It looks like something out of an eldritch fantasy horror, perhaps a Diablo game: a modestly sized chest covered in sharp, bony extrusions, gnarled ligaments, and twisted veins, all rendered in a pale, ghostly, fleshlike color. It’s repulsively organic, but also has an occult, ceremonial air. In fact, this cursed object is an artwork called Relic of the Corrupted Blood, by a Boston artist named Harris Rosenblum. And as you may be able to tell from the title, it is actually connected to another Blizzard game: World of Warcraft.
The 2005 Corrupted Blood plague is perhaps the most notorious bug in WoW’s long history, which birthed one of the most famous unscripted incidents in any online game. Corrupted Blood was a debuff applied to players during the climactic boss fight of the Zul’Gurub raid, and it was transmissible between characters in close proximity to each other. Due to the bug, the debuff escaped the confines of the raid and quickly spread across WoW
There are two tiny windows on the sides of the Relic of the Corrupted Blood sculpture, and in each of them Rosenblum placed an SD card. One carries the patch that introduced the Corrupted Blood pandemic, and the other the patch that fixed it. The cards give the piece a kind of Schrödinger’s Cat feel — as if this disgusting box is holding two potential realities in place at the same time.
“Yeah, totally,” laughs Rosenblum, talking to me from his home in Boston via video call. “There’s a weird duality that you can get from having both of those possible game states as one thing. Like, at some point, you might need the power of the relic of the Corrupted Blood, or at some point [the power of the fix]. They kind of exist in the same space.”
Rosenblum has wiry, dark hair and wears little round spectacles that have a cool, engineered look. He’s originally from Denver, Colorado, has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Kent State University in Ohio, and works as a digital fabrication tech at Harvard, helping people use “weird machines” like 3D printers and laser cutters. As an artist and researcher, he’s interested in new digital fabrication techniques, industrial and postindustrial crafts, and the culture of online spaces. His cursed WoW chest was the centerpiece of his exhibition Relics of the Corrupted Blood, which was put on by the Blade Study gallery in New York in late 2022; he has a new show, Inorganic Demons, opening at Sara’s in New York on April 14.
Rosenblum doesn’t play video games and describes himself as “not that online,” but he has a fascination with the new social structures emerging in online spaces, and the new realities people are able to create for themselves there. He says he first heard about the Corrupted Blood incident during the COVID-19 pandemic, when its obvious parallels to real-world events brought it back into the public consciousness. He was interested in the incident’s unplanned, organic nature, how it allowed players to take control of the game narrative, and how it was later “re-canonized” in a pre-patch event for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion that mimicked the plague in more controlled conditions.
Rosenblum thought the griefers’ response was particularly interesting. “I don’t mean any offense by this, but people who are a little bit more at the margins of society, who feel a little bit more alienated, find these homes and spaces,” he says. “Like, the griefer has the ability to really reform reality and reform these worlds in a way that the person who just kind of tacitly understands what’s going on around them and agrees with it doesn’t.”
In other pieces, Rosenblum has found himself returning to other figures from online and gaming culture, like Hatsune Miku and the Orks from Games Workshop’s tabletop Warhammer games. He was interested in Hatsune Miku because she’s basically a vehicle for fan-created art, and the community has agency over her; and in the Orks he saw a symbol of “this amorphous and, like, ever-powerful version of the working class that no force can really come up against. That seemed like something that was really beautiful to me.” Another piece, Vitalik’s Sword, has a unique NFT on an SD card sealed within a giant sword, modeled on a two-handed sword that might have belonged to a WoW character created by Vitalik Buterin, creator of the Ethereum cryptocurrency. (Buterin says he created Ethereum after his favorite WoW character was nerfed in a patch.) Another, Infinite Squalor, is an overwhelming, horrifying wall of images culled from the Neckbeard Nests subreddit.
The internet as a democratized space — or at least, a space of resistance — is key to Rosenblum’s work. “We’re in this moment of capitalist realism where reality continues on this neoliberal path forward that continues to make less and less sense for more people. And so online spaces are these places where people have the ability to, not necessarily escape from the conditions of it, but they have the ability to have these imaginative other worlds where [in place of] the consensus reality that exists politically, they sort of invent their own. Reality feels like it’s fracturing.”
Funnily enough, there is a connection here to another, far older inspiration for Rosenblum’s work. “The fact that fans are generating this lore and generating these fanfictions, and then that winds up sometimes being reintegrated into canon. […] There’s nothing else like this except for, honestly, medieval Catholicism.” He mentions the cult of saints whereby the “consensus reality of the church didn’t match with the lived reality of people” in certain areas. “They would essentially create their own fanfiction of Christ, and it would get reintegrated. That’s what I see these online spaces as being able to do for our current time.”
Rosenblum’s wife, a curatorial assistant at a museum, is a student of the cult of saints and turned him on to the medieval phenomenon of reliquaries — the ornate, ceremonial, “semi-monumental” objects that would be created to hold tiny fragments of bone or cloth said to relate to saints. Relic of the Corrupted Blood is styled as a kind of reliquary, with the SD cards containing the patch data playing the part of the relic fragments. “It’s just silicone, it’s just sand that gets refined in a really intense way,” he says of the SD cards. “But there’s such an intense meaning that you can hold within that, and then the object almost just acts in service of showing what the content of this stream of little transistors is.”
To create the chest’s uniquely horrible look, Rosenblum modeled it in 3D and then printed it out on a resin printer, before getting the organic finish by coating it in liquid latex using new crafting techniques being pioneered by the cosplay community. He watched videos of people making Halloween props and took techniques, like dry-brushing, from Warhammer figure painting. For the primer, he made a historical material called clay bole, traditionally used in gilding, “but I made it all out of stuff I can essentially get at the health food store.”
Rosenblum is a little evasive about where Relic of the Corrupted Blood’s extremely disturbing look came from. “I kind of firmly believe the aesthetics emerge from the material conditions of the thing […]: the thing that happened in the game, this cosplay thing, and postindustrial materiality. And then there’s only a determinate amount of ways that that can look,” he says. “I could have spray-painted it with silver spray paint and made it look, like, super sexy or whatever,” he says of the piece’s gross, naked finish. “But I think it’s nicer to lean into it, like the surface has a meaning and materiality to it. So that’s why it looks kind of creepy and occult.”
A storied WoW bug, medieval Catholicism, 3D printing, the politics of griefing, cosplay techniques, and DIY gilding. It’s a heady mix of influences that, like all good art, creates something greater than the sum of its parts. Even just observed in a JPG on the internet, Relic of the Corrupted Blood has an unnerving power. It’s cursed, in a good way.