Grant Recipients Grants to Artists Visual Arts 2021

Ian Cheng

A portrait of Ian Cheng with cropped dark hair, wearing a black t-shirt.
Photo by Rachel Rose.
  • Born 1984, Los Angeles, CA
  • Lives in New York, NY
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  • Additional Information
  • iancheng.com

On reflection, this past year has been a process of reorienting myself away from borderless artistic production at all hours of the day racing to meet show deadlines, and toward developing a strong foundation for my family and work to be resilient to change, and even unbothered by change. The FCA grant made all the difference in making this turn.

- Ian Cheng, December 25, 2021

Biography

Ian Cheng is an artist with a background in cognitive science. In his work, Cheng explores the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) through game design and simulation.

Cheng’s Emissaries (2017), a series of video games that play themselves, were the subject of his first solo U.S. museum exhibition at MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY. Each of these computer simulations featured a complex, ever-changing ecosystem set against a determined agent, the emissary, attempting to fulfill its script. At the Serpentine Gallery in London, United Kingdom, Cheng first exhibited BOB (Bag of Beliefs) (2018), an artificial lifeform composed of sub-personalities competing for control of BOB’s body. Inspired by a Jungian model of the mind, BOB detects mismatches between the desired expectations of its action and the unfolding environmental reality, forcing it to update its beliefs to make better inferences in the future.

Cheng has also had solo exhibitions at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy; and Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin, Germany. His work has appeared in group exhibitions at the 58th Venice Biennale, Italy; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; the Hirshhorn, Washington D.C.; Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France; and SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY.

Cheng holds an M.F.A. from Columbia University and a B.A. from University of California, Berkeley with a dual degree in Cognitive Science and Art Practice.

Artist Statement

Since 2012, I have 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, I have developed BOB (Bag of Beliefs), an AI creature whose personality, body, and life story evolve across exhibitions, what I call “art with a nervous system.” In 2015, I founded Metis Suns, a production company dedicated to worlding and worlding literacy.

- December 2020

A digital illustration of humaoid figures on a white background moving around. Multiple firepits have been lighted, with one in the back creating smoke.
Installation view of Emissary Sunsets the Self, at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by Bryan Conley.
Two figures view a digital illustration the size of a wall. The whole space is white except the illustration which has shapes of red and green.
Installation view of BOB (Bag of Beliefs), 2019, at the 58th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy. Photo by Andrea Rossetti.
A panoramic digital illustration of various characters. Humanoid figures and animals such as foxes and owls stand in front grassy patch area.
Production still from Emissaries, 2017, simulation and story, infinite duration.
A digital illustration screen split in two. On the left side two concentric circles host small patches of flora and a red snakelike creature with multiple small black masks. On the right side is data readout showing bodily metrics.
Production still from BOB (Bag of Beliefs), 2019, artificial lifeform, infinite duration.
Screen recording of BOB (Bag of Beliefs), 2019, artificial lifeform, infinite duration.
A diagram consisting of rectangle shapes of grey and red and other sentences. All of them are connected with each other through arrows forming a rhombus.
Production still from BOB (Bag of Beliefs), 2019, artificial lifeform, infinite duration.
Screen recording of Emissary Sunsets the Shelf, 2017, simulation and story, infinite duration.
A digital illustration of humanoid figures moving in the mountains. Three campfires stand on each side, symbols and runes in white scattered around.
Production still from Emissary Forks at Perfection, 2016-2017, simulation and story, infinite duration.
A digital illustration of humanoid figures moving in the mountains. Three campfires stand on each side, symbols and runes in white scattered around.
Production still from Emissary in the Squat of Gods, 2015, simulation and story, infinite duration.