Ian Cheng’s Virtual Worlds Forge Own Paths Into Chaos

by Andy SmithPosted on

The words “spontaneity” and “fluidity” have informed the processes of countless artists. But there’s something else in the art of Ian Cheng, whose video simulations garner lives of their own. His virtual worlds are designed to self-evolve. Characters morph or go off-map. Showings can be engrossing and quick-moving, or they can be like one session of “Emissary in the Squat of Gods” last year, when a virtual girl simply stared at piece of volcanic ash for a couple hours, as viewers looked on.

His latest commission, from Serpentine Galleries in London, takes it a step further. Bad Corgi is a smartphone app, or as Serpentine puts it, a “shadowy mindfulness app for contemplating chaos.” Players control a sheepherding Corgi that runs into natural disasters and obstacles at every turn. But that’s the thing: You never actually win. The Corgi sometimes does his own thing. More disasters occur. Your rating continues to drop. Here, we find the crux of this unassuming work of art: You must now accept the chaos, and that will be liberating. “Cheng sees his simulations as a kind of neurological gym in which art becomes a means to deliberately exercise the feelings of confusion, anxiety and cognitive dissonance that accompany moments of change,” says Serpentine’s website.

Cheng, who was born in Los Angeles and works in New York City, shows works at a few exhibitions this spring. Forking at Perfection, running through May 16, is a solo exhibition at Migros Museum of Contemporary Art in Zurich, Switzerland. In the U.S. two group shows currently feature Cheng’s work: “Stranger” at Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (through May 6) and “Suspended Animation” at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (through March 2017).

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