The Doors: Lizard Kings
Metallic crystal-ridged lizards prowl and skitter across the screens of Times Square in The Doors: Lizard Kings by Zach Blas. Featuring five fantastical computer-generated creatures choreographed across 63 distinct channels, June’s Midnight Moment stems from Blas’s 2019 immersive media installation The Doors, a work exploring psychedelia, drug use, artificial intelligence, and Silicon Valley’s connections to California counterculture from the 1960s.
Slimy, glowing, and covered with mineral elements modeled after nickeline and tungsten, each of the five rendered reptiles takes on distinct personalities derived from AI neural networks trained on a constellation of sources, including Aldous Huxley’s 1954 novel The Doors of Perception and the 1960s California psychedelic rock band The Doors. Blas modeled the creatures after the prehistoric Barbaturex morrisoni, a now extinct lizard named after The Doors frontman Jim Morrison, a play on Morrison’s epithet “The Lizard King” and a prominent symbol of psychedelic liberation in the 1960s. As the lizards move through black mirrored passageways, Blas sees them as traveling in time between the psychedelic culture of the past and the present.
The Doors: Lizard Kings also nods to the contemporary psychedelic trends of microdosing LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, as well as taking nootropics. Blas suggests that this new drug culture, popularized in the tech industry, re-engineers psychedelic experience to optimize labor, promising to “unlock” doors of the mind for workers to labor faster and more efficiently. The Doors: Lizard Kings proposes a new generation of Barbaturex morrisoni, computational symbols for a 21st century psychedelia predicated on worker productivity, smart drugs, and AI hallucinations.
Zach Blas, The Doors: Lizard Kings 2019 / 2023
Originally commissioned by Edith-Russ-Haus für Medienkunst, Oldenburg, Germany; de Young Museum, San Francisco, US; and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands
- Computer Graphics Supervisor: Harry Sanderson
- Animation: Mikkel Aabenhuus Sørensen
- Animation Assistant: Yan Eltovsky
- Modeling and Visual Effects: Dayne Kolk
- Simulation Assistant: Aslak Kjølås-Sæverud
- Compositing: Felix Lee
- Video Editor: Martin Gajc
- Project Manager: Talia Golland
- Project Assistant: Audrey Amman
The original presentation of The Doors featured an aural accompaniment that oscillates between abstract soundscapes and poetry spoken in AI generated voice resembling Jim Morrison’s.
- Machine Learning Engineers (video and poetry): Ashwin D’Cruz and Christopher Tegho
- Machine Learning Engineers (voice and music): Sam Parke-Wolfe and Cameron Thomas
- Musicians: xin and Aya Sinclair
- Supervising Sound Editor: Tom Sedgwick
- Mix Engineer: Ben Hurd
Zach Blas (b. Point Pleasant, West Virginia) is an artist, filmmaker, and writer whose practice spans moving image, computation, theory, performance, and science fiction. Blas engages the materiality of computational technologies while also drawing out the philosophies and imaginaries lurking in artificial intelligence, biometric recognition, predictive policing, airport security, the Internet. Blas has exhibited, lectured, and held screenings at venues internationally, including the 12th Berlin Biennale, Walker Art Center, Tate Modern, British Art Show 9, 12th Gwangju Biennale, de Young Museum, the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, ICA London, Van Abbemuseum, e-flux, ZKM Center for Art and Media, and Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. His practice has been supported by a Creative Capital award in Emerging Fields, the Arts Council England, Edith-Russ-Haus für Medienkunst, and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. His work is in the collections of Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, and Whitney Museum of American Art. Blas’s practice has been written about and featured in Artforum, Frieze, ArtReview, BBC, The Guardian, and The New York Times. His 2021 artist monograph Unknown Ideals is published by Sternberg Press. Blas is an Assistant Professor of Visual Studies in the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto.
Midnight Moment is made possible by the Times Square Advertising Coalition, ABC SuperSign, American Eagle, Branded Cities, Clear Channel, Disney Store, Express, Levi's, LG, Luxottica Group S.p.A., Morgan Stanley, Microsoft, New Tradition, Sensory Interactive, Sephora, Sherwood Equities, Show + Tell, Silvercast, Swatch, T-Mobile, and JCDecaux.
Major support of Times Square Arts is provided by Morgan Stanley. Additional program support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature; and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional support for Midnight Moment is provided by Meta, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Times Square Advertising Coalition.