Ian Cheng
Life After BOB

9 Sept – 6 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?

Ian Cheng: Life After BOB: The Chalice Study, Real-time story and Simulation, Sound, 50min © 2021 Ian Cheng.

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.

The Chalice Study takes place in not-so-distant 2074. In this ‘Great Anomic Era’, society has abandoned classical notions of humanity. The neural engineer Dr James Moonweed Wong has been pivotal in this process. His newest invention is an AI technology called ‘Bag of Beliefs’ (BOB), which promises to relieve humans of existential stresses, by co-piloting their consciousness. Complex consequences ensue, after Wong’s daughter Chalice becomes her father’s first test subject. Intending to guide his daughter through the  challenges of growing up in a volatile world, Wong implants BOB into her nervous system. Things take a dark turn as BOB confronts more and more of Chalice’s life challenges on her behalf, while she descends into escapist despair, and 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.

‘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

Biography

Ian Cheng
Artist
Video

‘My dream with any of the works I make is that you hold on to this fairytale as a new kind of archetype that you can think about and imagine as a way to kind of surf the chaos that we live in.’

Ian Cheng on building worlds, fairytales and making Life After BOB. A behind-the-scenes video for The Shed.

Ian Cheng: Life After BOB: The Chalice Study, Real-time story and Simulation, Sound, 50min © 2021 Ian Cheng.

Article

‘Like the rest of Cheng’s work, Life After BOB is brainy, techfocused and informed by cognitive psychology, neuroscience, machine learning and A.I.’

The New York Times discussing Ian Cheng’s latest work Life After BOB, which was inspired by his newborn daughter.

Ian Cheng: Life After BOB: The Chalice Study, Real-time story and Simulation, Sound, 50min © 2021 Ian Cheng.

Interview

‘What if an AI could do the job of living your life better than you?’

Artist talk with Ian Cheng and Hans Ulrich Obrist (Serpentine Galleries, London), Vassilis Oikonomopoulos (Luma Arles) and Amira Gad (LAS, Berlin) at LUMA Westbau about Life After BOB and developing artworks as living organisms.

Ian Cheng: Life After BOB: The Chalice Study, Real-time story and Simulation, Sound, 50min © 2021 Ian Cheng.

Life After BOB: The Chalice Study is co-commissioned by LAS (Light Art Space), The Shed and Luma Foundation.

Credits

Life After BOB is produced by Veronica So; with animation producer Nicholas Sung; technical producer Ivaylo Getov; editor Jess Fulton; cinematography by Eric Yue; animation supervisor Valerie Scheiber; sound design by Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr; and composer Brian Reitzell.

Featuring the voices of Poonam Basu, Cherami Leigh, Dana Lee, Gwendoline Yeo, Aly Mawji, Jennifer Swanner, and Sean Patton.

Research developed with The Transformations of the Human at the Berggruen Institute.

The interactive mobile application is supported by Leeum Museum of Art (Seoul).

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