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.

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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.

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You can visit the GAMERZ festival until the 19th December, 2010 in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Image credit: Luce Moreau, courtesy Sylvain, Gamerz festival.

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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".

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Image courtesy FILE festival

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.

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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.

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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."

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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.


Watch the full version on Warcraft movies

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



One can easily understand why SWAMP was fascinated in tardigrades. Their interest for the Tamagotchi comes from of the way this mundane piece of plastic was encouraging pet-owner behaviour similar to the one a human being would have with a cat or a dog. Would introducing biological life in the game interaction make a significant difference?

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.

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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.

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Meet the Tardigotchi in person until August 29 at the FILE festival in Sao Paulo.

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Stéphane Thidet, Untitled (Je veux dire qu'il pourraît tres bien, théoriquement, exister au milieu de cette table), 2008. Photo: Marc Dommage

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.

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Letizia Romanini, Untitled, 2009

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.

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Hermine Bourgadier, Les Turfistes, 2003

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.

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Antoinette J. Citizen, Landscape, 2008

Quite fittingly, Walter Langelaar's nOtbOt is nagging you by playing on its own in the adjacent room.

A white, luminous and wooden-floored room is inhabited by a lonely cactus relentlessly moving his 'neck' to keep a hula hoop spinning. Video of Robert Barta's Move It! in action:

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:

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Patrick Bérubé, Demi-Mesure, 2005

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.

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Jacob Dahlgren, I, the world, things, life, 2007

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.

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Pierre Ardouvin, Love Me Tender, 2001

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.

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Stéphane Thidet, Park 1, 2005

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.

Previously at the Casino de Luxembourg: sk-interfaces. The Luxembourg episode, Wim Delvoye: Cloaca 2000-2007.

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.

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.

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Todd Deutsch, a.k.a. KillerJ00, 2005

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.

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Jason Rohrer, Gravitation, 2008, computer game

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.

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Mark Essen, The Thrill of Combat, 2009, computer game

The Thrill of Combat, by Mark Essen, is much more fast-paced but not less atypical.

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:
Joan Leandre is showing the film In the name of Kernel Series - Lonely Record Sessions, Tale of Tales presents the eerie and incredibly alluring game The Graveyard, Todd Deutsch's Gamers ignore you superbly while France Cadet brought her wild robotic hunting trophies, the rocking Gaude Mihi and a series of serigraphs detailing her 'genetically-modified' robots.

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France Cadet, Panthera Pardus, series Hunting Trophies, 2008

GaMe! is open until March 24 at the [DAM] gallery in Berlin.

Another game art exhibition currently open is Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art at Laboral in Gijón, Spain.

Related entries: France Cadet solo show at the gallery numeriscausa in Paris; Homo Ludens Ludens - A conversation with curator Daphne Dragona; Book: Trigger Happy for free, etc.

The story started last week: Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art and Playlist, it's not (just) about nostalgia.

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.

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André Gonçalves, Pong - The Analog Arcade Machine Prototype #2, 2008

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.

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Photo credit: Domenico Quaranta

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.

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Gijs Gieskes, Gameboy Brick, 2006

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.

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Joey Mariano, Juvenile Amplifier, 2009.Image by Marjorie Becker

The Hupel Pupel, by Dragan Espenschied, is a quirky little magazine of lo-tech comics created using a Game Boy camera with the built-in paint/stamp tools and a Palm running TealPaint 4.4.

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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.

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VjVISUALOOP, Protopixel HARDcade (installation view.) Image credit: Domenico Quaranta

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?"

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Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art, the second exhibition of Laboral's new Mediateca Expandida, is open until May 17, 2010 at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, Spain.

Image on the homepage: Antonio Cavadini / Tonylight who just had a solo show at the Fabio Paris Art Gallery in Brescia, Italy.

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