Tribe City, 2022

4k digital animantion  triptych 4k

Length: 7 minutes 27 seconds

Mass behaviour, violence and self-perception come under the microscope in Tribe, the latest project by the artistic collective, SMACK. Three digital artworks — Tribe – City, Tribe – War and Tribe – Tower — form the backbone of an undertaking which comprises some 300 characters and embraces both generative media and sculpture. 

Camera-gorilla hybrids patrol vacant landscapes, hazmat suits are presented as fashion items and baby-heads with legs fight off caterpillar-like beasts. “It’s a portrait of the crowd,” summarise the artists, whose career-long fascination with group dynamics, online phenomena and ego is expressed in Tribe through an eclectic cast of individuals and acutely recognisable scenarios. 

For Tribe, SMACK developed a population of approximately 300 digitally animated characters, ranging from walking periscopes and swastika-wearing bugs to multi-headed aristocrats and muscle-bound machos. Each allows for variations in texture and colour, enabling the artists to deploy customised versions in different scenarios including Tribe – City or Tribe – War, while individual portraits are brought together in collections such as Tribe: Golden Circle Characters.      

Many of these characters were developed during the Covid pandemic and reflect behavioural tropes associated with this time. “People were living in their own safety bubbles,” explains Ton Meijdam. “A lot have suits on because they’re afraid to interact with other people,” while others are walking hand-sanitisers, robot cleaning products and super-hero medics. 

Various characters are recurring favourites, already present in SPECULUM. These include an oversized head with robot legs and SMACK’s updated version of the Venus of Willendorf, created by blending images of the Palaeolithic fertility figure with footage of Kim Kardashian. What they all have in common, says Meijdam, is an inflated ego: “they carry this message saying, ‘Look at me! I’m very important.”

Tribe – City: programmed to follow the crowd

Tribe – City is a 7 minutes video in which SMACK’s Tribe characters populate a grey landscape dominated by a central pillar. Developed as a generative work within a game engine, Tribe – City is built of individually programmed characters, which react to each other according to established parameters. Members of the crowd initially avoid each other, then opt to walk around and later worship the totem, before panicking and running away.

The pulsating centre point and robot guards raise questions about the characters’ autonomy, while sudden changes of pace seem to reflect the unexpected and often explosive nature of group behaviour. The crowd’s circular procession, meanwhile, is viewed by SMACK as a metaphor of herd culture and builds on previous iterations in Witch Doctor (2015) and the middle scene of SPECULUM (Paradise, 2016)