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Ian Cheng review

  • Art, Contemporary art
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Ian Cheng, Installation view © 2018 Hugo Glendinning

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Bob is a pretty damn innocuous name for a creature that’s going to bring about the apocalypse. You see, BOB (or Bag of Beliefs) is US artist Ian Cheng’s new digital life-form. Across six enormous screens, Cheng has given birth to little AI creatures. Using an iPhone, you interact with each BOB: they register your face, choose to play with you or ignore you as you move around and investigate them. But no BOB is a static, fixed entity. It grows and learns, creates memories and takes on new life. The more BOB is interacted with, the more he changes and learns.

It’s sort of the opposite of how most art works, because this isn’t really about you, the viewer, getting anything out of it – it’s a computational experiment where the purpose is for your interaction to help in the growth of an artificial intelligence. You’re not doing anything, you’re just digital food, information to be processed like sunlight and converted into knowledge. It’s seriously involved, absorbing, clever art that draws you in and messes with everything you’ve got to give. And not just that, this is entirely forward-looking art, it’s the inventing of a future.

Here’s the thing though. Each BOB that I interacted with chose to behead me within about 15 seconds. It sniffed me out, darted around a bit, then thought nah, I’m not having this dickhead in my virtual reality. Gallery attendants told me BOB was tired, or bored of interacting with so many people. So he fucking chops my head off?? Piss off, BOB. Imagine what it’s going to be like when the gallery is full of stupid kids on half-term, pulling faces and smearing half a Curly Wurly across the screen.

Throw enough peanuts at the monkeys in the zoo and they’ll rise up – and BOB’s just becoming smarter and more autonomous. Somehow, no one at the Serpentine seems to have pegged that this is clearly going to end with a robot uprising that will leave humanity either totally annihilated or forced to live as sex toys for our new overlords for eternity.


Eddy Frankel
Written by
Eddy Frankel


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