One of the best surprises of this year's edition of the GAMERZ festival in Aix en Provence was a work that mixed clips from cult movies with video game dynamics. Using 2 buttons and a joystick, visitors could navigate inside movie sequences from The Shining, Jurassic Park, The Blair Witch Project, Old Boy and many more. The main actor becomes an avatar and you can delay the inescapable moment when the little boy in The Shining bumps into the evil-looking twins or you can give a couple of extra kicks and lengthen the fight that opposed Bruce Lee to Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon.
Hold On, by Maxime Marion & Emilie Brout is pretty irresistible. You want to try all the movie sequences and then you want to try them once again to see how much more you can do inside the same movie clip.
There's no video to demonstrate how the installation work. Not yet. In the meantime, i've asked the artists Maxime Marion & Emilie Brout to take us behind the scenes of their project:
Bonjour Emilie and Maxime! How did you chose the film sequences? Does any action movie work for example? What were you looking for exactly when selecting the extracts?
The idea behind Hold On is very simple, but its efficiency depends heavily on the choice of sequences, which proved to be more complicated than we initially thought! Many constraints have to be respected. For example, you need a main character at the center of the action so that he or she can immediately be identified as avatar. You also need homogeneous settings, lest you get shocking discrepancies as you move around. We are also looking for autonomous extracts, with an introduction, a conclusion and an issue to solve. There are many extracts we would have liked to use but we had to leave them aside because they wouldn't work.
More generally, we've been looking for film sequences that have their own originality, often referring to famous video game genres, like in The Shining where the little Danny irresistibly evoques Mario Kart, or the puzzles that the dung beetle needs to solve in Microcosmos which evokes games such as Worms or Lemmings. We've made some 15 sequences so far, but for Gamerz we left aside the ones that didn't fit this year's theme. We will show Travolta's incredible danse in Saturday Night Fever another time.
It was amusing to watch people play with Hold On at GAMERZ. Some had reactions of surprise and tension because instead of diluting the suspense, the installation often increased it. Is this something you were expecting?
Indeed, the visitors' reactions far exceeded our expectations. It was great for us to witness it. When people are allowed to navigate inside a movie, they have a feeling of freedom, of broader space and abolished temporality. Paradoxically, by losing these limitations of the views, you find yourself in a kind of maze, in a scary labyrinth.
The sensation is enhanced by the fact that it is far more engaging to embody an avatar than to just watch an actor on the screen, and we often know what to expect at the end. That's another reason why we chose very famous movies. When you stop playing, the film simply proceeds till its -not alway happy- ending. Some people were thus playing as long as possible in order to delay the unescapable death in the final scene of The Blair Witch Project, or to avoid meeting the little girls of The Shining, which might occur after each turn in the corridors.
We are also happy to have been able to reproduce faithfully classic game controls, such as in the fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in The Way of the Dragon, its game play is identical to the Street Fighter 1: we've seen some pretty enthusiastic otakus. And seeing how much fun people were having, sharing with them this fantasy of 'getting inside' a movie was probably what mattered the most.
You developed the work Hold On during a residency with M2F Creations in Aix-en-Provence. Can you tell us something about the residency? What you found there, how it went on?
We first had the idea of the project in 2006 and its form has evolved ever since, but we needed an impuse to make it come into existence. That's exactly what M2F Créations gave us. We also needed some technical support, especially regarding the responsiveness of the HD video that had to react under 40 ms, plus some electronics for the interface.
So last May we were invited to the Maison Numérique, which Quentin Destieu & Sylvain Huguet are developing more and more. While we benefited from the invaluable technical skills of artists such as Stéphane Kyles and Grégoire Lauvin, we also found that the residency provided us with a fantastic space for exchange and sharing where we've built long lasting relationships. We particularly enjoyed M2F's innovative approach which enables experimental practice while fostering research. In a nutshell, this is a residency we highly recommend!
Most of your other works show how fascinated you are by cinema. I particularly like Google Earth Movies. What did you learn from this transposition of cult movie sequences into the Google Earth software?
Cinema plays indeed an important part in our works. The concept of GEM is to transform a mapping tool into a filmic object, to use Google Earth as if it were VLC. The software allows you to manage many factors when you enter the code, such as tilting, or the focus that enabled us to recreate the famous Jaws Shot.
As we were trying to reproduce as faithfully as possible inside Google Earth the movements of the cameras on the real shooting locations, we realized how complex and subtle these movements can be. It was a real lesson of cinema. For example, we recreated the scene of the death of Dominic in Once Upon a Time in America. As the child falls after the shot, the camera follows him, gently going down. Then, as he dies, the camera goes up, a metaphor for "ascending to heaven." So although there is no visible character in GEM, you understand the whole action. In Apocalypse Now, you almost see the helicopters performing their massacre.
While adjusting the light, determining the year, the month and the time with an accuracy of 5 minutes in some cases, we also realized that some scenes that seemed to follow each other perfectly had been shot at different moments (because of the quality of the light.) But this only serves to reproduce a cinematographic feeling for viewers who can discover by themselves the off-screen landscape by turning the camera around.
Hold On, as you wrote in the presentation text, does the opposite of a machinima, it uses cinema for gaming purposes. But would you use games to make a film? I'm not talking about machinimas but about a film, experimental or not, that would use the dynamics of a game or its interactivity? Is this something that already exists or that you are planning to do at some point?
This is an angle that interests us but it is also different from what we do because it entails some real directing work. Our approach involves the use of found footage, and remaining in reality which triggers so much fascination, rather than in purely synthetic images. At the beginning of Hold On, we had worked on Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa, which tells the same story under four different perspectives. We wanted to make a kind of total movie/game that would allow you to create your own story. But the result was too complex to use. The current version is far more efficient because the simplicity of the controls does not disturb the immersion of the player (a big problem with interactive films) and that is what matters.
But it is true that we are very interested in the dynamic aspect. The work Dérives, for example, uses more than 1500 film clips that represent water and, by constantly renewing the editing, it generates a kind of infinite meta-film. Dérives is not interactive but it is dynamic and generative so it's not cinema anymore. It is almost impossible to cover it all. There's still a lot to do with captured images and generative effects.
Merci Emilie et Maxime!
This year, even GAMERZ, an art&tech festival with a name that promises its visitors much joy and entertainment, didn't want to turn its back to the times of fear and uncertainty we are living. The festival was as playful as ever but with a slightly darker tone and with a selection of artists whose works question the worrying changes at work in society.
The opening of the festival took place at the gloriously Op-Art Fondation Vasarely, a museum designed by Victor Vasarely and containing some spectacular works of his. Sadly, the space is now equally famous for the state of disrepair of the artworks and of the building itself.
I've mentioned two of the works exhibited there already: Cécile Babiole's Bzzz! The sound of electricity and Benjamin Gaulon's Printball and i'm still working on a post focusing on the work of two young and ridiculously talented artists from Paris. Which means that i haven't much left to say about the exhibition at the Fondation. I must however mention the stunning Salamander:
Pascual Sisto used stock images of explosions from the movie industry as "digital ready-made" and collaged them with the After Effects software. The potentially deadly explosions are turned into sublime, hypnotizing fire works.
I can't find a way to embed the video on the blog so do me a favour and click over here to see the film.
The rest of the exhibition is spread throughout the center of the city of Aix-en-Provence. Let's start with Paul Destieu's solo show at the Seconde Nature space because, year after year, my first question when arriving at the festival is "What is Paul showing this time?" And as always (see Project NADAL and Fade-Out) his pieces were simple and brilliant.
Révolutions pits against each other two different moments in the history of the audiovisual media: the beginnings of home-made cinema and YouTube. The artist transferred the loading circle of YouTube onto the silver band of a Super8 projector, an object nowadays obsolete. The history of home-made video draws a circle metaphorically and visually.
Another work Destieu was showing compiled scenes of duels from the Star Wars saga to create a fight made of light and sound. The dialogues of the duelists can be heard in the room but the only image of the duel is shaped by the light emanating from two video projectors. They face each other at a distance, each at another end of the room. Below, smoke machines give shape and materiality to the projected beams that emerge in the dark and look like the fighting swords of the Star Wars warriors. A moment of violence and anger turned translated in darkness and white mist.
Apart from the screenings, games and installations, the festival also programed a series of performances. I saw a couple of them but the one that impressed me the most was by Feromil, the 'post-apocalyptic one man band'. The artist gave a concert using a metal detector as his main musical instrument. The performance was very raw, and very physical. Try wearing a gas mask while holding and moving around a metal detector for half an hour over a bass amp and you'll get the idea.
The room where My Computer Just Started to Smoke was exhibited at the Galerie Susini was filled with smoke that the computer was 'enthusiastically' inhaling, depending of the temperature variations of its processors.
The computer runs a software that navigates the internet exclusively through pop-ups that pitch porn, poker, and tricks that will make you rich almost instantly. The more pop-ups the computer encounters and opens, the more its processor heats up and, of course, the faster the fans are spinning. But that's not enough. To further 'calm down' the computer also inhales the smoke of the hookah.
At first sight, the work created by the Dardexcollective might seem to be merely mischievous. But it is actually a comment on computer animism and on the internet, a new world that promises freedom but delivers equal doses of mercantilism.
To be honest, i wasn't expecting to see GAMERZ invade the venerable Musée des Tapisseries (museum of tapestry) of AIx-en-Provence but the organizers used the entrance space to display several experimental games people could play with.
Hommage a New York, by Florent Deloison, is one of them. The game was inspired by Breakout, the video game released in 1976 by Atari, and also by the self-destructive sculpture created in 1960 by Jean Tinguely with the help of engineer Billy Klüver.
In Deloison's version, instead of breaking bricks, the player must destroy the computer code behind the game. You can never win and the game inevitably ends when vitals commands stop working. A big red button on the control panel is used to restart the game
If GAMERZ is for me the best festival to discover new names in art&tech, it is also a space where confirmed names are given 'carte blanche' to invade an exhibition space as they please. This year, Quentin Destieu and Sylvain Huguet, curators and founders of the festival, invited Rafael Rozendaal to spread one of his internet works onto the walls, ceiling and floor of the gallery of the Aix en Provence art school using mirrors and 5 video projectors. The experience of 'walking inside' a web page, moving through it, seeing your shadow cutting through solid chunks of colours is eerie.
A couple more images:
A quick post about The Art of Chess, an exhibition of 16 chess sets designed by some of the biggest names in contemporary art. Hirst has a medicine cabinet, Tracey Emin a chess set that looks slightly unhygienic, Paul McCarthy adds ketchup, Yayoi Kusama goes for dots, and the Chapman brothers do it dark and provocative. Most of the artists are playing their usual tricks, then. But somehow i didn't mind because many of the works are spectacular.
The show is inspired by Marcel Duchamp, an artist who revolutionised art in the 20th century like no one else did. Yet, Duchamp gave up his art practice and spent the end of his life playing chess. He justified his decision by observing that chess "has all the beauty of art--and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position."
I don't have anything particularly smart to say about the Chapman's chess set. It clearly was my favourite in the show. So let's go to the next one....
Maurizio Cattelan placed on the board a series of action figures that represent famous international and Italian people he either despises or admires.
The 'Good' side has Martin Luther King as its king. Close to him are Superman, La Cicciolina, Gandhi, Sitting Bull, Sofia Loren, Pinocchio, Mother Theresa, Superman, Sitting Bull, the Dalai Lama, Che Ghevara, Joan of Arc. I didn't recognize them all.
The 'Evil' team is headed by Adolf Hitler, his black queen is Cruella de Vil. They are accompanied by Dracula, Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Nero, the snake on the Tree of Knowledge, General Custer, Rasputin. I laughed when i recognized also Donatella Versace. Anyone has an idea of who the latex-clad villain is?
Stunning chess board. Yours for peanuts.
Fryer's chess is an homage to Nikola Tesla. Because Tesla was a pioneer of the vacuum tubes, the 32 pieces in the set are glass vacuum tubes. I didn't dare touch the work but apparently The board of the chess set powers the vacuum tube pieces so that when unplugged the individual pieces glow for a little while, struggling to keep connection with the board, and then die. Plug them back in and they reactivate.
Paul McCarthy created a Readymade chess set using objects he had found in his kitchen. The board itself is made of squared segments from the artists' kitchen floor.
And i promised you pharmacology:
Lisa Ma is interested in the fringes of society. From the ladies who are mad about cats to the communities campaigning to stop the extension of Heathrow Airport. Lisa is a designer and her role is to create platforms of engagement with these groups which are otherwise ignored by society.
One of her latest projects drove her to a joystick factory located in one of the suburbs of Shenzhen. She spent several weeks with the factory workers, sleeping in dorms, sharing their meals in the canteen, making friends.
Because most of these young factory workers come from a farming background and because joysticks might very well become obsolete soon, she proposed to the factory owners that they'd allow the joystick makers to work part-time in a nearby farm. She called the experiment Farmification - using farming to keep the factory community together when work dwindles.
Almost everything about the project intrigued me. So i asked the designer to give us more details about Farmification:
Hi LIsa! In your video you say that there are more than 230 million Chinese migrant workers? Why do you think we know so little about them? Is it because we prefer not to know about who they are and how they live? Or is it because it is difficult for an outsider to gain access to these factories?
We tend to be conscious of Chinese factory workers as a working mass. For example ABC's "Monday morning, at the Foxconn's recruiting centre over 3000 people have been lined up, desperate to work for Apple's biggest supplier", we hear about the impressive scale rather than relate to the workers as humans. When journalists write about factory salaries they are describing these workers in terms of economic values. Focusing on sensationalist extremes makes the workers difficult for us to relate to on a human scale and distances them, whereas I look into the workers' daily lives and highlight their mundane events to make them more emotionally accessible for the viewers.
The manufacturing of our products is really a very secretive process. We are starting to grow a consciousness about material and ecological costs in the items that we use but there's a huge part of how they are made that is still in the shade. The recent Foxconn stories have brought more attention to this but there are other examples of how the story of manufacturing affects consumption:
-In 2011, a luxury Italian furniture company called Davinci caused outrage in Chinese customers when it was exposed that their 'imported' products was in fact made in China. "By spending a day in the bonded zone, the furniture had changed from being classed as domestically produced" to being labelled as Italian-made." Robert Olsen, Forbes, 1/05/2012.
-The value of a workforce demonstrates itself (sadly) in any touristic craft store, where there's a supposed craftsman making spoons out of horn or glass-beaded bracelets for sale. The narrative process of the products becomes the main selling point.
-The village of Dafen specialises in making fake paintings. The process of faking a famous painting has actually become an tourist attraction. The point is that vendors can position their value in the craft process, even if it's faking a famous painting. (Ironically, due to Dafen's success, now other villages reproduce their own 'fake Dafen fakes'.)
One possibility is that products might have a "Responsible Life-Work Balance" standard, similar to the "Free From Animal Testing" labels that we've become accustomed to as consumers. However, this is a very paternalist view of our connection with the manufacturing process. The goal of my research isn't just to dictate what "good practice" should be. The stories I've been revealing hope to show the different threads of problems rather than a single answer that fits all. Through "Farmification", I'm giving a design suggestion that would invite more potential alternatives by making the issue more approachable.
How did you manage to get access to a joystick factory in China? Was it a long and painful process or did it require little more than an email?
The best explanation is that "contacts of contacts" offered to me to stay in either a handbag factory or a joystick factory. I chose the joystick, largely because it was interesting as a technology on its way out.
It was a no frills package. I was literally sleeping in the dorms and eating with the workers day after day. At one point I was about to be covered in heat rashes and the factory owner, in exchange for some of the photographs, let me have his spare apartment. There were no glass in the windows and the air conditioning leaked over the bed. For a while I was sleeping with a bowl in my bed. On my third week I managed to 'bribe' a production manager, over a meal of duck congee, to link his broadband from the second floor window across to my window on the fifth floor, for 50rmb (£5). That was probably the best investment I've made.
I thought the place was pretty secure, with guard dogs everywhere, but once someone tried to force open my lock in the middle of the night. They took so long that I managed to boil a kettle of water to defend myself. It was like the Three Little Pigs. Luckily for both of us, the door held.
Sometimes I was really questioning if I was doing the right thing but it was worth it. I stayed for about 6 weeks there and after half a year, returned to them with my proposal.
What makes a joystick factory a fringe? Because surely 230 million people cannot be regarded as fringe?
Factory workers are fringe in terms of our awareness and industrial concern, not in terms of scale. There is in fact a huge amount of people in the peripherals of our vision. Joystick factory workers, specifically, are at the fringe of the innovation cycle. They are at the brink of being left out from demand for the products that they manufacture. They are an emerging group of people designed out by technology.
If I understood correctly, you proposed to the factory owners that workers would work part time at the farm. But what benefit (financial and non financial) is there for the owners of the factory to see their employees desert the building to work in the field?
In Europe, there is a similar debate of "Farmification" for people to sustain themselves with direct food security. The allotments in the United Kingdom sustained the population against social unrest in the economic depression of in 1930s. Currently there are innovative farming movements with people such as Incredible Edible working to revive farming during the recession and making an impact on British policy-makers.
What is going on at the farm nowadays? Are people still working there?
The factory is sadly downsizing and the farm is a strawberry field right now. I'm not sure if anyone will appreciate the irony of Strawberry Fields Forever.
Did you find the answer to that question you're asking in the video "who's making all the food now"?
China's importing huge amounts of food internationally. For example, the chicken feet, which are Chinese delicatessens are being imported out of American chicken factories as waste products. This is a nice story of recycling but depending so heavily on importation is not sustainable for the largest population in the world. China's importing grain in record numbers. There is a 500% increase since last year and it's having a huge impact on the price of food for the global community.
And finally can you tell us a few words about the other fringes you've been exploring since the Farmification project or the fringes that you are planning to explore in the coming months?
Building up from a previous project, Heathrow Heritage, about a local airport community and it's activists, I explored similar possibilities in the airport of Shenzhen. A large proportion of Chinese airspace is militarized and passengers complain of the long delays, often abusing airport staff without giving the problem any further thought. I'm taking stranded passengers out of Shenzhen airport and into the snack streets of the slums surrounding the airport, where the staff live.
I'm also starting a collaboration with mindfulness coaches Headspace to break the stereotypes of the meditation community.
Finally, I'm finishing off workshops I hosted on The Future of Sex Education in a Beijing Love Hotel. This project investigates what a sexually active generation, that's never had its own sex education, demand of the future generation. As one of the participants in the workshop puts it: "girls learn from their boyfriends and the boys learn from porn". The collaborators and I had to get through every loophole possible, for example, the anti-nudity technology was so crude that Garfield the cartoon cat was banned because of its tanned body. How do these people evolve their own fantasies when their first points of reference are from Western pornography downloaded from illegal cafes?
The fourth episode of the art and science show i've been recording for ResonanceFM is about to go live. It broadcasts today Monday 11 June at 16.30 (GMT.) There will be a repeat on Thursday at 22.30. You can catch it online if you don't live in London. And of course we will have podcasts (still waiting for them.)
My guest on the show is Dr. Jonah Brucker-Cohen whom i'm sure you all know. Jonah is a researcher, artist, and writer. He is based in New York and received his Ph.D. in the Disruptive Design Team of the Networking and Telecommunications Research Group at Trinity College Dublin. Apart from his work as an artist, Jonah has been teaching in several universities in New York, lecturing internationally, writing essays for magazines focusing on technology and since he is teaching a course called Designing Critical Networks at Parsons in New york, i thought he'd be the perfect guest for a program which covers issues such as social media, subverting network experience, hacking, and internet censorship. We also took the time to focus on some of his own works, from the now legendary Wifi Liberator to Scrapyard Challenge Jr. 555 Noisemaker Kit and America's Got No Talent (two works he developed together with Katherine Moriwaki.)
I can't seem to hold their flash website against the Gamerz festival. It remains one of my favourite events of the year.
The 7th edition of GAMERZ took place last November in postcard pretty Aix-en-Provence. As its name suggests, the festival presents video games, interactive works and a playground atmosphere but gaming is more a pretext than the whole raison d'être of GAMERZ. The free exhibitions, performances, concerts and conferences embrace all kinds of art forms that refer to or use digital technology. So yes, Gamerz offers machinima and AR video games but also paintings, light performances and choir singers.
I like GAMERZ because it's eclectic, because it makes me discover plenty of artists i had never heard about before but also because it reminds me that festivals should be left more often in the hands of artists. They take risk, follow their whim, trust other artists barely out of the academy, and care little about sticking to genres and formulas.
Talking about taking risks....
One of the most popular pieces in the exhibition was Paul Destieu's Fade-Out, a video that records the progressive burying of a drum set under gravels. The gravel hitting the percussion parts produces a rhythm section, which rapidly turns into a sound and visual chocking. I watched the video a first time for the images and came back to it, just to take the sound in. The sequence shot proposes experimentation around the technical state of Fade-out, by materializing the decrease of sound and visual signal, until a complete silence and disappearance.
Monsieur Moo's Meule 2 Foin (french for haystack) is a big hay ball that emits loud sound when you push it. To turn the loud noise into a melody, visitors have to keep a certain, equal pace. It looks like the most elementary way to 'interact' with an artwork: you just have to roll it around. In fact, the work's sole ambition is to cheer up visitors. However, once you're in front of the ball, you realize it's not going to be a piece of cake. First of all the hay ball is ultra heavy and you might need some help in order to get it rolling. Add to that that the surface around the hay ball is slippery and you're in for a good sweat moving that damn ball around.
Mr Moo imposes a forced walk that illustrates his mocking analysis of mobility and interactivity issues in contemporary art.
Le Faussiare (The Forger) by artists' collective Dardex-Mort2Faim (Quentin Destieu, Romain Senatore, Sylvain Huguet and Stephane Kyles) is a robotic arm that counterfeits the autograph of famous artists. The work is intended to satisfy an audience that has elevated famous artists to the rank of major rock stars but also to set the artists themselves free from any unwanted social obligation towards the public. So far the robotic device only fakes Andy Warhol's autograph but it will soon offer art fans a databank of famous artists' signatures to chose from.
Antonin Fourneau was showing the work in progress version of Oterp, a mobile phone game using a GPS sensor to manipulate music in real time, depending on the player's position on Earth. Players have to locate and capture sounds in their surrounding, the more sound creatures they catch, the more sophisticated the music becomes. I played with Oterp at the exhibition opening. It was fun to be that rude girl walking through groups of people having conversation and frustrating not to be able to catch a creature because that would have implied jumping into a pond. What makes Oterp stand from similar dérive-like games is the quality of its design. The music was created by Jankenpopp and Thomas Michalak aka T M. The graphic designer is Syclo. They all did such an outstanding job that players tend to stick to the game longer than they would normally.
Dipterous experience is an archaic visual process combined with a micrographic device paying tribute to flies... some fruit burst open so that you may enjoy it better. No idea how to explain this one clearly, i guess you just have to pop your head into Servovalve's Dipterous Experience.
ELIZA meets an old Olivetti typewriter in Gauthier Le Rouzic's TypeWriterBot. Ask the typewriter a question and it will engage in a conversation with you, greeting you with a 'hello, night bird!' if it's late, asking you about your hopes for the national elections if there's a political election running at the moment and answering your most stupid questions with humour and astuteness. Reading through the printed conversations, it immediately appears that the typewriter is far wittier than the humans.
Isabelle Arvers curated a Machinima exhibition for GAMERZ. All the details can be found on her webpage so i'll only highlight Josh Bricker's Post Newtonianism, a two channel video that shows side by side images from the video game Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and actual war footage taken from cameras mounted on American military aircraft during the first Gulf War in 1991 as well as during the recent occupation of Iraq. There are bombing of vehicles, military targets, shooting of insurgents and oppositional forces. The sound track mixes the audio from the video game with the sound of a classified material released in 2010 by Wikileaks showing Apache helicopters killing two Reuters reporters and attacking, wounding or killing other targets on dubious grounds.
The pictures from both sources are disturbingly similar. Josh Bricker's experiment is a simple but effective analysis of why images should be watched with a certain suspicion. The documentary value of this film is not only on what we see, but on how incapable we are to recognize the origin of the images our own society produces.
I wanted to embed directly the video in this post but YouTube first asked me to login to 'verify' that i'm 18 or older and when i tried to do so, the page said that "YouTube is not available for wmmna.com". But here's the link to the video and my blog will make do with the comment from the artist:
And with that i'm wishing you all a happy 2012!