This live simulation by the American artist is powered by a series of constantly changing algorithms. Cheng throws together an assortment of seemingly random elements: an office chair, a dolphin, a potted plant and a dinosaur are all tossed into the sequence. The elements collide and spin apart, dance and skitter at random whilst dummy-like bodies fluctuate and change colour. The resul is a turbulent flurry of movement and form.
Cheng creates chaotic simulations that do not attempt to mirror reality in the ways that CGI does. In 1970 the Japanese robotics professor Masahiro Mori invented the term ‘Bukami No Tani’, ‘The Uncanny Valley’ in English, to describe the strange feeling of discomfort we experience when looking at a robot that seems almost human. Cheng uses motion capture data of real humans that triggers this Uncanny Valley effect, and then transports these bodies into bizarre alternate universes where they bounce and judder like faulty machines.
The artist himself worked in a visual effects department firm developing CGI for films and found himself frustrated and jaded by the pressure to mirror the real as closely as possible. As CGI technology becomes ever more advanced and the uncanny valley grows ever narrower, Cheng’s simulations are deliberately strange, unnatural sequences that resist the exact reproduction of real life and instead disconcert and compel the viewer to question the nature of digital reality.
Cheng is interested in the random occurrences that ensue when the algorithms are left to their own devices. The resulting chaos destabilises our perceived notions of control over technology. Cheng’s simulations show technology without order: a panicked confusion that threatens to disturb the normal hierarchy of man and his machines. The artist shows us the limits of human control over the technology we design and the digital chaos that reigns when the algorithms are set free.