GaMe!, a group exhibition you can check out until March 24 at the [DAM] gallery in Berlin, presents positions by six international artists on the subject of computer games and electronic toys.
The show is rather small but it covers a surprisingly large spectrum of game art practices. More importantly, GaMe! is one of those rare exhibitions about game art which favours the artistic approach over the more accessible attractions of playfulness and interactivity.
You'll understand immediately my point when i tell you that one of the games on show is all about mania, melancholia, and the creative process. The unassuming 8-bit graphics and very straightforward gameplay of Jason Rohrer's Gravitation offers a striking contrast to the poignant challenge that the player has to face: find the right balance -if there's one- between family life and creative achievement.
In order to get the stars (your own projects to develop) from the sky, you have to play ball with your kid to expand your view of a screen (aka the outside world) which is mostly dark at the beginning of the game. The higher you can jump, the more you get to discover the screen/outside world. The music closely adapts to your choices. Becoming either more cheerful as your vision of the world expands or colder as it shrinks back to black. As destructoid explains: Grabbing a star causes it to fall back to your home area (home life), where it becomes a difficult-to-move stone with a timer on it. Pushing a star stone into a fireplace earns you the amount of points still remaining on the stone (the quality of an idea deteriorates over time). Getting more than one star at once causes the star stones to build up, separating you from your son, whom you ironically need to play with in order to get more stars. Ultimately, the game shows that pursuing creative exploits both requires and alienates the people you love. Conversely, dedicating all your attention to your child means that your creative fervor will burn out. The morale of the story hurts but the work -which btw is autobiographical- was a great discovery for me.
Gravitation is available as a free download.
The player (or players) controls organ hunters aboard a helicopter with the goal to harvest a number of hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, pancreata, and intestines. The organs don't just lie around for you. You have to kill their owner first from the helicopter. When you've massacred enough people, you jump in parachute and start to open the corpses and remove the organs you need to complete your list of vital body parts. While keeping tabs on the helicopter. The Thrill of Combat is heartless, cynical, and submersed into a seducing block-coloured urban landscape.
I was more familiar with the work of the other artists invited to participate to the show:
GaMe! is open until March 24 at the [DAM] gallery in Berlin.
Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art, an exhibition curated by Domenico Quaranta for Laboral's new Mediateca Expandida, explores the role played by music in the adoption and manipulation of obsolete technologies: vinyls, old computers, game platforms, etc. The format of Mediateca Expandida goes beyond the traditional exhibition format, allowing visitors to touch and play with the same instruments that the artists have developed and sometimes use in their performances, offering a lounge to listen to dozens of 8-bit music tunes, a programme of concerts, etc.
Music take center stage in the exhibition but Playlist has also a very physical dimension that deals with the pleasure of manipulating and tweaking the devices and the aesthetic delectation in the vintage look of arcades and handheld consoles, breathing new life into devices which would otherwise have been given a one way ticket to the e-waste inferno after only a couple of years of existence.
Pong is an analogue recreation of the 1970s Atari arcade videogame. Released in 1972, Pong was the first videogame to achieve widespread popularity in both arcade and home console. André Gonçalves gave Pong a new twist by excluding the physics behind its programming algorithms. Instead his installation relies a physical process: it's the air blown by small fans that controls a real ping-pong ball.
The machine is made of two pieces connected through a cable and located in different rooms. The first part is a coin-operated arcade wooden box (picture above) with analog joysticks, buttons and 2 tv screens, one showing the graphics and another displaying the game view.
The main part of the installation awaits you in a dark room. It is a wooden structure where all the physical action of the game occurs, filmed by a video camera.
Check out this video of the installation:
Because early Game Boy models had the shape and almost the weight of a brick, Game Boy musicians sometimes call them "bricks". Gijs Gieskes took the idea literally by crafting and baking a Gameboy Bricks. He then then erected a wall of Gameboy Bricks, and left ivy grew over it for archeologists to maybe uncover them one day, when all the original plastic Gameboy will have disappeared.
Joey Mariano's Juvenile Amplifier embraces the cult for chiptune with gusto. As a kid, the artist took delight in listening to the sound coming from the single mono speaker of his gameboy, but he wanted the sound to be louder. His Juvenile Amplifier beefs up the sound without the use of headphones or a large PA system.
With Protopixel HARDcade, by VjVISUALOOP embedded a software into a vintage videogame arcade cabinet. Visitors can create live visuals using the original joystick and buttons. The visuals are generated by the software and displayed through the monitor of the cabinet and two video projectors. The monitor displays the images at a rather blurred and slow refresh rates (15Khz), in a similar way to the '80s arcade games. The images projected on the walls are more crisp. The moving images are low resolution, have limited frame rate and set of colours, as well as loops and "old school" effects such as colour cycling and '80s style patterns. The software also includes electronic 8-bit glitch sound, related to the images displayed on the screens.
The opening of the exhibition was quite a success. Great performance by VjVISUALOOP and Jeff Donaldson/noteNdo, lovely food (as always in Asturias) and a big crowd of people who seemed to be genuinely interested. However, the number of young people was disappointingly low. Which makes me want to end with the conclusion of Kevin Driscoll and Joshua Diaz' essay for the Playlist catalog: "The artists of the Game Boy generation may be the last for whom chiptunes can hold a nostalgic appeal. Will their fans simply age with them, or will the chirping arpeggios, square waves, and creative spirirt of chiptune music similarly captivate a younger audience reared on PlayStation and the Xbox?"
Previously: Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art.
Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art, an exhibition curated by Domenico Quaranta for Laboral's new Mediateca Expandida, explores the role played by music in the adoption and manipulation of obsolete technologies: vinyls, old computers, game platforms, etc.
Playlist follows a long long trails of game-related exhibitions at Laboral (see for example Homo Ludens Ludens) and just when i thought "oh nooo! Not another one!", they managed to bring an exciting new perspective on the world of game art.
Despite its geeky, garage, masculine aura, Chiptune music is less anecdotal a theme as one might think. It didn't exactly become the new "folk music for the digital age" nor the "next step in the evolution of rock and roll" that Malcolm McLaren, the legendary ex-manager of the Sex Pistols, had forecast but that's probably part of its charm. If chiptune music had found its way towards mass culture after roughly two decades of existence, you'd see this exhibition at MOMA or the Fondation Cartier, not at a more adventurous space like Laboral. This doesn't mean that chip tune music 'failed' to reach the music charts. It's just that it would probably lose its soul if it were assimilated by corporations and turned into mainstream candy.
Paul Slocum, c=64 synth, 2003
Chip music is low-key. Its scene is relatively small, its sound is raw and lo-fi, but more importantly, its tools are outmoded goods of mass consumption. This obsolescence of the media was at the heart of curator Quaranta's reflections. The very essence of chip music is indeed at odds with the so-called 'planned obsolescence' model that has come to be part and parcel of the industrial stream of electronic goods since the early decades of the 20th century. By 'upcycling' vintage computer and video game systems, hacking, tweaking and bringing to light their untapped potential or turning their very shortcomings into musical or visual features, the artists and computer hobbyists not only defy any assumption that their passion is only driven by nostalgia, they also go against this almost universally endorsed model of planned obsolescence. In the florid essay he wrote for the Playlist catalog, Matteo Bittanti reminds us what a great purveyor of quotes McLuhan was. He believed that "obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it's just the beginning."
Here's the first part of my report about the exhibition.
Jeff Donaldson/noteNdo's RESET v2.0 embodies perfectly the way the 8-bit community makes the most of the defects and limitations that come with old game consoles. Each NES console has been prepared to instigate generative system crashes/malfunctions which are triggered by laser light. As the participant walks through the installation space/laser field, different audio-visual effects are produced when different beams are obstructed. The work is inspired by system glitches, or imperfections, which are unique to the 8-bit NES hardware. In provoking these errors, abstract and colourful effects, unintended by the commercial systems designers, are produced.
Eat Shit, by Jeremiah Johnson/Nullsleep and Don Miller/NO CARRIER, demonstrates again artists' interest for glitches and data corruption. The interactive installation explores controlled data corruption on the Nintendo Entertainment System, based around Johann Sebastian Bach's piano piece Minuet in G.
They might be using outdated instruments but the close-knit chiptune community has its feet firmly planted in today's sharing culture. Gino Esposito wrapped all the knowledge and the years of work of micromusic.net - the first 8-bit and low-tech music Internet community platform - into microbuilder. The "community construction kit" package offers amateurs all they need to create a successful internet community. The software can be installed easily, you learn quickly how to operate the system and the package is simple to adapt and extend. In the book you can browse through the history of Internet communities, the process of building up micromusic.net and other online projects. Illustrations and graphic art work from micromusic.net artists will give you a lasting visual impression and the installation guide makes the software installation process as quick-and-easy as possible. And of course you can listen to the included audio CD.
Homage to DIY/"pirate" multicarts often found in Hong Kong markets which take multiple games and illegally cram them all on one cartridge, Paul B. Davis's aptly called 5 in 1 crams multiple artworks from the Beige catalogue. There are stylistic nods to multicart culture in the somewhat awkward main selection screen, the misspelling of the component names (this is also a reference to bootleg hip-hop records), the lack of navigation instructions, and a slightly buggy feel. However, its authentic/illegal "pirate" nature is tempered by the fact that the source codes for most Beige artworks are freely available from their website. Anyone could download and make their own edition of the original pieces if they learned the technique and could be bothered. This is the paradox of "open source" software when manifested in an art object: the object is reduced to the application of a technical skill because the code/ concepts already exist in the public domain (except, of course, for Davis' code that runs this multicart).
To be continued....
Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art, an exhibition curated by Domenico Quaranta for Laboral's new Mediateca Expandida, explores the role played by music in the adoption and manipulation of obsolete technologies: vinyls, old computers, game platforms, etc. I'm going to be the usual procrastinator and promise that i'll come back with a report later on this week. I might be a vile idler but at least i'm a fairly generous one.
First, here's a link to the kick-ass catalog of the exhibition with essays by the curator and other experts, a brief description of the dozens of artworks selected and a list of the concerts that accompany the show.
Another link, this time to a series of videos by Raquel Meyers. I didn't know her name before visiting Playlist. Shame on me! She's one of the most famous and active VJs and video makers of the chiptune music community. More importantly, she is extremely talented.
Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art is the second exhibition of Laboral's new Mediateca Expandida, a multidisciplinary space dedicated to cultural projects hovering at the border between mainstream culture and experimental research. You can visit it until May 17, 2010 at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain.
Photo on the homepage: Raquelmeyers. Photo by Florence Bourgade.
While in Barcelona for the LOOP festival, i had the wonderful opportunity to attend a talk by Harun Farocki, an independent filmmaker who has spent the past decades investigating the relationship between technology and our representation and understanding of the world. I only got to discover his work at Documenta XII where 12 screens were showing in real time different views of the 2006 World Cup final (France - Italy), some were surveillance camera footage, some focused on isolated players, others overlaid the game with graphic and statistical analysis of ball direction and player speed. Titled Deep Screen, the installation provided an excellent case of 'too information kills information.'
Harun Farocki's presentation in Barcelona focused on two of his short experimental documentaries which, each in its own way, explore the status of new technical images.
I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts (video extract) is a two-screen installation. On the first screen are images from the maximum- security prison in Corcoran, California. A surveillance camera shows a concrete yard where the prisoners are allowed to spend half an hour a day. The camera suddenly zooms in on a fight between two prisoners. Those not involved lay flat on the ground, arms over their heads. They know that fires rubber bullets are coming if the convicts ignore the warning calls. If the fight continues, the guard shoots real bullets. The pictures are silent. The camera and the gun are right next to each other. This video also emphasizes the social relationship between the one who fires and the one who films, between the one with force and the one who takes shots. After that, it takes nine minutes before the convict is taken away on a stretcher. Farocki explained that in the course of 10 years, guns went off 2000 times in the prison. Hundreds of inmates were wounded, a few dozen heavily injured, five were shot dead.
The second screen displays found sequences, images generated by computers that track shoppers as they move through the aisle of the supermarket.
Unlike the prison sub-genre that the cinema industry produces, the images that surveillance camera churn out are excruciating to watch. There's no artificial condensation of time nor space that even the cheapest tv show can create, no close-up, no director trick that would shorten time, no possibility to re-install the camera, sometimes the images have such a low definition they are hard to read. What these images have however is a high level of authenticity, of believability.
Farocki pointed us to Prison Focus, a Californian organization which, in virtue of the Freedom of Information Act, makes prison surveillance images public.
Check also this interview of Farocki about I Thought I was Seeing Convicts.
The second film, Farocki discussed was Immersion (2009). He recently attended a workshop where films war veterans undergoing therapy for their Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the Institute for Creative Technologies, a research centre that develops and uses virtual reality and games to recruit and train the soldiers, but also to treat them. The traumatized soldier has to done a head mounted display and immerse himself into the first person shooter game while a psychotherapist coax them into re-living the most traumatizing moments of their war experience.
What interested the film maker was the fact that if in the past an image was a direct reference, today it is in competition with images generated by computer science. The computer image have now acquired a higher status of believability because scientists have worked together to tune it and make it as close to the reality as possible. These sophisticated models are now competing with 'the real thing.'
Just back from LOOP video art festival and fair in Barcelona. The event is for video art lovers only. So what was a video art sceptic like me doing there? Well, i was busy becoming a convert. I'll come back with the why and how in a lengthier post. In the meantime, here's an example of an artwork i discovered (and unsurprisingly liked) at LOOP.
The fair had invited dozens of galleries from all over the world but only a few of them were brave enough to stray from the strictest limits of what video art is or should be. One of them is Virgil de Voldere Gallery (New York) who brought Brody Condon's video game modifications to Barcelona.
Two of the pieces shown by the gallery belong to a series of re-interpretations of Late Medieval Northern European religious paintings as games that play themselves, just like Condon did with some of his previous works. Most notably my absolute favourite Karma Physics< Elvis.
Brody modified a first person shooter game and exchanged the violent animations with dreamy, otherworldly and elegant scenes. The characters in his artworks seem to be suspended, they are waiting for the player to tell them what to do. Except that there is no way any player can take control of them. There's just a computer and the screening of the scene. No joystick enables visitors to free the characters' gestures from their limbo.
DefaultPropeties(); is a free interpretation of the baptism scene from the Triptych of Jean des Trompes by Gerard David from 1505. This "self-playing" game depicts a man with a horrible skin disease apparently lost in prayer in a Northern European medieval landscape. Right behind him is a man with a flaming sword in his right hand. One doesn't know the intention of the man with a weapon: is he going to harm the other man or perform some sort of knighting? Meanwhile the sky is filling with a swirling extra-dimensional portal from which is emerging a astral being of unknown but seemingly royal nature.
Four nude figures inhabit the second "self-playing" game, Resurrection (after Bouts). A man in the back with red tights and a head of animated hard edged abstraction seems to have a really bad trip, he reels from side to side in a trance; an eerily pale angel slowly performs a yoga tree pose over and over again while two other men idle sit quietly by the fire. Once again the surrounding light has the typical luminosity of medieval paintings. This time, the sun hovers between sunset and sunrise. Resurrection (after Bouts) is inspired by the Resurrection scene by Dirk Bouts from 1455. All the figures from the original paintings are clearly recognizable. Only Christ is represented as the campfire.