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!
At the beginning of the Summer i was in Nottingham to participate to Making Future Work. That day was only the last of a long string of events, conferences, meetings and commissions.
MFW started back in December 2010 when Broadway -a cinema we shall all salute for its programme dedicated to media arts- called for artists, designers and organisations based in East Midlands to submit proposals that would respond to four distinct areas of practice: Co creation / Online Space, Pervasive Gaming / Urban Screens, Re-imaging Redundant Systems and Live Cinema / 3D.
The winning projects were therefore very different from each other. Hopefully, their quality will put East Midlands on the digital art/interaction design map.
One of the winning proposals is Le Cadavre Exquis, a digital re-interpretation of the surrealist game Exquisite Corpse and the parlour game Consequences in which participants define parts of an image or text. The next person will add a portion of text or image without having seen the previous one and the process repeats itself until a complete narrative or image is completed.
In the interactive installation designed by Brendan Oliver and Brendan Randall, members of the public are invited to record a short stop-frame animation (with a little help from a custom designed software and gesture interface) as a response piece to a previously recorded submission. The piece is uploaded online within minutes and textual narrative is then created by online participants through a narrative suggestion feature.
Le Cadavre Exquis' aims to explore how notions of co-creation and user-engagement in live/on-line spaces, within the context of digital art or digital interaction, can be used to create an ever-growing visual film generated entirely by participants.
Contemporary sources of inspiration include user-generated content projects such as Aaron Koblin's wonderful The Sheep Market and The Johnny Cash Project, a crowd-sourced music video initiated by Chris Milk. I had never seen it before Brendan Oliver and Brendan Randall screened it in Nottingham so let me copy paste the embedded code over here:
I thought i should catch up with Oliver and Randall to see how the installation had evolved and traveled since we met in Nottingham.
The call for proposals invited artists and designers to respond to "four distinct areas of current practice" in digital innovation. You chose to focus on 'Co creation.' But did you have this particular project of Le Cadavre Exquis in mind well before reading about the commissions or did you start from scratch when you read the commission guidelines? How did the project mature and evolve?
Whilst we have an interest in co-creation and user-generated content the actual concept of Le Cadavre Exquis was generated completely as a response to the call for submissions and wasn't something we were already working on. When we read the briefs we considered them all and potential responses to each before deciding to submit a proposal for "Live Cinema and Co-Creation". It was at this stage the concept of Le Cadavre Exquis was born.
Initially the concept was that participants would respond visually to a textual narrative set by the previous participants and this would serve as the basis for them to act out their own submission. Once they had completed their submission they would then set the textual narrative for the next participants (using a keyboard) and by doing so we would have an entirely user-generated linear visual and textual responsive narrative.
However, through our research and development of the installation, we realised that this approach was very restrictive for participants and by allowing participants to dictate the visual and textual narratives the quality of the final outcome would be less successful than if we allowed participants to be responsive. We came to this conclusion for two main reasons. Firstly, we felt by having participants provide a textual narrative as well as record their visual submission this was too immersive and time consuming for an installation environment. Secondly, there was also the possibility that people would feel they could not respond to the textual narrative for varying reasons such as the narrative being purposefully difficult to respond to or controversial. We also wanted the focus of the installation to be on the creativity and expression in the visual submissions and for the technology to be almost invisible to them. It was always the aim to create tools that empowered the participant in the creative or artistic process and not for them to focus on the technology.
Is there any way for the public to check out the archives of the stop frame animations done by other people in the past?
All submissions can can be viewed online on the project website at www.LeCadavreExquis.net as well as textual narratives added to each video created. Visitors to the website can become participants themselves by submitting their own textual narratives to describe scenes filmed within the installation space via the 'Participation' page at www.lecadavreexquis.net/participate/. This also introduces a competitive element where visitors can vote for submitted textual narratives. Where more than one textual narrative has been submitted for a clip the narrative with the most votes then becomes the narrative for that video submission.
"Upon completion of the animation the players provide the next line of the dialogue for future player". How is it done exactly? Do they have to type the scenario on a computer? What is this step like exactly? Does it mean that in the end, if you put the short animations side by side the public has constructed a long collaborative narrative?
This was the original idea and the collaborative narrative is still at the heart of the final installation but we decided to allow participants to respond to the previous visual narrative rather than have them respond to a dictated textual narrative.
The original concept meant that only visitors to the physical installation would be able to take part and to view the output. However, our research-based conclusions, helped us to consider opening up the installation to an online audience.
In the final installation we separated the visual and textual narrative submissions to make it easier for participants to be creative with the visual story and to include an online audience by asking them to add a textual narrative via the website developed for the project. Animations created at the installation were compiled into video files and automatically uploaded to the website where they can be viewed by visitors and textual narratives submitted online. The textual narratives were then pulled back down from the website and displayed as subtitles when the visual narrative is projected in the installation space as a playback aspect.
You probably spent a great deal of time and energy on LCE so are you not ever tempted to influence the public? To ask them to perform in a certain way? Is it not frustrating to let everything in the hands of the strangers?
We did spend a lot of time developing the installation and website, much more than we initially envisioned and was originally considered for the commission. It was always our aim to create something where the final outcome was created solely by the audience and participants. We empowered participants to do this through the technology and the concept of Le Cadavre Exquis. We very much see the installation as a tool for creativity rather than prescribing the creative aspect itself. We are very much interested in how participants respond and in particular how we can enable people who wouldn't ordinarily consider themselves creative to lose their inhibitions, get excited, have fun, enjoy the experience and become the artist. Due to these ideals its not been frustrating for us to let participants create whatever they like.
I'm quite curious about the way people use LCE. Do they feel immediately at ease with the installation? Do they find it easy to engage with it? Do they reflect a lot before using it? Are they bold? But also did they surprise you along the way? Did they find ways of using the installation you had not thought about before?
Whilst we had introduced the installation at The Nottingham Contemporary for the final commission presentation we were thrown in at the deep end to a certain degree with being invited to install the piece at the V&A some two days later. We had naturally tested the technology and had also experimented was a local Dance company but the V&A would be the first public acid test. So naturally we, whilst confident, were a little nervous as to how the installation would be received. We needn't have worried though as from the first person to the last seemed to have no problems at all interacting straight away. We had worked very hard to ensure that the technology was very easy to use and understand and this was proved to be the case. With the event being at the V&A there was lots of people from various countries all over the world attending. Even those with little or no English seemed to have no problem understanding how the installation worked and how they could be creative.
As far as installations go this is quite an immersive experience for people to be involved with as we're asking them to be creative on the spot and to try and lower their inhibitions. Some people have been reflective, a few declined but the overwhelming majority have been excited and more than happy to be involved in something creative and user-generated. Having the playback projection aspect where people entering the space could see all the previously recorded scenes definitely helped in this respect. We think feeling they are part of a larger whole, part of the creative process has been a great incentive and we have been really surprised at the variation and quality of the stories told within the ten frames of the animations they create. You'd be surprised what can be done. We even had a meeting of a couple, courting, engagement, marriage and finally the birth of a baby - all in ten frames.
The beauty of the installation is that because we haven't sought to control the output it can be used in various ways. For instance The Nottingham Contemporary, who hosted the installation after the V&A, provided a number of props and accessories for participants. This has been great for creative submissions but also influenced the public towards certain narratives by the style of the props themselves and the fact they had tied it into the on-going Jean Genet exhibition at the gallery.
The work has traveled to V&A in London and other venue since we met in Nottingham in June. Do you have plans to show it elsewhere?
It's been quite non-stop for Le Cadavre Exquis being in the V&A two days after completion and directly following that it has been running permanently in The Nottingham Contemporary over the summer. It's due to finish there on the 4th of September. Our vision is that this is an installation that, in theory at least, can keep running and running. If we can keep installing and generating submissions there's no reason this can't be the case. We've already had enquiries for installing in various other environments and alternative uses. We are very much open to propositions or proposals from anywhere & anyone.
By the very nature of how the installation is conceived we can adapt the system in many ways to different uses and environments from performance to education uses. We also have plans to develop the project using the generated content itself. One area we're looking into is a 'Director' tool aspect where online users will be able to access all the videos and textual narratives (or indeed write their own) to create their own self-directed movie. We're currently looking into funding opportunities to develop this aspect. This notion of 'Directing' has routes into performance and writing within the arts and education - all of which is very exciting for us and for the project in the future.
Thanks Brendan and Brendan!
Photo homepage: Le Cadavre Exquis at the V&A's Web Weekend programme Credit: Rain Rabbit.
Matteo Bittanti and Domenico Quaranta, the authors of the very enjoyable and clever book GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames, are onto great game art adventures again. This time, they curated an exhibition that celebrates the work of Italian artists who have been experimenting with game-based technologies for more than two decades. The retrospective is heralded as an alternative to the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale --which content Adrian Searle has compared to a tour of Silvio Berlusconi's brain-- and its title is as provocative as it can get: ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! While some of the names of the artists selected in the show might be new to many of you, the work of others has traveled beyond the frontiers of Italy, and in some cases has even reached far beyond the world of art games itself.
Because i make it my duty to attend as few art openings as possible and because i'm a creature from the North who finds Summer temperatures in Venice to be unbearable, i won't be able to visit and report on the show before October. But the exhibition looks so good that i decided to go ahead and ask Domenico Quaranta to tell us what we can expect from ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!!
Hi Domenico! Let's start with the title of the exhibition because i can't let you get away with a title like that without a word of explanation. How dared you?
Ah ah! To answer this question, I have to tell you why I enjoy so much to work with Matteo Bittanti. First, he is a good friend. Second, we have a pretty different perspective. Matteo is interested in art, sometimes he even acts as an artist himself; but he is much more into games. He debuted as a reviewer for game magazines, and he is now one of the most acclaimed game students around. I'm interested in games, even if I'm not a hardcore gamer, but I'm much more into art. As Italians often working abroad, we both have to confront ourselves with several commonplaces. I'm not just talking about that Jersey Shore kind of stuff. If you work in the games world, you know that Italy has a weak game industry, that has never been able to produce something relevant not only internationally, but even for its own local audience. Italians interested in working on games usually leave for other countries.
If you are working in the art world, you know that Italy has a weak art system, unable to support the artists working here on the international platform. The absence of Italian representatives in some key international events doesn't even become news anymore.
Discussing the show, we realized that the contribution that our artists brought to the international debate around videogames is much more relevant than what our weak art system, our weak game industry, our retrograde art schools, and the immaturity of the same debate in the Italian academia (and on the Italian media), would let you imagine.
Wanting to make this visible, we decided to deliver the message in a blatant, outrageous way. To be aggressive, and make some noise. To fight a commonplace you need a stock phrase. Matteo proposed to call the show "Teh Italians do it Bettah!!". We moved back from jargon to plain English to make it easier for anybody. Matteo kept the original title for his catalogue text.
The title seemed to match with many other things: the recent involution of our international reputation. The nightmare of the Italian Pavilion in the Venice Biennale. The celebrations for the 150 years from the unification of a nation that somebody called "a geographical abstraction". The fact that many artists in the show - and Matteo himself - actually live and work abroad. And the fact that most of them hate the title :-)
I couldn't see which artworks were selected (only the name of the artists) so i have to ask you whether what you attempted with this show was to demonstrate how broad the range of Italian video art game is or whether you were rather trying to highlight something they have in common?
The show is as dumb as the title we chose for it. We selected fifteen artists / works that have a little in common except their passport and the interest in videogames as a cultural form. The exhibition space was just a bunch of square meters, so we decided to fill it up without caring about the dialogue between the works. Some of them are whispering love to each other, some others are enjoying a flame war session. It's more like a salon or a fair booth: we want to sell "Italian Game Art" to the international audience of the Venice Biennale. We are waiting for some better images, but in the meantime you may enjoy my Flickr set.
By the way, is there something that makes Italian video art game different from art games from the rest of the world? The press release for the exhibition states: ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! thus asks "What does it mean to be an 'Italian' artist working with video-games, today?" Do you have some kind of answer to that question?
No, except for what I told you above. I don't even know what it means to be Italian. A national identity is not, for me, a fixed concept. It's an abstract idea that should be always negotiated. Institutions usually take care of restoring it, protecting it from the attacks of internal and external forces. Somebody said: "We made Italy, now let's make Italians". Today, nobody is working on this anymore. We did what an Italian cultural institution should do, claiming the contribution of our artists to a given field of culture. But we did it without the rhetoric of an institution, and with all the irony that being freelance curators playing the role of a phantom institution allowed us to use.
The artists included in the exhibition are Italians by chance. Many of them are not even living in Italy. They are not a group, and they didn't learn what they do at school. They just share a common interest in videogames. They can't even be described as "game artists". If the term Game Art can still make some sense as a category (and I'm not completely sure about it), the term "game artist" doesn't make sense at all. It's not a matter of identity, it's just a matter of cultural interests and medium occasionally employed. With a few exception, for these artists the interest in games is just part of a broader interest in media. Carlo Zanni made a wonderful online videogame in 2004, and back in 1997 Antonio Riello made one of the first art games ever. Is this enough to call them game artists?
Neoludica is one of the collateral events of the 54. Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte - la Biennale di Venezia. Can you imagine that one day a game artist would be selected to represent a country (Italy maybe?) in one of the national pavilions? How far away are we from that idea?
More seriously. The art establishment is ruled by old people who still think that videogames are just entertainment for teenagers. The cultural impact of videogames is still far to be broadly recognized by highbrow culture. But it's just a matter of time. Bill Viola made a videogame recently. The Smithsonian Museum is setting up an impressive exhibition on videogames. Neoludica is just trying to force the process a bit, bringing people together, facilitating dangerous liaisons, etc.
The exhibition was curated for the first edition of Neoludica. Can you tell us something about Neoludica? For example, is IDIB just part of a broader event? Who is behind that organization?
Italians Do It Better!! is a selection of contemporary artists concerned with the socio-cultural impact of videogames, and sometimes using games as an art medium. It was commissioned as part of Neoludica, a bigger event attempting to explore the relationship between these two terms - "art" and "videogames" - in the broader sense. Can videogames be considered art, and not just entertainment? How many creative practices converge in this innerly multimedia art form? Can videogames change our broader understanding of art? These are some of the questions Neoludica is trying to raise.
The mind behind the event is Debora Ferrari, one of the founders of Musea (the association that co-produced the event), who two years ago organized a big show on concept art in Valle d'Aosta, called The Art of Games. The exhibition puts together many different things, from contemporary art to concept design, from commercial videogames to indie games (the work of Tale of Tales is well represented). Personally, I'm both frightened and excited by this overlapping of different fields and different ideas of art. And if, on the one side, I made my best to work as a gatekeeper, designing the space in order to keep IDIB separated from the rest of the show, at the same time I think that we somewhat need such a broader platform. I'm sure that the Biennale audience will turn its nose up in front of such a mess, where commercial videogames, good craftmanship and contemporary art share the same space. But I'm really interested to see how such a dialogue will help all these cultural forms to evolve in the next years.
Any new video game artist, Italian or not, we should keep an eye on?
Let me give you a couple of names. Santa Ragione is a little game factory based in Milan. In IDIB they show their first consistent effort, Fotonica (2011). It is a first person game about jumping, traveling and discovering. You don't win or lose, you just endlessly explore a metaphysical space made of light lines inspired by abstract paintings and early 3D videogames. It has been released a couple of days before the opening, and I loved to play it at the exhibition.
The other work came too late for the show. It is a photographic project by Giovanni Fredi, a former student of mine at the Academia in Milan. He visited two places with a somewhat similar name, but very different nature, and he portrayed people playing videogames. The first place is Kinshasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, boys play videogames - mainly soccer games for Playstation - all together in self-built game arcades, on found TV screens, using electricity stolen from the street lightings. Akihabara, also known as Akihabara Electric Town, is a major shopping area for electronic, computer, anime, and otaku goods in Tokio, Japan. There, people play everywhere, walking in a bubble inhabited only by themselves and their Nintendo DS. Giovanni followed these gamers, pictured them, and made two nice booklets picturing two different ways of approaching videogames. And, of course, of living in the XXI century. The project is called Kinshasa vs Akihabara (2011). When I saw the project, I sent it to Matteo, who made this nice interview for his Wired.it blog.
I thought Miltos Manetas was Greek?
Miltos Manetas is a netizen. He was born in Greece, he studied in Italy where he started getting interested in videogames. Than he moved to the States, and the Internet became his core interest. Then again he moved to London and then back to Italy. Currently, he lives in Rome. In an interview that we published in the book we just made with LINK Editions, he says: "I don't belong to any Nation. I have a Greek, an Italian, an American and also a British in me, but more than anything I am from the Internets. (Internets are realities that exist online as well as in any different territories influenced by the power of the Internet.)"
Italians Do It Better!!, an exhibition curated by Matteo Bittanti & Domenico Quaranta as part of the NEOLUDICA EVENT - ART IS A GAME 2011-1966 at the 2011 Venice Biennale of Art remains open at Sala dei Laneri, Santa Croce, 131 in Venice until November 27, 2011.
Previously on the Domenico Quaranta channel: Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art, Playlist, it's not (just) about nostalgia, Playlist - the physical dimension, KIOSK. Artifacts of a Post-Digital Age, ARCO - Expanded Box and ARCO Beep New Media Art Award.
It was time i'd interview Niklas Roy! Jonah Brucker-Cohen had a fantastic talk with him for gizmodo but that was 4 years ago. And there are video portraits about Niklas Roy online but there are in a language i can't quite master. Niklas is one of the most facetious characters of the 'new media art' world. His dance machine without 'annoying Dj", moving curtain, 'distributed' fountains, white cube gallery in a box, physical teapot inside a Commodore cabinet or his electromechanical version of the game Pong are certainly witty, absurd and at times, even hilarious. But don't let the jesting fool you. Behind the playfulness of Roy's machines, lay much irony and lucidity about the world of art & tech he belongs to.
Hi, Niklas! Why do you feel the need to invent 'useless things'?
Well, I guess that engineers and designers which usually invent machines and devices mainly do that in order to solve a problem with their inventions. Or they want to make an existing process more efficient with the help of technology. But such efficiency-driven approaches exclude a vast field of possible inventions. I find it very interesting to explore this field as it promises to be very free.
Do you really believe that your works are useless?
Somehow, my creations often end up in art exhibitions. So the question is, how useless is art? I strongly believe that art is useful for the health of society in some sort of balancing way. From that point of view, my machines might be a bit useful.
It is a bit daunting to interview you. I'm not sure i can trust any of your answers. Especially after having had a look at the WIA < > WIA project for which a fictitious African artist set up an installation that consisted of a public toilet in Linz, that appeared to be hooked up via Internet to an African village's well. Why did you chose to trick ars electronica? Was it really a spoof? Surely they must have known there was something fishy in the work?
Ars Electronica is the leading Media Arts institution. Their pole position makes them define trends and create hypes. Unfortunately, I often cannot agree to those hypes - which feeds the rebel in me.
Melissa's - let's call it 'performance' - started when Ars Electronica released a 'call for proposals' for an exhibition as part of Linz' culture capital program. This open call was more or less a very clear wish list of what they'd like to show. This open call would have made a good briefing for companies which focus on designing interactive installations. But it was not suitable to address artists which should stimulate the society by expressing their own positions. My application as African artist Melissa Fatoumata Touré began as a little fun experiment. I submitted precisely what Ars Electronica asked for and spiced it up with some toilet humour. I wanted to know how they'd react to such a rather ridiculous submission. It worked out far better than I thought: As I heard later, Melissa's toilet project was the first that got accepted by the jury - and they were even a bit sad that the other submissions didn't even come close to the 'quality' of Melissas proposal. Well, this is what the jury said.
To answer your last two questions: As far as I know, the organizers really had no clue what was going on until Melissa presented her work via Skype and with a live video broadcast from her uncle's internetcafé in Africa. That happened about three weeks after the opening of the exhibition, as far as I remember. But you should not forget that they've never seen Melissa before this presentation. It was all organized just via email and phone calls. There was a lot of imagination involved. On both sides actually: I also could just imagine what the organizers in Linz would think about Melissa. And during the long process of preparing the exhibition and the installation, I often had the feeling that Ars Electronica wouldn't believe Melissa's identity anymore and that they're already playing with me.
I like your explanation of why Melissa is 'the perfect dream of every new media curator.' And i couldn't help but smirk at 'her ideas are distilled media art mainstream.' Could you elaborate on this? What are 'distilled media art mainstream' ideas? Do i perceive a certain disenchantment/fatigue with media art theories and ideas? Or am i completely wrong?
I'm not even sure if ideas and theory play such a big role if you want to become successful in this field. Here are some simple lessons that I've learned so far:
1st: Don't be an artist. You should be an architect or have a background in biology, or something else more or less unrelated. Melissa was actually a computer scientist. Talking about Melissa: Your gender also plays a role. Being a woman beats being a man, as women are extremely underrepresented in this field.
2nd: No matter what you're really up to, I can recommend you to also make some experimental electronic music. This adds an interesting layer to your personality. Your level of musicality doesn't matter as that's the point where the experimental part starts.
3rd: Buzzwords and -topics are your friends and your source of inspiration. You might consider to become active in the fields of biotech, sustainability or, of course, Facebook.
You explain that you created the Vektron modular because sometimes you need to listen to some strange zoundz. That sounds (to me at least) like a lot of work just for the sake of listening to some strange zoundz. I was wondering how often you create a work just for your own amusement. How much are you influenced by the possible feedback from public, the future reaction of the audience during the creative process? Do you give it much importance when you are developing a new work?
Building this synthesizer was actually an attempt to add an interesting layer to my personality. But I didn't want to write it so clear on my webpage, as this would have caused the reverse effect. Ok, now serious: I regard the development of things like this experimental Synthesizer as both, spare time fun and hands on research. I do that as often as possible as it often leads me to new ideas. The hard thing is actually to organize life an a way that you have so much spare time where you can work really free.
I was very impressed by the little video documenting the Reinventing Television workshop you headed a the Valand Art School in Gothenburg. Can you take us through a couple of projects that turned old tv sets into 'storytelling machines'?
This was really a nice workshop. Anna Kindvall, one of the directors of Malmö's Electrohype biennial was teacher there at that time and invited me. The idea was to take old TV's and build new machines inside or with them. I often built TV's out of cardboard boxes when I was a child and don't get me wrong, now, but I think when something was a lot of fun to do in childhood, it's always nice to make the same things with art students.
My Little Piece of Privacy is a curtain that moves along your studio window to protect you from the gaze of passersby and achieves precisely the opposite. I have the feeling that it is also the kind of idea that the 'creatives' in advertising and communication agencies would love to steal for their clients. Has anything like that ever happened to you? Have people from advertising ever approached you with a request to adapt one of your projects for their client? Is it something you'd be happy to do?
This installation is indeed an amazing attention-magnet. But the installation makes so much sense because it is just about a little hyperactive curtain. If the curtain would be replaced by a moving advertisement, it would be just poor. Maybe the 'creatives' which wanted to steal the idea also realized that. At least they didn't contact me and I haven't heard of any spin-offs, yet.
I guess the previous question calls for the upcoming one: The first time i saw your work was at Transmediale where you were showing Pongmechanik. You were still a student at the udk in Berlin at the time. As far as i can see you're still a happy independent artist doing exactly what takes his fancy. How do you do that? Do you have any advice for talented media art students who would like to actually have a career as media artist and not as 'creative' doing websites for an 'interactive design' company?
I think I answered that already in two different ways: My personal trick is mainly to organize life in a way that I have a lot of time (and at least enough money) to work on things that I find interesting. Working in a company will not really help, as this takes too much time.
How did you start being involved in media art? What attracted you in this field?
It was actually many years ago, when a friend took me for my first time to the Transmediale. I was working in the film business at that time, creating visual effects for feature films. This Transmediale visit caused two things: On the one hand, I've never seen so many interesting installations at one place before. I loved the way how technology was used in this very creative way. And on the other hand, I saw that there's plenty of space to make even more interesting things with technology. That's why I started to get involved in this field.
I saw the International Dance Party once in an exhibition in Amsterdam. i was alone in the room and could afford to throw away any kind of inhibition. But you must have witnessed the effect it has on a group of people. How do people react to it usually? Are they very self-conscious? Or rather extrovert?
Like the curtain, the IDP works amazingly well. But of course, there's a little bit of chain reaction involved. If one person starts to dance, it doesn't take long until the whole room takes off. The sad thing about this is, that I really like how the machine opens and closes and how it transforms its shape. People which are just dancing don't recognize that, as the installation always stays in full party mode. If that's the case, I sometimes try to convince the people to stop dancing. First they don't approve my suggestion, but if they do, they love the installation even more afterwards.
Has anyone ever bought the Beginner Set "Junior IDP"?
That's my main income!
Any upcoming project or exhibition that you'd like to share with us?
Yes, there's this exhibition in Barcelona's DHUB opening soon. The vernissage is on June 21st.
And then, there's another exhibition, called 'Paranoia' which is still going on in Lille's Gare St. Sauveur. Charles Carcopino curated this really great show. I can 100% recommend it and it's still running until 15th of August.
Photography used on the homepage is by Martin W. Maier.