He's renowned for his homoerotic video games about gay culture and intimacy. Now you can experience Robert Yang's latest project – a queer online gardening simulation – at Manchester International Festival (MIF) this month, created in collaboration with world-famous cartoonist and illustrator Eleanor Davis.
In 'We Dwell in Possibility', Yang's free online experience invites us to plant suggestively shaped objects, flowers and trees amongst an interactive crowd of naked simulated AI characters – illustrated by Davis with randomly generated sexual body parts. The piece is also scored by Manchester-based experimental electronic music producer aya, making it Yang's most collaborative project to date.
Although the simulation marks a shift from the New York game developer's previous works – both in playability, as a free-to-play browser-based experience, and in visual style, from 3D realism to 2D illustration – it continues to question who is represented and who is excluded from virtual spaces and the politics of digital architectures. Here, he offers an alternative view to the usual heteronormative crowd simulations used by architects and city planners to create their own improvised landscape.
"For this project, I also wanted to respond to a lack of politics in crowd simulation art and to create an artwork that is rooted in a specific historical moment," Yang explains. "From this simple model of politics, sexuality, and architecture, the simulation improvises a new landscape, a virtual heaven or hell, or more likely something both at once – a society."
Yang was commissioned by the Festival to create a piece that responds to the architecture and artistic ambition of The Factory – the landmark cultural space that will be its future home. It's part of an ongoing series entitled Virtual Factory, which began in 2019 as part of MIF's pre-Factory programme on the journey towards The Factory opening to the public. Previous projects include The Neon Hieroglyph created by Turner Prize winner Tai Shani and Your Progress Will Be Saved by avatar artist LaTurbo Avedon in the gaming platform Fortnite, which has been visited by more than 1.5 million people.
More Virtual Factory commissions will be released over the next 12 months, including a new project by the British-Nigerian artist and director Jenn Nkiru, whose global reputation was cemented by her work on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Apeshit video.
We Dwell in Possibility by Robert Yang (杨若波) is playable at virtual-factory.co.uk. While MIF21 takes place until 18 July in-person in indoor and outdoor locations across Manchester and online with a vibrant programme of original new work from across the spectrum of visual and performing arts and music, by artists from over 20 countries.