in other words

#54 Artist Ian Cheng: “The best art is like a Trojan horse”

by Charlotte Burns
Guest Ian Cheng. Photo: Matthew Magelof

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Ian Cheng wants to change the way you think. “I really want to make art that taps into some part of a viewer’s neurology and gets them into a different state,” Cheng says to host Charlotte Burns during this In Other Words podcast. The wide-ranging conversation covers topics from the freedom afforded humans by AI, to the genius of The Real Housewives television show.

Cheng creates art with a nervous system: his practice often involves computer simulations that resemble video games—albeit ones that play themselves. His current exhibition “BOB: Bag of Beliefs” centers around an AI lifeform whose evolution is shaped by viewers who can make offerings—both poisonous and benign—to BOB via an app. Cheng has created his own form of art; a work that is mesmerizing and surprisingly moving (at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York until 23 March).

“It’s a funny time we live in,” says Cheng, who studied both cognitive science and art. He wants his work to tap into our limbic systems (“the most easily triggered and exploitable” part of the brain) with the goal of making us “feel safe enough to be explorative, to be open-minded, to be conscientious”.

Following in the footsteps of artists and storytellers across the centuries, Cheng is spinning tales that might better help us understand our world, using cutting-edge technology to do so.


Ian Cheng

Ian Cheng (b. 1984, Los Angeles) is a New York-based artist whose work utilizes computer simulation as a way to understand and relate to continual change.

Cheng has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Gladstone Gallery (2019), Serpentine Galleries (2018), MoMA PS1, New York (2017); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2017); Migros Museum, Zurich (2016); Pilar Corrias Gallery, London (2015); Triennale di Milano (2014); among others. His work has been included in group exhibitions at the Louisiana Museum, Copenhagen (2017); Yokohama Triennale (2017); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. (2016); the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); Taipei Biennial (2014); 12th Biennale de Lyon (2013); and Sculpture Center (2012). Cheng holds an MFA from Columbia University (2009) and a dual BA in Cognitive Science and Art Practice from the University of California, Berkeley (2006).

Charlotte Burns

Executive editor of In Other Words
Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.

Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.

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