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.
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.