Inside Visual Artist Afrah Shafiq's Minecraft-Inspired Interactive Installation

Afrah Shafiq
Afrah ShafiqAfrah Shafiq

As a gamer since childhood, my favorite genre has been role-playing video games. What I like most about them are not just the graphics, combat, or exploration but the narrative. The narrative changes and molds itself based on the choices your character makes. You decide the course of your story. RPG games mirror reality in this fashion as often in our day-to-day lives we have to make choices that decide the future course of our lives. It can be as simple as if I should do laundry today or the day after or as difficult as deciding what subject I should take up for my higher studies.

If you think about it, our lives are not very different from an RPG game. Elon Musk once said that we are all characters in an RPG game being played by a higher-evolved alien civilization. Now, what happens if we merge art and RPG games? We get something unique and intriguing such as Afrah Shafiq’s video installation artwork Where do the Ants go? Afrah Shafiq is a Bangladeshi visual artist, who created this interactive sculptural video-game installation art, along with architect Jeremy Waterfield. The artwork is a part of the Rotational Rider project under the To-gather international collaboration. The artwork is an interactive sculpture of an anthill where the behaviors and outcomes of the colony are determined by those present within it.

Art is no longer only meant to be admired from a distance as a visual treat. Now you can step within it and that is the beauty of some of the installation art being created today. In Shafiq’s artwork, the audience enters a large-scale sculpture of an anthill to interact with a digital colony of programmed ants that live within it. Using real-time inputs the “players” within the anthill make choices that affect the behavior of the individual ants and the collective outcome of the colony. Shafiq and Waterfield have designed this anthill over a span of three months. The artwork is imagined as a real-life rendering from the popular video game Minecraft, using the logic of voxels. Voxels are 3D pixels, but instead of being squares, they are perfect cubes. Voxels are the ideal modeling technique for replicating reality. The ant colony set within it translates ant behaviors from the natural world into algorithms and data sets.

With each passing day, more and more of human existence is shifting to the virtual realm. In the virtual world, where conversations are mediated by seemingly invisible algorithms, the installation provides a place of convergence between the physical and digital. The installation positions itself at the cusp of algorithm and consciousness, the virtual and the natural, and offers an avenue to reflect, observe, and perhaps even re-set existing patterns.

Afrah Shafiq’s Where do the Ants go? is the centerpiece at the Dhaka Arts Summit, 2023. The artist hopes that the artwork will be exhibited in various other places in the near future when he says that his “ants will find other colonies in Brazil and Switzerland and develop further as part of ProHelvetia’s ToGather initiative.”

You can find out more about Dhaka Arts Summit here.

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