From restoring artefacts destroyed by Isis to training robot vacuum cleaners, architects, artists and game developers are discovering the potential – and pitfalls – of the virtual world
A shower of pink petals rains down in slow motion against an ethereal backdrop of minimalist white arches, bathed in the soft focus of a cosmetics advert. The camera pulls back to reveal the petals have clustered together to form a delicate puffy armchair, standing in the centre of a temple-like space, surrounded by a dreamy landscape of fluffy pink trees. It looks like a luxury zen retreat, as conceived by Glossier.
The aesthetic is eerily familiar: these are the pastel tones, tactile textures and ubiquitous arches of Instagram architecture, an amalgamation of design tropes specifically honed for likes. An ode to millennial pink, this computer-rendered scene has been finely tuned to seduce the social media algorithm, calibrated to slide into your feed like a sugary tranquilliser, promising to envelop you in its candy-floss embrace.
What makes it different from countless other such CGI visions that populate the infinite scroll is that this implausible chair now exists in reality. In front of the video, on show in the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna (MAK), stands the Hortensia chair, a vision of blossomy luxury plucked from the screen and fabricated from thousands of laser-cut pink fabric petals – yours for about £5,000.
It is the work of digital artist Andrés Reisinger, who minted the original digital chair design as an NFT after his images went viral on Instagram in 2018. He was soon approached by collectors asking where they could buy the real thing, so he decided to make it – with the help of product designer Júlia Esqué and furniture brand Moooi – first as a limited edition, and now adapted for serial production. It was the first time that an armchair had been willed into being by likes and shares, a physical product spawned from the dark matter of the algorithm.