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Ian Cheng: ‘Thousand Lives’

  • Art
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Still. Courtesy Ian Cheng, 2023
Still. Courtesy Ian Cheng, 2023

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

BOB is a complex character. It’s not just some bloke, it’s an AI lifeform, or a series of AI lifeforms, invented by artist Ian Cheng. BOBs have been generative artworks, films, installations, all with minds of their own. BOB even took over the Serpentine in 2018 as a menagerie of AI animals. Cheng’s work is complex, multi-layered, filled with lore. BOB even has its own wiki. 

And it appears here in this latest work as a character in an anime about a young girl called Challice, whose scientist father melds her personality with an AI. Where is the line between human consciousness and artificial intelligence? Who is making the decisions? Challice becomes more and more BOB-like, the tech takes over. It’s intense, ultra-smart, hectic. If you go in the mornings, you can pause the film with an app, explore the different elements on screen. In the afternoons, it switches to cinema mode. 

Upstairs, a generative video follows the trials and tribulations of Challice’s pet turtle as it tries to navigate her room. It’s real, it’s intelligent; a live simulation of a digital turtle figuring the world out in real time. 

But Cheng’s so big on ideas and tech experimentation that the actual aesthetic results feel like an afterthought. If the film was better scripted, more beautifully made, we’d have something genuinely excellent. Instead, the execution just doesn’t match up to the ideas.

Which is a shame, because the ideas are awesome. Cheng uses BOB to ask big, sweeping questions about the nature of digitised existence, about how life does and will evolve in tandem with technology. He’s not saying anything is good or bad, he’s asking what will happen. The answers might be uncomfortable, but at least we know turtles aren’t going extinct.

Written by
Eddy Frankel


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