Ian Cheng

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Ian Cheng
Born (1984-03-29) March 29, 1984 (age 35)
EducationBA, University of California, Berkeley
MFA, Columbia University
Notable work
Emissaries Trilogy
BOB (Bag of Beliefs)

Ian Cheng (born March 29, 1984) is an American artist known for his live simulations that explore the capacity of living agents to deal with change.[1][2] His simulations, commonly understood as "virtual ecosystems"[3][4] are less about the wonders of new technologies than about the potential for these tools to realize ways of relating to a chaotic existence.[5] His work has been widely exhibited internationally, including MoMA PS1, Serpentine Galleries, Whitney Museum of American Art, Hirshhorn Museum, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Migros Museum, and other institutions.[6][7][8]

Early life and education[edit]

Cheng was born in Los Angeles, CA, in 1984. Cheng attended Van Nuys High School. Cheng graduated from University of California, Berkeley in 2006 with a dual degree in cognitive science and art practice. Cheng worked at Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas's visual effects company.[5][9] Cheng attended Columbia University, where he earned his MFA in 2009.[9] Cheng worked in the studio of artist Pierre Huyghe from 2010 to 2012 and also worked as co-director at Paul Chan's independent New York based publishing company, Badlands Unlimited, founded in 2010.[10]


Cheng popularized the use of simulation as a medium available to artistic practice, capable of composing together both man-made and algorithmically generated content that together produce emergent behavior over an infinite duration. Cheng's work highlights the capacity of simulation to express the unpredictable dynamic between order and chaos in a complex system.[2] Cheng coined the term “live simulation” as a subset of simulation that is presented in public in real-time without regard for an optimal outcome or pre-defined fitness criteria. Since 2013, Cheng has produced a series of simulations exploring an AI-based agent’s capacity to deal with an ever-changing environment.[5][1]

From 2015 to 2017, Cheng developed Emissaries, a trilogy of episodic live simulations that “explore the history of cognitive evolution, past and future.”[11] Unlike previous simulations, Emissaries introduced a narrative agent, the emissary, whose motivation to enact a story was set into conflict with the open-ended chaos of the simulation. Cheng describes the archetype of the emissary as one who "is caught between unravelling old realities and emerging weird one," an embodied way to explore the relationship between meaning and meaninglessness.[12] Cheng drew inspiration from the narrative nature of consciousness described by Julian Jaynes in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

At Serpentine Galleries in 2018, Cheng premiered BOB (Bag of Beliefs), an AI-based creature whose personality, body, and life script evolve across exhibitions in what Cheng calls “art with a nervous system.”[13]

BOB premiered in the United States in 2019 at Gladstone Gallery[14]. BOB features a unique model of AI that combines an inductive engine for the learning of rule-based beliefs from sensory experiences with a motivational framework composed of mini-personalities called "demons". Each demon competes for control of BOB's body in a "congress of demons", and each utilizes the inductive engine to achieve its motivations while minimizing surprise. Viewers were invited to send their own stream of stimuli to BOB through BOB Shrine, an iOS app.

Other activities[edit]

Cheng directed the music video Brats, by Liars.[15]

At Frieze London in 2013, Cheng premiered Entropy Wrangler Cloud, one of the first artworks made for virtual reality, using first generation Oculus Rift headsets.[16]

Cheng developed Bad Corgi, an iOS app commissioned by Serpentine Galleries, which has been called a "shadowy mindfulness app for contemplating chaos."[17][18][19]



Cheng's work is collected by institutions including Museum of Modern Art, New York;[46] Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;[47] Migros Museum, Zurich;[48] Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris; Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; Julia Stoschek Collection,[49] Dusseldorf; Yuz Museum, Shanghai.


  1. ^ a b Mellin, Haley (Fall–Winter 2016). "Creatures of Narrative". Garage. 11: 186–191.
  2. ^ a b Jetzer, Gianni (April 2016). "Training in the Neuro-Gym". Spike Art Quarterly: 94–107.
  3. ^ Obrist, Hans Ulrich (April 2016). "Future Without Humans". Numero: 239–243, 327–331.
  4. ^ "Ian Cheng". Interview Magazine. December 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Kerr, Dylan. "Artificial Ecology: Ian Cheng on the Strange Art of Simulating Life, and the Conceptual Merits of Pokemon Go". Artspace. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  6. ^ Rosenmeyer, Aoife. "Critic's Guide: Zurich". Frieze. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  7. ^ Gratza, Agnieska. "Critics Picks: Ian Cheng". Artforum. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  8. ^ Bier, Arielle (November–December 2015). "Review: Ian Cheng at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo". Frieze Magazine: 156.
  9. ^ a b Greenberger, Alex. "THE CYBORG ANTHROPOLOGIST: IAN CHENG ON HIS SENTIENT ARTWORKS". Artnews. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  10. ^ LATITUDES. "Expanding the Book: An Interview with Badlands Unlimited". Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  11. ^ "IAN CHENG: EMISSARY FORKS AT PERFECTION 13 OCT 15-14 NOV 15". Pilar Corrias Gallery. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  12. ^ Obrist, Hans Ulrich (April 2018). "EMISSARIES GUIDE TO WORLDING".
  13. ^ Huyghe, Pierre. "Hans Ulrich Obrist: secrets of a super-curator". Art Newspaper.
  14. ^ "Barbara Gladstone", Wikipedia, 2018-08-22, retrieved 2019-01-29
  15. ^ Amidi, Amid. ""Brats" By Ian Cheng". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  16. ^ Luke, Ben (January 2016). "WELCOME TO THE VIRTUAL WORLD". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  17. ^ Khan, Nora N. "Trust Issues". Rhizome.org. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  18. ^ "Ian Cheng Digital Commission". Serpentine Galleries. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  19. ^ Holmes, Kevin (March 1, 2016). "A 'Bad Corgi' Misbehaves in Video Art Game about Anxiety". The Creators Project. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  20. ^ "Barbara Gladstone", Wikipedia, 2018-08-22, retrieved 2019-01-29
  21. ^ "Ian Cheng: BOB". Serpentine Galleries. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  22. ^ FOUNDATION, JULIA STOSCHEK. "JSC BERLIN - IAN CHENG: EMISSARIES". www.jsc.berlin (in German). Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  23. ^ "Exhibition Being Modern: MoMA in Paris". www.fondationlouisvuitton.fr. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  24. ^ "BEING THERE". Louisiana. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  25. ^ "Ian Cheng". Carnegie Museum of Art. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  26. ^ "Ian Cheng April 9 – September 24, 2017". Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  27. ^ Harris, Gareth. "Tate Modern launches ten-day live art exhibition in the Tanks". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  28. ^ "Ian Cheng Forking At Perfection February 20 – May 16, 2016". E flux. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  29. ^ Hale, Mike (October 16, 2016). "A Retort to Shrinking Screens, in an Ultra-Immersive Show at the Whitney". Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  30. ^ Delson, Susan (October 25, 2016). "At the Whitney, a Different Take on the Moving Image". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  31. ^ "Take Me (I'm Yours)". New Yorker. New Yorker. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  32. ^ Westall, Mark. "Artist Ian Cheng has created a VR 'Pokemon Go like' installation for The Liverpool Biennial". Fad magazine. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  33. ^ "Liverpool Biennial". Liverpool Biennial. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  34. ^ ""WELT AM DRAHT" at JULIA STOSCHEK COLLECTION, Berlin". Mousse Magazine. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  35. ^ "JSC Berlin – Welt Am Draht". Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  36. ^ "Suspended Animation – Hirshhorn Museum". hirshhorn museum. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  37. ^ Droitcour, Brian. "Bodies in the Expanded Field: Animation at the Hirshhorn". Art in America. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  38. ^ Chen, Holly (February 5, 2016). "Head Uptown for spring art exhibitions". Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  39. ^ "Stranger at MOCA Cleveland". MOCA Cleveland. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  40. ^ Mclean, Matthew. "Ian Cheng's "Emissary Forks at Perfection"". Art Agenda. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  41. ^ "Ian Cheng: Emissary Forks at Perfection". Pilar Corrias. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  42. ^ "Ian Cheng. Emissary in the Squat of Gods". fsrr.org. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  43. ^ ""Real Humans" at Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf". mousse magazine. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  44. ^ "Michael E. Smith e Ian Cheng". triennale.org. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  45. ^ "South likes: Michael Smith and Ian Cheng at La Triennale di Milano, Milan". south as a state of mind. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  46. ^ "From the Collection – Ian Cheng". MoMA. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  47. ^ "COLLECTION – IAN CHENG". Whitney Museum of American Art.
  48. ^ "Works in the Collection – Ian Cheng". Migros Museum fur Gegenwartskunst. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  49. ^ "Artists in the Collection". Julia Stoschek Collection. Retrieved 27 January 2017.

External links[edit]