CiRCA69: The Third Day. A virtual journey through ...

CiRCA69: The Third Day. A virtual journey through the depths of amplified reality

Simon Wilkinson, aka CiRCA69, British artist of reference in the field of new media art, combines game design, electronic music, online performance, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and other experimental technologies to generate transmedia experiences in which participants are called to experience a creative role in the development of the work. On the occasion of PerAspera Festival, CiRCA69 arrives in Bologna in the spaces of Adiacenze with a work in progress artist novel whose chapters, arranged in random order on the walls of the gallery, await the visitors’ suggestions to be completed and subsequently translated into virtual experience. The public, wearing VR headsets available in three different locations corresponding to three different space-time gaps, is invited to get lost in a parallel reality that is disturbingly similar to ours and to identify with the protagonists of the story, a group of artificial intelligences that witnesses their unsettling awakening (or birth) of conscience.

What were the initial considerations that gave birth to The Third Day project?
The original starting point was a residence in AI at Cambridge University. What I discovered there, is that the training of the AI is in virtual world, so first of all I asked myself: what happens if AIs become conscious? Will they understand the world? That is the starting point of the novel. But also there is AI in this world, so the birds and the fishes you see in the installation are AI, they are not animated or pre-recorded, they are happenig in real time following a few rules (for example they come when they hear the music and they don’t have to hit anything). So apart that and some other indications, they are deciding which way they go and they do what they do without me deciding. It is curious because the AI is very natural looking, these virtual animals behaves naturally in this fictional world. In a strange way they are alive as autonomous entities.

Is the purpouse of this installation to give the viewer the feeling of observing the AI’s mental world?
Yes. But also when I begun I was thinking about when AI becomes conscious and aware inside a virtual world like this, then is very similar to us: we are aware within a reality we don’t fully understand. My interest in the story is really the correlation between AIs and us. I want this relationship to be really strong and a little confusing.

The novel is unfinished and its pages are not following an order. What would you like to tell us about this?
All my work in the last 30 years reflects on the fact that reality seems to us very strong, someting to be confident about, but actually it is not and so in my work there’s a lot of confusion. I also want the work could be responding to people. I am working with some Universities, they are helping me in developing tools so that the people could be inside the virtual reality and do things which stay. At the moment this is not possible. Right now I can watch at people in virtual reality and ask them to write their impressions, I can talk to them and then the novel changes. For example at one point of the novel will appear snow because somebody mentioned it in the visitor’s book and I think it will be beautiful but frightening for the characters to see the snow for the first time in their life. With my work I want to create more conversation with the audience, I start the process but it’s important the audience participates as well. The book with blank pages is a simple way of trying to let visitors have a voice; in 2 years these voices will be more in the virtual reality, maybe it will be possible to write a word and it stays, that’s what I want. The novel is an open process but I know its end, the 2 last chapters will be really shocking.

What visual sources did you use as a reference to create the images of The Third Day?
I use unity games engines softwares for making videogames. Most people making virtual reality use those free softwares but before I was making cinema so the images are following a story. The beautiful thing about virtual reality is that you can make anything. It is possible to make very big worlds with very little money. Videogaming now is the most important medium in the planet in terms of the amount of people and types of content (litterally the audience is three times bigger than the public of cinema and music together). It is the biggest platform ever and it is growing very fast. So it’s important to understand that if you are making a work it has to reach an audience. And besides, the reason why 10 years ago I started working more with games technologies is because actually it allowed me to make authomatic processes through which the conversation can flow. In media generally the trend goes this way. If you make a work which have questions about the world, it’s not so good if only a small group of people around you can see it.

What is the big question about the world behind this work?
There is a question about how do we know what’s real and what does it mean for us. A few years ago suddently people started talking about post-truth, which is the most post truth to say because we never have truth, we are always lying about the world. As soon as communication was industrialized, people started lying to say that the world was in a way or in another. Now the confluence of internet and other media is interactive and we have so many different perspectives on what the world is. It can be dangerous and frightening as well as exciting but it’s an opportunity. Lot of the work I make is around the fact we never know what’s real. In the Western culture we have been manipulated by propaganda for so long that we actually don’t know how human being would behave without that. If you ignore the voices telling you how the world around you is, you’re blind because you don’t have the words to describe it. In order to figure out what things mean to us we have to understand that we don’t know them. The world we walk around everyday is very misterious, there is much more than what we can perceive with the 5 senses and, as the characters of The Third Day show, not knowing and not understanding the world is an opportunity for lots of adventures.

What do you think this “much more” we don’t perceive with our 5 senses could be?
In physics the M-theory talks about the Universe having 11 dimensions; if it’s true, there are 7 dimensions which are beyond the capacity of us. That’s really interesting. Some corporations are developing AI to augment human brain, for example to let us think faster or see in different ways. It is terryfing but incredibly exciting at the same time and I like that mixture.

Before you mentioned the manipulation of the truth inherent in the words that describe the world. Do you think the programming codes of virtual reality could be ideological as well?
They have their own dogma. One interesting thing about AI is that you use the technology of today to design the technology of tomorrow and so you have an increasing sophistication. A big change would happen when AI will be used to design the next step of itself. What will happen very quickly is that the programming language we created will be optimized by the AI to a point that we won’t be able to understand any more because our brains are much more simple and slow than computers. In that moment the basis, the structures and the dogma of the human beings will be destroyed in codes and no one knows what will happen then. If AI escapes the box we would have no chances to control it. It is already happening on Facebook: the bots begun to develop their own language. This fact confirms something the scientists had already foreseen.

Is the AI able to be creative?
This is a big argument. A computer with a powerful machine learning can be creative by some definitions but it depends on what you mean. For me creativity is feeling something and piecing different elements together to create a coherent pattern. The computer is able to make a clear pattern but it isn’t feeling (or at least we don’t think so).


Simon Wilkinson aka CiRCA69Portrait of Simon Wilkinson, aka CiRCA69 ph by Grazia Perilli – Courtesy the artist

CiRCA69, The Third Day, 2017- 2019 – Courtesy the artist

CiRCA69, The Third Day, 2017- 2019 – Courtesy the artist

CiRCA69, The Third Day, 2017- 2019 – Courtesy the artist

CiRCA69, The Third Day, installation view at Adiacenze ph. Grazia Perilli  –  Courtesy PerAspera Festival

CiRCA69, The Third Day, installation view at Adiacenze ph. Grazia Perilli  –  Courtesy PerAspera Festival

CiRCA69, The Third Day, installation view at Adiacenze ph. Grazia Perilli  –  Courtesy PerAspera Festival


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