Ian Cheng, “Something Thinking of You,” 2015, Live simulation, Infinite duration. Shanghai Himalayas Museum installation view, 2017


Ian Cheng’s “Something Thinking of You” (2015) is a live simulation. Since modern Enlightenment, the distinction between human beings and other creatures has been founded on intelligence—the capacity to think, recognize, perceive, and differentiate. Contrastingly, Cheng’s simulation argues that technology now has the ability to make decisions of its own. “Something Thinking of You” features a creature designed to be responsive to the light, temperature, and moisture of its virtual environment. It is also motivated by opportunities to feed, rest, disguise itself, and react to the virtual camera. These behavioral properties however do not pre-determine what the creature will actually do in its lifetime, nor the form it will take to achieve its needs. It may become a vegetable, an animal, a pet, a sentience, for you.

Ian Cheng lives and works in New York. Cheng’s work explores the nature of mutation and the capacity of humans to relate to change. Drawing on principles of video game design and cognitive science, the artist has developed “live simulations,” living, virtual ecosystems that begin with basic programmed properties, but are left to self-evolve without authorial intent or end. His simulations model the dynamics of often imaginative organisms and objects, but do so with the unforgiving causality found in nature itself. Cheng describes his simulations as akin to a “neurological gym”: a format for viewers to deliberately exercise feelings of confusion, anxiety, and cognitive dissonance that accompany the experience of unrelenting change. Through simulations, Cheng wonders if it’s possible to love these difficult feelings and refactor our relationship to indeterminacy as a feature of being alive today, not a bug.