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.
Bob Bicknell-Knight, Consumerist Dissonance, 2016
"This piece considers the utopian relationships and spaces that we encounter within video game worlds and the escapism that is sought out within computer games as well as the futility associated with the accumulation of consumerist products." (Bob Bicknell-Knight)
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.
Bob Bicknell-Knight, An Undignified Failure, 2016
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.
Bob Bicknell-Knight, Fabricated Loss, 2016
"A work exploring the tedium of daily life, the relationship between humans and technology as well as the idea of community." (Bob Bicknell-Knight)
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.