An indulgence is a remission of sins that the Church gives to the believers in order to obtain definitive absolution: adapting to the faithful and charitable behavior, the believer could be forgiven for his sins and thus once again be accepted within of his community, thanks to divine benevolence. Miao Ying, a Chinese artist invited by MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna to design a work for the Museo Civico Medioevale of Bologna, takes this Christian attitude in order to build the supporting structure of the artwork Pilgrimage Into Walden XII, which simulates the aesthetics of the video game. Miao Ying generates a dimension in which medieval Christian structures of thought and behavior are applied to technological advancement.

By creating a despotic future in which divine judgment is replaced by the judgment of an algorithm, the divinity of our present and of capitalist societies, the artist, through a game engine live simulation, creates a scenario poised between medieval architecture and nature and the digitized future towards which our reality is headed hastily. Pilgrimage into Walden XII (2021-2022) was created by the artist by taking up the aesthetics of arcade video games in which the character can increase his status and enhance his characteristics through different levels. Moving around these pleasant territories, among the carcasses of buildings, destroyed vegetation and the ruins of a past civilization, are small cockroaches (perhaps a reference to the Kafkaesque character frustrated by the obligation to fit into a social standard and unable to fit into the model of the citizen perfect set) who along their way try to earn their new digital indulgence by adding up points. Born sinners, the cockroaches, before the watchful eye of the Algorithm that sees everything and knows everything, can just try to collect the highest score, bowing their head and re-enter the ranks of society.

Resuming the structure that organized the medieval church, the artist limits the digital desires of the citizens of his new world through the implementation of technology: the algorithm is controlling the behavior of the single individual that punishes, collecting the Big Data of each person , those who can consider themselves sinners. This new Digital indulgence which aims at creating the citizen/cockroach with perfect behavior is a possible mirror of the future of humanity in which digital simulation and technology will radically enter our daily lives and will have every right to influence our actions. On closer inspection, however, this does not seem to be a dystopian drift, but a careful and current observation of our present. So let’s praise Big Data and the Algorithm, let’s bend over and give thanks to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

Pilgrimage into Walden XII is on display at MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (IT) as part of The Floating Collection. The exhibition, curated by Lorenzo Balbi and Caterina Molteni, brings together the outcome of the work of international artists in contact with the collections of the Bolognese museums. The Floating Collection can be visited until 8 January 2023.

Miao Ying
Pilgrimage into Walden XII, Chapter two: Surplus Intelligence, 2021-2022
Film still, 33’ 27’’, 5K resolution
© Courtesy the artists and Galerie Nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder