ThingThingThing is a computational system in which entities generated during small-group workshops interact in an ever-evolving three-dimensional world. Each entity was initially defined by a user according to a given set of parameters, but once let loose in the system, it can no longer be altered. ThingThingThing evokes longer traditions of artificial life in art and computation, in which relatively simple rules give rise to surprisingly complex emergent behavior. Yet in ThingThingThing, there is an almost exaggerated lack of realism, with abstract geometric creatures inhabiting a glitchy, multicolored landscape. In this way, ThingThingThing foregrounds a system as a rule-based society of interrelated agents, rather than a technological medium or a virtual world. The world of ThingThingThing is a real-time simulation. The participants jointly determine its evolution by setting an initial seed state of their computational object, which later requires no further human control.
Technically, ThingThingThing relies on Unity, a video game engine as its frontend, and Github, an open-source code repository as its back end. There is a web-based code editor which allows audiences to design rules that determines how each creator relates to others. Each time ThingThingThing is exhibited, we collaborate with the exhibiting institute to host a public collective world-making workshop to activate the work. During the workshops, we present the interface and guide the participants through the process of making a rule-based entity. At the end of each workshop, a new simulation with its unique narrative is generated and made available online for viewing.
ThingThingThing is part of our ongoing research on the condition and effect of Emergence in computational systems. Similar to other monolinguistic languages such as writing and reading, current machine languages are constructed through predefined structures of meaning. A machine can only highlight an object’s quality, so long as that quality can be represented and communicated via the predefined protocol. systems administered through software have a tendency to perpetuate their normalized states, and collective actions from within can sometimes generate emergent forces to counter this tendency, forcing it to open up. As software infrastructure becomes increasingly pervasive in effect and withdrawn in presence, what does it mean to rethink systems of multiplicity through collectivism? What is the language of our time, poetic and procedural, that can reorient algorithms such as artificial intelligence as a society of diverse agents instead of a fixed set of principles?
The artists and technologists have been hosting a series of workshops with museums and art institutions around the world. The workshop enables everyone from students, artists, designers, architects and technologists to create their own programmed creatures with intelligence. Past collaborators include:
- http://worldonawire.net/, curated by Rhizome of New Museum
- NEW INC, New Museum, New York, NY
- Power Station of Art, Shanghai, China
- Macy Art Gallery, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY
- City University of New York (CUNY), New York, NY
- Guangzhou Academy of Art (GAFA), Guangzhou, China
- Creative Tech Week (CTW), New York, NY
- Asia Art Archive in America (AAA-A), Brooklyn, NY
- Power Station of Art (PSA), Shanghai, China.