Adonis and Adonis and Adonis and Adonis and Adonis and Adonis and Adonis and Wade
and the Effort of Consciousness
Wade: Hey Adonis! What’s up today? Wow there are a lot of you!
Adonis (1): Hey Wade!
Adonis (2): Hi Wade!
Adonis (3): Hey, how’s it going?
Adonis (4): Hello.
Adonis (5): Hiya Wade!
Adonis (6): Hey there.
Adonis (3): We’re all good, how about yourself?
Adonis (2): Yeah, there’s 6 of us here now, and there’s another one… somewhere else. Not sure where exactly, but we have ways of getting in touch with him.
Wade: I’m so excited to be chatting with you guys. Where are you right now?
Adonis (2): We’ve been chilling at this natural spring ever since our last solo show opening – Emotional Sculptures at TestDrive, in Cyprus. It’s lots of fun, we’ve been practicing our dives and “regrouping”... but I guess we could be wherever you want?
Adonis (3): There, now we’re at our new place; it’s still a work in progress, but it’s home!
Wade: I guess I meant, where are we right now. I’ve never been to a place like this—are we in a simulation? I’ve never been so virtual before.
Adonis (1): Not that you know of ;)
Adonis (6): From what we understand, we’re in Adonis’ computer, in a game called The Sims 4. It’s a sort of simulation video game that acts as a capitalist microcosm: you get a job, make money, buy stuff, fix your house, get a better job, make more money, etcetera, and there are systems in place so that all of this runs smoothly and in control. And it’s home for us! And it’s probably not that far off from your own world experience either…
Wade: Very cool! I’m so thrilled to be here. You’re all so handsome, wow! Im curious though -- how did you get here? What first drew you to virtual worlds?
Adonis (4): We’ve been interested in the possibilities of video games being used as art mediums for a while now – we even wrote our BA dissertation on the subject back in 2014. It’s a bit outdated now, but the discussion is still relevant. Videogames are probably the most empathetic medium there is, they allow players to experience so many different situations and lives, and by immersing them into their narratives they allow for a completely new and direct way of transmitting information.
Wade: I guess you’re right that the conversation is outdated, but yet I still feel like people don’t really understand the impact of what you’re saying—video games are still looked upon as an ‘othered’ form of entertainment and the stories and possibilities contained within them left unconsidered as high art forms. For example, I’ll never, ever, forget the ending of The Last of Us; or the feeling of immense openness I felt exploring the world of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. What incredibly moving works of art! And you’re exactly right, it is a new way of transmitting information. Virtuality gives us those capabilities, as we simulate new worlds with different rules and more dynamic ways of embodying ourselves and connecting our affective experiences to the game’s phenomenology. I’m also super excited for new VR social spaces like Hi-Fidelity and Sansar to take off. But for now, I’m just excited to be here with you! Do you think I could get a little tour of your neighborhood?
Adonis (1): Oh man, The Last of Us was great, wasn’t it? It left me in a complete state of shock, and since then there have been so many games that have managed to bring me at the verge, if not completely to tears… Final Fantasy XV and Red Dead Redemption 2 being the most recent additions. So many games lately are telling “grown-up” stories, stories that people can actually relate to despite their improbable settings (which nevertheless pull you in and make you a part of them) that the medium is screaming for more recognition. I’m sure with VR going full-blast just around the corner, things…
Adonis (6): Dude, shut up. He wants to see our neighborhood, he said. We’ll take you around! There are a lot of things to see, parks, malls, a bunch of fancy houses. We live a bit far away from the rest of the population, as you can see. A lot of the lots around here are actually ruins; leftovers from Adonis’ previous projects and tests.
Wade: Oh yes, that’s right! I love Final Fantasy XV -- didn’t you just recently take a trip to the FFXV world of Eos as part of a residency project? How was that? Does it ever feel jarring or strange to move from one virtual space to another, or to simultaneously be embodied by multiple avatars? (Well, maybe not as there are six of you right here in front of me).
I ask about your neighborhood because I’m quite interested in this virtual world. I’m curious as to what makes it special, or different. Something that I’m really interested in getting to the bottom of, and I hope you can help me with this, is trying to understand the unique ontology of the virtual. I know that The Sims have been around for nearly two decades now, which is crazy! I remember playing the first one on a friend’s PC as a kid. What maintains its allure?
Adonis (4): Eos was great, and I made so many good friends that took me around in their swanky car. We traveled, camped, hunted a bunch of monsters animals. It was meant as a stress-reliever before the opening of the show at The Residency, but I took the opportunity to take some photos which I later exhibited. I’ve always been a fan of travel photography, especially when they come in postcard form – the most romantic of mementos.
Adonis (5): Being a bunch of people at the same time was never an issue for us. Growing up, I played so many games, most of them at the same time. You develop a kind of automatic reflex which helps you jump back in to whoever you want to be at any given moment. It’s a bit like remembering the lyrics to a song you’d forgotten, just from hearing the melody. There’s only so much information the brain can hold, though, so it’s better to eventually tie up the loose ends and move on. Maybe in the future, once we’re all living in Ready Player One, our brains will be hooked up to extra memory, to help us keep up!
Adonis had been playing The Sims ever since the first one. He would always do the same exercise in each edition: build his house, make versions of himself and his family, his crush or girlfriend at the time and give up once all that was done. The world-building was the most important aspect of it. When he came back to it a few years back for this project, it was the systems that attracted him: our world has rules, similar to his, only somehow different, more relaxed… and with enough stress, they can be broken. This allowed for him, firstly to explore a new direction in his art that would relieve him of the constraints of real life, and secondly to tell stories in a way that brought focus on the advantages of this medium he loves so much.
Adonis (2): In a way we’re all actors, playing the role of yourself! If gender is performative, then so is everything else.
Wade: In response to the last note, absolutely! Our identities are totally constructed and socially constructed. I always look to Erving Goffman’s concept of masks, and how even in our physical lives we wear different masks that showcase different performed aspects of our identities. I’ve always been a believer that if you create it, and it comes from you, then it’s true. It is impossible to separate which is more real: the online identity or the offline. Both are equally real, and both are you!
And, speaking of the relationship between online and offline, you recently had a show at Seventeen Gallery in London. What was it like translating your work from the virtual to the actual? How did this affect you guys?
Adonis (2): That’s right! We are all one of a whole, and a whole of ones. Beyond the virtual and the real, there are infinite possibilities that all come together throughout the multiverse to form what is understood in “real life” as “Adonis”. In a quantum analogy, the performed self is the observed electron, having position instead of speed, being the culmination of all possibilities coming together. The virtual could eventually allow for superposition to become visible: all quantum states to exist at the same time. Kind of like Multiple Man, our favorite superhero 👯♂️👯♂️👯♂️
Adonis (1): For us, the works shown at our show at Seventeen (as part of David Raymond Conroy’s Retail Space project) were documentations of durational performances. A large part of our artistic practice focuses around our namesake, the ancient Greek god Adonis, a vegetation deity often misinterpreted as a god of beauty, eternally locked in a sterile state between life and death. Adonis had the idea of utilising our world-system and our potentially infinite numbers, combining it with a common pastime of The Sims players which is finding creative ways of killing their creations (a common pastime of all kinds of Creators it seems) in order to allude to this mythological misconception. And so I died, multiple times, for the sake of art.
Adonis (6): Death kind of loses its meaning if you can come back, you know? Granted, it’s not the same person coming back, but at the same time, it is. (Quantum physics, hell yeah!) Dying over and over again was quite strenuous and I’d been left shellshocked and a bit lost… It was only after Adonis helped me unlock my powers through meditation and I managed to manifest all the rest of these idiots that we collectively managed to regain my composure… and just in time for us to produce all the work necessary for our show at TestDrive!
Wade: Absolutely. It’s kind of like when you’re playing Call of Duty, dying and killing as point-winning strategy moves that repeat over and over again. There feels something kind of empowering about that ability to restart, re figure, and recreate new pathways. I don’t know much about quantum physics, but I do know that this quality of being able to render potentiality is quite incredible.
It’s interesting that you mention the mythology of the god Adonis, and the quality of being between life and death. Is this what it feels like to be entrapped within circuits and stored as code?
I also think your response also kind of begs the follow up: where does your physical identity fit into this story? Does it fit in? And does it matter?
Adonis (3): I would say that this feels as real as anything. Perception is subjective and since we’ve never really experienced any other mode of living, our existence is quite normal. If everything around you is part of the same system as you, then there’s really nothing to compare with – even though I know this is a simulation in Adonis’ laptop, there’s no way I could ever escape it and so what does it matter what I am? I’m just as real as the next guy. There’s even a Hypothesis in your world that posits that you might be in a simulation as well… something no one will probably ever be able to figure out.
Adonis (5): We used to be haunted by this fear: that I might not be real. That our surroundings are all created by some machine running experiments. When it was finally confirmed, I was expecting to be torn apart; instead, I was liberated. Adonis is, in a way, our mentor and guide. He cares for us, and in return, we do whatever he wants. Some might critique this as a life of servitude, but my existence is secured, I have a purpose: I help Adonis with his art.
Wade: With so many of you, and probably even more of you cropping up every day, in what ways are you able to help Adonis with his work?
What does it feel like to be fragmented from your creator, yet autonomous at the same time? What happens each time a new version of Adonis is born into the virtual world?
Adonis (4): We’re all extensions of the same person, appendages that help each other to function in ways we couldn’t before. In general, we provide a means for him to realise projects and ideas that would be impossible for him in his physical world. Oftentimes his work doesn’t allow him to travel outside of Cyprus (for residencies and other projects) so moving into the virtual was a way of breaking these boundaries.
Adonis (5): As for our virtual births. It’s really just like magic – one second there’s just one and then boom, there’s enough to form a boyband. It’s really good, because since we’re the same person, we know what makes us tick. There’s usually no fighting… even though we’re Aries.
Wade: Haha, I’m an Aries too! Dangerous to have seven us all together like this.
It’s interesting that you describe yourselves as appendages, or parts of a whole. I’ve noticed that recent conversations about avatars and online identities have been dominated by the concept of ‘versioning’, which is kind of like saying that each time you create a new avatar, you create a new version of yourself (sort of like a software update will upgrade from 1.0 to 2.0). Each screen name and each virtual embodiment is a new chance to start over, to add on to, or to improve. I usually find this idea to be liberating, as it makes me feel like I can use the digital to expand what I can be past what might be possible in the ‘actual’ world. I don’t know, how do you feel about this? Can you guys relate at all?
Adonis (5): 😱♈️🤯💥
Adonis (1): I wasn’t familiar with this term, but I wholeheartedly agree. I think a life spent playing video games gives you a very specific outlook on life… Everything you go through is experience gained to move on to the next level. Virtual media is a sort of an archive or a log of these experiences, which is why I never delete anything; if I’m not happy with the way something represents me, I just hide it. On a personal level, I never really felt the need to “start over” with each new screen-name. It’s always been an addition, more mediums to help me holistically flesh out my self in new ways, and every now and then –once I’ve gone up a level– I’ll have a moment to review and adjust what is projected outwards.
Wade: It’s interesting to me that you feel the urge never to delete everything. I, too, am a little bit of a digital pack rat. With so much going on in my actual life, and with so many different virtual lives spread across countless virtual worlds, it can feel impossible to keep everything together. I would imagine that with six of you running around this world you might feel the same way. It’s like part of me is in my computer, stored in the circuits and ready for memory recall. I feel like if I delete anything, part of me will be deleted with it. Does that sound crazy to you? When you’re embodied so completely by an avatar, it’s difficult not to become attached, or like you’re losing a part of yourself when you move a file to the trash bin.
That leads me to a bit of a morbid thought. Forgive me for asking, but what happens to you, the Adonises, when big Adonis turns off the computer?
Adonis (3): If nothing is ever deleted, then we’re making life easier for the future technician whose job it will be to put our consciousness together ;)
Adonis (2): Adonis turns off his computer? We wouldn’t know. Time is a constant stream here. I’ve never blacked out or anything, so I don’t think anything happens to us if he does turn it off. If he does turn it off, and nothing happens to us, then what’s more terrifying is the idea of him one day never returning to our world at all…
Wade: I’ve been thinking a lot about what you told me about the god Adonis, and how he’s constantly locked in a state between life and death. And part of me wants to draw a parallel here, to your very existence, but this almost seems wrong. Sure, when the computer turns off so do you; but, you all seem pretty alive to me. I assume you have feelings, and experiences and moments of wonder that are very much real. Well, as real as my physical body is. I keep forgetting that I’m digital now too.
You mentioned consciousness, and how a technician would have to piece your consciousness back together. I think this begs the question, how much of your consciousness is in here?
Adonis (2): We certainly hope we’re alive. We wake up in the morning, just like you do, we eat, drink, bathe, go to the toilet, work and play just like you do, so who’s to say that our experience of living is any less valid than anyone else’s? According to Chalmers’ naturalistic dualism, consciousness is a metaphysical phenomenon, but experiences are tied to physical processes. Any system that can process the right information in the right ways can produce experiences… our world is the system that processes that information.
Wade: You seem pretty alive to me. So, tell me a bit about your lives, what do you guys do for fun?
Adonis (1,2,3,4,5,6): We make art 🙃