World Upstream

2023

digital simulation

In World Upstream, an emergent, more-than-human community is in a perpetual process of reclaiming a decaying hydroelectric dam and transforming it into a site for leisure. The simulated protagonists—a sentient poplar tree, a group of quadruplets, an AI-powered Dyson vacuum, among others—co-exist at a never-ending picnic upstream of the dam, tending to their individual and collective needs by engaging in mundane, social, anti-productive, small behaviors as a way of rewilding the surroundings of a soon-to-be-obsolete piece of infrastructure.

The dam is a quiet but consistent presence in the scene. As a past-its-prime technological marvel that was once at the forefront of cultural discourse during the 20th-century nation-building era, it acts as a metaphorical device for speculating on the future of technologies currently at their hype peak. At the same time, it invites reflection on our affective response to technologically altered landscapes. What becomes of our definitions of “nature” when a concrete monolith is placed at its center, or when a myriad artificially intelligent beings become integral to its processes?

This project chooses to take for granted a future where AI entities exist in the world in embodied ways. Their umwelt however, is mediated by the landscape rather than the server farm, and rooted in the complex truths, dangers and histories the landscape holds. In doing so, World Upstream aims to imagine a genre painting for the late 21st century, a small, interdependent fiction where different types of intelligence share a less hierarchical, more porous world.

World Upstream is a real-time simulation built in Unreal Engine.

Exhibitions
2023 — Tellurian Traversals at Putty's Coronation Gallery, New York (curated by David Temchulla)
2023 — Reverse Tar Pit at Onassis ONX and The Wrong Biennale, New York and online (curated by Don Hanson, Mark Ramos, Sammie Veeler)
2023 — Sandbox Mode at Office Impart, Berlin (curated by Office Impart in collaboration with Stina Gustafsson and Maria Paula Fernandez)
2023 — VCA Residency Exhibition, online (curated by Micol AP)

Production Credits
Laenz, sound design
Olivia Yin, world design

Screen recording of the worldupstream.exe real-time simulation.

Artist talk, Reverse Tar Pit at Onassis ONX, New York

Exhibition view, image courtesy of Office Impart.

Still from worldupstream.exe real-time simulation.

Still from worldupstream.exe real-time simulation.

Still from worldupstream.exe real-time simulation.

Exhibition view, image courtesy of Office Impart.

Still from worldupstream.exe real-time simulation.

World Upstream pre-production still.

Still from worldupstream.exe real-time simulation.

Still from worldupstream.exe real-time simulation.

World Upstream pre-production still.

Exhibition view, image courtesy of Putty's Coronation.

World Upstream pre-production still.

World Upstream pre-production still.

World Upstream pre-production still.