist within worlds that constantly and unpredictably change as they flow in real time with elements playing in unison and against each other.    

It was as a portion of an exhibition “Suspended Animation” at The Hirshhorn in Washington DC that was my introduction to this artist whose work I would come to revere; Ian Cheng. Other artists were featured including Helen Martin, Ed Atkins and Josh Kline; all impressive. Cheng was the stand out. His revolutionary piece “Emissary in the Squat of Gods” was on view where I stopped to take it in and to see just what was going on with this wall projection complete with sound, light, nuance and intrigue. 

The characters seemed to be villagers in a minimally technological society placed on a rugged hill top and viewed from a distance giving the impression of looking through the eyes of an anthropological perspective. The scene; even though it seemed sedentary at the onset was actually slowly rotating as if on an axis. The characters were definitely responding in an unscripted manner and there was a (What will happen next?) feel to the visible actions.  There was also; after an extended amount of viewing time, a changing of the light from twilight into night and greater darkness. This was an amazing something to witness. I could easily imagine the figures of the simulation becoming sentient if indeed they weren’t at this time already.

Ian Cheng’s work lies eerily at the intersection between art, technology, the fantastic and myth. Cheng; an artist squarely in his formative years promises an unlimited foray into the visible and the invisible. We’ll take the journey with him. Where does he emerge? Time… is our only teller.