Theo Triantafyllidis at Spazio Vitale, Verona

The practice of worldbuilding. Investigating the complex relationship between human beings and technology

First of all, what is a “world”? A world is a system that connects animals, nature, humans and other entities one to another. Yet, in the so-called Anthropocene Era, humankind has exerted its agency on the “world” and its ecosystem to the point that irreversibly changes its morphology and climate. At the same time, technology gave us a chance to create our own world. And the artists noticed it – as often happens – first.

The practice of “worlding” (or “worldbuilding”) was born as one of the fundamentals of game design: it consists in the construction of a virtual world, an artificial universe to explore freely and shape to your liking. Borrowing from the digital realm, internet and video game aesthetics, in the last few years this technique has been acknowledged by new media artists and identified as a powerful tool for investigating the political and cultural implications between “being in the world” and creating one. This is the necessary premise to fully understand Theo Triantafyllidis’ exhibition at Spazio Vitale in Verona, a new exhibition space entirely dedicated to investigating the complex relationship between human beings and technology.

Curated by art critic Domenico Quaranta, Sisyphean Cycles, on view until 11th November, inaugurates the space by gathering together for the first time four real-time simulations by the Greek artist Theo Triantafyllidis, whose work focuses on digital media, with the aim of exploring the new dynamics of new media art, between game engines, artificial intelligence and immersive environments. The worlds of Triantafyllidis allow the observer to fall into alternative realities: sometimes absurd, dystopian or disturbing, often inspired by internet subcultures. Four installations, corresponding to four worlds: Ork Haus (2022) is a window on a fantasy family of ogres, living their daily existence obsessed by technology: any of their interaction is, indeed, mediated by digital technologies. The artist builds an alienated reality, in which these creatures – operating by a code similar to that which drives The Sims – mindlessly perform a series of repetitive tasks, unaware and unconscious, now devoid of any sense.

Theo Triantafyllidis, Radicalization Pipeline, 2021. Live Simulation. Sound by Diego Navarro. Image courtesy the artist

Obsessive repetition and loss of collective sense return in RadicalizationPipeline (2021), where two endless armies – made up of the most disparate characters, from militias of citizens to fantastic creatures – viciously fight each other. Taking inspiration from the conspiracy theorist extremist group QAnon and the assault on the US Parliament in 2021, with this work Triantafyllidis suggests that gamification and fantasy imagery had their influence on political radicalization. Specifically, a huge role is played, according to the artist, by the algorithms that constitute bubbles in social media, continuously exposing like-minded people to each other, emphasizing their ideas through a “confirmation bias”.

Theo Triantafyllidis, Ritual, 2020. Live Simulation. Image courtesy the artist

In Ritual (2020), plants, insects and other animals have taken over human life, which have become extinct, swept away by some catastrophe. Then, the ecosystem begins to flourish again, in an incessant, hypnotic and tribal rhythm (as in a “ritual”) from the ruins of civilization. Also linking to organic life, BugSim (Pherormone Spa) (2022) closes the exhibition circle by a simulation of an alive and pulsating terrarium that houses a colony of ants. The work shows a post-anthropocentric vision of possible worlds that focuses on microscopic life, by representing a closed and self-sufficient system, able to self-develop in a real-time simulation: an entropic experiment that grows and proliferates as a bacterial culture in vitro, creating an entire forest. 

Laura Cocciolillo
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