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Ian Cheng’s Life After BOB is an episodic anime series built in the Unity game engine and presented live in real-time, imagining a future world in which our minds are co-inhabited by AI entities. Bridging the artist’s interest in both open-ended simulation and the capacity of cinematic storytelling to evoke deep psychological truths, Life After BOB asks: How will life lived with AI transform the archetypal scripts that guide our sense of a meaningful existence?

In The Chalice Study, the first episode, neural engineer Dr. Wong has installed an experimental AI named BOB (“Bag of Beliefs”) into the nervous system of his 10-year-old daughter, Chalice. Designed to guide Chalice through the challenges of growing up in a volatile world, BOB confronts more and more of the conflicts in Chalice’s life on her behalf, while Chalice grows increasingly irrelevant and escapist. As Dr. Wong begins to favor the BOB side of his daughter, and as BOB threatens to do the job of living Chalice’s life better than she can, Chalice jealously wonders: What is left for her classic human self to do?

Working with an expansive production team, Cheng developed this 48-minute narrative animation using traditional animation storytelling techniques alongside Unity and its suite of real-time cinematic tools. Through this innovative approach, Life After BOB incorporates real-time changes unique to each viewing. The exhibition will showcase a large-scale screening of the narrative animation that foregrounds the drama of the story, paired with an interactive “World Watching” presentation of the animation that allows viewers to freely explore the details of the Life After BOB world at their own tempo. Viewers are invited to learn more at the Life After BOB wiki, which catalogues characters and artifacts, flora and fauna, and every background detail seen in the episode. The viewer is invited to contribute to and edit this wiki. These edits in turn permanently modify the details of the onscreen world, thereby extending Life After BOB into a new form of programmable narrative media.

About The Artist
Ian Cheng (born Los Angeles, 1984) is an artist living and working in New York. He has exhibited widely including solo presentations at MoMA PS1, New York; Serpentine Galleries, London; and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh and group presentations at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art; New York; the 2019 Venice Biennale; Hirshhorn Museum; Washington, D.C.; Tate Modern, London; Louisiana Museum, Copenhagen; and Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris.

Since 2012, Cheng has produced a series of simulations exploring an agent’s capacity to deal with an ever-changing environment. These works culminated in the “Emissaries” trilogy, which introduced a narrative agent whose motivation to enact a story was set into conflict with the open-ended chaos of the simulation. Most recently, he has developed BOB (Bag of Beliefs), an AI creature whose personality, body, and life story evolve across exhibitions, what Cheng calls “art with a nervous system.” In 2015, Cheng founded Metis Suns, a production company dedicated to worlding and worlding literacy.

Luma Westbau


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