<<<(((Mods & Hackers)))>>>
Game Modification, Hacking, Patching Avatars
and Code-based Practices within
May 26, 2011 – September 3, 2011
For its summer show Young Projects will be focusing on digital projects made by artists working in the realm of game modification, hacking, patching and other code-based practices. The show includes a number of interactive works, where the viewer manipulates the work and thus, the aesthetics of the experience in real time. The show also includes the LA debut of the first-ever 3D television that does not need viewing glasses. At the center of the exhibit is the notion of gaming, both as a social practice and as a virtual experience; both as a philosophy and as a diversion. Game patching, hacking and modifying (aka mods, where an artist appropriates and modifies an existing game) has been going on for nearly 40 years. Yet the notion of games has a much longer lineage within the context of contemporary art. For the Dada artists, most notably Duchamp, games were the most potent way of exploring notions of chance, mathematics, structure and other Modernist ideals. For Guy Debord, who was also an ardent gamer, “all vital periods begin as a game, a struggle, and a journey.” Such ideas are particularly important for the current generation of artists, many of whom believe that video games have finally eclipsed both cinema and literature as the most relevant form of cultural expression.
Eddo Stern (US)
Gazira Babeli (IT)
Palle Torsson (SE)
Eva & Franco Mattes (IT)
Jenifer & Kevin McCoy (AU)
Joseph DeLappe (US)
Alison Mealey (UK)
Mark Napier (US)
Mark Essen (US)
Tzema Novelo (MX)
Jonathan Cecil (US)
Daniel Franke (DE)
Josephine Starrs (US)
Leon Cmielewski (US)
Jonathan Cecil (US)
Antonio Mendoza (US)
On the 3D Alioscopy:
Jon 9 / Agent X-Ray / John Hanning /
Christopher Tousey / Audri Phillips
Works in the Exhibition
Front Lobby, left
(Flat-screen in window)
PAM on Couch (2011) Mark Napier generative software, computer, flat-screen
(Interactive Projection, large screen)
Downfall (2011) Palle Torsson (2 min loop, silent) Half-Life 2 software manipulation, computer and mouse, HD projector, speakers
Escape Equals No Return (2011) Txema Novelo Graphic printed on vinyl banner 11” x 68”
(White room with sound device, lobby area right)
Spatial Soundsculpture, Daniel Franke, (2009) Custom computer, camera and sound device, wall graphics, speakers, adaptable sound design by Rutger Zuydervelt.
(3 photographic prints)
Grind (2005) Alison Mealey 30x30 lambda print; Honor (2005) Alison Mealey 20x20 lambda print; Jake (2005) Alison Mealey 14x14 lambda print
Works in Progress: Untitled loops by Jon 9, Agent X-Ray, John Hanning, Christopher Tousey, Audri Phillips (2011) (Each under 3 mins, silent) 42” Aliscopy autostereoscopic HD flat-screen monitor
(22” flat-screen to the right)
Los Angeles Spin (2011) Jonathan Cecil Endless loop, silent (Images of Los Angeles woven into a globe), flatscreen tv, frame, media player.
(Large Projection Screen: two 4:3 screens side by side)
The Bathers (2010) Gazira Babeli computer, keyboard, mouse, modified game software, second life, HD Projector
Save Your Skin (2007) Gazira Babeli, computer, keyboard, mouse, modified
game software, second life, HD projector, amplifier, speakers
(22” flat-screen to the left)
(22” flat-screen, back wall)
(Single channel projection to the right)
Baby in Christ vs. His Father (2007) Eddo Stern Media Player, HD projector, speakers
(Through faux doorway, projection left)
Horror Chase (2002) Jennifer and Kevin McCoy (Endless loop with sound) original scenes randomized via a computer, movie-set flats, HD Projector, speakers, original software.
(Smashed computer in hallway)
My Generation (2010) Eva and Franco Mattes (4 min loop with sound) Smashed desktop computer, mouse, keyboard, speakers, CRT monitor, dvd player
Serious Games III: Immersion (2011) Harun Farocki Parallel videos, colorl sound, 20 min loop, HD projector, media player. Director, scriptwriter: Harun Farocki research: Matthias Rajmann editor: Harun Farocki Max Reimann cinematographer: Ingo Kratisch sound: Matthias Rajmann production: Harun Farocki Filmproduction, Berlin, with support from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg GmbH co-production: Jeu de Paume, Paris, Stuk, Leuven
(40” TV in Hallway)
Dead in Iraq (2009) Joseph DeLappe (9 min loop, with sound) Modified gaming software from the US army, computer, mouse, speakers, single channel HD projection.
(This piece alternates with):
Bio-Tek Kitchen (2004) Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski (3 min loop with sound) media player and 42” TV)
Nidhogg (2010) Mark Essen modified gaming software, computer, 2 game controllers, speakers, HD Projector
Most of the artists in <<<(((Mods & Hackers)))>>> have designed their own games, or at least used preexisting games, to explore notions of interactivity, social behavior and the way in which games can relate to the history of art. Given the prevalence of computers in our lives, and their increased networking capabilities, interactivity has become one of the most important and exciting areas of research in terms of mass-market ideas and artworks. (Interactive artworks date back to the kinetic works of the early 1900s, and they flourished in the 1960s with a new generation of computer based artworks. But the sheer accessibility an ease of new technology has made it more common than ever before). Today an artwork can not only sense its environment and respond accordingly, but an artist can situate his or her work entirely in the virtual, where there is no object per se, yet the work has a complete and full life.
Babeli in particular, is an artist who works entirely through the virtual. The majority of her output is through guise of an Avatar designed by the artist: a semi-nude maven clad in a black top hat and sunglasses. The artist, who’s well-known in her native Italy, calls herself a “code performer,” working and living in Second Life as an artist, performer and film-maker. (She is also part of Second Front, a new international group of artists/performers dedicated to the formal, aesthetic, cultural and social exploration of a reality dubbed the "virtual"). Each project takes her avatar into new fictional environments, both on the web and in discrete computer works, which often recall specific art historical references, such as Seurat’s 1883 painting, The Bathers, 1883 which is included in the show, and Save Your Skin 2007 where the epidermis of other avatars are put on display. (This is a direct commentary on the open market ideology surrounding both, Second Life, where “skins” are purchased for Avatars, and in pop culture itself.) In each case, Babeli lets her Avatar interact with those spaces, often with the help of the viewer.
Similarly, Stern and DeLappe have been producing highly immersive, highly complex, viewer-controlled game-works for years, some of which are now legendary. Stern, who teaches at UCLA, made Baby in Christ vs. His Father in 2007, but it can now be seen as one of the key works of the early 2000s. (It could be favorably compared to Gilliam Wearing’s 10-16, which was one of the key video works of the previous decade). Here Stern transforms recorded conversations with a young Christian gamer into a lush figurative composition that uses gaming figures as its primary elements, much in the way that the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527 – 1593) used vegetation to compose images of European aristocracy.
Joseph DeLappe is an Associate Professor of the Department of Art at the University of Nevada where he runs the Digital Media Program. In 2001 he began a series of protests, interventions, and reenactments – hacktivist performances within computer games and online communities. Included in these is the controversial project Dead-in-Iraq 2009 (Included in Mods&Hackers) which he created to intervene in the highly popular, taxpayer funded “First Person Shooter” game produced by the Defense Department as a recruiting and marketing tool. DeLappe enters the America’s Army game with the moniker, “dead-in-iraq”, drops his weapon and in the ensuing virtual mayhem, is killed; hovering over his dead avatar he proceeds to type the name, age, service branch and date of death of each American military casualty from the war in Iraq. In this ongoing act of “memorial and protest” he has, to date, logged in over 4,000 names of the 4,221 reported killed. It is thus, not only a crucial work of post 911, but a landmark within the gaming community.
Similarly, Harun Farocki’s Serious Games: Immersion explores the military’s use of video games during and after warfare. Working with the Institute for Creative Technologies, he documents the military’s use of virtual reality to help soldiers through posttraumatic stress situations. In each case, the soldier describes the war scene that was most disturbing (being attacked, watching friends die, etc) and the a group of artists recreate that scene in VR. Then, by using a virtual reality viewer, the soldier “returns” back the scene at which point a psychiatrist help him or her through the situation. In this case the line between what is a game and what is real has been completely erased.
Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski’s Bio-Tek Kitchen, 2004, is also a key work of the genre. Here the artists transform a traditional first person shooter game (Marathon Infinity) by swapping out guns for kitchen utensils and vicious enemies with mutant and malicious vegetables. Thus the player must fight the “corporate conspiracy to take over the food-chain” and literally “clean up the kitchen.” In the process, the work not only comments on the current food crisis, but feminizes the male dominated first-person-shooter genre.
Similarly Torsson, who’s based in Stockholm, Sweden, has been known to use the gaming engines of Half-Life, Doom and Quake, to create remarkable experiences that bridge fine art and pop culture to an extraordinary degree. His Museum Meltdown, for instance, consisted of a series of site specific computer game installations in European art museums, where the architecture of each museum was turned into a violent first-person shooter game, where visitors would go on a rampage, destroying masterpieces at will. In Free Fall (2011), which is included in the show, the artist explores the notion of falling, which is so central to gaming projects, and which offers a poignant commentary on the notion of perspective, which as dominated visual arts for centuries. Here the ground is not a forgone conclusion, but an inevitable fate. For Torsson, our current age could be construed as an age ‘groundlessness’ at least in a metaphoric sense. We are living in a time when stable ground has been continuously eroded, to the point where metaphysical claims or foundational political myths are more fluid than they are fixed, more fictional than factual. What’s more, in Torsson’s wok, the figures—all businessmen in suits—are in a kind of perpetual fall, which dissolves notions of linearity or hierarchy. Thus the piece becomes an apt metaphor for class-consciousness, political upheaval and economical collapse.
Given that the work in <<<(((Mods & Hackers)))>>> has to do with computers, the show also asks important questions about the place of authorship in the realm of art, and in some cases proves that computers can be creative collaborators. The British artist Alison Mealey creates painterly 2D images—both abstract and figurative—by capturing the data flow of computers as they perform. As she explains, “each image represents about 30 mins of gameplay in which the computers ai plays against itself, there are 20-25 bots playing each game. The bots play custom maps that I create. And each map has been pathed so that the bots have a rough idea of where to go in order to create the image I want. Every image represents 1 full game, and the position of the dots or lines reflects the position of a player at a given time.”
Similarly, the Mattes, Napier, Nullpointer and Mendoza are utilizing the live streaming function of the web to create works of art that are situated entirely in the present moment. Here an algorithm, which could be compared to the painterly gesture or mark, is at the heart of the work’s authorship. And that idea in itself serves as a decisive break form the temporal mode of most cinematic and televised works, which traditionally exist in the past. The Mattes in particular, are well known, even notorious, for their provocative works on the web. In the process they are offering a serious challenge to the way we think, use and interact with new media. As they say, they are “interested in manipulating all kinds of media, from video games to feature films, public sinage to mainstream journalism, in an effort to throw everything into question and reveal uncomfortable truths.” In the process, they have embarrassed both, public officials and art institutions alike, by creating actions that mingle truth and falsehoods into a seamless whole. The couple first gained notoriety in 1998 by obtaining the domain name vaticano.org in order to undermine the Catholic Church’s official website. They followed that with cloning sites owned by other well-known artists and including false events on on-line chat rooms. Their notorious piece, No Fun for instance, took place in a live online dating site, where the Mattes staged a very real looking suicide for the thousands of prospective suitors who clicked on to check out what they thought would be another young man looking to “hook-up.” My Generation 2010 is another key work in their career, and one that is included in <<<(((Mods&Hackers)))>>> presents uploaded clips from YouTube, where kids virtually implode while playing video games.
By contrast, Napier, who began as a painter and is now one of the best known web artists in the world, uses the web to create discrete works of art that are sold in shares, much like a piece of real estate. When owners of the work log-in, their actions, movements and sounds change the work in real time—from all over the world. Thus, in many ways, his efforts realize the notion of the dematerialization of art in a profound way in that his images—which reference pop culture, deconstruction, post modernism, performance, music and conceptual art—are quite literally everywhere at once. His PAM on Sofa (2011) follows his Distorted Barbie piece, (which led to a cease-and-desist letter from Mattel), where a pop icon—Pamela Anderson—the very image of artificiality and fantasy—is reconfigured and recombined infinitely by a computer.
Similarly, the LA-based Antonio Mendoza, ake Mr Tamale, works with Abe Linkoln and Jimpunk on a live streaming site, Triptych TV, which becomes a contemporary exquisite corpse, continually evolving, changing and breaking apart as each of the artists contributes. His ImagePirate,com is a solo effort and follows the same approach, with the computer pulling from a vast array of websites and sound clips alike. In the process, the computer becomes a central element in the effect and content of the work, while the glitch, which is so central to Mendoza’s aesthetic, becomes the primary gesture. Here the glitch is the primary focus (as in most of Mendoza’s work), where a breach becomes an apt metaphor for the space we find ourselves while living in a world dominated by media flow.
The British artist Tom Betts, aka, Nullpointer, too has been using software programs to deconstruct video games, websites and other source codes. He is a well-known programmer, visual artist and musician (aka Weevil) and web artist who has exhibited widely. His “Q,” which is included in the exhibition is the result of his attempts to exploit the source code of the original Quake1 video game. In this case he decided to transform the graphics engine to produce a highly abstract environment that not only reduces the actual 3D ambitions of the original, to a minimal, 2D plane. What’s more, the work exposes the pixel mechanics of the software and renders it archaic. Thus, in many ways, it is a truly contemporary work of abstraction.
Daniel Franke has also created a work that also exists firmly in the present moment. Based in Berlin, where he is a member of the WeAreChopChop collective, and where he co-founded LEAP (Lab for Electronic Arts and Performance). His practice is founded on a number of relevant principles, including the notion of breaking away from representation and “screen-oriented” simulations, and instead, bringing his time-based works into the here and now. As he remarks, much of the 20th century is based on the notion of simulation, where artworks and cultural artifacts are designed to mimic, simulate and represent the same sensations that human agency produces—whether it’s vision, thought or sensation. That in itself, is a reflection of the very processes of the brain itself, which uses its own simulations to reflect the world at large and in turn, tell the body what to do. But as Franke says, we are moving headlong into the age of Post Simulation, where technology has the capability of closing the gap between the representation of an experience and the experience itself.
His Spatial Sound Sculpture (2010) uses a custom-designed hand-held camera/viewer to read its environment to create a living, moving, audio-visual experience in real time. It includes and interprets a soundtrack by musician Rutger Zuydervelt, and attempts to re-organize the relationship between “the viewer and the viewed.” In other words, Franke has created a gallery space that houses an actual sculpture that exists in real time and real space, only the viewer can only see the sculpture with the aid of a handheld computer/camera. Here the handheld screen becomes a transmitter of sorts, superimposing a digital layer onto “real space” which becomes “augmented reality,” a term that defines one of the most exciting areas of artistic exploration at the moment. Thus unlike virtual reality, which remains an artificial environment, and unlike Second Life, which also remains at a distance from the viewer, Spatial Sound Sculpture exists in the same space as the viewer, in real time, always changing and moving, forever and always.
Real time versus cinematic time, is at the heart of the McCoy’s Horror Chase, 2002, which is making its Los Angeles debut. This piece is considered one of the landmark pieces of the early 2000s. It uses a computer to randomly manipulate a scene of a man running through an obvious fake set, much like so many chase scenes in Hollywood horror films. Yet by virtue of its randomness, and by virtue of its non-temporal approach (the images run backwards as much as forwards), it has more to do with First Person Shooter games than Hollywood fiction. In this case the computer becomes the player, which in effect, underscores the notion of ‘man vs machine’ and doing away with notions of cinematic time, sequential time, and cause and effect.