With surreal humor and an absurdist aesthetic sensibility inspired by high fantasy, classic sci-fi, MMORPGs and niche online communities, Theo Triantafyllidis builds immersive worlds that explore the broader possibilities and ethics of the technology used in their creation .
Theo Triantafyllidis was making art in the Metaverse years before Mark Zuckerberg changed his company’s name with the promise of a new, immersive, “embodied internet.” Before Meta’s vision of a virtual world with the expansiveness and interactivity of Ready player one and the expensively rendered digital architecture of a particularly luxurious WeWork, Triantafyllidis spent months in his virtual art studio building digital sculptures in virtual reality. During this time, the only discernible difference between his virtual and IRL practices was that for this project the artist took on the role of a muscular orc, an avatar he has used in a number of works to explore the boundaries of what a virtual art practice could look like. Even before making the transition from architect to artist, Triantafyllidis was aware that physical public spaces were fast becoming a thing of the past. “I felt like building traditional buildings was kind of irrelevant to my thinking because the spaces we live in together are becoming increasingly online,” he explains. “I was very drawn to becoming more of a metaverse architect and thinking about what that means for the architectural profession: how do you translate this very old history and tradition of building into this new medium? How can this knowledge be transferred? How can we design online community spaces that are interestingly structured and enable new types of interactions?”
Triantafyllidis was graduating from Athens School of Architecture when the financial crisis peaked in 2008 and sent the global architecture and construction business into freefall. After moving to Beijing, he became involved in an active community of artists who made work that emphasized the internet as a medium, projects that took up the legacy of net art and post-internet art and these references through an architectural Lens refocused, inspired in part by the monolithic skyscrapers and entertainment centers Triantafyllidis was then working on. At UCLA, where he was enrolled for his master’s degree, the then-architect learned about game engine software, which opened up a whole new way of conceptualizing space and was crucial to his art practice. In the years since Triantafyllidis, a highly technical, uniquely bitter, and deeply multidisciplinary approach to the work has evolved, using interactive experiences, mixed media installations, extended reality and live stream performances, and live simulations to create immersive worlds to create that challenge the world to broader capabilities and broader ethics of the technology used in their creation.
With surreal humor and an absurd aesthetic sensibility inspired by high fantasy, classic sci-fi, MMORPGs and niche online communities, Triantafyllidis delivers a sustained critique of the tech industry and the alienation of new technologies from user utility and user-generated Communities for the sake of business expansion, financial growth and the commercialization of information. How he achieves this can be understood from the interplay of two central aspects of his artistic practice, computational humor and AI improvisation. “I like computational humor as a concept because it’s a niche research goal within computer science that analyzes how the human brain responds to humor,” he says, “and tries to come up with a mathematical formula for what’s funny. I generally like to have a humorous aspect to my work because I think it’s something that can break audiences’ defenses and be a first line of accessibility in the work.” This comedic drive can be traced back to one of its earliest simulation work, How To Everything, in which the artist attempted to develop an algorithm that could theoretically generate an infinite number of visually fun scenarios. In a gesture that evokes contemporary resonance with the eye-catching barbecue sauce bottle placed in the background of Mark Zuckerberg’s meta-keynote, these scenarios throw together precarious physics and random objects in various settings with what the artist calls ” Empathy, Effort and Failure”.
Triantafyllidi’s work with live simulations comes to its fullest expression with Radicalization Pipeline, an RPG-inspired battle royale that turns online social platforms into literal conflict zones while demonstrating the artist’s improvisational approach to AI. “I find the most interesting aspect of this live simulation Works is the connection to theater and live performance, how you have these very simple AIs that are usually used in games for enemies or player interactions that can be directed in the same way as a theater director would direct actors,” he explains. “By giving them simple instructions, you can create a score that creates infinite variation in some specific situations, and you can get humorous results out of it.” Across a flat surface of concrete, Triantafyllidis whips back and forth between different perspectives, oscillating between one Top-down God’s perspective reminiscent of tabletop strategy games and the shaky, NPC-locked perspective of a first-person action game. Under a bright orange sky, MAGA cap-bearers fight with claw-hammers alongside giant orcs wielding battle-clubs and flails. Special ops teams in riot gear brandish sci-fi swords and shields and sprint into battle while dodging Antifa super soldiers and independent militia members holding fascist flags of presentation high above their heads. Furries bash Proud Boys, cyberpunk elves team up with crypto-anarchists, each with their own elaborately rendered weapons and armor.
“With the Radicalization Pipeline, some of my live simulation ideas have crystallized,” says Triantafyllidis. “It’s more transparent for people that this is happening right now, it’s easier to point out that all these characters are in there making little decisions, frame by frame, second by second, about what to do based on who’s around them is around. where they are, the friends and enemies that surround them.” The artist programs each character type with different stats derived from RPG systems, such as health points, speed and strength, adapting the concept of “Boids”, a classic one Artificial life simulation model in computer science developed by Craig Reynolds in 1986 to create endlessly repeating iterations of hostile mass dynamics in which friends band together to defeat enemies and search for weaker enemies. If each of the characters is killed, they’ll fall through the ground, only to be revived shortly after to rejoin the fight. “For me, live simulations and the infinity they can generate are closely related to the myth of Sisyphus,” Triantafyllidis continues, “how all these characters are really trapped in the simulation and have to repeat these actions over and over again.” The The futile skirmishes that make up the Radicalization Pipeline serve as a hilarious and poetic response to the synthetic approaches to person-to-person intimacy that social media platforms consider ground zero. “This notion of closeness is quite paradoxical,” notes Triantafyllidis.
“The internet is all about diffusing and reducing the distance between people, but I think our brains are kind of hardwired and excited by this idea of closeness and being able to represent what’s in virtual spaces in video games and online multiplayer worlds forever.” Without carefully curating each group’s behaviors and allegiances, Triantafyllidis admits that early versions of the sim led to even more chaos, with all characters piled into a giant sphere of death This is where the artist’s notion of the programmer-as-dramaturgist is most clearly manifested, as he describes: “I invested most of my time developing this work to refine all of these values and the range of these values so that the overall choreography The Crowd always felt dynamic and somehow evolved.” The practice of mass curation within the vi The real space of Radicalization Pipeline is consistent with Triantafyllidis’ broader thoughts on how the virtual spaces of social media platforms, as well as their respective radicalization pipelines, function less as spaces for communication and connectivity and more as closed sites of conflict. “Now we’re at a point where everything is walled in by social media platforms. There’s still the excitement of discovering new accounts or new people, but I personally find that that sense of excitement of poking through an expanding field has now turned into a sense of anger and dopamine chasing through the linear feed situation .”
“The incentive to discover new things has now been shifted to the algorithm, where we are now being told to let the algorithm tell us what you like and what you want to explore and give you the new things you see want. It even feels like random encounters aren’t really random anymore, they always reside within the bubble that’s presented to you.” The Radicalization Pipeline is one such bubble where encounters are random, but highly focused Algorithms are dictated to control behavior and movement. Yet within the concept of boids, a decades-old precursor to the types of live simulations Triantafyllidis works on, the artist finds the potential for a more community-focused model for how we will exist online in the near future. inside and outside of Zuckerberg’s Metaverse. “I’m personally interested in the spatial quality of communication in a more 3D-based web3,” he says, “where you don’t have to hear all the voices from across the internet together, but you have to be physically close to a group online to hear their voice.” listen and share information. These smaller groups may make more sense, as they can encourage conversation and friendly interaction.” Far from the Sisyphean hellscape of the Radicalization Pipeline, free from the walled gardens of social media platforms, Web3 offers the potential for Triantafyllidis to away from the pipeline and give us a space where it’s possible to lean close and listen.
For more information about Theo Triantafyllidis and his work, you can follow him on Instagram and visit his website. Radicalization Pipeline is currently on view at Among the Machines, a group show in the Zabludowicz Collection.
Radicalization Pipeline Credits:
Live Simulation – Theo Triantafyllidis
Sound Design – Diego Navarro
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