Once you read about it, you can’t believe it’s taken this long, but you also can’t believe we had it any other way. Ian Cheng‘s works are essentially living art, or conversely, as he describes them, “computer games that play themselves”. Of course, there’s something inimitable about the joy of forming your opinion on a painting, or a sculpture that means something different to everyone. But this collision between gaming and art opens up worlds of possibility for the imagination beyond frozen moments in time. Worlds in which the viewer isn’t the only one exploring – the subject is too.
What if works of art could feel how you thought about them? What if installations were intelligent, playing out stories and searching for meaning just like their viewers? What if a work of art was so smart it could free itself from the artist who made it? What, in other words, would the art world look like with a few more Ian Chengs around?
Cheng has been working with AI since 2015, inspired as much by Sims 3 creator Richard Evans as by conventional artists. His first foray into this medium, called Emissaries, is currently on show at London’s Serpentine Gallery. Cheng describes the works as “computer games that play themselves.”
The three worlds/games – The Squat of Gods, Forks at Perfection and Sunsets the Self, in chronological order – flicker through improvised narrative loops on giant screens in three separate rooms at the gallery. In the first, loosely rendered figures wander from task to place to interaction, like a Sims game left unattended. In the second, clearly defined dogs gambol amongst fast-moving clumps of animated grass. In the final room, the action takes place on a blasted heath with curious expanding lakes of yellow goo breaking into smaller pieces, pursued by shambling creatures that try to burn them or tear them apart.