by Vatsala SethiJan 10, 2023
Based out of Singapore, ToNewEntities is a new media art and design studio consisting of Rafi Abdullah, Darius Ou, Tristan Lim, and Nghia Phung. The overarching project and moniker incorporates the artist collective's interests in subculture and a new digital universal as seen through the development of Web3 technologies. In a conversation with STIR, the collective speaks about how they formed as a group and their vision for the future. They take an interest in ideas of loss, narratives, and worldbuilding, arriving from their fascination with pop culture and game logic.
CAST is a short film by ToNewEntities that introduces a few ideas derived from mythology and fantasy into virtual reality, including the "dark forest” and the “moving castle”. Acting as a prelude to a larger project of mobilising communities and creating 'space' in the Web3 (Metaverse as it’s commonly termed) realm, the moving castle named Entity becomes an exhibitory structure, a call to action, and a set of flexible and mobile architectures that can be deployed into a variety of settings. The film begins with a female narrator introducing the lore collective’s origination myth that oscillates between indigenous secrets and knowledge as represented by the “dark forest”, and the apocalyptic realities (as dictated through the “60-minute war”) and terror-mongering in contemporary times.
The film leads the viewer through a thicket in pouring rain as a shed is discovered, containing the moving castle of the collective’s lore, a visual device to signal discovery. It is a lone island as we eventually come to understand in the midst of zonal warfare and restriction. The origination myth as a typology of narrative-building, whether in cultures or fantasy, provides us an entry point into the ruling logic of the worldbuilding project undertaken by them. Worldbuilding and origin myths incur a shared language between the narrative-building of different cultures and religions alongside that of fantasy, science fiction, and video games, each involving storytelling through a set of logics and allegories, where protagonists and antagonists are generated.
In a conversation with STIR, the collective speaks to the imagination behind CAST and its relation to navigating the terrains of online communities. They talk about the film as an investigation into current lived reality and the paradigm shift that seems to be underway and occurring in a multidirectional form. In the proliferation of online communities in Web3, after the demise of Web2 communities through video games, forums and chat rooms, there is a suggested movement towards creating new systems of meaning and exchange. Web3 introduces us to concepts such as cryptocurrency, decentralised finance, and speculative reality in the virtual, that seek adoption and circumvent physical realities towards a liberal utopia. While this idea exists as a larger philosophy, ToNewEntities attempts to mobilise these virtual realities through their on-ground network. The dark forest also comes to represent the resources and knowledge created collectively and contained within communities in a new preservative model. The moving castle becomes a modular community castle that shapeshifts in accordance with each use, where one can move around to meet several other moving castle structures. How would a community castle look as a mode of blockchain governance? These are some questions that the collective delves into. ToNewEntities has repurposed theirs as a stage for a live VR performance, where multiple components can come together.
ToNewEntities spoke about the lack of situatedness in a hyperglobalised country like Singapore and the frustration of a young generation of artists and creatives in an institution-led environment. With their peers across creative fields, they are open about creating opportunities for themselves and others who share similar views. Here, fiction also becomes a crucial mode of inviting insight into current realities without disavowing the present to its cause.
In relation to fictional narratives being part of the collective vocabulary, Rafi Abdullah of ToNewEntities says, “We don’t have a modus operandi of working through fiction as a mode, but it just happens naturally. Without getting into the politics of Singapore, I suspect it has a lot to do with the need to form new meanings and cultural associations. Speculation as an arena has more potency. [...] This is also why we are making a reference to the global culture at large, as opposed to a culture or narrative rooted in our location. In Singapore, it is hard to trace back your roots. Even locals and those born indigenous face a rupture of cultural amnesia. So that’s why I think we look globally for what we are doing.”
Resigning Mass was a project by Tristan Lim that brought together key players of the collective through a space of experimentation and potential conversation. As a set of ideas and people coming together to produce an exhibition, the time spent together became that of late-night chats and informal ways of arriving at ideas and eventually as a collective practice. Owing to the nature of their collaborative practice, the members like everything to be connected, as they mention over a call, from the writing to graphic design and visual output to how it ends up being presented on social media. They call themselves a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) studio where they produce visual logic through digital media, from production to consumption, in an end-to-end process.
Darius Ou says, “We are very interested in cultural production and its activation in subcultures. We have done projects commissioned by friends and communities to activate certain platforms and artistic angles for commercial launches. Officially we are a creative studio but we do a lot more than commercial work. We lean more towards the cultural production side right now and we do everything while taking an interest in digital art, we are not restricting ourselves to just doing that. We also work a lot with emerging technologies.”