Keiken: Morphogenic Angels

Keiken: Morphogenic Angels
What will humans look like 1000 years from now? How far will technology and science have changed the human body?


In the computer-generated film, Morphogenic Angels, tech-forward artist collective Keiken use game engines to probe post-human possibilities and imagine a future that magnifies our current reality. Morphogenic Angels stems from Keiken’s new prototype role-playing game, where augmented humans – now called Angels – battle the elements and fall in love with post-human capabilities. The piece was commissioned by Somerset House with support from UK Government’s Culture Recovery Fund through Arts Council England.

The collective’s name, Keiken, comes from the Japanese word for ‘experience’, something that is fundamental to their narrative-led games, installations, animations and sculptural works. The trio met studying Fine Art at Falmouth and their unfolding triptych has moved from performance and installation into an increasingly multi-sensory digital space.

Morphogenic Angels are the latest expression of Keiken’s artistic quest to explore technology’s impact on consciousness through gaming and extended reality (XR). Follow Angels Yaxu and Anamt’u’ul as they try to make sense of a rapidly evolving world through post-human eyes and bodies. This inventive computer-generated world portrays a future where technology and humans are nearly one and the same, evoking the metaverse and RPG games like Fortnite to digitally carve a snowy, Mars-esque cyber space. Morphogenic Angels is both an existential odyssey and romantic awakening bound to trigger an emotional response.



Morpheus And Metamorphosis

Morphogenic is a biological term relating to the movements of cells during growth. This take on shifting and transformation is at the heart of the characters in Keiken Collective’s digital animation commission created exclusively for Somerset House’s platform Channel.

Blending ideas around connection, evolution and organic communication, it is a dramatic take on futurism, with iridescent, genderless trans-human beings moving through volcanic landscapes, encircled by fire-fly like orbiting lights. The overarching aim of its narrative is to challenge and change our perceptions of reality and defy all that we know.

Tanya Cruz, Hana Omori and Isabel Ramos formed Keiken Collective in 2015, and have increasingly gained serious international attention – winning the Chanel Next Prize, alongside inclusions in the Thailand Biennale, Venice Architecture Biennale and spaces with a strong understanding on digital art innovation such as HEK in Basel, FACT in Liverpool and London’s ICA.


Ascending Through Angelic AR

Keiken are completely self-taught and also work with a growing group of collaborators. They operate in a hybrid, complex way – a fusion of visual artists, architects, directors, researchers, animators, designers, sculptors and programmers. The result is work using a variety of tools from motion capture to digital avatar building, 3D printing to haptic wearable technology.

Their latest film shares the overarching structure of catharsis in computer games. A beginning and end – even if the gaming journey is unique. Keiken’s project is a game but not with the aggressive, violent, so-called ‘masculine’ energy that feeds the traditional sphere. Here the aim is to emotionally connect to and communicate with other beings. Much of their work draws from Butoh philosophy and Japanese spiritualism: ideas around compassion, energy release and shifting understanding. As Hana describes, “we’re trying to make people imagine a future and engage with what a radical future could be like. Post-capitalism, post-work, post-depression.”

When the tech isn’t there to realise their ideas, Keiken are happy to invent it. As Hana puts it, “We have been innovating a lot of technologies, because the technology doesn’t serve us.” For example – their bone-conduction headphones, enabling the wearer to hear two channels of sound. The player literally steps into the thoughts of the avatar they are playing. “We have the internal dialogue with the character whilst also being able to play the game. You have the outside cinematic experience, but you also feel like you are having the internal dialogue of the character. It’s quite emotional,” Hana explains.

They are also pioneering developments in gameplay experience. “We have created our own dynamic camera system where you just seamlessly flow between gameplay and cutscenes. But you don’t get any motion sickness. So a huge audience could watch it as if it’s a film, whilst also playing it as a game… Tanny is part Huastec which is an indigenous Mexican tribe. It’s not a written language. We’ve been using it more and more.”

The trios’ diasporic personal histories are one of their fundamental influences and elements – drawing from Mexican, Japanese, Spanish and Jewish heritage. They also cite figures such as cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman, who wrote the book ‘The Case Against Reality’, encouraging us to ask big questions – and to experience, rather than just analyse, the responses.