Keiken, the cross-dimensional, multi-reality and world-building collaborative practice is in a constant state of “merging the physical and digital in a seamless way.” The collective has members across London and Berlin, and works with film, installation, VR, AR, performance and gaming engines to conduct this world-building practice. Most recently, the collective collaborated with George Jasper Stone, a London-based CGI artist on Feel My Metaverse, which is one of four early-career artist works that was commissioned for Jerwood Arts’ group exhibition, Jerwood Collaborate!.
Keiken’s current roster, made up of Hana Omori, Isabel Ramos and Tanya Cruz, met whilst studying fine art at Falmouth University in 2014. “Hana is half Japanese and Tanya is half Mexican, but they both grew up in Cornwall and Isabel is from Oxford,” Keiken tells It’s Nice That. “One day, we sat down in Isabel’s bedroom and laid out what really connects all our work together: pushing the boundaries of experience and understanding what consciousness means. We decided to call our collaboration ‘Keiken’, the Japanese word for experience.” George, originally from the Midlands, shared a studio with Isabel and Tanny in their final year at Falmouth.
In the past couple of decades, there has been a wave of artists, writers, filmmakers, and cultural institutions looking at the potential of digitising the material world. From William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the 1984 paranoid cyberpunk classic, to the Met’s online collection of countless public-access sculptures, paintings and objects, this practice has become so widespread that it’s considered the new normal. But in these cases, the physical and the digital are completely separate spaces – the “meatspace” is separate from “cyberspace” in Neuromancer, and when it comes to three-dimensional objects like sculptures, the Met’s online collection only shows two-dimensional photographs. Some counter-movements have moved strictly towards the material. Since then, artists and collectives like Keiken have been invested in merging the two together seamlessly, something that perhaps is more reflective of our online experience today. But this goal comes with its own issues. “How does an artist earn money out of an experience? It doesn’t make sense to make a print out of an AR experience, it is completely lost in the medium,” Keiken states.
Feel My Metaverse is Keiken’s first venture in creating a cinematic film, using game engines to build a fictional future, wanting to create stories that viewers can collectively believe in. “I normally make CGI animation from Cinema 4D, often taking days and weeks just to produce short sequences or footage. Whereas working with game engines, we could generate landscapes or worlds that we can continually build onto collectively to produce larger scale works,” says George, who used Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 for the film.
The film, set in a future when climate crisis has rendered Earth inhabitable, explores the daily lives of three characters and their experiences in the multiple realities – Pome Sector (a corporate wellness world), 068 (a roleplaying VR world), and Base Reality, or what we currently know as earth. The characters navigate the challenging landscape in the world’s unforgiving points system. Keiken’s goals of unlearning norms of the current world is included in one of these realities. “In 068 you are in a constant state of learning and unlearning where you unlearn from role play by occupying different bodies and learn through connecting with your senses,” Keiken explains.
The group has also worked extensively with face filters hosted on Instagram, with the latest iteration being the Pando filter that was used during its performance in collaboration with dancer Sakeema Crook. In the performance, where the face filter is flipped and pointed at Sakeema, this merging of the physical and digital become extremely clear. Although Sakeema’s performance is intensely fluid and visceral in its own right (when viewed through our meat eyes), the filter multiplies the dancer’s body, leaving a trail of digital ghosts that is only visible through the filter. When the dancer gets close enough to your camera, the filter dons a shifting, semi-organic crown on Sakeema’s head, creating a real-life representation of the character she plays in the film.
“Filters have been a really great way to very quickly create an interactive piece of work that can be published and shared with a much wider audience beyond our normal context,” the collective says. The filters are made by Tanya using Facebook’s Spark AR software, although they are wary of using such tools frivolously, hoping that creators stay “conscientious about who owns this powerful tool” in its potential for both its negative and positive uses.
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.