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Cyberia: New Media Playground explored the alternate realities in the digital age

The digital festival hosted by TIFA Working Studios in Pune, India, explored the relationship between virtual games and lived ‘reality’.

by Georgina MaddoxPublished on : Dec 31, 2019

It is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine life without digital, and the real and virtual world are starting to merge with each other. Offering this play with the alternate realities in the digital age was Cyberia: New Media Playground, a festival exploring the impact of gaming on our ‘real’ lives. Hosted by TIFA Working Studios and curated by Anokhi Shah, it contemplated the impact of cyberspace on human life and imagination. It invited viewers to participate and immerse themselves into the digital world of game design. 

“With our power of imagination and future dreaming the possibilities will be infinite. It focuses on perception and interpretation as human qualities. This functions as a thought experiment for the audience raising questions about the intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic implications of artificial visual worlds changing our lived experiences,” said the curatorial note.

A work by Shivani Dholepatil - Digital Fabric | Cyberia: New Media Playground | TIFA Working Studios | STIRworld
A work by Shivani Dholepatil - Digital Fabric Image Credit: Karan Ahuja; courtesy of TIFA Working Studios

The exhibition consisted primarily of digital and electronic devices, television sets, multimedia light installations, digital viewing glasses and a variety of other media. It explored how the idea of play can transform real-world references, meanings, and ideologies, and can hence function as political and social entities in media – in a positive, enlightening way or in the sense of seductive propaganda.

The art of immersion is dedicated to the transforming experience of reality through immersive digital visualisation systems. Stemming from principles of video game design, Cyberia aims to lay a foundation for experimentation through play using key principles like interactivity, fictional storytelling, fictional worlds, narratives, characters, style, and more. The TIFA Working Studios is a multi-disciplinary platform for creativity and culture in Pune.

The fest explored human perception and worldviews widespread in this digital age | Cyberia: New Media Playground | TIFA Working Studios | STIRworld
The fest explored human perception and worldviews widespread in this digital age Image Credit: Courtesy of TIFA Working Studios

The festival also posed questions about the basic conditions of digital perception today, and how we construct our own conception of reality of them. Technological systems are connecting people, data, and processes more and more closely together. Immersive technologies will increasingly replace analog surroundings with virtual data rooms, therefore radically changing the way we interact socially, work, play and how we organise our free time.

Cyberia: New Media Playground opened endless possibilities for experimentation and playfulness through interdisciplinary approaches. This development brings us an up-close-and-personal encounter with fundamental questions of our own identity and existence.

The digital artworks that explored these connotations touched upon a variety of styles and approaches.

For instance, Out of Focus (OFF) by Abhinav Mishra, created forms using digital lighting and grids and the intention was to explore the fact that technology has meaning only in context of people and the self. Our most intimate relationships with ourselves are mediated. Working as an architect and a New Media designer, Mishra’s work explores the relationship between technology and human habitat.

Visitors to the digital festival enjoying the multiplicity of projection viewing in virtual reality | Cyberia New Media Playground | New media and digital artists | STIRworld
Visitors to the digital festival enjoying the multiplicity of projection viewing in virtual reality Image Credit: Courtesy of TIFA Working Studios

Amay Kataria, a graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2019) with an MFA in Art & Technology Studies, created an interactive installation titled Nest, an artificial-life system.

The ‘creatures’ in his system inhabited synthetic agents that have life-like behaviours. It is an ecosystem driven completely by computation rules and algorithms that map the creature’s desires into realistic behaviors like attraction and repulsion by stretching and pulling the form.

Gene Kogan from New York shared a video that explored and expanded upon the technique popularly known as ‘deep dream’. The artist described it as an iterative process for optimising the pixels of an image to obtain a desired activation state in a trained convolutional network. It primarily experimented with the dynamics of feedback-generated deep dream videos, wherein each frame was initialised by the previous one.

“I am an artist and programmer interested in autonomous systems, collective intelligence, generative art, and computer science. I am interested in advancing scientific literacy through creativity and play, and building educational spaces which are as open and accessible as possible,” wrote the artist. He achieves his work by gating (or masking) the pixel gradients of multiple channels and mixing them via pre-determined masking patterns, while simultaneously distorting the input canvas.

Bringing aspects of technology and tradition together was Bengaluru-based artist Harshit Agrawal. In his work titled Masked Reality, he used artificial intelligence (A.I) to explore the subject of faces, traditions, and identity. He especially focused on the malleability of identity in the age of technology. In this interactive piece, an audience’s face was transformed into faces inspired from dance rituals of southern India in real-time, oscillating between the Kathakali face painting depicting a female form, and Theyyam dancer’s face painting then depicting a male form, and highlighting the fluidity of identity.

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