By now you have probably realized that i keep going back and forth between the various art and design events i attended over the past few weeks. Today i return to the GAMERZ festival in Aix-en-Provence because 1. i want to remind you that this truly unique event is going to close on Sunday 2. i just interviewed the lovely and very frenchy Isabelle Arvers who not only curated a machinima show for the GAMERZ exhibition but is also one of the most respected experts in art and video games, 8it music and free + opensource culture in France.
The program of machinimas is currently exhibited at Arcade Paca, an agency for performing art in Aix-en-Provence. Isabelle's selection is remarkably diversified. Some of the machinimas comment on current social issues, others have a critical view on the very game platforms they are using. Other again play with the codes that produce the synthetic universes. Some are sarcastic, other are poetical.
Since i had the chance to catch up with Isabelle i had her talk about her curatorial work for GAMERZ but also about the machinima scene in her country.
Can you tell us something about the machinima scene in France? Who are its actors but also how well is the genre received both by the broad public and by cultural institutions in the country?
I began to show machinimas in 2005. It was at the Pompidou Center, in a show untitled Machinima vs Demos and we invited Burnie Burns to talk about the serial Red vs Blue, which helped the machinima movement to become famous. The same year, Xavier Lardy created the website Machinima.fr
It was just three years after the first machinima film festival edition in New York. At that time there was very few French machinimas. Alex Chan directed his political machinima The French Democracy in 2005 just after the French riots. But to give you an idea of how this movement was mostly anglo saxon, he subtitled it in english and then posted it on the Movies website. One year later, Bill & John, an other French machinima, directed by KBS Productions won many prices in machinima festivals.
During those years the French machinima scene was quite reduced, or was more intended to emerge in the amateur short film scene (and was mostly narrative). But since 2008, a new scene has been growing. Now we can talk about a French scene. Along the amateur scene, some artists began to work with machinima : like Benjamin Nuel, Nicolas Boone or Les Riches Douaniers.
Also something quite boring is now happening : some young directors make machinima to become famous and to be able to say that they are movie makers... Really strange for me who thinks that what is interesting in machinima is the reverse engineering part in it.
Anyway, from 2005 to 2008, some festivals like the Flash Festival or the Animation film festival in Annecy, asked me to curate special machinima programs. Also, there is a machinima section inside the Short film festival in Clermont Ferrand. Nemo festival is also showing machinima, first by inviting the machinima section of the Bitfilm Festival in Hambourg, then also by asking me to curate programs or with the invitation of Chris Burke, the talented and great director of This Spartan LIfe, the talk show shot in Halo 2 & 3.
So we can say that there is some interest for the machinimas by the institutions. Since 2009, Margherita Balzerani is also organizing the Atopic film festival, first intended to be a festival related to virtual universes it then became a machinima festival last year with the help of Xavier Lardy. As for the festival last year, I am part of the jury of this festival and the selection this year is quite interesting because there are less films directed in Second Life, regarding last year, which is a good point for me!!
About the audience, we began with 13 people in the room and now we can fill big venues, that's great...
What guided your curatorial choices for the selection of machinimas you are presenting at Gamerz? Did you pick up the best machinimas you had seen over the past few months/years? Or were you guided by a particular theme? Or else by a desire to show the versatility of the genre in 9 films?
Normally, when i curate a machinima program, i try to show the diversity of the genre, while presenting, narrative, humorist short films, artistic or experimental movies, documentaries, adds, video clips, etc Often I am in the discovery perspective and want to show what is possible to do in movie making with games. But this year, I wanted to be a bit more radical and wanted to show more engaged videos. Some of them like Participation or Google Stooge are critical about Second Life, social networks or digital marketing. I was also very interested by the work of David Griffith (which is really beautiful) as it is the result of a live coding performance. Also I was attracted by the work of Julian Oliver while it is the result of a glitch. Then, there are few French machinimas movies by Benjamin Nuel, Les Riches Douaniers or Frédéric Nakache which are meditative, or like live portraits... I also love the work of William Flink: very short and abstract films, i really like his universe.
Some of the works you have selected seem to have a fairly critical view on the virtual worlds they engage with. Can you comment on this 'orientation'?
As i wanted something new, i decided to contact the Piksel mailing list as I was part of Piksel, the free and open source software festival in Bergen, Norway some years ago. That is how i found Participation by Linda , and the videos by Julian Oliver and David Griffith. This is how i chooses to make part of my selection. I think that the artist network is always the best to find deep good artworks...
I also just wrote an article about machinimas for a book edited by Norie Neumark (Cheats or glitch ? Voice as a game modification in Machinima) in which i compare machinima to situationists movies, while defining voice in machinimas as a game modification. Mass consumption objects are often really good to give critical point of views to a broader audience!!!
The GAMERZ festival seems to be pretty unique to me. Not only if one looks at France but also at the rest of Europe. How have you seen it evolve over its very short existence?
Thanks for them! Really! and i absolutely share your point of view. There is an international game art scene (Cory Arcangel, Eddo Stern, Alex Galloway, Mathias Fuchs, Margarete Jahrman, etc.) that you often find in game art exhibits. They are the "names" in that scene. What is interesting in Gamerz is that it not only focuses on game and art but also on fun, ludic and interactive artworks. The artists are often emerging artists, not so famous, but with a very deep critical view of the artworld and information society. I think that this festival is great because it is the result of a huge work to find artists thanks to an artistic network. Always the best artists are found and invited by other artists. Dardex M2F is an artists collective, it is like that that we first met. Anne Roquigny a friend of mine who works for the laboratory Locus Sonus at the Art school of Aix-en-Provence advised me to meet them some years ago, because they were just out of that school at that time. We immediately decided to work together and i joined them for the third or fourth edition...
First the festival began in an art gallery and grew each year. When we first met, the budget was really tiny, now it is getting better and looks like a "respectable" festival, a parcours of artworks with a very diverse selection. This year I particularly enjoyed the work of Labomedia and also of Selma... i found it very sensitive.
What is nice also is the work done with La Maison Numérique in Aix-en-Provence. Dardex decided to create a production place to invite artists in residence, they work at la Maison Numérique and sleep at the Vazarely Foundation. It is really important as we are so poor in France for digital art production. Since the CICV disappeared we don't have real production place for digital art which is very sad for a country like France.
Any upcoming project of yours (exhibition, performance, articles, workshopes, etc) you'd like to share with us?
Thanks for asking it!! So, this year I am preparing two exhibitions. One in Marseille at the Library Alcazar in March 2011 : a retro gaming exhibition untitled Game Heroes. There will be also an other exhibit related to game art, reverse engineering and machinimas : le Salon Numérique at La Maison Populaire in April 2011.
Tonight, I am showing a new WJ-S performance (project by Anne Roquigny) about retro gaming with a Game Boy music set by Confipop (tonight at Seconde Nature for the Festival Gamerz), then, we will give WJ-S workshops with Anne in France in 2011 (Valenciennes.)
I am also really happy to make machinima workshops with youngsters from the suburb area. I began them in October and each time I work with a collaborator : Benjamin Nuel for a machinima workshop in Lyon coordinated by a contemporary music scene, L'épicerie moderne. I also work with Alutt, the administrator of the French community website of the Movies. We are both working on machinima workshops in Strasbourg, on the invitation of Ososphère, a digital music and art festival. In january, I will give a new machinima workshop at the Pompidou Center, in the new teenager gallery which is at the level -1 of the Center. This time I will give it with my partner: Emmanuel Mayoud.
I am really happy about those workshops, it has been so many years that i wanted to create that. I contacted so many institutions to do it and finally this year there is an interest and I really believe that it is important to do it. Because we have to show that it is possible to divert mass consumption objects to express ourselves, with games but also with the net (using wj-s to show that the net is a space of creation to quote Anne Roquigny!!)
I try to democratize this phenomenon and I hope that for many youngsters it will become a new means of expression.
Finally, I am also quite happy with a new activity I am leading this year : I train people to use Pleade, a free software developed by the company of my brother Jean Luc Arvers in Bordeaux: AJLSM. Pleade is a free software dedicated to publish archives and make them searchable. I am discovering the archive world and how the memory of a country is preserved and what is preserved and how... For me it is absolutely fascinating, i love this new job and all the people it makes me meet... Last time i was at the National Superior School to work on the archives of Michel Foucault: Les Mots et les Choses. Another time we were working on the publication of the Charcot archives about magnetism and hypnotism.... at Jussieu University.
I tend to relate that work to the net.art and digital art preservation and how bridges can be built. I am also very happy to train people in the use of free software, it comes really well with my ethics!
Check out Isabelle's selection of Machinima at Arcade Paca in Aix-en-Provence. It is part of the GAMERZ festival which remains open in various art galleries in Aix-en-Provence until 19th December, 2010.
Looks like gamescenes beat me to it! Read Game Art: Isabelle Arvers on the French Game Art scene.
The installation borrows the name of the famous tennis champion, except that the sole role humans can play here is the most humble one: picking up lost balls. That's if they dare to approach NADAL.
In NADAL's degenerated form of tennis, several tennis ball machines propel balls on a meticulously calibrated trajectory that animate and play with the architectural space.
The description of the installation was so succinct (something the French have not quite used me to!) that i decided to ask Paul Destieu a couple of questions about his curious machine:
The text on your website says that "The machine propels balls on a meticulously calibrated trajectory in order to generate a space emulation." Can you tell us how you calibrated this trajectory? How was this calibration designed (technically) and why you designed it that way? To what purpose?
The project NADAL is an attempt to develop a game of bouncing balls and trajectories which runs in loop through the space. This circuit is activated by 4 tennis ball machines, each of them functions as checkpoints for the balls and they are calibrated in order to shape a relay form. The calibration is also developed with a site specific concern, in order to produce some bouncing interactions and a vigorous circulation in the environment where it is integrated.
At the Fondation Vasarely, the circuit is based on a symmetrical pattern of trajectories and it produces a circulation all around the central column of the hexagonal shaped room. I use the several grounds/sides of the space - walls, ceiling and ground - to enable a physical activation and a confrontation with the architectural scale.
Are the tennis ball machines interacting with each other or does each one follow its own rules?
The installation is launched by a motion censor which aims at synchronizing the global circuit, then the machine is set in order to feed the other one. If the interaction between the 4 machines is reduced to a minimal level, the purview takes its revenge on the dialogue that is engaged with the architecture. The interaction is perhaps shifted to the relation between the machines and their environment which equally rules the system and articulates it.
When i saw the installation at the Fondation Vasarely i was particularly seduced by the sound. Then i was irritated, because the machine seemed to be happy to play on its own and no human was necessary, except to collect balls. I can't decide whether you made the project because you love or hate tennis. Or is project NADAL a twisted take on the ever so popular "interactivity"?
The sound definitely plays an important role in this installation. The motors produces a latent mechanical background noise punctuated by the impacts of balls. Depending on the speed of the balls, the bounces are more or less violent and echo through the space as an answer to the architecture.
The machines which are used in this installation are rudimentary kinds of tennis robots. Like every machines, their are designed with a margin of error and they love expressing it.
The project NADAL is an attempt to get close to a geometrical fantasy. By facing the limits of performance and failure, by challenging borders between a champion and a machine, it can be seen as one of the constant love & hate story (interaction) which shapes our relationship with technologies.
What are the minimum architectural space characteristics that the work requires? Is the effect of the installation completely different whether the room is larger, smaller, higher, etc?
The installation NADAL can be adapted to many configurations, but the most minimal one I could think of, still requires a basket for the machine to enable the reception of the balls and of course electricity. The first version of the project was supplied by a single machine that was looping on its own. I recently presented in Maribor, Slovenia, a version based on two arches facing each other, leading the visitor's flow on an orthogonal circuit around the looping relay.
I first imagined NADAL in an outdoor urban context, but it seems that the indoor configuration produced an efficient contrast out of the strength of the ejected balls compressed in a closed environment. That was my very late discovery of Squash, it felt like you could get a raw and physical taste of surrounding walls which could be a solid starting point of work.
In both of these practices, it seems that there is an hijacking process of the close environment. Walls and buildings loose their natures of physical borders to be turned into playgrounds. It was also my approach in this work, I tried to take advantage
Just a really quick post to tell you that if you live within a 4 hours by TGV radius from lovely Aix-en-Provence, you should head to your car or the nearest train station and visit the sixth edition of the GAMERZ festival. I had to chance to attend the opening and i can tell you it's good. Very good.
GAMERZ festival runs until the 19th December and spreads to various cultural centers all over the city. The focus of the festival is gaming of course but the installations, performances, robots, screenings, talks and video games by 85 French and international artists also reach out to other areas where contemporary art and new technologies interact. Not strictly and solely game thus but there's always an element of entertainment. And in many cases, a critical agenda as well.
Just a few images as a teaser and i'll be back with a series of reports when i'm done sorting out all the images and information laying in and around my lapotop.
You can visit the GAMERZ festival until the 19th December, 2010 in Aix-en-Provence, France.
I never paid much attention to the machinima genre so far. The FILE Machinima section of the FILE festival in Sao Paulo proved me how wrong i was. Many of the movies selected by Curator Fernanda Albuquerque de Almeida are indeed little gems. I'll just mention Wizard Of OS: The fish incident by Tom Jantol, a short based on Nikola Tesla's notes on his experiment with a mysterious antivirus device he named "The Wizard of OS" and Clockwork, by Ian Friar aka Iceaxe. Set in the totalitarian Republic of Britain, Clockwork tells the story of a police officer on a mission to track down an "undesirable".
The movie that received most attention from both the public and the members of the File Prix Lux however is War of Internet Addiction, a machinima advocacy production that voices the concerns of the mainland Chinese World of Warcraft community. Although the machinima was created with WoW players in mind, the video strikes a chord with the broader public by pointing the finger to the lack of Internet freedom in the country and conveying a general feeling of helplessness.
The main frustration of mainland Chinese WoW players is that the access to the game has been limited and interrupted for months because of a conflict between two government regulatory bodies. The video also denounces battles and issues that took place in China over the previous 15 months or so: electroshock therapy for purported internet addiction (the Health Ministry has mercifully asked for the treatment to stop); the government's attempts to enforce installations on all new pc sold in mainland China of the Green Dam Youth Escort filter; the competition between the county's primary game servers over licensing renewal rights, etc.
Players are also tired of being stigmatized by mainstream media as 'addicts' because of their love of game or simply because they tend to spend hours in front of their computer. The character of the villain of the film, Yang Yongxin, is actually based on a psychiatrist who used shock-therapy to treat so-called "Internet Addiction."
Within days of its release the 64-minute video was banned from a few video sites in China, but that didn't prevent the movie from becoming even more popular on-line than Avatar nor from winning the Best Video award in the Tudou Video Film awards for online films and animations in an awards ceremony that some see as China's version of Sundance. The machinima also received an honorable mention at FILE Prix Lux. Not bad for a zero budget film made in 3 months with the help of 100 volunteers who cooperated through the Internet.
Warning! Many of the jokes, memes and references in War of Internet Addicition are hard to grasp if you're not familiar with Chinese net culture. Fortunately, a public document listing the background information has been posted posted online.
Interview with Corndog, director, script writer and coordinator of the movie, on WSJ.
See also: Homo Ludens Ludens - Gold Farmers.
Previous entries about FILE festival: Heart Chamber Orchestra, Scrapbook from the ongoing FILE festival and Feeding the Tardigotchi. The FILE exhibition is open until August 29, 2010. Address: Fiesp - Ruth Cardoso Cultural Center - Av. Paulista, 1313, São Paulo - Metro Trianon-Masp.
Quick update from FILE, the Electronic Language International Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Proper report will land on your desk soon but here's a quickie before i head back to the exhibition.
Yesterday, i participated to the conference and got to listen to some pretty interesting talks. Artists' talks in particular. The first speakers of the afternoon were Matthew Kenyon and Douglas Easterly from SWAMP (Studies of Work Atmosphere and Mass Production) + Tiago Rorke who presented their latest work, the Tardigotchi.
As its name indicates, the Tardigotchi is a hybrid between two pets: an alife avatar that descends from to the '90s Tamagotchi and a less famous but living organism called tardigrade.
Now tardigrades are starting to get like a house on fire with new media artists. Anthony Hall has been studying them for a couple of years and Andy Gracie used them to investigate the impact of electromagnetic fields and radio waves on microbial species. More recently he built robots that actively look for them. The tardigrades, also known as "water bears," are microscopic animals with eight legs. They can be found all over the world and are able to survive in extreme environments. Some can endure temperatures as low as -273°C (-460 °F) or as high as 151 °C (303 °F). They can stand 1,000 times more radiation than other animals and can go for almost a decade without water. They are also the only animals known to be able to survive the vacuum of space.
The alife avatar is a caricature of the tardigrade, its behaviour is partially autonomous, but it also mimics some of the tardigrade's activities. Tardigrade and avatar live side by side inside a portable computing sphere. The brass enclosure houses the alife avatar in an LED screen and the tardigrade within a prepared slide.
A Tardigotchi owner tends to a real and a virtual creature simultaneously.
Once a day Tardigotchi signals the owner that it is hungry. To feed the Tardigotchi, the owner must place it on the docking station and press a button to send nutrients. A syringe filled with moss-water is then directed through the silicon wall of the tardigrade's home where it pumps a small amount of food and fresh water. Meanwhile, the microcontroller relays the feeding animation to the alife avatar. After the motors have removed the syringe from the miniature ecosystem and pulled the apparatus back into a neutral position, the avatar loops through a short animation which displays his full belly.
You can contact the Tardigotchi through Facebook or by email (tardigotchi (@t) tardigotchi.com). When new messages are detected, a bluetooth signal is sent to the sphere, a small incandescent lamp is briefly turned on, which gently warms the tardigrade's enclosure, while also running a short animation showing the avatar basking in the sun.
Meet the Tardigotchi in person until August 29 at the FILE festival in Sao Paulo.
The title of the exhibition, Ceci n'est pas un Casino (This is not a Casino), refers to a sentence that the people working at Casino Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain have repeated over and over again. The Casino is an art center, not a gambling establishment. You're not there to play!
No matter loud and clear the warning was, it is rather confusing to enter the (non-)casino building and find yourself in front of video consoles, a trampoline, a pin-ball machine, games of dart, a billiard table, a playground, loads of balls, etc. Yet, the works are playing with you rather than the opposite. You instantly loose every single game of Mortal Kombat, the ceiling of the room where a huge trampoline has been installed is far too low for you to even stand on your feet, the hula hoop is monopolized by a big cactus, the mohair bascketball net is 130 m long, fences deny any access to the playground, etc.
The artworks selected for Ceci n'est pas un Casino amplify the vexation experienced by visitors when enter the space thinking that they will enjoy games of chance. The exhibition is tantalizing, baffling, frustrating but it's also light, fun and sometimes thought-provoking. Just what games should be!
But what is underscored here is the double twist and frustration associated with gaming. Art and game-playing--which have often been compared in recent art criticism--are in fact similar practices: both call for (indeed, embody) a free spirit on one hand, and a precise set of rules on the other hand. Both tend to set up binary oppositions that give rise to meanings, symbols and related emotions--like a goal that has either been scored or not scored, once and for all, a status that inherently generates intense, wide-ranging reactions from everyone involved (players, referees, spectators, commentators, TV viewers). This relationship between binary status and analogue reaction is specific to games yet is mirrored in the artistic techniques employed in these works.
Quick walk through:
Antoinette J. Citizen filled a whole room with a Landscape from Super Mario Brothers. Every element is at the scale of the visitor. On the walls are question mark boxes that you can press to recreate the sounds from the game.
Patrick Bérubé moved the floor of another exhibition room upwards to install the most frustrating trampoline i've ever seen. The ceiling is so low you have to bend in half if you want to get near the trampoline. Forget about jumping on it:
Jacob Dahlgren's I, The World, Things, Life fills a whole wall with dartboards. Visitors are invited to help themselves with the red darts on offer in nearby cardboard boxes and play a game of darts. Except that the exercise is absurd. How do you check if you've scored? Which red dart is your dart? Seen from afar, the wall dissolves into a big abstract painting that keeps changing as more people come inside the gallery and throw darts.
I never thought i'd ever feel sad for a bumper car but here i was, almost shedding a tear for Pierre Ardouvin's Love Me Tender. Not only is there only one bumper car, but its track is far too small and the music played is the desolate Love Me Tender.
In a recent interview, Pierre Ardouvin explained that Love me tender was made for a solo show at FIAC (Paris' Contemporary Art Fair). By bringing side by side art fair and fairground, the work can be seen as a critique of the art world and its narrowness but it's also a work about solitude.
Stéphane Thidet's Park photo series picture entertainments parks at their least entertaining. Glum, dark, foggy and almost abandoned.
All my pictures from the exhibition.
On view at the Casino is also a wonderful sound installation by Hong-Kai Wang. Music While You Work is the result of a six week exploration of factories around the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg by the Taiwanese artist.
Ceci n'est pas un Casino was curated by Jo Kox and Kevin Muhlen. It is open at Casino Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain until 5 September 2010.