"Machinima – a portmanteau of machine and cinema – the process of using real-time computer graphics engines to create a cinematic production [...] has existed for as long as in-game recording has been possible." Matt Turner aka Lost Futures provides a historical and critical overview of machinima, a digital form of filmmaking that lies at the intersection of experimental cinema and video art that began with Miltos Manetas’ Miracle, for Sight & Sound magazine. A must read.
The MACHINIMA FILM FESTIVAL returns to Milan on March 15 2019 during the Milano Digital Week.
This event showcases artistic excellence in contemporary digital image culture and experimental new media art through several on-screen works. The MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL is the only event in Italy solely dedicated to machinima, a genre of digital video art created by appropriating and manipulating video games that emerged in the mid-1990s.
The theme of the 2019 program is the UNCANNY, the perceptual phenomenon caused by experiences that are at once familiar and alien. Haunting hallucinations pervade an eclectic program in which glitches, shocks, and disturbing repetitions become a metaphor for societal chaos in the age of algorithms, surveillance capitalism, and artificial intelligence. These disquieting narratives question the relationship between authenticity and performance, identity and self preservation in everyday (digital) life. Two longer documentary works examine the unexpected side (effects) of virtual gaming and the current fascination with technology’s dystopian impact on public and private life.
The 2019 lineup includes an impressive roster of short films and longer works by national and international artists and filmmakers such as Lisa Carletta (Paradise Found), COLL.EO (Reasonable), Joseph DeLappe (Elegy), Kara Gut (Resonant Flash, Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis (Swatted), Chris Keric (Dynamic Kinetic Sculptures), Luigi Marrone (Avatar_Ascension), Luca Miranda (Alma), Leonhard Müellner (Operation Jane Walk), Bram Ruiter (Perpetual Spawning), Brenton Smith (Crashforms Studies), Petra Szeman (How to Enter a Fictional Realms), Twee Whistler (Edgy Time with Mom), and Brent Watanabe (Possessions). The vast majority of these artworks have never been shown in Italy before.
An international panel of critics, curators, and academics contributed to the selection and evaluation process, including Valentino Catricalà (Artistic Director of the Media Art Festival in Rome), Marco De Mutiis (Digital curator at Fotomuseum Winterthur), Stefano Locati (member of the Scientific Committee of the Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival in Venice and Director of the Asian Film Festival in Bologna), Henry Lowood (Curator for the Germanic Collections and the History of Science and Technology Collections at Stanford University), and Jenna NG (Professor of Cinema and Interactive Media at the University of York).
Among the festival’s highlights is Jenna NG’s keynote talk on March 13 2019 as part of the ongoing GAME TALKS series at IULM. Titled MACHINIMA AND THE ALLURE OF EPHEMERALITY: GAMEPLAY, LIVE STREAMS, AND DIGITAL CULTURE, the talk will address the explosion of interest in the live streaming of gameplay as illustrated by the popularity of Twitch, whose latest number of daily active users has reached 15 million, as well as other major platforms such as YouTube Gaming, Mixer, and Facebook Live. Specifically, the talk will link the current phenomenon of video game live streams with machinima and its origins in game demos and captured video game play, arguing not only for live streams to be the next logical evolution for machinima, but also for a critical theorisation of screen media that pursues a realist trajectory, one which potentially works its way from neorealist cinema to machine vision.
Sponsored by the City of Milan, Department of Digital Transformation and Public Services, the Milano Digital Week celebrates the driving forces that are reshaping work, leisure, and learning. By highlighting the interplay behind production and consumption made possible by digital technology, MDW connects citizens, companies, institutions, universities, and research centers.
The MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL was curated by Matteo Bittanti (Artistic Director), presented by Gemma Fantacci (Communication Manager), and organized by the Master of Arts in Game Design at IULM University. Screenings take place in Sala dei 146 located in the IULM Open Space. Admission is free upon registration.
Il MACHINIMA FILM FESTIVAL torna a Milano il 15 marzo 2019 nell'ambito della Milano Digital Week 2019.
La rassegna presenta lo stato dell’arte della cultura visiva digitale contemporanea e la new media art sperimentale. Il MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL è l’unico evento italiano interamente dedicato al machinima, un genere di video arte prodotta attraverso l’appropriazione e manipolazione dei videogiochi che si è affermata a partire dalla seconda metà degli anni Novanta.
Il tema dell’edizione 2019 è UNCANNY, il fenomeno percettivo che contraddistingue esperienze insieme familiari e anomale, declinato all’interno di un programma eclettico in cui glitch, shock e inquietanti ripetizioni alludono al crescente senso di smarrimento sociale nell’era degli algoritmi, dei Big Data e dell’intelligenza artificiale. In queste opere, lo spazio ludico genera narrazioni alternative, sollecitando una riflessione sul rapporto tra autenticità e performance, identità e preservazione del sé. Due mediometraggi esaminano gli effetti collaterali del videogioco e la fascinazione contemporanea per la dimensione distopica della tecnologia.
Il programma dell’edizione 2019 include una selezione di cortometraggi e mediometraggi realizzati da artisti nazionali e internazionali come Lisa Carletta (Paradise Found), COLL.EO Reasonable), Joseph DeLappe (Elegy), Kara Gut (Resonant Flash, Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis (Swatted), Chris Keric (Dynamic Kinetic Sculptures), Luigi Marrone (Avatar_Ascension), Luca Miranda (Alma), Leonhard Müellner (Operation Jane Walk), Bram Ruiter (Perpetual Spawning), Brenton Smith (Crashforms Studies), Petra Szeman (How to Enter a Fictional Realms), Twee Whistler (Edgy Time with Mom), e Brent Watanabe (Possessions). La maggior parte di questi audiovisivi sono inediti in Italia.
Al processo di selezione ha contribuito una giuria internazionale composta da critici, curatori e accademici: Valentino Catricalà (Direttore artistico del Media Art Festival di Roma), Marco De Mutiis (Digital curator del Fotomuseum Winterthur), Stefano Locati (membro del Comitato scientifico del Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival di Venezia e Co-direttore dell’Asian Film Festival di Bologna), Henry Lowood (Curatore per la Germanic Collections e l’History of Science and Technology Collections all’Università di Stanford) e Jenna NG (Professore di cinema e media interattivi all'Università di York).
Tra gli eventi correlati spicca il keynote di Jenna NG nell’ambito dei GAME TALKS all’Università IULM che si terrà il 13 marzo 2019. Intitolato IL MACHINIMA E IL FASCINO DELL'EFFIMERO: GAMEPLAY, LIVE STREAMS E CULTURA DIGITALE, l’intervento esamina l’esplosione di interesse per il live streaming videoludico come attestato dalla popolarità di Twitch, il cui numero di utenti attivi su base quotidiana ha ormai superato i quindici milioni e a cui si aggiungono piattaforme come YouTube Gaming, Mixer e Facebook Live. Secondo NG, il fenomeno dei live stream dei videogiochi è legato a doppio filo al machinima e alle origini della cultura demo e dei replay. Per questo motivo, la ricercatrice definisce il live stream l’evoluzione diretta del machinima. NG propone inoltre un inquadramento teorico dei media a schermo che persegue l’imperativo estetico del realismo illuminando le relazioni tra il cinema neorealista e la machine vision.
Promossa dal Comune di Milano, Assessorato alla Trasformazione Digitale e Servizi Pubblici, la Milano Digital Week propone le più interessanti iniziative che stanno trasformando il lavoro, il tempo libero, la formazione e le dinamiche della progettazione e della produzione attraverso le tecnologie digitali. Un’opportunità di riflessione e confronto per cittadini, aziende, istituzioni, università e centri di ricerca.
Curato da Matteo Bittanti (Direttore artistico) e presentato da Gemma Fantacci (Direttore della Comunicazione), il MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL 2019 è stato organizzato dal Master of Arts in Game Design dell’Università IULM. Le proiezioni si svolgono nella Sala dei 146 dello IULM Open Space. L’ingresso è gratuito previa registrazione.
MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL
The aesthetics and politics of video game cinema: IULM University hosts the first edition of the MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL.
MILAN - On Friday March 16, 2018 from 6.00 p.m. in the Sala dei 146 (IULM OPEN SPACE) IULM University will host the first edition of the MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL, an official event of the Milano Digital Week 2018.
A follow-up to the 2016 exhibition GAME VIDEO/ART. A SURVEY organized by IULM University, this retrospective features a selection of machinima produced by international artists. Situated at the intersection between video games, experimental cinema and video art, machinima is an audiovisual genre that defies easy categorizations. Artists appropriate and modify pre-existing video games to create visually idiosyncratic experiences.
The first edition of the MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL features Tayla Blewitt-Gray (Australia), Alan Butler (Ireland), Jacky Connolly (United States), Thomas Hawranke (Germany), Jonathan Vinel (France), and Eduardo Tassi (Italy) among others. A surprise screening will be announced the day of the festival. By hijacking Grand Theft Auto, The Sims, and other titles, these filmmakers created digital shorts focusing on such themes as sexuality, politics, alienation, creativity, and violence.
Curated by Matteo Bittanti, the MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL is presented by Laura Carrera and Gemma Fantacci, students of the Master of Arts in Game Design of IULM.
Sponsored by the City of Milan, Department of Digital Transformation and Public Services, the Milan Digital Week (March 15-18, 2018) celebrates the driving forces that are reshaping work, leisure, and learning. By highlighting the interplay behind production and consumption made possible by digital technology, MDW aims at connecting citizens, companies, institutions, universities, and research centers.
MILAN MACHINIMA FESTIVAL
March 16th 2018
From 6.00 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
IULM Open Space (IULM 6)
Via Carlo Bo 7
Free and open to the public, upon registration
In this interview, French artist Hugo Arcier extols the joys of virtual hiking, explains why game playing is usually a “passive” activity, and what it really means to be stuck in limbo.
Hugo Arcier is a French digital artist - or, rather, “an artist in a digital world” - who uses 3D computer graphics to create videos, prints, and sculptures. Initially interested in the field of special effects for feature films, he worked on several projects with Roman Polanski, Alain Resnais, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. This practice has allowed him to gain a deep understanding of digital tools, in particular 3D graphic images. His artistic works have been exhibited at international festivals (Elektra, Videoformes, Némo), galleries (Magda Danysz, Plateforme Paris, etc.), art venues (New Museum, New Media Art Center of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Le Cube, Okayama Art Center, Palais de Tokyo, etc.), and several contemporary art fairs (Slick, Variation).
Matteo Bittanti: One question I ask all the artists involved in TRAVELOGUE is to describe their personal relationship to simulated and real driving, that is, to video games and cars (= “concrete”, metal-and-plastic automobiles). According to Marshall McLuhan and Charissa Terranova, as a bodily extension or prosthetic, every technology - including cars and digital games - simultaneously augments” and "amputates" human beings. How do you address this tension in your work?
Hugo Arcier: In regard to my personal relationship to video games, I have to confess I consider myself a hardcore gamer. In fact, I play games nearly every day. My passion for gaming goes back to the 1980s. I discovered video games on my cousin’s Amstrad CPC. It was a true revelation. I started with adventure games, then moved onto beat’em ups and platforms. I begged my parents to purchase me this machine, but when we went to the store, the seller was adamant about PCs. This new platform was relatively new at the time and more powerful. So we bought a personal computer, but I was disappointed because the graphics were not as good as on the Amstrad. But things changed, as you know. Home computers eventually disappeared, while PCs became the ideal gaming platform. I have been a PC gamer since then. What fascinates me most about games is their environments. Games are a spatial medium: this is why I am particularly attracted to open worlds: there is nothing I like more than exploring digital places. I am also attracted to first-person shooters. I consider myself a virtual hiker. To me, playing a games means to explore, to take photographs - screenshots - and to scrutinize everything that I encounter. When I play, I eventually abandon the main, imposed narrative to go off on a tangent. I do not own a car since I live in Paris. Paris does not like cars at all: the traffic is insane and parking is nearly impossible. I use my bike and public transportation to go pretty much everywhere. And let’s face it: combustion cars are a relic of the past. They are noisy and cause massive air pollution. Their main byproduct is smog, which in turn causes lung cancer and other health related issues. All that cars produce is detrimental to human beings. Recently I saw a short documentary from the INA archive that discusses an electric car invented by a French engineer called the electric egg. It was available in 1942. I found this document utterly fascinating: it somebody were to launch such a model today, it would be as futuristic and modern as it was back then. I cannot understand how and why combustion cars have lasted so long. It is as if we were still using the Amstrad today: a complete anachronism.
My approach to virtual cars in gaming and 3D animation is very different. These cars exist in a space where they cause no health issues to humans. I love simulated driving: it is a form of pure escapism, devoid of any “real” consequence. I do not fetishize cars per se. When I play a game I am more attracted to arcade driving styles, which emphasize spectacle over verisimilitude. There is something truly hypnotic in virtual driving. Technology has positive and negative consequences, but - all things considered - I disagree with McLuhan that it “amputates” human beings. Technology has mostly positive side effects. It does expand human capabilities considerably. I do not have any faith in organized religions. I am extremely skeptical on anything that evokes the notion of the supernatural. At the same time, I am fascinated by the idea of a technologically enhanced life. Concepts like transhumanism have a certain appeal to me. I admit that my optimism is a weakness of mine. I do recognize that technology is akin to a secular religion. What truly concerns me, in the long term, is that technology can make human beings lazy, complacent, and thus less intelligent. Their technological aids can become like crutches. We increasingly use highly sophisticated devices and we have no idea how they are produced. Artists are a particular kind of user: they want to know how things are done. Artists must show what lies underneath the surface of particular technology. This is why I developed projects like the Limbus series: to show games from an unusual perspective, to disintegrate the alleged realism of virtual worlds. My recent installation, Ghost City, is about the fact that virtual worlds are shallow universes, literally, like empty shells.
Matteo Bittanti: In the TRAVELOGUE exhibition, we showed LIMBUS (GTA V) (2015), the follow up to LIMBUS (RAGE) (2011). These two works exemplify the difference between "found" and "enacted" glitches. What does the glitch represent to you? A fragment of the technological unconscious, a symptom of the true nature of simulation, a purely aesthetic style or something else altogether? And what is the "limbo of the game" you mention?
Hugo Arcier: Video game glitches are very important because they grant the user access to something that is usually inaccessible, something users are generally not allowed to see. Thus, glitches produce a powerful distancing effect: the player is abruptly reminded that each simulation is an artifice, a conceit, and a deception. Although gamers are usually considered “active” in their interaction, they are mostly passive. The glitch awakens the player from her torpor: suddenly the player realizes that the ultra-realistic world she is immersed is a “just a game”. This distancing effect - almost like an epiphany - is relatively uncommon in other media. In movies, this effect can be encountered only in auteur (think Jean-Luc Godard) or amateurish productions (Z-movies and the likes), but in video games, this phenomenon happens even in triple AAA productions, the equivalent of a highly polished Hollywood blockbuster. To create the Limbus series, I specifically looked for a point of view outside the level of the game. I took advantage of a technical optimization technique of video game production: every polygon is single sided, so if you see something from the wrong angle it becomes transparent. This conundrum leads to something visually fascinating. If you can see the level from below, the ground completely disappears, but the characters and props behave as if nothing happened. I have discovered this glitch completely by chance and I captured it to create the first Limbus, in 2011. The process entailed a documentation of the glitch encountered in the video game Rage via screen capture. I felt I had to save something that a subsequent patch might have erased forever. To create the second Limbus in Grand Theft Auto V, I intentionally used a cheat mode: I made myself invincible and I teleported myself to a specific area of the game. But the process was not necessarily easy. The cheat mode did not always worked well and the “perfect spot” was hard to find. In regard to your question about the “limbo” dimension of a game, to me it’s basically a place outside the game itself. But limbo has religious connotations as well. It is a synonym of purgatory: a place where the soul is temporarily “parked” after someone’s death. It’s an in-between area, a liminal space. The video game equivalent to me is when you reach a point where you cannot proceed in the story as if you were dead: you can only wander around and look in a sort of out-of-body experience. In short, to be stuck in limbo means to be waiting for something to happen in a grey zone, not hell, not paradise. Something else altogether.
Matteo Bittanti: The notion of simulation occupies a central position within your practice. Your work brings to the surface the ideologies of digital technologies that we usually take for granted, from first-person shooters to action games, from computer animation to machine learning. How do you approach these issues as an artist, that is, as opposed to a scholar who is interested in using words and concepts to illuminate a process or a documentary filmmaker whose main goal is to document a situation via an edited audiovisual recording? How do you grasp and communicate the essence of computer graphics and algorithmic worlds through your artistic practice?
Hugo Arcier: An artist focuses on the same subjects that may fascinate a scholar or a filmmaker, but with a less theoretically-oriented approach. Art is not about explaining something. Art is about addressing the sensible. Here, the emotional and the experiential always come first. They may lead to reflection - which in turn leads to enlightenment - but only at a later stage. My artistic practice focuses mainly on computer graphics. As you know, the video game is just one of the many artifacts using computer graphics. I try to capture its essence by applying different strategies. First of all, I operate through a process of dissection: I remove layers of data until I can show one single, bare element in each series. In a sense, my modus operandi is similar to an autopsy: this is how one learns about anatomy. You start from a very complex, opaque, difficult to understand whole - a body - and then you start to take it apart, cutting smaller sections. Secondly, my goal is to make computer graphics and algorithms visible, legible, and recognizable. In fact, these elements tend to be generally invisible, under-the-hood so to speak. Even in my more realistic projects like the film Nostalgia for Nature, the simulation is rendered visible. This was meant as a meta-discourse on computer graphics, in a self-reflexive manner, a film-within-a-film.
Matteo Bittanti: Terms that "ghosts", "nostalgia", and "disappearance" recur in your works. Does simulation replace reality, as Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio argued? Or is simulation just another layer, another mode of being? And why is it so important for you to document this phenomenon through your artistic work?
Hugo Arcier: These notions - disappearance, substitution and more - are absolutely central in my work. I don’t know exactly what qualifies as “reality” any longer and probably I don’t care because what is important is what you experience, what you see, what you hear, and - at a deeper level - the information stored in your brain. From this vantage point, we can say that simulation replaces reality. Simulation has already won the battle because it is more malleable, efficient, flexible. You can’t take any risk in real life: people don’t like that. They like “safe”. Many years ago, I was commissioned a project to make a very realistic tree in computer graphics. That did not make much sense to me: so I asked “Why don’t you just shoot a real tree with a camera?”. They responded, somehow annoyed, that it is cheaper to make a tree in computer graphic that paying a filmmaker and a professional crew to film it. Plus, you need to spend time finding the perfect tree with all the leaves in the right spot, a certain kind of trunk… The shooting may be compromised by real-life situations like unpredictable weather conditions (rain, wind, low light etc.). In short, they said, a simulated tree is better than a real tree. When I heard this explanation, I was shocked. I realized I just witnessed a turning point. As an artist, I chose to work with the medium of computer graphics because that puts me in the trenches, in the frontline of the contemporary. To me, it’s essential to document the transformation of our world into a massive simulation and to accomplish such goal there is no better tool available than the simulation itself.
In this interview, Victor Morales explains why video games can activate our deepest feelings and why game engines are the equivalent of brush and painting.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Victor Morales received a Law Degree from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in 1990. In 1992, Morales completed a Master’s degree in Technology Applied to the Arts at New York University’s Gallatin Division. He spent more than a decade in New York City. Since 2003, Morales, “has been obsessed with the art of video game modifications and has implemented different game engines into most of the works he has participated in or created.” His performances with game engines (in particular, the CryEngine) have consistently challenged the nature of simulation. Morales has performed a number of solo shows in art galleries, festivals, and events, including Performance Space 122, The Little Theater in New York City, The Collapsable Hole in Brooklyn, and Gessner Allee in Zürich, Theater Freiburg, and The Hau in Berlin, where he now lives and works.
Morales's video 30 Seconds or More: City Stroll was featured in TRAVELOGUE.
Matteo Bittanti: Can you describe the process behind the 30 seconds or more series in general and City Stroll in particular?
Victor Morales: In the 30 seconds or more series, my goal was to push the envelope as much as I could, so I decided to make an animation a day for an entire month month using exclusively the CryEngine. I followed just one rule: each video had to be longer than a regular TV commercial. There was another prerequisite: I wanted each piece to be sound-reactive and I used outstanding music produced by Norwegian artist Pal Asle Petersen. So in almost all of the pieces there is an audio-reactive element, sometimes obvious, sometimes not so evident. City Stroll was for me a contemplation of an urban environment, always moving, made of straight lines, bright colors, and particle systems.
Matteo Bittanti: TRAVELOGUE focuses on the notion of driving - real and imagined, represented and simulated, utopian and apocalyptic. What is your relationship to cars and car culture? Do you drive, and if so, what do you see through your windshield?
Victor Morales: To drive is to be in your own cocoon, where you can control the soundtrack if you are alone or have the deepest conversation you can imagine as you make eye contact through the landscape... Moving on wheels at fast speed offers a kind of pleasure, a bizarre pleasure, a peculiar mix of power and comfort as you move through different scenarios... Each trip is a story.
Matteo Bittanti: You use game engines as a painter uses the brush and paint. What is the potential - but also the biggest limitation - of working with this medium, i.e. game engines?
Victor Morales: Like painting, video games could awaken deep emotions and psychological dynamics hidden within our personal and collective selves. The biggest limitation of a game engine lies in its operational complexity. Like Francis Bacon's wish, I wish I could just grab a hand full of paint and throw it on the canvas and make a piece with one move.
Matteo Bittanti: By your own admission, since 2003, you have been "obsessed with the art of video games modifications". Can you explain this obsession? What do you find so engaging about deconstructing and reconstructing video games? To modify a game is for you an act of détournement, in the Situationist sense, or something else entirely?
Victor Morales: Yes, as you said, game modding is a hijack, a kind of hacking. Modding means to penetrate someone else's universe and make it your own. In a way is a precursor of social media and the so-called "user-created content" buzz/word/hype... But it is also much more engaging and complex than applying an insta-filter to whatever you capture with your smartphone. You must do some research, try and fail many times, scrutinize forums in search for clues, ask questions, and experience the strange feeling of being called a noob by a twelve year old kid and then you must work for hours and hours in order to get something going... I freaking love it, i can't deny it... I do not do it as much as I used to, but sometimes a bit of GTA modding really gets me going.
Matteo Bittanti: Your life can be defined as nomadic: you were born in Venezuela, spent more than a decade in New York, moved to Berlin.. Your experiences are as fascinating as your artist practice. Which place or places do you consider most compatible with your artistic sensibility? Where did you find the most welcoming, receptive, engaged community?
Victor Morales: I am now back in New York, but yes I do travel a lot... to be honest, I think video game art is still not considered with the seriousness it deserves: there are not enough places to show work, to meet other artists, to do residencies... There is simply not enough interest from museums, critics are for the most part unprepared, and so on... In general I find Europe to be much more receptive, but that applies to all kinds of arts. After all, Europe likes art... Maybe there will be a breakthrough sometime in the future and digital artists will get more resources to make their art without having to think on how to sell it... Or maybe it's just my pipe dream.
In this interview, French artist Jean-Baptiste Wejman explains why Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe's works are "game-like" and why simulations and fictions are deeply intertwined.
Jean-Baptiste Wejman is an artist living and working in Toulouse, France. He received a Master of Arts in Fine Arts at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Bourges in 2014. An amateur photographer in his teenage years, he decided to become an artist at the age of 17, after attending a solo show by Mircea Cantor at FRAC in Reims. Influenced by artists such as Ryan Gander, Philippe Parreno, Pierre Huyghe, Cory Arcangel, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and Wolfgang Tillmans, he is interested in developing new practices of art and thinks that lacking a definition of art is, in itself, the most powerful engine for conceptual aesthetic thinking. His work has been exhibited internationally, including 35h (2015), a group show in Champigny-Sur-Marne near Paris, The Graduals (2012) at Traffic Arts Center in Dubai, and 43/77 (2009) in Bourges.
Wejman's installation Concentration Before a Burnout Scene is featured in TRAVELOGUE.
Matteo Bittanti: Can you briefly describe your education and upbringing?
Jean-Baptiste Wejman: I was lucky enough to experience an ordinary childhood, like many other kids growing up in the Nineties in France. As a teenager, I never envisioned that one day I would become an artist. I spent the best years of my youth playing video games, riding my BMX bike, reading and collecting used books, and listening to as many audio cassettes as I could. When I was still young, I had the chance to try my hand at photography with an old camera. I discovered Art in school, between the age of 11 and 15. I have to express my gratitude to the French educational system: it made me realize that art was an exciting field, not a moribund, boring discipline. I chose to concentrate in Fine Arts during my high school years. Around that time, I visited my first exhibition of Contemporary Art and that event changed my life. I had the opportunity to take excellent courses in Art History and I developed my first projects. Today, I keep them hidden in a remote space of my parents's garage! Back then, I enrolled in several science-based courses, but my passion for art was too strong to resist. Luckily, I was accepted by L'Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts in Bourges. Those were intense times. This is when I began to focus on a set of artistic concerns and to fully develop my art practice. I was very interested in research: I began investigating the status of the image, the deep meaning of photography, what lies behind the surface. My interest was definitely conceptual. In school, I kept asking myself: "What is my role as an artist?", "What is the goal of making art, today?", "What's the point in creating yet another image in the Twenty-first century?", "What kind of exposure can an artist's project receive?" and many more questions like these. Meeting like-minded peers was essential. Students, teachers, assistants, fellow artists... The conversations were intense! L'Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts gave me the chance to immerse myself in a lively art milieu and to participate in engaging discussions, stimulating debates, and constructive critiques. Finally, in 2014 I received a Master of Arts with honors. Since then, I have been developing my artistic activity.
Matteo Bittanti: Why did you begin to incorporate video games in your practice? What do you find fascinating about this medium? Its interactivity? Agency? Aesthetics? Theatricality? Or are you more interested about the online communities that blossom around digital games?
Jean-Baptiste Wejman: These are all excellent questions. Why? Well, for a long time I thought that the boundaries separating Art from "everything else" were clear, rigid, and somehow inviolable. Universal laws, so to speak. However, as time went by, I was forced to rethink my assumptions and to question my own prejudices. I was influenced by several critics and thinkers. One is Paul Ardenne, who believes that art should always be contextualized. He says that we must abandon the notion that each artwork is an autonomous object, existing in a vacuum. Ditto for Hal Foster, whose emphasis on theatricality forces us to think about artistic situations as always spatially situated. Since the Nineties, these discussions have evolved considerably: they might have taken new forms, but they certainly have not ended. Initially, what fascinated me about the role of video games within the contemporary visualscape was the ongoing debate around their status as art. As you know, "Are video games art?" is a question that dominated the conversation in the late Nineties and early Zeroes. For several critics, video games are just commercial artifacts, the byproduct of a creative industry akin to Hollywood. Other believe that games are still in their infancy, and, as such they are "under underdeveloped": once artists and intellectuals start unpacking their true potential, they will evolve in unexpected ways, subverting the conventions and clichés of mainstream productions. I began incorporating games in my practice around 2011 when I recognized their cultural value. To me, they were raw material that could - and should - be exploited by artists. Today, it is obvious to me that digital games are just another way of making art. We are overwhelmed by a staggering production of fiction, images, and interactions. We now posses the technical means to navigate virtual spaces. In a sense, we made Leon Battista Alberti's dream finally happen. My generation grew up watching a world unfold not outside "windows" but on Windows, jumping from one tab to another, playing with all sorts of information, assuming different identities and characters. As an artist, I wanted to partake this conversation and to experiment with new media. When I incorporated games in my artistic practice, the process felt natural, almost automatic. Perhaps even necessary.
Matteo Bittanti: Digital games often create parallel, alternative experiences for their users. How do you relates to the complex relation between reality and simulation? How do you address this tension throughout your work in general and specifically in Concentration Before a Burnout Scene?
Jean-Baptiste Wejman: The complex relationship between reality and simulation? This is where all the traditional questions of art clash and collide! Making pictures, chasing mimesis, imitating the real... And this is the reason why video games are so exciting. They force us to confront, once again, the notion of realism. And yet, we must not forget that since the early days of game development, many designers rejected realism in toto, offering instead alternative, more abstract, oneiric experiences. They questioned the notion of aesthetics in art through an image-based form of production. I must also add that, to me, the concept of simulation is closer to the broader concept of fiction. Not only these two notions have strong ties, but they inform each other, they are mutually reinforcing. In my practice, fictions act as simulations. For example, my video Concentration Before A Burnout Scene can be read on several levels. Initially I chose GTA San Andreas because I was fascinated by the very idea of the open world. This is where simulation truly matters. I produced this video by recording my own experience - mediated by an avatar - within the game world. This project qualifies as a machinima. At the same time, I selected a specific context and time frame within the game to extract some elements and to perform a loop. Concentration Before A Burnout Scene depicts the game in a static moment. It is a false movement stuck in an infinite time loop. In short, I simulated play time. Concentration Before A Burnout Scene is not about the "real" game, changing, developing and transforming before our own eyes. It is, on the contrary, a dramatization which offers the viewer the chance to experience an alternative experience of time. A simulated time that produces a duration in the so-called real world.
Matteo Bittanti: Do you consider yourself a gamer? Do you play videogames? If so, what titles do you find intriguing and stimulating, both, as a gamer and as an artist?
Jean-Baptiste Wejman: Yes, I am a gamer, but a rather casual one. I do not have time to play all the games that I want. For instance, I did play Fallout: New Vegas. Not assiduously, like a dedicated gamer, but occasionally, like someone who finds himself fascinated by something he previously dismissed as "trivial". Thanks to emulation, I discovered old Sega Megadrive and SNES games that I could not play growing up because I found gaming too time consuming. Back then, I was always too busy doing something else, like reading or listening to music. In a sense, I am recapturing a part of my youth through retrogaming... So what are the games that an artist may find interesting? Definitely Minecraft. This is such a creative title, one that uses the very idea of open world in the most sophisticated and empowering way. Another game that truly fascinated me is The Stanley Parable: it was such an incredible gaming experience. There is little action, almost no gameplay. Just a voice that speaks to us, opening us up to almost endless possibilities. This is a self reflexive game, a game that questions itself through the medium of the video game. Very meta indeed. It was such memorable experience! Another title that blew me away is Undertale. This game is a tour de force. Using very simple technical means, this game produces a perfect narrative, engaging the player like very few other titles. Undertale breaks, or rather smashes, the fourth wall. It reminds me of something that David Lynch might have dreamed. You meet these amazing strange characters, and yet the world seems quite consistent. It makes sense even when it should not. When people ask me if there are games that offer experiences comparable - if not superior - to those produced by the best books, films, or paintings, I usually mention these three...
Matteo Bittanti: How do video game aesthetics affect the overall impact of your work? What comes first when you are developing a new project, the concept or the medium?
Jean-Baptiste Wejman: Game aesthetics are truly fascinating because they link the narrative component to the gameplay. They are inseparable. Take Super Mario Bros.. Considered in itself, its universe is completely incoherent. The world that Mario inhabits is just a pretest to play. I mean, what is the deal with a mustachioed plumber who must rescue a princess in a strange world populated by flying fish and turtles? Even as an interactive fairy tale, it makes little sense. It's the gameplay that justifies the narrative. It's the action that makes the scenario, so to speak. I like to analyze video games in the same way that I examine a traditional work of art. I must understand the creator's process to fully appreciate a game. Consistency is by far the most important aspect of a game. The player must understand the logic of the simulated world. It cannot be random. Even randomness must have some coherence! And that's my challenge as an artist. How can I create works and exhibitions that offer situations where the public can establish a relationship with what I present? Is my world "consistent"? I often think of Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno's works. They create game-like spaces, spaces filled with characters, objects, and situations. Their works come with links, attachments, and identification processes. The same elements are pervasive in video games. These aspects deeply influence my own work. When I develop a new project, the concept is often the starting point. I try to consider how the final aesthetic position will engage the viewer. So I established a methodology according to the situation to produce a coherent "gameplay/scenario" that can be translated in an exhibition as "wandering/narrative".
Matteo Bittanti: Can you describe the process behind the production of Concentration Before a Burnout Scene?
Jean-Baptiste Wejman: As I mentioned before, I chose to work with GTA San Andreas because at the time it seemed like the best game simulating the real world, at an architectural, narrative, social, and spectacular level. In short, this is a game that contains several layers of meaning and contexts. Additionally, GTA San Andreas allows emergent gameplay. I was looking for a space within the game that evoked the look-and-feel of film. A place where I could shoot a movie like Bullitt. I navigated the spaces of this virtual metropolis for weeks, seeking the perfect spot and finally, I identified the ideal area, located between the suburbs, stuck between a residential and an industrial zone. So I placed the main character CJ here in a car I've chosen because it resembled the archetypical muscle car - a Dodge Charger or a Ford Mustang - that one encounters in these films. I set my camera to capture the perfect angle, using a panoramic POV. The décor of the city, the visual clichés of the American urban environment were all in place. Then I started to capture the gameplay. At this point, I was working on a computer and I could easily capture a video source. I caught several sequences of twenty minute intervals. The challenge then was to create a short loop. The requisite was that the smoke exhaust and the ambient light must appear "natural". I produced a first version in MPEG 2 format in 2011. But for this exhibition, TRAVELOGUE, I reworked the source file to produce another video in 1080p. I consider this a form of digital restoration. It was a long process which took weeks. Although it may not seem like at first glance, I chose to show a passage where the heat effect distorts the image. I think this visual effect can distort the sense of time. The title is an integral part of the work. It contains several possible readings. It is clearly descriptive: what we see is, indeed, a character waiting in his car, idling, the engine running. He may be preparing to leave and make a U-turn in the middle of the road. But it also describes the expectation of the viewer. Lastly, it forces the viewer to concentrate on image and such concentration has limitations. It's a game on the expectation played on the viewer. A pending action, a possible story, an endless wait.
On the closing day of the exhibition - September 11 2016 - we screened William Beaudine's masterwork, Design for Dreaming, a short film produced in 1956 for General Motors.
DESIGN FOR DREAMING (1956)
Video, color, sound, 9' 17"
"Produced to bring the 1956 G.M. Motorama to audiences unable to see it in major cities, this film introduces the new 1956 cars, Frigidaire's "Kitchen of Tomorrow," and the electronic highways of the future. G.M.'s "dream cars" of the 1950s, including the Oldsmobile Golden Rocket and the turbine-powered Pontiac Firebird II, are also displayed. One of the more self-consciously surreal films in our collection, Design for Dreaming often looks like a Hollywood musical. A Fifties-style sleeping beauty is awakened into a dream by a magician dressed in tails who hands her an invitation to the Motorama at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel." (Rick Prelinger)
WILLIAM BEAUDINE (U.S.A.)
William Beaudine (1892 – 1970) was an American film actor and director. He was one of Hollywood's most prolific directors, turning out films in remarkable numbers and in a wide variety of genres. Beaudine was a low-budget specialist, forsaking his artistic ambitions in favor of strictly commercial film fare, and recouping his financial losses through sheer volume of work.
In this interview, British artist Bob-Bicknell-Knight discusses the effects of simulation on everyday life and the illusion of control of digital media.
Bob Bicknell-Knight is a London-based artist working in moving image, installation, sculpture and other digital mediums. Surveillance, the internet and the consumer capitalist culture within today’s society are the main issues surrounding his work alongside an intense fascination in the various cultures associated with video games and online communities. He explores these themes using tools and technologies, which are relatable but not restricted to art.
His 2016 artwork Simulated Ignorance is included in TRAVELOGUE.
Matteo Bittanti: Can you briefly describe your education and upbringing?
Bob Bicknell-Knight: Until a few years ago I had lived solely in the English countryside, only recently moving to London to undertake a degree in Fine Art at Chelsea. I now find myself focusing on ideas surrounding internet surveillance and video game aesthetics/ideas. A lot of my formative years were spent going on walks and exploring virtual worlds, occasionally going to museums and art galleries when I had the chance.
Matteo Bittanti: Why did you begin to incorporate video games in your practice? What do you find especially fascinating about this medium? Its interactivity? Agency? Aesthetics? Theatricality? Or are you more interested about the online communities that blossom around games?
Bob Bicknell-Knight: I’ve always played and enjoyed video games and have only recently begun to create work about them, due mostly to Jon Rafman and his extensive use of video games and their aesthetics within his own practice. When I saw his work, it was the first time that I realised one could actually make something that was valued, interesting and cohesive with the aesthetic and medium of video games. A lot of the aspects of video games that you’ve mentioned I’m interested in, especially the idea of interactivity and the communities that are formed around certain games. In terms of interactivity, with other forms of media, one rarely has any choice over what happens or any control over the flow of the experience; these are the two unique qualities of video games that sets them apart from standard tv shows or films. Rejecting the passive experience of simply viewing something through a screen is incredibly important to me. This interest in interactivity is hinted at within the installation, Simulated Ignorance, with the presence of a game controller, suggesting a sense of control to the viewer.
The extensive relationships that are formed through various online games are also intriguing to me, just listening to the passion in people talking about a raid in World of Warcraft or talking about a friend they met through Guild Wars definitely hints at the future of how we will interact with one another on a daily basis. A game that combines both interactivity and an online community incredibly well is Cloud Chamber, with the main body of the experience being simply posting on a message board, hoping that your particular ‘theory’ gets up-voted by the community in order to progress to the next level of the game. That progress is dependent on the friends that you make within this online experience is slightly disturbing to me, yet again hinting at possibilities to come.
Matteo Bittanti: Digital games often create parallel, alternative experiences for their users. How do you relate to the complex relation between reality and simulation? How do you address this tension through your work and especially Simulated Ignorance?
Bob Bicknell-Knight: At this point the differences between reality and simulation are becoming increasingly blurred in offline and online cultures. Like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, we find ourselves replicating an idea of what life should be like on a daily basis, often this is subliminally enforced by various medias to cater to the consumer. On the other hand, however, people are becoming more and more detached from their online self, creating multiple personas to embody when browsing ‘Web 2.0’, not fully realising the implications of such acts of apparent transgression. In my installation work, Simulated Ignorance, I’m seeking to highlight the multiple choices one has by providing the illusion of choice that the viewer is presented with, both challenging and confusing their preconceptions of violence and free will in video games.
Matteo Bittanti: How do video game aesthetics affect the overall impact of your work? What comes first when developing a new project, the concept or the medium?
Bob Bicknell-Knight: I feel that art works using the aesthetics of video games sometimes cloud the overall concept, allowing the viewer to simply focus on the animation of a video piece rather than considering what it’s actually about, dismissing it as ‘just about video games’ and only observing the ‘first layer’ of the work. I also think that using video games themselves for art in things like machinima have previously been looked at with disdain in the art world because of their seemingly ‘easy’ creation. Obviously this isn’t the case. Fortunately, this attitude towards video game artwork is slowly becoming obsolete, with more people becoming interested in this type of artwork as the video game industry continues to grow and flourish. My work always begins with the concept. I never set out to make a video or a sculpture as this would restrict me to those specific mediums when creating the work. When thinking about this question, I think of Ryan Gander, an artist without a medium whose work always begins with an idea, who then finds the medium best fitting to the initial thought, rather than being constrained by a material or technique that he’s learned over a number of years.
Matteo Bittanti: Can you describe the creative process behind the production of Simulated Ignorance?
Bob Bicknell-Knight: A lot of my work begins with extensive research via the internet, from reading online articles to watching YouTube videos. At the time of this particular work’s creation, I’d been looking into the misguided activist Jack Thompson, a figurehead in various campaigns to ban violent video games with the argument that teenagers use them as ‘murder simulators’ to rehearse their violent plans. I knew that I wanted to make a piece of work about the preconceptions that people have about video games from watching ill-informed news articles. It also transpired that during this bout of research I’d been playing Grand Theft Auto 5, simply exploring the world, and as my time with the game progressed I began to get bored of endlessly shooting at things and decided to do what most people do at some point when playing an iteration of the GTA series; simply drive around the virtual world as if it were real life, sticking to the ‘rules of the road’. After a while I realised that the action of driving around in GTA was relatable enough to both the ‘gamer’ and ‘non-gamer’ and could form the basis of an interesting connection between the ideas surrounding violent video games that I’d been exploring in my research, with a game world that was incredibly appropriate to the subject matter.
In this interview, Canadian artist Clint Enns reveals his passion, perhaps even obsession, for Andy Warhol's Empire, obsolete media, and video art.
Clint Enns is a video artist and filmmaker living in Toronto, Ontario. His work primarily deals with moving images created with broken and/or outdated technologies. His work has shown both nationally and internationally at festivals, alternative spaces and microcinemas. He has a Master’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Manitoba, and has recently received a Master’s degree in Cinema and Media from York University where he is currently pursuing a PhD. His contributions have appeared in Leonardo, Millennium Film Journal, Incite! Journal of Experimental Media and Spectacular Optical.
Enns's PREPARE TO QUALIFY is featured in TRAVELOGUE.
Matteo Bittanti: What can you share about your artistic background? I find very interesting that you have received Master’s Degree in Mathematics. Is your practice as an electronic artist and experimental filmmaker a way of articulating an overlooked side of science, perhaps its unconscious? How does the study of numbers, equations, and formulas influence or even guide your work?
Clint Enns: I began making art when I began my Master's Degree. It was really an attempt to do something other than mathematics. I had no idea that it was possible to make art before that. My best friend and girlfriend at the time, animator Leslie Supnet, pushed me into making my first film. It was SUPER FUN and not very good, but I was hooked. Before that I was a cinephile, but it never occurred to me that I could make something...that is, that it was as easy as putting film in a super 8 camera and pushing the trigger.
While doing my Master's, I began to teach a course called Math in Art. Teaching the course forced me to engage with contemporary art practices and with art history. Currently, I am pursuing a PhD at York University and I am studying the connection between mathematics and cinema. With that, I try to keep my studies separate from my art practice, although I am sure they inform each other. I still view art making as a form of escape. If art making stopped being fun or cathartic, I would probably do something else. In fact, when I first moved to Toronto, I kept being told that I do not take my moving image practice seriously enough or that I wasn't rigorous enough. At the time, it really killed my desire to make moving images, so I started taking photographs and working with found photography. It was really freeing, I didn't have to answer to anybody. Now, I do both.
Matteo Bittanti: Within the field of Game Studies, machinima is usually associated to online fandom, hacking, and modding practices. In other words, machinima is firmly located within the context of game culture. For other critics, machinima constitutes a kind of experimental filmmaking, and, as such, it’s something that should be projected onto a screen, in a dark room, and experienced collectively, offline, possibly in a festival setting. Finally, others consider machinima a genre of video art which is often displayed as a video installation in a White Cube space. You are a prolific writer, an accomplished artist, and an indefatigable curator: What is your personal take on machinima? Can these different notions of machinima coexist and/or inform each other or are they mutually exclusive? Do you use the term “machinima” or do you find it too limiting, as in too video game-centric?
Clint Enns: I don't have much investment in the term machinima, but why shouldn't it exist in multiple contexts? I am personally interested in works that experiment with video games as a medium and in works that treat video games as a form of found footage. It could be argued that Craig Baldwin's 16mm film Wild Gunman from 1978 is one of the earliest examples of machinima (he uses footage from the 1974 game Wild Gunman which made use of a light gun and a 16mm projection). I think you could also argue that Stephanie Barber's 2005 total power: dead dead dead, a 16mm film in which an arcade game, a snack machine and a television engage in a dialogue, is a form of machinima. However, I doubt either of these works are included in the Machinima Archive.
Matteo Bittanti: What do you find so intriguing about obsolete, archaic, and “broken” media? Is your practice a form of media archeology? Are you documenting forgotten technologies, like the Nintendo Gameboy Camera, Super 8, kids' toy cameras etc., through art? After all, you do not simply use found footage, but also problematize issues like media formats, devices, and techniques.
Clint Enns: An academic might read my practice through a media archaeological lens, but I am simply fascinated by old technologies and by cameras that were designed to be easy to use. Ironically, as the equipment gets older it becomes more unstable and more difficult to use, but I like the challenge as well. I also like that these devices come with their own unique aesthetics and as they breakdown produce errors that are difficult to simulate. Although, I am sure I would use a PXL 2000 simulator if a good one existed.
I really feel that art making should be accessible to everyone with a desire to create. Of course, I am not saying all art that is made is good, but that is not necessary the point. To me, art making is form of play, hence my interest in toy cameras.
Matteo Bittanti: Can you name some influences in your film and video making? I can see several homages and citations, for example Chris Burden for 747 and Andy Warhol (or Philip Solomon? this one is very meta) for Rotterdam Tower... Is your practice a way to engage in a conversation with the visualscape as a whole?
Clint Enns: I am obsessed with re-making Andy Warhol's Empire and I find it exciting that others are too. I would love it if someone curated an Empire show (Empire Redux) filled with Empire re-makes. An unwatchable film, re-made ad absurdum. My favorite re-make is Gameboy Empire, a Gameboy game for the true Warhol enthusiast. You hit start and see the Empire State Building. Nothing else happens (minus the odd light turning on or off).
Phil and I made our Grand Theft Auto IV remakes around the same time. His was made slightly before mine and is more beautiful; however, mine is more conceptually rigorous. I was totally unaware of Phil's version, but I wish mine had been a re-make of Phil's video!!! In fact, the next time I discuss the work, I am going to claim it is... better mythology. Mine was intended as a shot-for-shot re-make of Warhol's Empire, and was shot during the same hours that Warhol shot his film except time is super condensed in GTA IV. I also slowed down the film, the same way Warhol did. The final work was only 14 minutes, but it was my intent that people watch it in its entirety on the internet, making it totally unwatchable.
I remade Chris Burden's 747 in GTA IV as well. The gesture of shooting at an airplane changes in gamespace. I also remade Burden's Through the Night Softly, as Softly Through the Night. Instead of crawling through glass, I crawled through marshmallows. Ironically, it turns out I was allergic to one of the dyes in the marshmallows (we bought the cheap kind) and I got a near fatal rash and had to spend a few days in the hospital.
The re-make is one way to engage with a historical work through a contemporary lens. I am basically just sweding the avant-garde.
Matteo Bittanti: Prepare to Qualify seems to question the legitimization practices of the art world. To be recognized as ART, the driver (the artist) has to START and win a symbolic competition (the race). But the competition soon implodes, the car (artwork) breaks apart, and we are left with broken pixels and jarring sounds. Who is the driver? Howard Becker? Pierre Bourdieu? Clint Enns? Or someone else entirely...
Clint Enns: I'm not sure at this point. At one point I would claim that the work was self-reflective posing the question: Does breaking video games at the age of 28 constitute being an artist? Now I am even more confused about my own art making practice and its status. If Howard Becker, Pierre Bourdieu or Guy Debord were at the wheel, the world around us would radically change and not simply the screen.
Matteo Bittanti: Game iconography and game technology recur in your work. What is your personal relationship to the medium of video games? Is it a vast archive of imagery that can be appropriated and reconfigured or more like a popular culture artifact that demands some kind of detournement?
Clint Enns: You've got me, I am not a gamer. I see video games as both a vast archive of imagery that can be appropriated and reconfigured AND a popular culture artifact that demands to be detourned. Given that video games are such an important part of popular culture, they demand to be read symptomatically. I see them as a mirror to contemporary culture and as providing insight into the cultural subconscious.
In this brief interview, COLL.EO, discuss their latest project, INTERVALLO, an update to a 1960s Italian TV show meant as a "warning sign" of things to come.
COLL.EO is a collaboration between Colleen Flaherty and Matteo Bittanti established in 2012. Active in both San Francisco and Milan, COLL.EO creates boldly unoriginal media artworks, uncreative mobile sculptures, and uniquely derivative conceptual pieces. COLL.EO's work has been exhibited in the United States, Canada, France, Cuba, Mexico, and Italy.
Their project INTERVALLO is currently featured in TRAVELOGUE.
The interview was produced by RANDOM PARTS, an artist run collective located in Oakland, California.
RANDOM PARTS: According to your statement, INTERVALLO pays homage a TV program - or rather, interlude - titled Intervallo which is basically unknown outside of Italy. What was this televised interlude about, and why did you decide to appropriate its format and subvert its message with video game imagery?
COLL.EO: The original Intervallo was an interstitial show produced by Italy's national public broadcasting company, Radio Televisione Italiana (RAI), between the 1960s and 1970s. Its "official" function was to fill the gaps between scheduled programming or during unexpected interruptions of live broadcasting and missing satellite feeds. Intervallo was basically a photo slideshow accompanied by soothing classical music. So, what's so special about it? Well, the original Intervallo, shot in black and white, depicted flocks of sheep. You read that right: flocks of sheep. You don't need to read between the lines to figure out that the National Broadcaster was telling its audience that they were a bunch of sheep, that is, "Someone who mindlessly follows and emulates anything and everything in the name of fame/recognition. A waste of flesh and brain cells." (Urban Dictionary) A televised lullaby, Intervallo's real message was: "Viewers, you are a bunch of morons. Look at you, glued to the screen, happy to be brainwashed by demented advertising, idiotic talk shows, celebrity crap, and political propaganda." A decade later, Berlusconi used his media empire - and especially his television networks - to take full control of Italy, as Erik Gandini has cogently illustrated in his 2009 documentary Videocracy. In a sense, Intervallo was a warning sign of things to come that nobody read. We updated Intervallo using imagery from a contemporary racing game set in an idealized, "postcard Italy", promising pristine vistas, economic empowerment, and fame through motorized bliss. And players of Forza Horizon II dutifully oblige: they collect supercars, dream of endless material wealth in a world where air pollution, accidents, and peak oil do not seem to exist, and drive around without really going anywhere. Like TV, video games are weapons of mass distraction: they promise agency and autonomy, but all they produce, in reality, is acquiescent, passive users. And that's what makes them terribly interesting. Video games are meant to be exploited and subverted.
RANDOM PARTS: How did you find the screenshots of each slideshow?
COLL.EO: We collected the images by downloading them one by one from the online community hub of Forza Horizon II. We picked each image instead of downloading them in a batch, automatically. That was part of the process. As you can imagine, that took some time. We collected hundreds, if not thousands of screenshots, and then identified recurrent themes - e.g., glitches, bugs, ghosts, and so on. We edited them, adding the original soundtrack from RAI's Intervallo. There's a visual narrative unfolding in each of the four episodes we've released so far. It's up to the viewers to decode the meaning of each video. They can watch INTERVALLO while the game console loads the new game.
In this interview, British artist Dave Ball discusses the uses and abuses of absurdity in art and how he fell in love with the most boring video game ever.
Dave Ball (b. 1978, UK) is an artist based in Berlin and Wales; educated at Goldsmiths College, London (MA), and University of Derby (BA), and currently researching the use of absurd strategies in art practice at Winchester School of Art (PhD). He is represented by Galerie Art Claims Impulse, Berlin. Exhibitions include Searching for the Welsh Landscape (solo), Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 2016; Travelling/Reisen, Projektraum Group Global 3000, Berlin, 2016; Polyphonies, Optica, Montreal, 2015; Picaresque, Ha Gamle Prestegard, Stavanger, Norway, 2014; A to Z: From Aardvark to Axle (solo), Galerie Art Claims Impulse, Berlin, 2013; To Make the Improbable, Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, Canada, 2013; Be Our Guest, Oriel Davies, Wales, 2013; Stranded Travelers, Atelier 35, Bucharest, Romania, 2013; Making Mirrors, NGBK, Berlin, 2011; The Dump: Recycling of Thoughts, Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdansk, Poland, 2010; Field Broadcast, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridgeshire, 2010; Artsway Open 09, Artsway, Sway, Hampshire, UK; How to Live (solo), Galerie Art Claims Impulse, Berlin, 2008.
Ball's I'Ve Always Wanted to Drive Across America is featured in TRAVELOGUE.
Matteo Bittanti: In your practice, you use absurdity as a rhetorical tool. Interestingly, absurdity is a leitmotiv of several avant-garde movements - like Dada, Surrealism and Fluxus just to name a few - which challenged the so-called "common sense" of the bourgeoisie. Incidentally, Dada/Surrealism/Fluxus used games and play as a tactic, to borrow a term from Michel De Certeau. Are you operating within the same trajectory/tradition? Or are you more aligned to contemporary "pranksters" like Maurizio Cattelan who use humour and absurdity to expose the inner workings of the artworld and, perhaps, to sabotage it?
Dave Ball: This is actually the subject of my PhD research. The way I'm thinking about it at the moment is that there are certain structures of meaning in existence, and when absurdity is used strategically, it is a refusal of those structures. So in a sense absurdity is “meaningless” according to conventional ways of thinking, or rather, it operates in the space between meaningfulness and meaninglessness. For me, artworks are only interesting when they have some relationship to the real world, so what I try to do in my work is approach a topic (often quite a “serious” topic) and use absurdity as a tool to sidestep already-existing ways of thinking about that topic. Absurdity is both accessible and challenging at the same time: accessible in the sense that its novelty and humour is very easy to enjoy, but challenging in the sense that there are no straightforward ways of accounting for exactly what the work is doing. Any kind of interpretation of the “meaning” of the work is speculative, precisely because it operates outside of conventional structures of meaning. Dada certainly did something similar, but it arose in a very specific historical moment (when faith in human rationality was collapsing, triggered by the onset of war). I think a lot of neo-Dada work is boring because it lacks any real relationship with its own historical moment. Nevertheless, the subversive “tools” of Dada are very useful in tackling contemporary issues, and artists like Francis Alÿs or Pilvi Takala use them as a fascinating way of exploring social and political structures of meaning.
Matteo Bittanti: Marshall McLuhan used jokes as “probes”, that is, as devices to heighten awareness about the underlying or implicit meanings of an apparently simple situation. For the Canadian thinker, probes operate as epistemological instruments. He wrote: "The new kind of joke is a gestalt or configuration in the style of set theory." (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews, 2003, p. 45). He added that "A joke really requires a hidden ground of grievance, for which the joke is only a figure sitting out front.” (p. 278). Like McLuhan, many thinkers are mainly remembered for their jokes rather than their theories (Slavoj Zizek comes to mind...). Your practice is imbued with a peculiar sense of humour. Why did you specifically decide to use laughter as a tactic? To mask "a hidden ground of grievance", maybe?
Dave Ball: There's often a moment when you encounter an artwork that really impresses you, when your response is quite similar to hearing a funny joke: you sort of laugh in wonder at it. There's a kind of “jolt” to your thinking that takes place. It's that moment when you realise that something (the logic of the artwork) that seems on the surface to be absurd, actually makes just as much “sense” as a more conventional idea. I used to talk a lot about wanting my work to cause “minor ruptures” - I don't make shockingly transgressive work, but I do nevertheless try to destabilise something in the world by configuring it differently. This, perhaps, is what accounts for the peculiar humour in my work. To put it in McLuhan's terms, my hidden ground of grievance might be the predictability and conservatism of the world: that so much of our everyday lives is ordered and motivated by structures of meaning that strike me as arbitrary, without value, boring, even destructive. Plus, of course, humour is fun, and there's really not enough fun in the world.
Matteo Bittanti: What is your personal relationship to video games? Did you play games growing up at all? Did you specifically decide to incorporate Desert Bus in your piece because generally games are dismissed as "trivial" in the Art World, save for a few exceptions - Cory Arcangel, Miltos Manetas, Jon Rafman come to mind - or did you pick this particular game because of its status as "most boring game ever made?" If so, how did you encounter it?
Dave Ball: I played video games a lot as a child, and then, aged about 15 or 16, I took a sudden and quite conscious decision to stop, and haven't really played them since. I think I was worried that I was wasting away too much time, when I should have been studying or socialising or whatever. Computer games at that time seemed to me to represent something quite unsociable, which I wanted to avoid. I do, however, have some very vivid memories of crowding around an arcade machine at lunch time with a group of school friends, each of us taking turns to play Cloud Master, which was sociable and fun. But in general, no, I don't really have any specific interest in video games; I was simply struck by the absurdity of the Desert Bus game, which seemed to subvert everything you expect about a video game.
Matteo Bittanti: Can you discuss the creative process behind I've Always Wanted to Drive Across America? What came first, the idea (boredom) or the medium (e.g. Desert Bus, the voice over narration etc.)?
Dave Ball: The work was actually developed in response to an exhibition about travel. The premise of that show was about questioning our motivation to travel, given its environmental and social impact. And I'd just been reading about Desert Bus, and thinking about how I could use it (I'd made work before about boredom, and wanted to explore that further). So I started drawing parallels between the subversiveness of the game, and how our lived experience of travel is itself subversive. A lot of my work explores the discrepancies between “proper” experiences (of travel – the enjoyment of new places, the relaxation, the pleasure of companionship), and actual lived experiences (boredom, arguments, tiredness, getting lost). So I suppose I saw the game as a metaphor for an “improper” experience. The narration too, attempts to describe the improper experience of travel. As a child you perhaps haven't yet learnt what proper holiday experience ought to be, so you just fall back on your own experience, which is naturally a mixture of negativity and positivity. The overall effect of the work, therefore, is intended to be one of ambivalence: playing the game and listening to the soundtrack, you recognise that there's something interesting going on, but it has nothing to do with the conventional idea of what's interesting about playing video games, or about travelling. You are, so to speak, playing the game of real-life travel – but it's not exactly clear what the goal of that game is, or even if there is a goal.
In this interview, excerpted from a longer conversation that will be featured in the TRAVELOGUE catalogue, Brazilian artist and photographer Leonardo Sang describes his fascination for video game photography.
Leonardo Sang is a graphic designer and photographer based in São Paulo, Brazil. For the past five years, he has been working on Virtual Reality Photography (VRP), an ongoing photographic investigation on what separates digital worlds from the so-called "reality". By photographing videogame environments, Sang raises important questions about the legitimacy of this binary. His work has been presented in several international exhibitions, including FLAG.CX Agency in São Paulo and Porto Alegre (2013) and Squares Events #1 exhibition in Montpellier and Toulouse (2013).
Sang's Backseats in Video Games is featured in TRAVELOGUE.
Matteo Bittanti: What is VRP and how does it relate to "conventional" digital photography?
Leonardo Sang: VRP stands for "Virtual Reality Photography". In this project, I use video games as a platform for everyday photography. My goal is to show how photographic concepts and techniques can be applied to video games. The result is called game photography. All the pictures that I take are developed just like in "real world" photography: basic compositing, alignment, lines, geometry and the likes still apply. Sometimes the outcome is just a curious snapshot. I'm not interested in creating necessarily a "visually realistic" picture. I am simply trying to rethink photography through a different medium. I prefer a minimal composition scene to highly complex shots. I also try to create "moody" scenarios. Open world and sandbox games usually allow me to achieve that goal. Sometimes interesting images might appear at complete random moments, caused by situations that I do not control. I try to catch them, before they disappear. VRP was inspired by Robert Overweg, a Belgian artist who does terrific work with video games. His Shot by Robert project was especially inspiring.
Matteo Bittanti: The road trip is a staple of American photography. Several important practitioners - from Robert Frank to Stephen Shore, from Jacob Holdt to Alec Soth - have worked in this genre. When it comes to game photography, however, very few artists have used racing games. What prompted you to take screenshots from the back seat of virtual automobiles? What kind of games did you use? Can you describe your process?
Leonardo Sang: It all started with a cutscene in Battlefield 3, where the protagonist is in the back seat and the other characters are seated up front, talking and driving, getting ready to reach their objective. In that moment, I've found myself looking outside the car windows and completely ignoring the discussion. I was clueless when we arrived at the destination and frankly, I did not care much about the mission. The landscape is what interested me. Shooting and killing, not so much. Around that time I was obsessed by Project C.A.R.S., a very realistic looking racing game. I followed its development process and played the early demo builds. One of my favourite things to do in the game was to drive very slow, like I would do in a regular automobile, cruising the city. By doing that, I was able to translate the feeling of "real" driving on a road, alone, not caring about speeding, performance, or goals. I was just enjoying the experience of being there, in the game, looking around. To me, the journey inside the car is much more emotional than reaching the destination. To take a photo, I record my performance through the replay option. Basically, I document my previous driving session and I can use the file to experiment. The recording is a copy of my driving: I do not have to control the car any longer, I can become a full photographer and pick the best angle. I place the camera behind the driver, in the backseat, even if the car in the picture does not have backseats, emulating the experience of a road trip, sitting the middle, and observing the passing landscape in complete silence. I turn off the soundtrack. I just look. I have experimented with games like Project C.A.R.S. WRC 3, Dirt Rally, and Battlefield 3. Most of my photographs are in black & white because I think road trips should be shot in this palette.
Matteo Bittanti: You have developed several projects as a game-photographer. What are the main affinities and differences between digital photography (from DSLR cameras to smartphone) and your practice with video games? Do you regard virtual photography as a genre of photography or as a something else altogether, for instance, screengrabbing?
Leonardo Sang: The differences between video game photography and digital photography has more to do with form than content. At a conceptual level, these two practices are very similar. The main difference can be found at hardware level. A digital camera allows the photographer to control important details and variables like speed, focus, depth of focus, lenses, etc, which are essential to create a specific image, but in the end, the outcome is a digital files: a raw file, a jpeg, a tiff... Some video games today include features of modern DSLR cameras, not to mention sophisticated in-game photo editors, although they are not comparable to the power and flexibility of either a Canon Mark III or Photoshop. However, in video games, you get the freedom of movement, you can experiment, shoot from different angles and capture details that would be very hard, if not impossible, in the real world. Game photography allows you to do and see things that do not exist, surreal situations that only belong to the ludic world. My role as a photographer is to document these instances. In my opinion, video game photography is a new genre of photography and should be treated as such.
Matteo Bittanti: What is your relationship with video games, and specifically racing games?
Leonardo Sang: Video games have been a constant presence in my life. I have been playing digital games since I was a kid. I have always been amazed that such amazing worlds could exist on the screen, worlds made of pixels and bright colors. These spaces are "real" and alive to me. I also love cars and I found myself naturally driven to racing games, no pun intended. Initially, the vast majority of racing games that I played featured "arcade" controls and physics, which was very cool at first, but it felt very odd to make a turn at 250 km/h in the rain and be perfectly fine. Eventually, I started playing more realistic games, simulation-like titles. They really show you that racing is not that simple and requires a lot of skill and effort. I found simulation games much more compelling and challenging than arcade games.
Matteo Bittanti: Today, companies like nVidia are actively promoting the practice of game photography with their latest graphic cards, all in the name of "digital realism". In a sense, a fringe practice is becoming institutionalized and few genres are becoming dominant. Something similar happened to machinima in the early Zeroes. Do you think that hyper-realism will become the de facto standard of game photography or do you think that artists will push for more experimental, abstract styles?
Leonardo Sang: I have already seen people focusing on hyper-realism. They go for ultra-detailed graphics in their game photography practice. In fact, there is a huge, dedicated community of "hyper-realist game photographers" on the net. Their approach is very specific and their criterion for quality could not be clearer. But there are all sorts of game photographic styles nowadays. I think that the new tools and technologies that manufactures are providing will benefit all the communities, not just the photographers obsessed with realism. The more resources are available, the more experimental projects can - and will - become.
la traduzione italiana è sotto
In this interview, excerpted from a longer conversation that will be featured in the TRAVELOGUE catalogue, art critic, curator, and machinimaker Isabelle Arvers explains why machinima is the ultimate form of détournement.
Isabelle Arvers will participate in a panel titled CRASH: GAME AESTHETICS AND CONTEMPORARY ART on Sunday September 11, 2016 at 11:30 with Valentina Tanni. Click here for more information. Click here to read an interview with Tanni.
Matteo Bittanti: How would you describe the difference between video games and game videos, that is, machinima and video works created with digital games to somebody who is unfamiliar with these cultural artifacts? And what do you find so fascinating about machinima, both aesthetically and conceptually?
Isabelle Arvers: The main difference is interactivity, which is not a feature of machinima, unless you create an interactive machinima experience through an installation or performance. In order to produce a machinima one must use video game technology and play a video game, but the outcome is a linear movie, film, or video. That final product - i.e. the video - can be used as raw material to create something else that could become interactive or not. Most of the times, machinima is non-interactive. So interactivity is a key factor. But there is more...
Once, during a machinima workshop, a student of mine told me something interesting. He said that the main difference between machinima and video games is that with a machinima you can always decide what would happen next, unlike video games where it is “always the same”. I asked what he meant and he said: "After you play the game several times, you know exactly what is going to happen, over and over, and you have almost no control. You just go through the motions, pressing the buttons at the right time". It sounded counterintuitive at first, but I think he was onto something profound. Basically, what he meant is: games are repetitive, machinima is creative.
Another difference lies in the artist's intentions. A gamer and an artist have very different agendas. Playing requires specific skills like coordination and responsiveness. But a gamer basically reacts to predefined inputs. An artist is a true creator, a producer, a so-called prosumer, that is, a producer-consumer. When you make a machinima, you play the role of the content producer: you can express an original idea and use different tools to communicate your message. In other words, you are very active when you produce a non-interactive film. You become a creator rather than a user. A user is a consumer of an “interactive” experience designed by someone else.
I think that this is the ultimate message of Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey, Douglas Gayeton’s machinima documentary filmed in Second Life. In the film, the protagonist is searching for the creator of the virtual world. On his way to enlightenment, he meets several characters. Finally, he discovers that the creators is all of us. The sad part is that we do not get any Intellectual Property benefits from the work we produce: all the rights are owned by the game publishing companies.
In addition to the fact that machinima is a form of reverse-engineering of a video game - to make a machinima is to deconstruct a game and to reconstruct it in a different form - what fascinates me most is the idea of détournement. This situationist technique is about appropriating, reconfiguring, and subverting an existing artifact. To create a machinima is to do something unexpected, something that was not supposed to happen. It’s about transforming an object into something else. To make a machinima is to actively and creatively use a virtual space belonging to popular culture to express different ideas and to deliver an alternative message, because the creator is actively adding a new layer of content onto familiar images. The Situationists used to détourn movies because back in the Sixties cinema was a popular artform, and so, it was able to reach the masses. Today, video games have mass appeal and thus are an ideal medium for détournement.
Matteo Bittanti: Do you consider machinima a genre of video art? Or is it closer to fandom? As a practice, is it confined to game culture? It is separated and/or segregated from the artworld as a whole?
Isabelle Arvers: Machinima can stimulate our minds and deliver different kinds of messages. It enhances our perception and forces us to critically distance ourselves from commercial video and computer games. There is a long tradition of incorporating and using toys and games to make art. Machinima is simply the latest iteration of a process that was pioneered by avant-garde movements like DaDa and Surrealism. Both saw entertainment and play as the most subversive form of art. For them, play was a critical tool.
Video games and Surrealism share many affinities. Consider, for instance, the phenomenon of game dreaming, that is, the tendency of visualizing video game sequences or puzzles while asleep. It is obvious that games influence our mind, perhaps on a subconscious level. To make a machinima is to rearrange the world of a video game, the characters’ behavior, the scenery or the objects. The machinimaker changes the color of the sky, modifies the speed of the animation, or alters the game’s variables. Just like any other artform, machinima influences the way we look at reality. Consider Oscar Wilde’s famous essay, “The Decay Of Lying – An Observation”. All the ideas he discussed in that piece are still valid today. In short, I don’t think that machinima is just an expression of game culture. It is not separated from the artworld and certainly not segregated.
When machinima is not exhibited online or in film festivals but in the context of an art exhibition, it is presented most of the time as video art. But machinima is more like a technique than a genre in itself. Often, when visitors see machinima in an art space and they are unfamiliar with games, they cannot recognize the “source”, that is, games. All they see is three dimensional images. They see computer graphics. But that does not undermine the value of the piece and it certainly does not compromise the viewers' understanding. Additionally, because machinima is still considered a new genre after twenty years of existence, it keeps experimenting and borrowing from the language of film and from non-narrative video art. Today, very few artworks are so influenced by game aesthetics that they cannot be appreciated by an audience unfamiliar with the intricacies of the gaming vernacular. But I also believe that machinima needs to diversity itself and interact with different disciplines in order to become something else, something more, for example, a space that can be inhabited, rather than images on a screen.
Matteo Bittanti: What role does machinima occupy in the current visual landscape? And how did it change overtime?
Isabelle Arvers: I find the evolution of machinima very interesting. Machinima emerged exactly two decades ago within the so-called "hard core" game scene. For several years, it only circulated online. Subsequently, it started to be featured in dedicated festivals and in special programs of major film retrospectives. After 2006, machinima transcended the game culture scene and became a recurrent presence both within the film sphere and the Artworld.
In 2011, I curated a survey show within a larger digital art exhibition and approximately 60% of the artists involved were not gamers at all, but called themselves "film directors". For them, machinima was simply an accessible, inexpensive way to make 3D movies and to express themselves in cinematic terms. In other words, they were making "digital movies". Meanwhile, machinima was mostly ignored by the artworld until 2010, but it became a thing with the rise of the post-internet movement that considered games as contemporary artifacts worthy of critical examination.
In the post-internet scenario, machinima began to inhabit the artworld: it was not an unwelcome guest any longer. It became a staple in biennales and exhibitions. A handful of art galleries now regularly represent artists who make machinima and artworks influenced by 3D graphics, computer animation, and the web. It all began with Miltos Manetas, but artists like Cory Arcangel, Jon Rafman, Larry Achiampong and David Blandy have really blurred the lines between games, machinima, and contemporary art. Interestingly, when machinima entered the artworld, it lost its political edge and became pure aesthetics. Nowadays, young artists use games images, websites or animation as a raw material to produce installations, paintings or video works.
I am happy to say that thanks to the machinima workshops I gave in both Fine Arts and Game Design schools in France, several students who never thought about using machinima to make art have incorporated this techniques in their work. This is particularly exciting because several different contexts - technology, art, cinema, gaming - are now talking to each other in novel ways. I think machinima has now become part of a broader visual landscape than the avant-garde or the so-called underground of the Nineties. Machinima is also related to mash-up culture because of its hybrid nature. It is a mix of collage and reappropriation—indeed the concept itself is a mashup, as it conflates cinema and video games. So, besides the post-internet movement, machinima now belongs to a wider visualscape that includes the DJ and the VJ scene, video clips, remix, and more. Machinima is part of a mix of disciplines, cultures, and practices that, hopefully, will give rise to interesting, not-yet-identified cultural objects.
ISABELLE ARVERS (b. 1972) is a French media art curator, critic and author, specializing in video and computer games, web animation, digital cinema, retrogaming, chiptune music, and machinima. She curated several exhibitions in France and internationally on the relationship between art, video games, and politics including the seminal Gizmoland the Video Cuts (Centre Pompidou, 2001), the Gaming Room at PLAYTIME(Villette Numérique, Paris, 2002), Tour of the Web (Centre Pompidou, 2003), featuring Vuk Cosic and Miltos Manetas among others, Digital Salon. Games and Cinema (Maison Populaire, Montreuil, 2011), GAME HEROES(Alcazar, Marseille, 2011) and several editions of GAMERZ (Aix-en-Provence, France). She also promotes free and open source culture as well as indie games and art games. A graduate of the Institute of Political Studies in Aix-en-Provence and a Postgraduate Diploma in Cultural Project Management of the Paris 8 University, Isabelle Arvers has been researching and working with new media since 1993. A prolific writer, her critical essays have been included in several catalogs, anthologies, and books. Arvers lives and works in Marseille.
Isabelle Arvers parteciperà all'incontro CRASH: ESTETICHE VIDEOLUDICHE E ARTE CONTEMPORANEA che si terrà domenica 11 settembre alle ore 11:30 insieme a Valentina Tanni. Cliccate qui per ulteriori informazioni. Clicca qui per leggere un'intervista con Tanni.
Matteo Bittanti: Come spiegheresti la differenza tra video giochi e giochi video, ossia machinima e altre produzioni audiovisive create con i video game, a chi non possiede grande dimestichezza con questi artefatti culturali? Inoltre, cosa ti affascina in particolare del machinima, sia a livello estetico che concettuale?
Isabelle Arvers: La differenza essenziale è l'interattività, che non è una caratteristica del machinima, a meno che un autore decida di produrre un machinima interattivo attraverso un'installazione o una performance. Anche se un creatore che vuole produrre un machinima deve usare la tecnologia del videogioco nonché "giocare" per effettuare delle riprese, il risultato è un'opera lineare, che si tratti di un filmato, di un corto o lungometraggio. Certo, il video risultante può essere usato come materiale grezzo per creare qualcos'altro, ma nella stragrande maggioranza dei casi, il machinima non è interattivo. Quindi l'interattività rappresenta un importante fattore discriminante. Ma c'è di più...
Una volta, durante un workshop machinima che avevo organizzato in una scuola parigina, un mio studente ha detto una cosa che mi ha colpito molto. Ha dichiarato che la differenza tra il machinima e il videogioco è che in un machinima è possibile "decidere quello che succederà dopo", mentre in un videogioco "è sempre la stessa cosa". Ho chiesto delucidazioni e mi ha risposto: "Dopo aver giocato a un videogioco diverse volte, sai esattamente cosa succederà, le cose si ripetono in modo sempre identico, il giocatore ha un controllo limitato. Si tratta semplicemente di ripetere una sequenza, di premere i pulsanti al momento giusto e poco altro." Anche se all'inizio può suonare bizzarro, le sue affermazioni rivelano una profonda comprensione del potenziale - ma anche dei limiti - del videogioco. In breve: mentre i videogiochi sono ripetitivi, il machinima è creativo.
Un altro importante fattore discriminante riguarda le intenzioni dell'artista. Un giocatore e un artista hanno obiettivi differenti. Il videogiocare richiede abilità particolari come la coordinazione occhio-mano e la capacità di rispondere rapidamente agli stimoli audiovisivi. Ma un giocatore riflette a sollecitazioni predefinite. Per converso, l'artista è un vero creatore, un produttore, un cosiddetto prosumer, contrazione di producer-consumer. Creando un machinima, interpretiamo il ruolo del produttore di contenuti: possiamo esprimere un'idea originale, usando differenti strumenti. In altre parole, siamo davvero "attivi" quando produciamo un film non-interattivo. Siamo "creatori" anzichè "utenti". Un utente è un consumatore di un'esperienza "interattiva" progettata da qualcun altro.
Questo è il messaggio profondo di Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey, il machinima doc del regista americano Douglas Gayeton girato in Second Life. Nel suo film, il protagonista è alla ricerca del creatore del mondo virtuale. Lungo il cammino, incontra numerosi personaggi. Alla fine, scopre che il creatore, in realtà, siamo noi. Sfortunatamente, non beneficiamo di alcun vantaggio economico: l'azienda che ha "prodotto" il gioco detiene tutti i diritti. Una beffa.
Oltre ad essere una forma di reverse-engineering di un videogioco - produrre un machinima significa decostruire un videogioco e ricostruirlo in forma differente - ciò che mi affascina di più del machinima è la nozione di détournement. Questa tecnica situazionista consiste nell'appropriarsi, riconfigurare e sovvertire un artefatto esistente. Creare un machinima significa fare qualcosa che non si dovrebbe fare: si tratta di trasformare un oggetto in qualcosa di differente. Produrre un machinima significa usare in modo attivo e creativo uno spazio virtuale che appartiene alla pop culture per esprimere idee alternative, differenti, dato che il creatore aggiunge dei significati assenti nell'opera originale. I Situazionisti utilizzavano la tecnica del détournement per il cinema perché si trattava di una forma popolare di intrattenimento e, come tale, era in grado di raggiungere le masse. Oggi sono i videogiochi ad avere un appeal popolare e per tanto sono il medium ideale per il détournement.
Matteo Bittanti: Consideri il machinima un genere di videoarte? Oppure è un'espressione del fandom videoludico? Si tratta di una pratica limitata alla cultura del videogioco, separata/segregata dal Mondo dell'Arte, ivi inteso in senso beckeriano?
Isabelle Arvers: Il machinima può stimolare le nostre menti e veicolare differenti messaggi. Ridefinisce le nostre capacità percettive e ci costringe a prendere le distanze dai videogiochi commerciali. C'è una lunga tradizione nella storia dell'arte che prevede l'incorporazione di giocattoli e pratiche ludiche all'interno dei processi artistici. Il machinima è semplicemente l'ultima iterazione di un processo che ha tra i suoi pionieri movimenti d'avanguardia come il DaDa e il Surrealismo. Per entrambi questi movimenti, l'intrattenimento e il gioco erano le forme d'arte più sovversive. Per loro, il gesto ludico poteva diventare un potente strumento critico.
I videogiochi e il Surrealismo presentano più affinità di quanto si possa credere. Si pensi, per esempio, al fenomeno dei sogni videoludici, ovvero la tendenza a visualizzare sequenze di un videogioco o la risoluzione di un rompicapo particolarmente difficile durante il sonno... Non ci sono dubbi che i videogiochi influenzano la nostre psiche, forse a livello inconscio. Produrre un machinima significa riconfigurare il mondo di un videogioco, il comportamento dei personaggi che lo abitano, le caratteristiche di uno scenario o degli oggetti ivi contenuti. Il creatore di machinima cambia il colore del cielo, modifica la velocità di animazione o altera le variabili di gioco. Come qualsiasi altra forma d'arte, il machinima influenza il modo in cui percepiamo la realtà. Si consideri il celebre saggio di Oscar Wilde, "Decadenza della menzogna”: tutte le idee che lo scritto ha espresso allora sono ancora valide. Non credo che il machinima sia una mera espressione della cultura videoludica. Non è separato dal Mondo dell'Arte e certamente non segregato.
Quando il machinima non è esibito online o in un festival cinematografico ma nel contesto di un'esibizione d'arte, il machinima è presentato nella maggior parte dei casi come videoarte. Ma il machinima si presenta più come una tecnica che un genere in se stesso. Spesso, quando gli spettatori vedono il machinima in uno spazio artistico e non hanno grande dimestichezza con i videogiochi, non sono in grado di riconoscere il testo sorgente, ovvero i videogiochi. Tutto quello che vedono sono immagini tridimensionali sullo schermo. Computer grafica. Tuttavia, questo non riduce il valore dell'opera né compromette le capacità degli spettatori di comprendere ed apprezzare ciò che vedono. Inoltre, dato che il machinima è tutt'ora considerato un "nuovo genere" dopo vent'anni di esistenza, gli artisti che lo utilizzano sperimentano e prendono in prestito aspetti del linguaggio cinematografico o della videoarte. Oggi, poche opere machinima sono così influenzate dal videogioco da risultare incomprensibili per un'utenza completamente a digiuno di cultura videoludica. Ritengo tuttavia che il machinima debba diversificare la propria estetica e interagire con differenti discipline al fine di diventare qualcos'altro, qualcosa di più, per esempio, diventando uno spazio abitabile anziché mere immagini su uno schermo.
Matteo Bittanti: Che posizione occupa il machinima all'interno del paesaggio audiovisivo contemporaneo? Puoi sintetizzarne l'evoluzione?
Isabelle Arvers: La storia del machinima è molto interessante. Il machinima è emerso esattamente due decadi fa all'interno della cosiddetta comunità "hard core" del videogioco. Per molti anni ha circolato esclusivamente in rete. In seguito, è stato presentato all'interno di festival specializzati e in programmi speciali di retrospettive di corto e lungometraggi. Dopo il 2006, il machinima ha definitivamente trasceso la cultura ludica ed è diventata una presenza ricorrente sia nella sfera filmica che in quella del Mondo dell'Arte.
Nel 2011, ho curato una rassegna di opere machinima all'interno di un festival di arte digitale e circa il 60% degli autori coinvolti non si sono definitivi "giocatori" bensì "registi" a tutti gli effetti. Per loro, il machinima era un modo accessibile ed economico per esprimersi attraverso il linguaggio del cinema. In altre parole, stavano creando "film digitali". Nel frattempo, il machinima era per lo più ignorato dal Mondo dell'Arte istituzionale fino al 2010, ma poi è diventato di moda grazie all'avvento del movimento post-internet. In questo nuovo scenario, il videogioco è diventato un artefatto contemporaneo da esaminare criticamente.
Nell'era post-internet, il machinima ha cominciato ad abitare il Mondo dell'Arte. Non era più un immigrante illegale, bensì una presenza costante alle Biennali e alle Mostre di tutto il mondo. Un numero ridotto di gallerie d'arte oggi rappresentano artisti che producono machinima o opere d'arte influenzate dall'estetica 3D, dall'animazione digitale e dalla rete. Tutto è cominciato con Miltos Manetas, ma artisti come Cory Arcangel, Jon Rafman, Larry Achiampong e David Blandy hanno demolito i tradizionali confini tra videogiochi, machinima e arte contemporanea. Non a caso, quando il machinima è entrato a far parte del Mondo dell'Arte, ha perso la sua forza critica e sovversiva, diventando pura estetica. Oggi, i giovani artisti usano giochi, immagini, siti e animazioni come materiale grezzo per creare installazioni, quadri o videoarte.
Sono molto contenta che grazie ai workshop machinima che ho curato in scuole d'arte e di game design in Francia, molti studenti che non avrebbero mai immaginato di usare il videogioco per fare arte hanno cominciato a incorporare la tecnica del machinima all'interno della loro pratica. Si tratta di un fenomeno particolarmente significativo perché oggi differenti contesti - la tecnologia, l'arte, il cinema e il gioco - si parlano tra di loro. Oggi il machinima è parte integrante di un paesaggio audiovisivo più ampio e complesso rispetto a quello della mera avanguardia e del cosiddetto underground.
Il machinima è inoltre legato alla nozione di mash-up per via della sua natura ibrida. Si tratta di un mix di collage e appropriazione - non a caso, il concetto stesso di machinima è un mash-up, dato che si tratta di una contrazione di cinema e videogioco, macchina e film, machine cinema. Per concludere, oltre al movimento post-internet, il machinima oggi appartiene a un visualscape che include la scena DJ e VJ, i videoclip, il remix e altro ancora. Il machinima informa un crogiuolo di discipline, culture e pratiche che, mi auguro, daranno i natali a qualcosa di terribilmente interessante, a una nuova generazione di oggetti culturali non ancora identificati.
Nata nel 1972, ISABELLE ARVERS è una curatrice, critica e artista francese specializzata in videogiochi, animazione web, cinema digitale, retrogaming, chiptune e machinima. Ha curato numerose mostre in Francia e a livello internazionale sulla relazione tra arte, videogiochi e ideologia, tra cui la seminale Gizmoland. The Video Cuts (Centre Pompidou, Parigi 2001), Gaming Room presso PLAYTIME (Villette Numérique, Parigi, 2002), Tour of the Web (Centre Pompidou, parigi, 2003), con Vuk Cosic e Miltos Manetas tra gli altri, Digital Salon. Games and Cinema (Maison Populaire, Montreuil, 2011), GAME HEROES (Alcazar, Marsiglia 2011) e numerose edizione del festival GAMERZ (Aix-en-Provence, France). Promuove inoltre l'open source, gli art games e l'indie gaming. Ha ottenuto una Laurea presso l'Institute of Political Studies in Aix-en-Provence e un Master in Cultural Project Management presso la 8 University di Parigi, Isabelle Arvers studia i new media dal 1993. Autrice prolifica, ha scritto numerosi saggi raccolti in cataloghi, antologie e libri. Arvers vive e lavora a Marsiglia.
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