Born 20 years ago, ISEA, the International Symposium on Electronic Art has the objective of discussing and showcasing creative productions that apply new technologies in interactive and digital media. While i'm spending my last hours in quiet and sweaty Turin, Brisbane-based artist Priscilla Bracks is in Singapore because that's where ISEA takes place this year.
She kindly wrote this report from the main exhibition, AIR (Artists In Residence):
The juried show features 16 works arising out of a 3 month residency each selected artist undertook in Singapore, working collaboratively with local organizations.
Finally, We Hear One Another is a work by Kelly Jaclynn Andres that enables people to experience each other's soundscapes. Collaborating with the Mixed Reality Lab, Kelly made bonnet's fitted with a speaker and an extra 'ear' - a cone at the back of the bonnet that funnels sound to a microphone embedded in the fabric. Signals are transmitted to a speaker in the bonnet of a partner user, via mobile telephone blue tooth. This is a really cute idea that could - for a moment - draw users out of our regular ocular-centric approach to the world (though I would really have like the volume on my speaker to be louder as it was difficult to hear the sounds over the input of my own sonic environment. We can often readily remember things that we see, events that happen, or even the tastes of food, but how often can we recall sounds that we experience, beyond those deliberately injected into the soundscape such as music or words?
Run Silent; Run Deep by Nigel Helyer (UK/Australia) & Daniel Woo (Australia) collaborating with the Marine Mammal Research Laboratory, provides an 'audio portrait' of Singapore - in particular the area around the harbour. The interface of this work enables you to move through a stylized 'map' of the city, listening to sound recordings made using hydrophones in areas corresponding to coloured circles on the map. Surround sound in the installation space, gives the sense of a 3 dimensional map, and hand drawn images laid over the map gives it cartographic feel.
To create DIY GORI: seed_1216976400, Jee Hyun Oh (South Korea) collaborated with the Laboratory of Control and Mechatronics. The work focuses on the open source culture of the internet, and experiments with the idea that 'objects exist as evolving pieces of digital data in cyberspace where they are continually remixed by users.' To create the work, the artist selected the word 'Gori' - which in Koean means 'open hook' or the fastening and loosening of human relationships - and planted it as a 'seed' on the internet by posting the word and details of the project on a wiki. The word was then propagated on various sites. The many instances of its use on web pages was then printed on rolled corrugated for display in the gallery. The visual effect of the card is reminiscent of rolls of paper, and more conventional means of storing information.
Quartet by Tad Ermintano collaborating with HOMEVR at the Institute for Infocomm Research is an interactive quartet of instruments which are played by the audience acting as orchestral conductors. 4 video screens and photo-sensors are mounted above beautifully crafted traditional instruments. An audience member standing in front of the work is seen by photo sensors that trigger the conversion of their movements into sound.
Aurora Consergens (2008) is a collaboration between Hora Cosmin Samoila, Marie Christine Driesen and the Mixed Reality Lab. Gorgeous patterns are created on a video screen from visualizations of electro-magnetic energy given off by audience members wearing head sensing gear. I spent a long time playing with this artwork and found that the patterns do actually change radically, as I thought of different things. I was told that it works better with two people, so I sat with artist Clea Waites and we tried to think of similar things at the same time. The finer patterns apparently come from detecting the brain's alpha waves, and funnily enough thoughts about the beauty of the patterns, and other beautiful things like trees and sex, seemed to generate clear, defined, unusual patterns, which the attendant remarked he had not yet seen generated by other users of the work. At other times patterns ranged from noise to bigger less defined patterns.
There were a couple of works in the show dealing with water as their subject matter. One might be forgiven for thinking that has something to do with the fact that it rains all the time here, and the assumption is that water must therefore, be plentiful. But in truth water is as scarce here in Singapore as it is an many more arid parts of the world. A huge percentage of the water used is recycled back into drinking water, but much of the new water released into the drinking supply, is imported from Malaysia. Whilst there are a few storage reservoirs, Singapore simply does not have enough room for a centralized water catchment area, and tanks are built into apartments (though I have seen it done in Brisbane where I usually live).
The Sourcing Water project by Shiho Fukurara, Georg Tremmel and Yousuke Nagao in collaboration with the Singapore-Delft Water Alliance looks at the ancient practice of dowsing to find water across the island. Dowsing is a practice of using a forked rod (usually wooden) to find underground water. A dowser walks around with the rod which responds by tilting up or down if water is present (in response to magnetic energy). In this work the dowsing rods were enhanced with GPS and motion sensors, with a view to collecting data and creating a map of potential water sources. This map, and other interesting visualizations of data relating to Singapore were presented as a video projected map laid over a three dimensional plinth in the shape of Singapore island. However, the artists were not able to make any findings about the scientific validity of dowsing as they discovered that all maps of Singapore's ground water are 'classified' documents which authorities weren't able to release.
Clea White's The Water Book: An encyclopedia of water, looks at all water's properties both creative and destructive. The artwork is an interactive film installation where words relating to water are projected through a tank of water. This projection changes as people touch the water's surface. The effect is visually beautiful as the light streams through the water and up onto the darkened ceiling above the tank. Even the ripples on the water surface caused by touching can be seen in these reflections, and on a screen projection also in the gallery space. This clever use of light transforms a tank of water - a substance often taken for granted and rarely considered in an aesthetic sense - into a precious object of beauty.
The Eastwood - Real Time Strategy Group (Vladan Joler and Kristian Lukuc) have created another modification of the commercial version of the game Civilization. In this work, Civilization V, game play centres around the contemporary dream story of building a technology company empire. Players choose their company and instead of warriors and generals, employ CEOs and lawyers to build an army to win the war for market-share dominance.
The work critiques the use of affective labour by gaming companies and social networking sites, to produce profit for shareholders without any real benefit to the creator/user. These concepts are brought to the fore in the games various interface options such as Advisors where you can build your company's proficiency in Folksonomy (the art of classifying people into demographics), Viral Marketing, and Love Bombing (heaping love onto new members of a social group ( a technique most often associated with religious cults that is now used increasingly in social networking web forums.
The underlying code and logic of this game is the same as the original commercial version so the underlying strategy remains essentially the same: find the resources in the economy that make you successful. However unlike the original game these resources go beyond the obvious to include resources of the new economy such as loneliness, depression and boredom, which are a key to the popularity of social networking sites. This version was completed just 11 days ago so it's not yet available for download, but I'm told that it will be available from www.eastwood-gropu.com within a week or so.
Another great work in the show is Gendered Strategies for Loitering by Shilpa Phadke, Shilpa Ranade and Sameera Khan. This work features dual video screen images, a game and a sound recording of the artists discussing the differences between women's freedom to loiter in Singapore and Mumbai. I felt the sound recording was actually the best part of this work as the artist's discussion prompted me see a gendered approach to being in public space I had never thought about before. Their basic premise was that in Mumbai whilst men regularly loitered in café's, on the street etc, smoking, chatting and enjoying the act of doing nothing, women were generally denied this pleasure because a woman seen to be doing nothing in public was viewed suspiciously, or worse, as a prostitute. This attitude I think speaks volumes of the objectification of women when a women cannot simply 'hang out' without casting doubt upon her respectability. To be in public, women must be seen to be moving with a purpose. Ie she should have some reason for being there. So if a woman is waiting for a friend on the street, she would stand at a bus stop and not on the street corner, to clearly demonstrate she is waiting for something. The artists contrast this with loitering behaviour in Singapore which is apparently gender neutral. The difference in Singapore they say, is that no-one loiters. Everyone must have a purpose and move about the city in a very defined, well regulated way. Extra cold air pours out of ducts above the entrances to railway stations to discourage loitering at the doors. Little footprints painted on paths direct on which side one should walk. Even foreigners living in the city who have a culture of loitering, do so in regulated way - the Indonesians gathering in City Plaza on a Sunday, the Indian and Tamil constructions workers in Little India on a Sunday. I actually experienced this work on a Sunday and went out to Little India to test the theory. Though the streets were a sea of humanity, I was one of only 4 women I saw walking around Little India that evening - an uncomfortable, but revealing experience.
Together with Erich Berger and Laura Baigorri, Daphne Dragona curated Homo Ludens Ludens, an exhibition about play in contemporary culture and society which runs until September 22 at LABoral, Spain. I've been blogging the exhibition over the past few days but i wanted to end the coverage with a couple of questions to Daphne.
Daphne Dragona is an independent new media arts curator and organiser, based in Athens with a special interest in the game arts field. She was the Programme Curator of Gaming Realities (Medi@terra, International Art and Technology Festival) which took place in Athens in 2006, and the Associate Curator of Gameworld which was hosted in Laboral in 2007. She has been involved as an organiser or as a participant in different new media events and since 2004 she is also collaborating with the International New Media Collective Personal Cinema.
HLL presented 4 different themes: previous art movements which incorporated play in their discourse, play in everyday life, contents which invite to reflect on political and social issues and finally an introspective look on games and video games. Why did you decide to adopt such a broad approach?
Well, truth is that there are much more themes being discussed. We referred to these 4 categories at some point because the need appeared, as it happens for all exhibitions, to speak of a particular kind of structure. But in reality we were against the idea of grouping and categorising. Works can be categorised according to this scheme or some other schemes. The form of the exhibition is quite fluid actually, with no rigid clusters and units. To come back to your question, yes the theme is broad, but the issue of play in our digital times is huge anyway. Naming the event Homo Ludens Ludens was in a way an intro for a broad approach. Huizinga was already talking about the diffusion of play within culture back in the late 30s. We wanted to explore and present how things have changed, flourished and altered since then; to bring in as many aspects as possible through our exhibition and our conference. There have been a lot of misunderstandings regarding play nowadays: for instance, you speak about play and everyone things you refer to videogames, you refer to play and the issue is considered merely joyful, entertaining and lacking content. We wanted to escape from this, to present play's multifaceted character and raise consciousness about it. So, the approach could have been even broader, but maybe then the risk of its good presentation and perception would be higher.
Which strategies did you adopt to have works which have very different backgrounds and characteristics (the interview with Muciunas, the installation levelHead, the Objects of Desire chase, etc.) cohabit and dialog with each other? You and your fellow curators Erich Berger and Laura Baigorri must have met with many challenges when preparing such a big and multi-faceted show. How did you manage to keep your head(s) above the water?
I would not really speak of strategies. Let's say that we located the areas of our interest on one hand, and works we consider interesting and inspiring on the other. We knew that we wanted to have a show that would be playful and critical at the same time. The criterion for all cases of works was not their form, for instance to be game applications as it happens in most game art shows, but rather their playfulness, their ludic mode and the ability to express different situations and notions through it. There were no constraints regarding any types of works - the exhibition was to be explored as a territory, a playground of various contemporary magic circles. This is maybe where the challenge and the difficulty was: trying to avoid usual paths and groupings that exhibitions tend to follow and still aiming to have a perceivable context and content. This is how we came up with dialogues and adjoining of certain works that were implied but not explained or framed. I believe that this kept the flow much smoother and more open.
So this way, for example, Wegman's dogs could go next to Stockburger's Tokyo gamers to show play's omnipresence and utter seriousness; Ludic Society's chase based on the desires of particular objects and Savicic's wifi map of gijon as read by his special corset could be adjoined by a magnified copy of Debord's psychogeographical map of Paris; Klima's pink elephant on the war of Afghanistan could sit next to Sanchez's Atari modification for the civil war of Peru.
Regarding the references to the old movements of the fluxus and the situationists we felt like we ought to include them, not only as a "tribute" to them but also as an additional element for the audience to perceive the contemporary works we present. For instance, it is important to see that certain notions that are presented in this show such as those of the transdisciplinarity, the appropriation, the detournement, the idea of highlighting the importance of everyday life as opposed to art, they all have their roots way back, in important modern movements.
Many of the works on show at HLL demonstrate a keen observation of the rules and mechanisms of commercial games but do you think that the opposite is true? Have you ever noticed any interest from the commercial scene for what artists are doing with the game medium?
My understanding is that they do follow what happens in terms of creativity. The innovations and the approaches that are often introduced by artists and independent creators are of their interest either in terms of design, content or programming. And they do tend to hire artists often as part of their team, which makes sense of course. But on the other hand, judging from my experience, game companies still hesitate to support game art exhibitions, festivals and conferences. The commercial and the independent/artistic scene have not really merged yet. Probably they are not meant to merge, if we take what happened with cinema as an example. Different works and productions attract different audiences. Not a lot of gamers go to game art exhibitions for instance. The audience for these shows is mainly people interested in the arts and the technology. But at the end, it all works perfectly well for the industry as games are assigned new roles and are being accredited new values. This is the tricky point. As Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn had said, how about if the artistic / independent gaming scene at the end becomes the alibi for the commercial one to keep its character intact?
If i'm not wrong, you distinguish play from game. Can you explain us what makes them different from each other?
Yes, we tried to make this distinction visible in Homo Ludens Ludens, although there is no "formal" differentiation between the two terms and there is of course a lot of overlapping. In reality, it is easy to describe games but rather difficult to frame play.
I would say play reflects more the idea, the notion, the vivid and spontaneous basis for the action as well as its relation to fantasy, whereas games are closed systems and environments governed by rules which demand discipline and a constraint space and time. Play is in a way the presupposition for the games that are its expressions and forms.
Play as a notion is much more open and therefore it may even embrace elements that come in opposition with a game's structure. For instance play has no death or end; but games do, otherwise there s no meaning into it. Or think of cheating. While it can destroy a game by breaking its rules, it is still a part, an act of play. On the same line, while any game forms hierarchies, play creates interrelations between them.
It is all up to the play instinct I guess. We can be playful anytime anyplace, not only through games. Games are basically a construction which is made possible because of this playfulness that already exists in any aspect of life.
Nowadays, with the explosion of the videogame industry games have also become a product, a commodity and a subject of control. Accordingly, play became work and life itself started looking more like a complicated game environment. So the question is what happens with the notion of play at such times? This is really interesting: how we have been led from the total invasion of play that the situationists were dreaming of to the gamespace phenomenon Wark describes.
What is your personal relationship with video games? Are you a gamer yourself?
I mostly enjoy following what s happening in the online virtual worlds and trying out practices and applications by the independent and artistic scene. I also do try to keep up with the commercial games popping up but sometimes this is not so easy in terms of time and energy. Generally, however, if you ask me about the last months, I must say that -maybe influenced by homo ludens ludens- I also got carried away and inspired by other types of play; from children's make believe play to play being approached by philosophy as a tool for political change... This practically means that I really liked playing a lot with my 2 year old niece on one hand and reading Agamben and Vaneigem on the other. It was quite a weird combination now that I think about it...
Gold Farmers are young people who earn their living by playing MMORPG games. They acquire ("farm") items of value within a game, usually by carrying out in-game actions repeatedly to maximize gains, sometimes by using a program such as a bot or automatic clicker.
They sell the artificial gold coins and other virtual goods they've harvested to players and/or farming organizations and get "real" money in return. Players from around the world will then use the golden coins to buy better armor, magic spells and other equipments to climb to higher levels or create more powerful characters.
Many companies have attempted to block the use of gold-farming services by specifically stating in their End User License Agreements and Terms of Service that any and all game assets (from the player's characters themselves, to any items that they may be carrying) remain the sole property of the company itself, and taking aggressive action to close the accounts of any that are found to be using gold-farming (or similar) services.
Although there are gold farmers or gold farms in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Mexico, Chinese are by far the most dynamic. There, young players typically work twelve hour shifts, with just a lunch break somewhere in the middle.
There are gold farmers or gold farms in other countries as well, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Mexico. However, they do not approach the scope and scale of the Chinese farm industry.
Ge Jin, a 30-year-old Shanghai native and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, San Diego, has shot a Gold Farmers, a documentary that delve into the background and lives of Chinese gold farmers.
Gold farming puts down the mechanisms that govern a universe in which everyone starts at the same level, no matter how rich their parents are, no matter how many degrees they've collected at the university. Players trying to work their way up according to the rules and in all fairness are the ones who get hit hardest by the practice of gold farming.
Watching the documentary, you can't help but feel some compassion for the gold farmers: they have very little free time, they are paid quite poorly to feed the whims of the Western consumer, they have to deal with the ire of a family who doesn't approve of what they do for a living, they must face the hostility of other players as soon as these realize that gold farmers are on their turf, their english is not good enough to enable them to communicate with other players, and they work hard. Don't be fooled, they don't sit there for hours just for the fun, most of their activity is extremely repetitive. In fact they would sometimes end their day at the "factory" by playing a real game in WoW. Just for the fun.
Chinese Gold Farmers Preview video (Ge Jin has uploaded more video previews):
I asked Ge Jin to discuss his documentary for the blog:
First of all, is the video on show at laboral only part of the documentary you are making or is it the full version of it?
I have another 40 min. long version, but this one is complete in itself as a short version.
Gold farmers have the challenging task of constantly navigating between clandestinity and the need to advertise their service. i suspect that finding and getting the "gold farmers" to talk must have been difficult. how did you locate the players and how did you gain their trust?
It is indeed difficult to get into the exclusive "gold farming" circle. But I was lucky to have an old friend in Shanghai who was running gold farms from 2003 to 2005. This friend introduced me to some gold farm owners. But the reason that the gaming workers/gold farmers trusted me was mainly because I treated them with respect. They face discriminations from non-gamers who see them as game addicts who are losers in real life as well as discriminations from gamers who think they care about more about money than gaming itself. I tried to be a good listener for them and they can see I didn't approach them with many assumptions.
How much has the phenomenon evolved since you started working on this documentary in 2005 (it think)?
Yes I started following this phenomenon since 2005. I think the market become much more competitive and the profit margin for gold farmers are much smaller now. Meanwhile, more sophisticated services like power-leveling have become the mainstream of real money trade. Also, the domestic demand for in-game goods in China has risen so much that Chinese gold farmers no longer just work in foreign games.
You are right that I'm not taking a stand. And I try to let the people involved in real money trade to tell their own stories in my documentary. But I think some of my "biases" do make their way into the documentary. For example, I don't really care if real money trade changes the regular gaming experience, I'm more concerned with how people's virtual life and real life affect each other, so you don't hardly hear the game industry's point of view in my documentary.
Is gold farming regarded differently in China than it is in the USA, Europe or Japan for example? Is the practice seen as more acceptable by the public and the government? How much does China try to tax and regulate the business?
Culturally, real money trade is indeed more accepted in China than in other countries. For example, the successful game Legend from Giant. Ltc thrives on incorporating real money trade in game design. Western game companies dare not do so blatantly because many gamers may think the game is not a level playing ground that way. But the Chinese gamers seem to accept this inherent unfairness, as if they see so much injustice in real life that they don't expect the virtual world to be better. The government doesn't seem to have any problem with the gold farming business. It has not figure out a good way to tax virtual trade yet, in some rare cases, some gold farms pay a fixed amount of tax based on very rough estimation of trade volume. There is currently no policy directly regulating this industry. Though there are regulations generally aiming to purify content of games and limit how long people can play online games.
Did your research on gold farming sparkle the interest of Western commercial gaming companies? Asking your help to crack down on farmers? Or asking for your opinion on how to make the most of this new form of economy?
To my surprise, I was contacted by gold selling websites who want to use my website to advertise themselves, by gold buyers who are looking for a steady supplier, and by market researchers who want to measure the supply and demand of gold trade. I wish I could seize such opportunities to make some money for myself. But unfortunately I was occupied by exploring the social implications of this economy.
Thanks Ge Jin!
Another documentary part of Homo Ludens Ludens is the fantastic 8 bit movie.
While i was at LABoral visiting the Homo Ludens Ludens exhibition, i got to live the uncanny experience of being bossed around by wooden boxes that deliver Situation(ist) quotes, order me to bring them to their friends (which were also boxy and made of wood), carry them upstairs within 30 seconds, and treat them like princesses. I felt like a puppet in the hands of Objects of Desire, the latest game of Ludic Society. This international association of artists, game practitioners and theorists seek to provoke a new artistic re/search discipline, best addressed as 'ludics' (cf. some of their previous works: Tagged City Play for Real Players in Real Cities and The Pong Dress).
Objects of Desire is a Neo-Situationist's walk in the company of capricious spimes through an invisible city of electromagnetic waves. The play-map constitutes of real names of wireless access points, found during a "WIFI-Sniff" through the city of Gijon. Names of actual urban WIFI zones (my favourite was called Familia Alvarez) are mapped and tagged like street-names in the exhibition space while aether waves with the same subjective names are also superimposed on the arts space, as playground.
Instead of writing down what the game is about, i'll just send you to the video of the game . It clearly explains the developments, mechanics and rules of the game. And because the plot unfolds in sunny Gijon and LABoral, you'll also get an idea of what both the city and the art center are like.
How does the game work technically? Does it use rfid?
Yes, each object is tagged with a RFID tag. Our self-built LS-Gerät can sniff each box and based on the RFID number and cabbalistic numerology rules the object's desire will be appointed.
On the other side, we hide a couple of WIFI network clouds (some openWRT hacked linksys routers) in the exhibition space by which each player is located through the built-in WIFI function of Nintendo DS. The clouds are named and geographically located like access points in Gijon-city.
Basically, it is a very speculative motion tracking, like a triangulation with cell phones, virtual and real. Anyhow we used them as an inverse surveillance for each player. Each move is logged ;)
The Ludic extensions of SM (standard model) game consoles are extremely beautiful. How exactly do you craft them? Does each shape correspond to a particular function?
They were all DIY self-built and designed in our LSCV (Ludic Society Chapter Vienna). The design is conceptually connected to our ideas of a PCB - 'Pata Circuit Boards - which are standing for Imaginary Machines and Devices of Wonder (read more about in issue#1 of LS magazine).
Each LS-Reader is equipped with a voltage booster, a Wunschmaschine, not only referring to our concept but also in Real by literally lifting the supply voltage up from 3 to 5 Volts. Each shape corresponds to a different conceptual starting point. The little tree refreshes the EM (electromagnetic) aether while the "Blitz" refers to our notion of BlitzPlay (Urban Guerrilla Street Play Tactics - TAZ). The circular shaped PCB is a sequel of our LudicWheel, a living machine, built for playing the game- and the reality engine either-way.
What is the story or motivation behind the objects' stories and desires?
Playtarget: inverse surveillance by mobile toy-gadgetry...walks between WIFI and RFID waves-.. the city waves in Gijon - site specific metaphors...
Then about the inverse control of objects by subjects - a domination and surveillance PlaySurVeillance ;) by "Subjectivated" objects... with eeach RFID tag, the internet of
Based on what you could observe while you were in Gijon, how did people react to the uncanny experience of being bossed around by wooden boxes?
It was funny to watch people how exciting they became by obeying some very simple instructions, just for the sake of getting some points on a virtual screen. Some were lying on the floor (even the curator Erich Berger), standing against the wall for a minute or shouting out loud.
But with each game, it depends on the *player's obedience* to the rules.
The readers are new bachelor machines to extend the Standard model game
Originally we (in that case me and 3 more Ludic Society members - PM ONG, Fleshgordo and imonym in conjunction with marguerite charmante) thought about making a game through the whole exhibition- with objects tagged - which have certain behaviours -- the visitors shall bring them to their "natural born home" of the Objects (OOH) which is stored in the RFID tag of the object...), we wanted to further develop Ludic Society's urban games into a white cube test area.
Previous posts about the exhibition in LABoral: Homo Ludens Ludens - Play in contemporary culture and society, the Art of War.
As promised two days ago, here's more details about Homo Ludens Ludens, a new exhibition which reflects on the various roles fulfilled by play in our digital era. Homo Ludens Ludens opened on April 18 at LABoral the Center for Art and Industrial Creation which means that i was back in Gijon, Asturias, land of monster squids, rosy cheeks, deep-fried and vegetable-free diet, gorgeous landscapes and sidra thrown all over your favorite sneakers.
Homo Ludens Ludens is the last episode of a trilogy that LABoral is dedicating to the world of game. Following Gameworld and Playware, HLL explores play as a key element of today' s world, highlighting its necessity for our contemporary societies. There are more than 30 works on show, so you can expect several installments about Homo Ludens Ludens.
The title of the show, Homo Ludens Ludens , alludes to the taxonomy of human evolution. The human being used to be regarded as a Homo faber (man the smith or man the maker in latin) for the control they could exert on the environment through tools.
In 1938, however, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga introduced the idea that man is also an Homo Ludens (a "playing man"), a man for whom amusements, humour and leisure played an important role in both culture and society. Philosopher Vilém Flusser went further. For him, we are living in a society which, instead of working, generates information by playing with a technical apparatus, implying a transition from the myth of the creator towards a player. Playing can therefore be regarded as an act of emancipation.
The exhibition speculates on the emergence of a Homo Ludens Ludens - the contemporary player of games.
Martin teamed up with Viennese artist and researcher Fares Kayali to turn a pinball machine from the '70s into a musical instrument and, as he explained me at the time, The piece is a pinball machine that constructs music. It samples itself and manipulates those samples according to how you play pinball on it. We removed all competitive and all decorative elements of the pinball game and put digital electronics into this analogue electro-mechanical machine. While the gameplay is technically unaltered - all the bumpers and traps are still in place - the effect of playing is a composition instead of a highscore.
The more successfully the player interacts with the machine, the more intense the accompanying soundtrack gets. The piece maintains the roughness of the electromechanical original game, mixing physical sounds happening on the playing field with manipulations of their recordings.
A post written by Nicolas Nova a few days ago brought to my mind what Martin told me in Gijon when i was complaining that that damn pinball was way too difficult to play for me. Apparently the artists had to dumb down the machine. They bought it on eBay, not knowing that the '70s model was manufactured at a time when pinballs were extremely popular and the models issued had thus to be quite high level to keep players interested.
Concrète references musique concrète and bagatelle alludes to the history of pinball games. Bagatelle was an ancestor of modern pinball. Created in France for King louis XVI, it looked like a narrowed billiard table. The aim of the game was to get 9 balls past pins (which act as obstacles) into holes.
Julian Oliver is participating to the show with an improved version of levelHead, the 3D memory game became an instant youtube and blog hit the moment it hit the online turf. The installation which uses physical cubes as its only interface is totally engrossing and nerve-challenging. On screen it appears that each of the cube's faces contains a little room and each of them is logically connected with the others by doors. In one of these rooms there is a character and by tilting the cube the player directs this character from room to room in an effort to find the way out. Some doors lead nowhere and will send the character back to the room they started in. levelHead challenges the player's spatial memory. Each player has 120 seconds to find the exit of each cube and move the character to the next. There are three cubes (levels) in total and, the mnemonic traps become increasingly difficult to avoid as the player progresses.
The game refers to one of the earliest memory systems which consisted in constructing imaginary architectures (memory loci) designed specifically for the purpose of storing information such that it could be retrieved by 'walking through' the building in the mind.
Today, domestic printers, digital tagging systems, address books and journals (on and offline) do the storage and indexing of information in exterior locations like remote databases or local file systems. Similarly, navigating in the real world increasingly tends toward dependence on external media and locative technologies.
With levelHead, moving from one site to another produces an imaginary architecture and positions this memory architecture as the primary means of navigation. Only one side of the cube will reveal a room at any given time and so a memory of the last room - of the positions of entrances and exits, stairs and other features - is necessary to proceed logically to the next movement.
The tangible interface aspect is integral to the function of recall. As the cube is turned by the hands in search of correctly adjoining rooms muscle-memory is engaged and, as such, aids the memory as a felt memory of patterns of turns: "that room is two turns to the left when this room is upside down".
With their Massage me jackets, Hannah Perner-Wilson & Mika Satomi allow massage to enter the video game realm. The jacket is the joystick. By massaging more or less vigourously the back of a volunteer you get to control a fighting avatar. I had fun playing both roles. Being the passive massaged one is extremely relaxing as the designers had spread and repeated the commands all over the back of the jacket, focusing on the areas most likely to beg for a good rub. Now remembering where to massage in order to have your avatar jump or kick requires some practice but playing randomly will not necessarily prevent you from winning the battle.
I'm afraid the best piece of the exhibition for me was William Wegman's Two Dogs and Ball (Dogs Duet). Wegman has always been a favorite of mine (has someone else seen the Deodorant video? It shows him spraying his armpit with an aerosol deodorant until the can is empty, while giving a deadpan testimonial: "It feels real nice going on, and smells good, and keeps me dry all day.")
In Two Dogs and a Ball, Wegman's Weimaraner Man Ray and his companion are mesmerized by a tennis ball which moves off screen. Wegman explained that all he had to do to obtain the comic effect was to move a tennis ball around, off-camera, thus capturing the dogs' attention.
During the press conference, Laura Baigorri --one of the curators-- explained that Wegman's video has been selected as an example of how the avant-gardes of the 20th century had introduced an element of play in the artistic practice.
The video is on ubuweb.
Ten days ago i went to the opening of Homo Ludens Ludens the at LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijon, Spain. Homo Ludens Ludens, the third part of a trilogy the center dedicated to games, explores play as a key element of today' s world.
I'll come back with more details about the exhibition in the next few days but as a smooth prelude to the lengthier coverage, here's a few words about Art of War Parts 4b and 4c , one of the projects i particularly liked.
Art of War features two puzzling video works. Is that a war movie we are watching? A warzone documentary? A news clip? It's also almost impossible to identify the date of the events or to locate the city where the fight takes place. It might be Beirut or Sarajevo.
The warzone was downtown Stokholm. It was a Saturday afternoon, in Spring 2006. It wasn't much of a conflict either, it was a two day army exercise in which lasers were substituted for real bullets and blood and guts are imaginary.
John Paul Bichard (you might remember his beautifully manipulated gamespace interiors) woke up to the sound of heavy machine-gun fire in Stokholm. Armed with a video camera, he recorded the moves of an army whose tanks, troops, APCs and heavy weaponry were simulating a war and using a Saturday afternoon in the city as a battelfield. Right amidst pedestrians, and passing civilian cars and buses...
The video works explore the nature of violence and how violent conflict is contextualised in the digital media age. As 'real' conflict zones become more restrictive, press access more heavily orchestrated, Bichard constructs an intrusive, voyeuristic commentary on the banality of warfare, the fine line that separates authoritarian control from abuse of power and the ease with which society is incorporated into the mechanisms of institutional violence. Uninvited by the authorities and provided only with earplugs, the works document a thrilling encounter with a grim game.
A couple of questions to John-Paul:
You woke up to the sound of heavy machine-gun fire on morning in Stokholm. It was a complete surprise for you. Still, you grabbed a camera and shot what you saw. At which point did you realize that you wanted to use the footage for an artwork? Was it immediate? Or is it the result of a longer process?
I have played video games so much over the years that my life, the games and my art are in a fluid relationship to each other - so the sound of gunfire was literally a trigger for me. I didn't have any solid idea at the time as to what I would finally do with the footage but I had previously been doing some short mobile phone video experiments so the seed was already sown. Much of what I do I either intellectually file away or stick in a folder on one of my highly disorganized hard drives so the footage sat on the drives for some months, then one day I just started to go through it. That's when I rediscovered Edwin's music which had also been sitting around for ages - the video and the musical compositions simply made sense when I started combining them.
Did you feel like a reporter camera in hands or a gamer while you were in the streets with the soldiers?
Well both really, I guess you could say it was like a war correspondent simulation game: a meta-game to the Swedish army's anti-terrorist war game on the streets of Stockholm. When i got to the border of the area, i was greeted by soldiers standing at a table - i was a little nervous thinking I would have to sneak around to get some footage, but they just handed me earplugs and told me to keep away from the tanks (which i didn't and nearly got run over :)). I felt very much like a war cameraman, running from one melee to another. At one point i was shouted at for popping up in the middle of a fire fight - it's hard to explain the feeling of adrenaline when you have a gun pointed at you or you hear a heavy gunfire down the end of a road even if it is just blanks. I still think it's amazing that the exercise was so open to the public, but that is not uncommon for Sweden. I can't imagine the same thing happening in London or Washington DC.
The work is part of your Violencia series, what is its place in the series? How does it differs and / or what are its common points with the other Violencia art pieces?
Well so far there are two works in the series: [art of game] Art of War Parts 1 to 3 which was shot using a high quality 3 chip DVCAM and [art of game] Art of War Parts 4b + 4c which is a double trilogy made from mobile video clips. These works are only the start of the series which follows on from and expands upon the evidencia series. Whilst the evidencia works looks more directly at the metaphors and tropes of videogames, exploring the aesthetics, ethics and power relationships common in violent games,. the violencia series focuses on exploring our need to consume fictionalised violence and our relationship to institutionalised violence. Whilst Parts 1 to 3 has a more documentary feel to it, the work shown at Laboral is more subtle. Mobile video has a very painterly quality to it and by screening the same trilogy on each side of a panel with one work reversed and in colour, the other in black and white, the scenes become very ambiguous. The footage could have come from Warsaw in 1940, the middle east in the 70s, Bosnia in the 90s, it becomes very hard to place and I like that slippage. Whilst both works are fragmentary narratives, playing with documentary, media and cinematographic tropes, 'Parts 4b + 4c' are perhaps a more poignant reminder that whilst a 40million kronor war game was going on in my neighbourhood, not so far away in the world people were waking up to real gunfire on that Saturday morning.
Homo Ludens Ludens runs until 22nd September 2008. If you manage to get to Gijon before May 12, you'll also be able to see the Emergentes exhibition dedicated to media art projects developed by Latin American artists (previous reviews: Life inside bubbles, Emergentes - 10 projects by Latin American artists (part 1), and Part 2.)
Also by John-Paul Bichard: Back Seat Gaming.