Ian ChengLife After BOB
09 Sep – 06 Nov 2022
Halle am Berghain
A groundbreaking cinematic experience that engages a central contemporary question: what is the status of human life, in an age of rapid technological innovation?
Centring on Ian Cheng’s first narrative film The Chalice Study, this LAS-commissioned exhibition plunges into the complex relationship between technology, human free will and desire. Life After BOB is a planned eight-part anime miniseries by Ian Cheng, wherein humans and AI merge, with turbulent consequences.
The exhibition advances the American artist's practice as, for the first time, Cheng situates his work with computer-simulated animation in a physical installation. Inside Berlin’s iconic post-industrial venue Halle am Berghain, the resultant experience takes viewers on a psychologically charged journey far beyond the screen. Ultimately, this odyssey unfolds within us, and our shifting social and technological context.
How will artificial intelligence transform the archetypal scripts that guide our lives? Imagine a future world in which your mind is no longer entirely your own, but co-inhabited by an AI entity. Now imagine how a life lived with an AI might transform the scripts that guide your sense of a meaningful existence.
Set in not-so-distant 2074, Life After BOB is an episodic anime series that imagines a future world in which the internet extends into our nervous systems, psychotropic foods unify physical and psychic realities into one fluid experience stream, AI entities are permitted to co-inhabit human minds, and anomie reigns.
In The Chalice Study, neural engineer Dr. Wong has installed an experimental AI named BOB (“Bag of Beliefs”) into the nervous system of his 10-year-old daughter, Chalice. Designed to guide Chalice through the challenges of growing up in a volatile world, BOB confronts more and more of the conflicts in Chalice’s life on her behalf, while Chalice grows increasingly escapist. As Dr. Wong begins to favor the BOB side of his daughter, and as BOB threatens to do the job of living Chalice’s life better than she can, Chalice jealously wonders: What is left for her classic human self to do?
‘Life After BOB imagines new archetypal characters for our ever-weirdening times, and gives life to them through an experience that integrates authored cinematic storytelling with open-ended simulated worlding.’
– Ian Cheng
With Life After BOB, Cheng bridges cinematic storytelling, with the computer simulation techniques of his earlier work. The Chalice Study is the most ambitious feature film yet produced using Unity video game engine. This method separates the film from cinema as we know it. Instead of being projected from a reel or file, it is live-streamed for each screening. Meanwhile, an algorithmic feed perpetually transforms its details. After each streaming of the film, viewers encounter an interactive ‘worldwatching’ station. Here, they can pause the film and explore its details at their own speed. The exhibition will also include a merchandise offering, specially designed and produced for this show, including apparel and cherishables. In this way, Cheng’s work achieves an unprecedented reach into our shared culture, and viewers’ lives. Together with LAS, Cheng also produces a bespoke NFT experience titled TRUE NAME, which will generate personalised prompts to guide visitors through the exhibition and engage them in the existential themes of the film Life After BOB: The Chalice Study. Each unique NFT is powered by Tezos and can be obtained for free via QR code in the exhibition’s store.
‘Artificial intelligence presents some of the most urgent and intriguing possibilities for our times. At LAS we work with artists pushing the boundaries between art and new technologies, so I’m delighted to be working with Ian Cheng on this new project that uses cutting-edge technology to describe a provoking and unsettling imagined future, one in which the line between humans and machines has become startlingly blurred.’
– Bettina Kames, Director of LAS
Ian Cheng (born Los Angeles, 1984) is an artist living and working in New York. He has exhibited widely including solo presentations at MoMA PS1, New York; Serpentine Galleries, London; Leeum Museum of Art, Seoul; The Shed, New York; LUMA Foundation, Arles; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin and Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin. He has also been in group presentations at Venice Biennale; De Young Museum, San Francisco; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC; Tate Modern, London; Louisiana Museum, Copenhagen; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris and Sculpture Center, New York. Since 2012, Cheng has produced a series of simulations exploring an agent’s capacity to deal with an ever-changing environment. These works culminated in the Emissaries trilogy, which introduced a narrative agent whose motivation to enact a story was set into conflict with the open-ended chaos of the simulation. Most recently, he has developed BOB (Bag of Beliefs), an AI creature whose personality, body and life story evolve across exhibitions, what Cheng calls “art with a nervous system.” In 2015, Cheng founded Metis Suns, a production company dedicated to worlding and worlding literacy.
Life After BOB: The Chalice Study is co-commissioned by LAS, The Shed and Luma Foundation.
Ian Cheng: Life After BOB 9 September - 6 November 2022 at Halle am Berghain, Berlin © 2022 Ian Cheng Presented by LAS (Light Art Space)