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 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.
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 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.
la traduzione italiana è sotto