Disquieting Digital Abstractions Challenge the Nature of Reality

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Are we all living in a simulation? Morten Rockford Ravn tries to capture the confusion.

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Nov 23 2016, 3:15pm

The Butterfly Dream, 2016. Images courtesy of the artist

If we were living in a simulation, would we know? Sometimes it’s a comforting thought that all this might be fiction; sometimes it’s jarring. That’s the premise behind Morten Rockford Ravn’s latest work.

Rockford Ravn has explored the intersection of tech and consciousness before, like in his Fear and Loathing in GTA V project. But the simulation project tackles a new challenge: if we can’t tell reality from fiction, then what is reality in the first place?

Crash, 2016

If you’re not familiar with the simulation hypothesis: in a nutshell, it posits that we’re all living inside a simulation (or possibly a simulation inside a simulation) being run by another species. If that sounds unlikely, study up a bit on why the probability is actually much, much stronger than you think—in fact, it’s astronomical. The argument makes sense to people like Elon Musk, and while they might not be enough to convince you, it’s all enough to make you wonder. 

Rockford Ravn is also curious about how reality is being redefined as we merge our consciousness with that of our technology. “We outsource a lot of our knowledge to our devices,” he says, “and our smartphones can in a sense be seen as extensions of our minds... This progression contributes to a sort of hyperreality in which it can be hard to distinguish between the real and the simulated.”

Inception, 2016

To explore and express that sense of hyperreality, Rockford Ravn returned to his own works. “The pieces are made up of fragments from my (real) paintings and photographs of ephemeral sculptures, as well as digital paintings. The results blur the lines between what is real and artificial, which is the purpose.”

He combines the elements digitally to create new, psychedelic forms. The simulation is not expressed directly, but symbolically: “I only felt [modern confusion] could be expressed through abstract imagery on a metaphorical level,” the artist explains. It’s a reference to the psychedelic origins underpinning Silicon Valley’s culture; to the evolution of technology to the point where it delivers emotional stimuli to us; to an Orwellian loss of privacy; and to “the inherent friction that arises as dreams and reality collide.”

Yeah, it’s a mindfuck. To unfuck it just a little, Rockford Ravn works primarily in black-and-white. “By sucking out the color,” he says, “I hope to induce a more reflective state of mind for the viewers... I believe reflection and meditation are the keys to transcending the noise of life in the 21st century and staying sane.”

Through focus on the interplay between forms, without the distraction of color, he hopes to connect to another way of seeing and perhaps thinking. Maybe, just maybe, behind all the madness there is a simplicity to be experienced. Hopefully we can access it before the simulation runs out.

The Important Part of the Dream is That You Wake Up From It, 2016.

Check out more of Morten Rockford Ravn’s simulation-theory digital artworks on his website.

Related:

Photographer Captures the 'Fear and Loathing' of GTA V Subplots

Uncanny GTA V Photos Remind Us We Might Be in a Simulated World

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