The Cultural Connection: Keiken

Keiken, Morphogenic Angels and the Bubble Theory, 2022 (video still). Courtesy of the artist. Co-commissioned by Arko Art Centre _Tetem

For this week’s #TheCulturalConnection-interview, KALTBLUT caught up with the artist collective Keiken, co-founded by Tanya Cruz, Hana Omori and Isabel Ramos in 2015. The name “Keiken” is taken from the Japanese term for “experience”, with the concept of lived experience being fundamental to their work. Keiken’s aim is to create virtual environments and augmented realities that enable exploration of novel ways of existence and provide a platform for experimenting with potential futures. 

Their latest project, Morphogenic Angels, invites you to accompany the angels Yaxu and Anamt’u’ul on their quest to comprehend a swiftly changing world through the lens of post-human perception and embodiment. Keiken’s imaginative computer-generated film depicts a futuristic era in which technology and humans are almost indistinguishable, invoking the metaverse and video games to create a wintry, Mars-like cyber realm using cutting-edge gaming digital tools. Morphogenic Angels is a journey of self-discovery and romantic awakening that is certain to evoke a powerful emotional reaction.

Photo by Callum Leo Hughes

KALTBLUT: Tell me about your ongoing project, Morphogenic Angels?

Hana: Morphogenic Angels is our ongoing “WORLDBUILDING” project, and it’s about imagining the future 1000 years from now. The current medium we’re working on to express this is a game. This kind of future is neither dystopian nor utopian: it’s about being protopian. It’s about imagining a future that’s not perfect, but is better than the one we have currently.

This kind of future is neither dystopian nor utopian: it’s about being protopian.

The act of it is to use radical imagination for change. We’re really trying to think of a world that’s far different from now. The main goal of the collective for this world we’re imagining is it’s all about expanding our surroundings. We only see it 1/10 of a trillionth of all perspectives that exist.

The idea is in this future, you’re no longer humans, you’re angels, and you can organically reengineer your cells with other species to take on or merge the perspectives to be more than just humans. They go into the territory of the nonhuman.

The characters in the game are called angels because of this ability. The idea is that rather than dying, you evolve. Each time you merge your cells with other species, you become more nonhuman and evolve. As you do this, you go more and more into the unknown. The reason these angels do this is they value all kinds of consciousness. The centre of their belief system is that they value and care for all kinds of consciousness, whether that’s ancestral, bodily, extraterrestrial, animal, nature, the cellular, and the cosmos.

Keiken, Morphogenic Angels, 2022-23 (game still). Courtesy of the artists.

KALTBLUT: What kind of cultural and/ or societal influences were you inspired by in the creation of the game, and accompanying short film?

Hana: The cultural and societal influences stem from the concept of using radical imagination to inspire change. Our objective was to envision a future so distant that it challenged our perception of reality, enabling us to transcend our current understanding and imagine laws and structures that exist beyond the present day.

We believe that our reality is not as fixed as it may seem. The laws, structures, and ways in which we could exist could be radically different. We need space and time to enable us to be able to explore this.

Collaboration is fundamental to everything we do.

Isabel: In terms of influences for Morphogenic Angels. With the first film version as being part of the Somerset House Commission, we were really trying to imagine what the world would be like. How can we imagine a different future in 1000 years time that could defy our current reality? And be something that we could imagine different, so we have space to think about something else.

Keiken means experience and it’s really at the core of what we do in terms of exploring the nature of consciousness while also creating actual experiences.

We really wanted to explore the main medium through a game, but it’s quite a cinematic game type of thing. The game itself looks like a film, which is why we were able to record it and make a film version of it. But we’re also are making this game so you will eventually be able to play it with an XBox controller.

What it amalgamates for us is this influence by simulation games to make you feel like you’re inside of something while being simulated as something else. For example, in the game, we have dynamic breathing and dynamic weather and realistic foley sounds, which makes it feel alive.

At the same time, the narrative is very important to our work, so it can take you on a journey and understand the world. We’re influenced by role playing games and cinema as well, which is why we made this dynamic camera system that allows it to seamlessly transition between gameplay and the scenes. Whenever you’re watching it, it feels like you’re in a game that it looks like a film.

Keiken, Morphogenic Angels, 2022-23 (game still). Courtesy of the artists.

KALTBLUT: Tell me about the importance of collaboration within the collective?

Hana: Collaboration is fundamental to everything we do. We are not just an artist collective; we work with numerous collaborators throughout our journey as Keiken. This is because we believe in dialectical thinking and the ability to combine and share ideas through various forms of exchange. This approach challenges our world-view and enables us to envision new possibilities for the future.

All natural life forms suggest that collective action is crucial for change and envisioning the future, whether it be at the cellular level, in human development, or across various animal species

I’s kind of about practising what we preach. For us, we can tell if it’s a good act because when we do it together, we grow from one another. We really believe in this way of working because we see the changes within ourselves and within each other.

We really believe in this way of working because we see the changes within ourselves and within each other.

Isabel: It’s also important of how you collaborate. If you’re going to worldbuild something, you’re going to imagine some kind of alternate world or just create something that’s got different laws and structures. If you’re imagining a new world, it actually allows space to have a collective, but also allow the individuals to also have their own contribution.

That amalgamation of those individual contributions can then – if it’s flowing – propel something even further. To create something, we need to be doing it with other people in order for it to really thrive and be able to grow.

Personally, even as the three, we talk with each other every day. For example, I come up with an idea, then someone else contributes or says something about it. That then just propels so much further than I could have ever imagined if I was just doing it on my own. It’s almost like the alchemy of lots of different minds together and working well can take you so much further.

We really believe in it because we can go way beyond ourselves while having that freedom for the amalgamation of those ideas. And as Hana was saying, having being able to amalgamate that more dialectic perspective whenever we collaborate with other people, we always learn something. There’s an exchange where it’s propelled into the collective entity. Those who come to collaborate can also take things into their own practices.

Keiken, Morphogenic Angels (game still). Courtesy of the artists.

KALTBLUT: How does culture/ your surroundings/ society intersect with the collective’s work in general?

Hana: There’s a really nice book called The Strange Order Of Things by Antonio Damásio. He’s a neuroscientist who was pioneering how we understand our emotions and feelings. More recently, he wrote a book which argues that feelings are the nearby beginnings of everything to exist.

Not only how I feel as an individual or how we feel as a collective, but how everyone feels are the building blocks to every creation that exists in the future. Whenever we are talking about these future ideas or speculating on it, we’re really trying to think about how everyone feels.

I know we don’t know how people are feeling. But we can look at systems, our current experiences, surroundings, news or political debates to get an intuitive feeling or sense of how people might be feeling. We try to think about how that would perpetuate into the future. What are the feelings that are missing today that will help us? For example, maybe we don’t feel there’s enough hope, or people may feel foggy in their minds or fearful of the future. How would that for feeling perpetuate?

What other feelings do we need to be able to change, grow from or cultivate to be able to implement or build those roots and seeds ready to blossom for our future? There’s always this complete interconnectivity. It’s not really stemming just from today, it’s also looking at it on an ancestral level and at everything that ever came before.

When we’re thinking about our future, we’re thinking of it from the beginning of time, we’re not thinking of it just in the present moment. We’re thinking of what was it like hundreds of years ago? When did the first cell emerge into existence? We’re trying to think of the roots from before our time, the present and into our future to be able to imagine the future. It’s not something that is ever disconnected. It’s this rounded way of thinking to be able to imagine the future and not this disconnected approach.

It’s about us coming together and constantly debating, reflecting with one another and our surrounding communities too to be able to imagine what the future could be like based on all the emotions, responses, or feelings or experiences of today and before that.

What other feelings do we need to be able to change, grow from or cultivate to be able to implement or build those roots and seeds ready to blossom for our future?

Isabel: Regarding Antonio Damásio, our research is grounded in science and inspired by scientists. Michael Levin, a biologist, has also influenced a lot of our work. He has done extensive research on morphogenesis, which is the biological process that shapes tissues or organs by regulating cell distribution during embryonic development. It is the code that allows organic forms to grow.

Levin’s research focuses on reprogramming cells to behave differently. Cells are more adaptable than we think, and when placed in different contexts, they can behave in completely different ways. This highlights the viability of nature and existence within us.

In one of his experiments, Levin cut a worm, and instead of the tail growing back, he reprogrammed the cells to grow another head. This made us wonder if humans could also do something similar.

If we continue to reengineer ourselves organically or combine our forms with other species, we could grow in nonhuman or fantastical ways. Our evolution could be entirely different from what we can imagine.

We are also inspired by Donald Hoffman, who wrote “The Case Against Reality.” Hoffman argues that humans do not have an accurate sense of reality, or we wouldn’t be able to survive. Beyond the human bandwidth of perception lies much more that we can unlock and uncover. Through organic reengineering, we might understand the universe or things beyond our perception, unlocking more of the unknown.

Keiken, Morphogenic Angels, 2022-23 (game still). Courtesy of the artists.

Watch Keiken’s Morphogenic Angels here. Follow @_keiken_ to keep up to date with upcoming exhibitions and their work.

From the 22nd to the 25th, the collective will present Morphogenic Angels at Hebbel am Ufer (HAU 3), Tempelhofer Ufer 10, 10963 Berlin-Kreuzberg with the following schedule:

  • Monday, 22. May 2023, 6:00 pm
  • Monday, 22. May 2023, 8:00 pm
  • Tuesday, 23. May 2023, 6:00 pm
  • Tuesday, 23. May 2023, 8:00 pm
  • Wednesday, 24. May 2023, 6:00 pm
  • Wednesday, 24. May 2023, 8:00 pm
  • Thursday, 25. May 2023, 6:00 pm
  • Thursday, 25. May 2023, 8:00 pm

You can revisit all Cultural Connection interviews at #TheCulturalConnection here.