Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Fluxus Poetry : No Face
Friday, November 16, 2007
typefacE............................................................ LINOtype FLUXUS.............
...................................and .....where tO............................buy..... it.
.....typeface .......Lino.........................................type FluxuS .............and.........
.....where.............. to......................... ..buy.............. it.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
INVITATION TO JOIN KUNSTRADIO'S CELEBRATION OF ART'S BIRTHDAY 2008!
Celebrating Art's Birthday is a tradition started by French Fluxus artist Robert Filliou who declared, on January 17th 1963, that Art had been born exactly 1,000,000 years ago when somebody dropped a dry sponge into a bucket of water.
Throughout the last decades artists continued organising annual celebrations in the spirit of Filliou's "Eternal Network" or "La Fête permanente". In 2008 people all over the world will again be preparing numerous networked birthday parties for art, several of these under the motto "Forever Young".
Kunstradio invites you to join our celebration by contributing presents to our party, which will take place on site at Common Ground, QDK, Museumsquartier Q21 in Vienna from 8 pm on January 17th 2008.
These presents we invite you to upload to our present pool online under http://www.kunstradio.at/PROJECTS/AB2008/presents-upload.php
We will be listening in on your presents and streams during our party on site in Vienna, artists will re-mix and further distribute these online and via our live Kunstradio broadcast on the cultural channel on the Austrian National Radio Ö1 from 11 – 12 pm CET, as well as on the EBU satellite.
A selection of presents will also be presented in later on air editions of Kunstradio.
Should you have any questions or plan to organise a party yourself, please do not hesitate to contact us
Spread the word! This is a party you can bring as many people and presents as you wish!
More about Art's Birthday can be found here: http://www.artsbirthday.net
// The short version:
What do we want?
A present. Not for us, for Art.
sound, images, text, love
Streamed, e-mailed, snail-mailed or uploaded at:
mp3 files, live-streams, images, webcams, etc.
Until January 17th, 2008 (from 20:00 CET until late, (19:00 GMT))
on air: 11 – 12 p.m. CET Ö1 (FM 92.0, MW 1476, SW)
on line: http://www.kunstradio.at/PROJECTS/AB2008
on site: Vienna, details to be announced
Wireless support commmunication with lightning - visual poem by Litsa Spathi
Cold reset / Tactic absence & visual strategy by Bubu
Friday, November 09, 2007
Yoko Ono and Fluxus scholar Jon Hendricks play chess
Credit: NATHAN COLLINS -- THE TECH
Yoko Ono and Fluxus scholar Jon Hendricks play chess at Ono’s 1997 “Play It By Trust” last Friday at the List Visual Arts Center. “YES Yoko Ono,” on which Hendricks consulted, features Ono’s work from the 1960s to present.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
πρωτοπορίa- Η τέχνη τού να παράγεις αντιτέχνη
Η τέχνη τού να παράγεις αντιτέχνη
Για δύο μήνες η Ανωτάτη Σχολή Καλών Τεχνών φιλοξενεί τα έργα και τις ημέρες του Fluxus, ενός κινήματος από τα πιο ανατρεπτικά που άνθησε και... σκανδάλισε τη δεκαετία του '60
Το κίνημα Fluxus (= εν ροή) έπρεπε να είχε οδηγηθεί στο Αυτόφωρο για «αντίσταση κατά της αρχής». Οπως και αν το κάνουμε το να εκσφενδονίζεις ανά δύο λεπτά φρεσκοχτυπημένες ομελέτες στο φιλοθέαμον κοινό (Βολφ Βόστελ, «Danger Music Νο. 3»), το να γυρίζεις ταινίες μεγάλου μήκους με ζεύγη οπισθίων εν κινήσει (Γιόκο Ονο, «Νο. 4 Bottoms») και βεβαίως το να συνθέτεις κομμάτια για «σκληρό πέος στο πιάνο» (Ναμ Τζουν Πάικ) αντιτίθεται στην καλλιτεχνική ευνομία ό,τι και αν σημαίνει κάθε φορά αυτό. Και όμως το εν λόγω αντικαλλιτεχνικό κίνημα που επιμένουν να το «σνομπάρουν» και τα πιο ενημερωμένα βιβλία μοντέρνας τέχνης δεν αρκέστηκε απλώς στο να σηκώσει μερικά φρύδια τεχνοκριτικών. Μπήκε στην Ιστορία και ας δεν είχε καμία όρεξη να το κάνει. Οχι απλώς ως μια αναβίωση του ντανταϊστικού πνεύματος (οι ουρητήρες και οι μυστακοφόρες Τζιοκόντες έμοιαζαν πλέον παρωχημένα) αλλά ως μια υπενθύμιση ότι ναι, στην τέχνη, για να παραφράσουμε τον Ηράκλειτο, «τα πάντα fluxus».
Ηθικός αυτουργός των fluxus πειραματισμών ο Georges Maciunas, ένας θεοπάλαβος Λιθουανός που αγαπούσε να τριγυρνά στους διαδρόμους του ξενοδοχείου Plaza της Νέας Υόρκης ντυμένος οδοντίατρος. Εν έτει 1960 επέλεξε τον ρέοντα όρο ως όνομα για ένα περιοδικό που θα φιλοξενούσε ιδέες και εργασίες καλλιτεχνών οι οποίοι, για να το θέσουμε επιεικώς, απέρριπταν τις κατεστημένες μορφές τέχνης. Το περιοδικό δεν εξεδόθη ποτέ, το fluxus όμως επικράτησε για να περιγράψει όλον εκείνο τον καλλιτεχνίζοντα αναρχισμό που είχε αρχίσει να ξεπροβάλλει στις αρχές της δεκαετίας του ΄60. Επίκεντρο στα πρώτα αυτά βήματα η Γερμανία εν συνεχεία όμως θα υποκύψουν η υπόλοιπη Ευρώπη και η Αμερική, όπως άλλωστε είχε συμβεί 45 χρόνια νωρίτερα με τον ντανταϊσμό.
Αρκετοί καλλιτέχνες αρχίζουν να μαζεύονται στα πρώιμα σημεία συναντήσεως στο ατελιέ της Μαίρης Μπαουερμάστερ στην Κολονία ή στην γκαλερί Parnass στο Βούπερταλ , ουδείς όμως δύναται να δώσει έναν ορισμό ή έστω το στίγμα του νεοαφιχθέντος ρεύματος. «Το πιο σπουδαίο στο Fluxus είναι ότι κανένας δεν γνωρίζει περί τίνος πρόκειται» θα πει ο Ρόμπερτ Βας, είς εκ των γερμανοτραφών εκπροσώπων του. «Κάτι πρέπει επιτέλους να υπάρχει που να μην καταλαβαίνουν οι ειδικοί». «Ποτέ δεν έγινε καμιά προσπάθεια να συμφωνήσουμε ως προς τους στόχους ή τις μεθόδους» σπεύδει να εξηγήσει ο «συνάδελφός» του Τζορτζ Μπρεχτ. «Υπήρξαν απλώς και μόνον μεμονωμένα πρόσωπα τα οποία είχαν κάτι κοινό... Ισως είναι αυτό το κοινό κάτι, ότι τα κατεστημένα όρια στην τέχνη δεν έχουν να προσφέρουν πλέον απολύτως τίποτε». Οσο για το ίδιο το καλλιτεχνικό κατεστημένο της εποχής, δεν θα παραλείψει να εκφράσει τον αποτροπιασμό του για το ρευστό, το εξωφρενικά εφήμερο και ενίοτε σκανδαλώδες της νέας αυτής αντιτέχνης. Οπως εξομολογείται ο Τόμας Σμιτ, «χρήματα δεν κέρδιζε κανείς, δόξα δεν υπήρχε, οι λοιποί καλλιτεχνικοί κύκλοι μάς αγνοούσαν, ο Τύπος έγραφε πού και πού τίποτε ολότελα υβριστικό στη σελίδα με το πεντάποδο μοσχάρι από τη μια και τον πριγκιπικό γάμο από την άλλη».
Την περίοδο της ακμής του, από το 1962 ως το 1965, το Fluxus δεν είναι παρά ένα πολυδιάστατο δίκτυο συναντήσεων, εκδηλώσεων και εν γένει πειραματισμών στα πλαίσια μιας τέχνης που δεν έχει καμία ηθική, αισθητική και πολιτική αναστολή. Ιδιαίτερα δημοφιλή μεταξύ των ένθερμων φίλων του κινήματος είναι τα λεγόμενα κοντσέρτα-σκάνδαλα σε διάφορες πόλεις της Γερμανίας και αργότερα στη Νέα Υόρκη. Σε αυτά μπορούσες να δεις το τείχος του Βερολίνου να χτίζεται ξανά με ψωμί και μαρμελάδα, να παραστείς στην ολοσχερή καταστροφή ενός πιάνου ή να παραλάβεις τα ειδικά σετ αυτοκτονίας με όλα τα απαραίτητα σύνεργα (π.χ., ένα αγκίστρι και μια πετονιά που εκαλείτο να καταπιεί ο υποψήφιος αυτόχειρας) ή τα σετ περιττωμάτων μυρμηγκιού ή πεταλούδας (ο Maciunas θα θυμίσει επανειλημμένως πόσο δύσκολη ήταν κάθε φορά η περισυλλογή τους!).
Χάρη στον Γιόζεφ Μπόις σύντομα θα βρεθεί και το σήμα κατατεθέν του κινήματος: το λίπος, ένα δομικό υλικό της ζωής, γιατί λοιπόν όχι και της τέχνης. Η ανακάλυψη έγινε κατά τη διάρκεια μιας διάλεξης με θέμα τη σχέση κουλτούρας και γλυπτικής, όπου ο γερμανός καλλιτέχνης παρουσίασε στο εμβρόντητο και σίγουρα ολιγομελές κοινό του μια καρέκλα διακοσμημένη με χοιρινό λίπος. Ο ίδιος θα σπεύσει να καταθέσει και τις απόψεις του για τη σχέση μεταξύ καλλιτέχνη-μάγου και ζώου-τοτέμ. Ενα από τα ανατρεπτικά χάπενινγκ που διοργάνωσε το 1965 είναι το επονομαζόμενο «How to explain pictures to a dead hare» («Πώς να εξηγήσεις εικόνες σε έναν νεκρό λαγό»). Ο καλλιτέχνης εμφανίστηκε μονολογώντας πλήθος ασυναρτησιών με το κεφάλι του περιχυμένο με μέλι και χρυσά φύλλα, με μια μπρούντζινη πλάκα δεμένη στο δεξί του πόδι και το κουφάρι ενός λαγού στην αγκαλιά του!
Κάτω από την ταμπέλα Fluxus θα συσπειρωθούν αισίως όσοι ζωγράφοι, γλύπτες, χορευτές, μουσικοί, ποιητές και κινηματογραφιστές επιθυμούν να εξαλείψουν μια για πάντα τη διαχωριστική γραμμή μεταξύ τέχνης και ζωής, να δουν «την καθημερινή ζωή σαν θέατρο» όπως έλεγε και ο αμερικανός συνθέτης Τζον Κέιτζ. Ανάμεσά τους και η Γιόκο Ονο, η διαβόητη σύζυγος του εκλιπόντος «σκαθαριού» Τζον Λένον. Ανάμεσα στα πιο αντιπροσωπευτικά έργα της (στον χώρο του κινηματογράφου) θα είναι το διάρκειας 45 λεπτών fluxfilm «Fly» («Μύγα», 1970) με θέμα την περιήγηση ενός εντόμου επάνω σε ένα γυναικείο σώμα. Στόχος της μεταξύ πολλών αλλοπρόσαλλων άλλων, να διακηρύξει ότι η έμφαση πρέπει πλέον να δίδεται στη διαδικασία της παραγωγής της τέχνης και όχι στα προϊόντα της. Αλλωστε προς αυτή την κατεύθυνση προσανατολίστηκαν κατά τη δεκαετία του ΄60 και οι άνευ υπογραφής και ημερομηνίας μαζικές εκδόσεις Fluxus σε κουτιά και περιοδεύουσες βαλίτσες.
Σ' αυτό το ελευθέριο πνεύμα Fluxus αναμένεται να κινηθεί και η έκθεση που θα φιλοξενηθεί για δύο περίπου μήνες εν Αθήναις. Διότι, εκτός από αυθεντικά έργα μερικών από τους σημαντικότερους εκπροσώπους του κινήματος, θα παρουσιασθούν ηχητικά δείγματα της μουσικής Fluxus, ραδιοφωνικές εκπομπές, fluxfilms, φωτογραφικά ντοκουμέντα και χάπενινγκ. Ο επισκέπτης καλείται να αγκαλιάσει χωρίς αναστολές όλες τις εκφάνσεις μιας αντιτέχνης που δεν διστάζει να τοποθετεί πορφυρούς βατράχους μπροστά σε οθόνες τηλεόρασης με το αρκετά εύγλωττο και επαρκώς ρέον σχόλιο: «Πιστεύω στη μετενσάρκωση. Θέλω να γίνω βάτραχος στη νέα μου ζωή».
* Ενα πολυσύνθετο μουσικό χάπενινγκ με κλασικά Fluxus κομμάτια θα φιλοξενηθεί την Τρίτη στην αίθουσα κινηματογράφου της Ανωτάτης Σχολής Καλών Τεχνών (Πειραιώς 256) στις 8.30 μ.μ. Συμμετέχουν οι Γιάννης Χατζηχρήστος, Κώστας Μαντζίλας, Μάρθα Δημητροπούλου, Ζίνα Κωστοπούλου, Γκονζάλο Ρουέντα κ.ά. Διευθύνει ο Μπεν Πάτερσον.
* Η έκθεση «Το καλλιτεχνικό κίνημα Fluxus στη Γερμανία (1962-1994) Μια μακρά ιστορία με πολλούς κόμβους» εγκαινιάζεται την Τετάρτη στις 8 μ.μ. στο «Εργοστάσιο» της ΑΣΚΤ (Πειραιώς 256). Ωρες λειτουργίας: Τρίτη ως Σάββατο 10 π.μ.- 2 μ.μ. και 7-10 μ.μ., Κυριακή 11 π.μ.- 2 μ.μ. (Δευτέρα κλειστά). Η έκθεση, που παρουσιάζει έργα των Γιόζεφ Μπόις, Τζορτζ Μπρεχτ, George Maciunas, Ντιγκ Χίγκινς, Τζον Κέιτζ, Ναμ Γιουν Πάικ κ.ά., διαρκεί ως τις 21 Ιουνίου.
Το ΒΗΜΑ, 26/04/1998 , Σελ.: Z03
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Friday, November 02, 2007
Fluxus games - Games AS Art
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Connections between Fluxus indeterminacy, collaboration and open-endedness are connected to contemporary game art and its creative and sometimes subversive moves. Beginning with Marcel Duchamp's interest in games and continuing to John Cage's interest in chance operations along with various Fluxus artist's conceptions, the author moves through techniques and issues that underpin digital game development and its relation to Fluxus principles. Questions are raised and answered: What is a game? Why game art? Collective action through networks and Open Source strategies are explored. Mods, patches, scores and chance and the ways in which they subvert existing games or integrate the creative capacity of game designer with player are discussed and sometimes shown.
WHAT HAS fluxus CREATED?
Life in Fluxus.(work of Yoko Ono)
The body electric: Jon Kessler...
The body electric: Jon Kessler...
Prologue: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Gamer
"[What is art?] That little game that men have always played with one another."
"It can even be argued that much of Duchamp's oeuvre constitutes a series of moves designed to rewrite the rules of the art game."
ANTOINETTE LAFARGE (SHIFT-CTRL)
IN 1922, ANDRÉ BRETON WROTE THE FIRST MAJOR ARTICLE ON the work of Marcel Duchamp for the French review Littérature. Breton regarded Duchamp as "the most intelligent man of the 20th Century," but was dismayed to find that the artist spent the majority of his time playing chess. But clearly Duchamp's fascination was more than a mere distraction. Among the last works painted before completing his landmark Nude Descending a Staircase in 1912, Duchamp did a series of studies and paintings attempting to depict the inner processes of the opponents in a chess game. He played with a personal chess set he carved himself by hand, and his close friend and partner in Dada, Man Ray, earned his living for a time by making chess sets. At what was arguably the height of his art career, he "retired" to become a professional chess player. Photographs of Duchamp depict him playing chess more than any other single activity. One of the most famous of these shows him deeply engaged in a chess match with a naked Eve Babitz in the midst of a 1963 retrospective of his work at the Pasadena Museum of Art. The fact that he chose to make this statement in particular at a retrospective is telling.
Was Marcel Duchamp really an artist, or was he in fact what today would be called a "gamer" whose art was merely a hobby, or perhaps even a game itself? The fact is that Duchamp started with painting and ended with games; his later work appears more and more game-like. The following pages will explore phenomenon of games as an art medium, drawing corollaries and contrasts between the Fluxus movement's neo-Dadaist passion for games, and the emerging contemporary practice of digital game based art. In so doing, I hope to demonstrate that the spirit of Fluxus lives on and may in fact be even more at home in the context of cyberspace.
What Is A Game?
I SHALL BEGIN WITH A DISCLAIMER/CONTEXTUALIZATION. I AM a game designer/writer, a sometime artist and an "accidental theorist." Due to a number of recent trends in culture and academia, I can now situate these disparate activities under the general rubric of "game researcher," a role that has remarkably quickly shifted from pariah to "oeuvre du jour." The majority of contributors within this issue are well qualified to discuss "art," from the perspective of practice, history or criticism. As will soon be revealed, I have spent a great deal more time thinking about the nature of games, from both theoretical and practical angles, than I have about art.
In 1983, I began working as a game writer and designer in New York City. I was immediately plunged into the role of scribe, writing descriptions of game concepts being developed by a vastly multidisciplinary group of people, none of whom were game designers. I had the intuitive sense that some of these concepts were games, and some were not. But as I had no prior experience in either the design or the study of games, my methodology was confined to: "I don't know what it is, but I'll know it when I see it." Feeling this to be inadequate, especially given my inexperience, I put forth a question to my employer at the time, Edwin Schlossberg (himself somewhat tangentially associated with Fluxus): "What, exactly, is a game?" His characteristic response: "Why don't you find out."
Based on the premise that there must be qualities that all games have in common, I did a systematic study of a wide range of game types and genres: popular board games, strategy games, card games, sports, children's games and the then emerging category of computer games. Having subjected these games to a rigorous analysis, I was able to identify the common features that seem to distinguish games from other sorts of activities.1
* Parameterized play consisting of rules by which a group of players agree to abide for the duration of the game.
* A goal, sometimes expressed as a series of sub-goals that collectively lead to a meta-goal.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
* Obstacles that create challenges to achieving the goal(s).
* Resources, initially provided to players at random or symmetrically, but later more often as rewards for overcoming obstacles.
* Consequences, which come in the form of either rewards (sometimes as resources) or penalties (sometimes obstacles.)
* Information: both known and unknown to the players (individually or en masse); progressive information that is revealed over time; and randomly generated information, such as a dice throw or a dial spin.
Although this description may sound mechanical and reductive, throughout my subsequent two decades as a game designer, artist and theorist, I have found this outline to be consistently useful in discussing the nature of games. The craft of making games, whether they are art games or commercial "mass media" games, can be measured in the designer/artist's ability to create a balance between these parameters. Even experimental art games have an innate understanding of this structure and its function, and so are able to undermine it by subverting, overriding or rendering the game's parameters recursive, redundant, comical/satirical and in some cases, impossible.
Games are first and foremost about play. A game is a dynamic system, a system designed to create what Alan Kay, the original designer of the windows-based computer interface, calls "hard fun." The notion of hard fun is important because it is germane to understanding why an artist might want to engage in games as an art medium.
Why Game Art?
REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THE ART MEDIUM IS ANALOG, PERFORMATIVE, digital or mediated in some other way, creating something that is framed as a game expresses a certain attitude, a particular posture toward not only the work itself but the "audience, and the practice of art-making in general."
The selection of games as an art medium involves suspension of certain artistic prerogatives. In the worlds of John Cage, it requires you as the artist to "give yourself up." This does not mean abdicating either control or even aesthetic direction; indeed the craft of game-making lies in the ability to create a balance, to locate the "sweet spot" between constraints and freedom. The game artist makes a conscious choice to share the art-making process, putting at least a part of the creative act in the hands of the player/participant. The prospect of this frightens many artists because they believe if they hand over their creation to the audience, their own "voice" will somehow be compromised. But part of the secret of doing this effectively means knowing the size and shape of space to carve out for the participant(s). As we will see, in many cases, the artist's absence can be more powerful, more palpable, more distinctive, and in some instances, more personal than his or her presence. Sometimes, the artist's silence speaks louder than words. Clearly, we can distinguish a John Cage piece from that of another composer, even though he may have surrendered a certain amount of its implementation to chance or to the creative urges of others.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
In creating game art, the artist is making a choice to invite the viewer in as a co-creator of the work. Although it can be said that all art does this, game art does it in a very explicit way. It questions the relationship of art and artist to the viewer/spectator. It asks for the viewer's engagement not only intellectually but literally. Swedish artist Öyvind Fahlström, inventor of the "variable painting" technique, which placed magnets on a surface that were moved according to a set of rules, put it this way:2
The association of disparate elements to each other thus makes game rules and the work of art will be a game structure. This, among other things, leads to presupposing an active, participating spectator who-whether he is confronted with a static or variable work of art-will find relations which will make him able to 'play' the work, while the elements that he does not relate and in general his individual disposition make for the chance, the uncertainty that, when clashing with the 'rules' create the thrill of a game.
Game art also fundamentally questions the role and value of the art object. There is deep and tragic irony in going to an exhibition of Fluxus artifacts today. Objects whose entire purpose was to ellicit play exist now only as the corpses of their former selves, trapped in a "Mausoleum" within the object-centric commodity-based world of Art with a capital A.
The FluxKits and FluxGames that emerged out of the 6o's and 70's were beautiful objects, but their object-ness represents a state of dormant play. Just as a chess board is a beautiful object, its true value is in its potential energy, which is actuated when the game is played. It is in the playing that a chessboard comes alive, and the game object becomes a catalyst for play. Duchamp understood play as a process that can require at least as much intense concentration, creativity and skill as making art. Duchamp's The Chess Players and Portrait of Chess Players (1911), depictions of the inner lives of people playing chess, was an attempt to capture on canvas the dynamic flow of thought and social transactions that occur within the domain of a chess match. In particular, the work was trying to express the notion that you are creating a mental model of the game in your mind that combines your own moves with the anticipated moves of your opponent. "Each becomes the other as he tries to anticipate what his opponent is planning."3 Will Wright, designer of hit computer games Sim City and The Sims, describes this process in the classic Chinese board game Go, "... both players have a model of what's happening on the board, and over time those models get closer and closer and closer together until the final score."4
Games as "Low" Culture
GAMES ARE AN OFT-MALIGNED FORM OF POPULAR CULTURE. BOARD GAMES, in spite of their perennial popularity, have never been taken seriously as a creative medium, even though their appeal consistently outlives other media. Monopoly, the most popular board game in the world, has sold 200 million copies since it was first published in 1934, five times the measly 40 million copies sold by the most popular book of fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, published in 1937. Although Monopoly's theme arose out of a particular cultural moment, it still persists as an engaging system for interaction, and its metaphors continue to be relevant. Computer games are perceived as even more lowly than their analog forebears, conjuring up images of bleary-eyed nerds in seedy game arcades endlessly "twitching" their way through "thumb candy" in the form of pixelated alien landscapes or airplane simulators. Nonetheless, Nintendo's Mario Bros, games have generated twice the revenue of all five Star Wars films combined, even though Star Wars has been around a lot longer.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
At the same time, games are considered one of the highest orders of computational challenge. In computer science, chess is a long-standing paradigmatic artificial intelligence problem. The task of beating a human at chess is considered the ultimate manifestation of the Turing test, precisely because it involves a dynamic process integrating planning, pattern recognition and anticipatory strategy in a way that appears to be uniquely human. If you imagine the interior of Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer, as Marcel Duchamp's The Chess Players, which attempts to depict this interiority, you can begin to get a hint at the complexity of this problem from a computational perspective.
Games are deeply wed to the history of computation precisely because they are procedural, or rule-based, in nature. They are based on elegant mathematics and geometries that render not merely objects or visual representations, but dynamic, responsive systems. The only analog medium that is comparable to computational media in this regard is games. Games, whether digital or analog, function precisely the same way computers do: they are derived from a system of rules that sets forth parameters or constraints for dynamic interactions. And in spite of their ill repute, hacking games has been a favorite pastime of some of the brightest computer scientists since day one. SpaceWarl, created in 1962 as a game hack by programmers at MIT, is widely regarded to be the first computer game.5 For them, hacking at play was a compelling technical problem as well as a fun, albeit geeky, hobby.
George Maciunas and the Fluxus artists embraced games for their very lowliness. Games provided a sort of "ludus populi," a play of the people that provided the perfect platform for bringing art to a mass audience. The making of FluxKits and FluxGames was itself a kind of game: create play patterns from found, e.g., "readymade" objects; create kits that can be reproduced easily and sold cheaply. Unfortunately, this Utopian strategy did not succeed as hoped, but it did lead to the prolific creation of a wide range of artistic expressions that we enjoy today, if not for the play potential they embody, at least for their cleverness, aesthetic merit and conceptual innovation.
MODern Art: Digital vs. Analog
"We are not involved in ownership but in use."
- JOHN CAGE
HISTORICALLY, FLUXUS AND VIDEO GAMES CROSS PATHS AROUND 1972, but do not seem to intersect. This was the year that Nolan Bushnell founded Atari Games and released Pong, the first big video game hit. In the intervening thirty years, computer games, in the words of videogame historian and journalist J.C. Herz, "ate our quarters, won our hearts, and rewired our minds."6 Since 1999, they have gone neck-and-neck with film as a mainstream entertainment medium, and are poised to surpass it in the near future. In the process, they have also given rise to a new art genre, one that is being harnessed in much the same way Fluxus art harnessed analog games, but with some interesting new twists.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
The digital context of contemporary game art presents opportunities that extend the tradition of Maciunas and his band of merrrymakers, with some notable differences. Digital art, by definition, is not a "thing." It does not exist within the "art-as-object" paradigm, but exists as pure "score." With digital art, score means code, and code is at once something and nothing. It does not "exist," except in a conceptual sense, until played. It thus eludes the traditional methods for assigning economic value to art from which Fluxus game art was never entirely able to free itself. The recent flux in the value of Fluxus "works" (and indeed it is debatable whether the objects alone are works at all) bears witness to this controversy: How do we monetize a conceptual ready-made object, versus a handcrafted "work of art?" Code is essentially math, rules, procedures. The fact that the art is itself made of pixels and code, purely instructions, pure "score," without an overt physical manifestation, completely reframes the distribution infrastructure, the economic equation and the gate-keeping authority of the art world.
A fundamental obstacle stymied Maciunas' goals and undermined his vision of "ludus populi." Manifest through his FluxShops and mail order enterprises, they demonstrated the production law of supply and demand.7 Because of the Internet, digital art on the other hand has no such obstacle. Most digital game art is available via the Internet as free downloads, creating a self-propagating distribution infrastructure. You can generate an infinite number of copies at no cost to either the artist or the player, thus rendering the industrial framework of supply and demand irrelevant.
Furthermore, the primary crucible for digital game art is a phenomenon known as "Open Source" culture, a natural milieu for exploiting some of the fundamental values of Fluxus. Even within the commercial game industry, there is this spirit of "gift economics," especially around making "the tools of production" available to a mass audience. Open Source culture also has a long-standing tradition of collaboration, collectivism and multiple authorships. Maciunas would have embraced Open Source culture as a paradigm, because it overrides some of the challenges he faced in the tension between the seductive powers of artistic individualism and a desire to form collectivist art practices.
The Network and Medium, Venue and Collective
For the uninitiated, Open Source is a communal methodology for software creation which does not have any proprietary ownership, but which a community of programmers can advance collectively in various ways, such as the operating system Linux. "Pure" Open Source philosophy is based on these premises: a) that code belongs to everyone, b) that everyone should have access "under the hood," c) that people should be able to extend a program's functionality and d) that those new features should then be returned to collective ownership so others can use them. Most Open Source systems have a more constrained framework. Some are open on both ends-any applications created with the source code should be open to everyone as well. A more typical schema, popular with the software industry, allows people or entities to "close" the application software at the outgoing end so that products developed can be proprietary. In either case, commercial products made with Open Source programs are generally developed under some kind of licensing agreement that returns some revenue back to the "source," so to speak.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
Game companies have a slightly different though surprisingly open model, compared to their counterparts in more traditional media. While software pirating is still a major concern, many PC games today come bundled with game editing tools. Players are free to build their own game levels, create "patches" (small programs that sit within existing games), "skins," (textures that change the appearance of existing games, sort of like digital wallpaper), and even build their own new games from scratch to run on the underlying game "engine" (a piece of software that allows a virtual game world to run on a personal computer in real time.) If these games become popular, they produce more business for the game company, because use of the game engine still requires purchase of the game on which it was based. In addition, there are a wide range of Open Source tools, engines and assets (30 models, textures, etc.) that can be downloaded for little or no money off the web. This practice of building off existing consumer game technologies is called "modding," short for "modifying." The products of this practice are referred to as "mods."
The use of consumer grade technologies seats this practice squarely in the center of the lowbrow realm of hijacking popular culture toward artistic aims. But added to the populist flavor shared by Fluxus is the infrastructure of a massive online community of gamers, game artists and Open-Sourcers who frequently and freely exchange code, ideas, tools and cultural contexts, all with the complicity of the game industry.
This collectivist ethos is integral to Open Source and game hacker culture, as well as game art practice. It is what I call "autodidactic communalism," the notion of a peer-to-peer model of knowledge exchange, rather than a traditional teacher-to-learner didactic pedagogy. This methodology accelerates the learning process because it revolves around contextualized learning-on-demand ("I only need to know what I need to know to do this task"), collaboration ("I will share this task with another and we will each contribute our knowledge") and lateral co-learning ("When I learn this task I will make this information available to others"). Because computer hacking is such a fast-paced process, much faster than industrial software development, this is a much more efficient means of acquiring and distributing information, knowledge and skills.
Some have described this process as a game unto itself, and given the parameters of "game" set forth earlier, an argument could certainly be made that this is the "meta-game." Both value skills acquisition, and competition and cooperation can often work in concert to achieve individual and collective goals.
Counter-Strike: Anatomy of a Game Mod
A GREAT EXAMPLE OF THE POWER OF THE COLLECTIVE IS THE 1999 FIRST-person shooter (FPS) mod Counter-Strike, a complete rebuild of the popular commercial game Half-Life. Created by a group of about seventeen geographically disparate modders lead by Minh "Gooseman" Le and "Cliffe," CounterStrike was made available as a free download that took the game world by storm when it surpassed its progenitor Half-Life to become the most popular network FPS game. This suited Valve, the publishers of Half-Life, just fine since each Counter-Strike player had to purchase the original game in order to have access to the engine needed to play. Counter-Strike ultimately earned its creators not only cult-status as modders, but also garnered them a number of awards, including the coveted "Best Rookie Studio of the Year" from the International Game Developer's Association. Eventually, Valve offered the team a publishing deal. This constituted a fall from grace in the eyes of some gamers, who now no longer consider it a "mod." (www.counter-strike.net)
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
Revolutionary as it was, Counter-Strike is still a very conventional game in a very convention genre, and could just as easily be called "Son of Half-Life," both literally and figuratively. In spite of its altered theme (anti-terrorist operations vs. Half-Life's "alien experiment gone awry"), the basic play mechanic differs little from the original and follows the tried and true combat simulation genre. And herein lies the challenge of mod-based art. Modding tools for first person shooter games such as Quake, Unreal and Half-Life (the three most popular commercial modding engines) are biased towards this well-establish game genre. Yet most game artists are not content to frame their work within the "status quo" narratives of combat, good vs. evil, human vs. alien, "good guy" vs. "terrorist," wizard vs. dragon, etc. To escape from these themes and structures means that certain biases and genre predilections of the mainstream game industry must be strategically overridden, subverted or, in some cases, exploited.
The Game within the Game: Digital Readymades and Public Interventions
ONE MEANS OF SUBVERTING MAINSTREAM GAME CULTURE IS BY"PATCHing," which makes patches both a cultural intervention and a form of "digital readymade." For the most part, the term "patch" is used to describe a plug-in that sits on top of another game, which makes them ideal for interventional strategies. They are frequently used to make strong statements about game culture, media culture and culture in general, and do so in particular because they live inside existing popular culture paradigms. One of the best examples of this is Robert Nideffer's Tomb Raider I & II Patches (1999). These are actually patches to a patch, namely Nude Raider, which allows you to play Lara Croft, the female protagonist of the popular Tomb Raider game series (Eidos), buck naked. (Nude Raider is rumored to have been created by the game's developers as a publicity stunt or possibly a means to sell more games, since you have to buy the game to play the patch.) Nideffer's patch bestows the denuded Lara with a moustache and goatee a Ia Duchamp's infamous L.H.O.O.Q., (1919), which depicted a moustachioed and bearded Mona Lisa. The Nideffer patch serves a triple-threat post-modern statement, paying homage to the ubergamer, while confronting popular art culture and corporate practices, as well as gender representation in games, a popular subject of game hacker art.
Another patch is Velvet-Strike: Counter-Military Graffiti for cs (2002, ongoing), organized by Anne-Marie Schleiner through her web site Opensorcery. net, a collection of anti-combat patches for the Counter-Strike mod. Much has been made of the prevalence of militaristic themes in computer games, which have flourished in part because they have a core market (mostly males in their teens, twenties and thirties) that finds this play pattern particularly addictive. Each of the Velvet-Strike "sprays," which can be submitted by anyone online, transforms a weapon into an artistic tool that shoots graffiti rather than bullets at a targeted surface. The array of sprays includes Brody Condon's love1, love2, and Iove2, showing soldier game characters in homo-erotic embraces, GUI'S "Give Online Peace a Chance" and an array of images that run the gamut from cute and bizarre, to downright perplexing. Another example of "peacenick" patches are a series of digital peace signs and posters for the top-selling PC game The Sims, available at downloadpeace.com.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
Interventions into "public" cyberspace are frequently used to call attention to its very virtuality. There is a long tradition of leveraging both text-based and online graphical communities (such as Active Worlds and OnLive) as a context for public art and performance. Desktop Theater, lead by Adriene Jenik and Lisa Brenneis, orchestrates improvisational scenarios within the graphical chat world The Palace. The group exploits an interesting feature of public cyberspace-the ability to change identity or persona in mid-stream, switching avatars (player representations) to enhance the drama.
We see analog precursors of this persona-bending in Duchamp's female alter-ego Rrose Selavy, and Maciunas'John Lennon & Yoko Ono Masks (April 1970), which were given to participants of a Flux party for Lennon. The masks were meant to honor the couple, while at the same time rendering them anonymous in a sea of clones. A different twist on cloning comes into play in Feng Mengbo's Q4U (2001). This Quake 3 mod replaces all the game characters with models of Mengbo himself, thus everyone in the game is a Mengbo clone shooting at other Mengbo clones.
Another public venue for cyberspace intervention is massively multiplayer online role-playing (mmorpg's.) A number of these games are essentially graphically enhanced variations of text-based "MUD'S" (Multi-User Dungeons/ Domains) and MOO'S (Multi-User Domains Object-Oriented), which were based on the popular "live action" role playing game Dungeons and Dragons (TSR.) In games like EverQuest (Verant/Sony) and Ultima Online (Origin/Electronic Arts) players create and develop fictive personas in an alternative fantasy medieval universe. They are highly engrossing for hundreds of thousands of players, who can log on for forty or fifty hours per week. Artist Eddo Stern's Summons to Surrender is an ongoing experiment within the EverQuest world. Initially, Stern created a series of autonomous characters, or preprogrammed "bots," disguised as player avatars that perform mechanical, often illogical actions. Later, he replaced the software bot with a mechanized keyboard that automatically presses the keys required to perform the preprogrammed actions. The intense piston-like movements of the solenoids on only a couple of keys highlights the mechanistic repetition required of players to interface with these fantastical game worlds. It also confronts the question of identity in cyberspace, in a case where a human-controlled character is technically indistinguishable from a mechanically-generated bot.
Stern has also contributed to the practice of machinima (digital films made in game environments), which we will only touch on here, but also represents a major component of the game art movement. The Israeli-born artist has stirred quite a bit of controversy with Sheik Attack a machinima film that documents the history of Israel and Zionism as reenacted within games such as Civilization, Sim City 3000 and combat-based First-Person Shooter and Copter Simulation games.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
ALTHOUGH INTERVENING OR EXPLOITING EXISTING GAMES IS A KEY PRACtice in game art, creating complete ground-up mods, especially with designs that differ dramatically from the source games, is the favored practice of most game artists. Anne-Marie Schleiner's Cracking the Maze8 was one of the first online collections of downloadable game art. Schleiner, like many game artists, frequently straddles all three roles of artist, curator and writer. Cracking the Maze introduced a number of game art works that later appeared in gallery and museum shows such as SHIFT-CTRL at uc Irvine's Beall Center for Art & Technology,9 and Gameshow at MASSMOCA. One of these, SOD, by Dirk Paesmans and Joan Heemskerk, who work collectively under the moniker jodi, subverts game aesthetics by transforming the Castle Wolfenstein engine into an abstracted world of black, white and gray planes. SOD confronts game aesthetics by breaking down the illusory convention of 30, which is the mainstay of mainstream games.
Video games are infamous for their female characters, killer kick-fighters going hand to hand in combat lingerie, or gun-toting babes like Lara Croft who embark on archaeological adventures in hot-pants-and-holster and gravity-defying "silicon" breasts. Needless to say, gender representation is a ripe domain for game hacks, and Cracking the Maze feature a few of these. In addition to Nideffer's Nude Raider patches, mentioned earlier, Sonya Roberts' Female Skin Pack Excerpts, is a series of female texture maps designed for male game character models. This transgendered effect is eerie, and calls to mind examples of renaissance female nudes painted or sculpted from male models. Starrs and Omielewski's Bio-Tek Kitchen (also a Marathon Infinity mod) has become something of a game-art classic, transmogrifying the shooter game into a kitchen overrun with mutant produce.
Analog Interlude: The Many Faces of Chess and Other Flux Mods
THE PRACTICE OF GAME MODDING OR HACKING OF COURSE PREDATES DIGital art, and is a prevalent motif among Fluxus artists. It is not surprising that Marcel Duchamp's beloved chess was a favored Fluxus mod. The most prolific Fluxus chess modder was perhaps Takako Saito, who explored the genre to the greatest degree of any of her contemporaries. Between 1961 and 1970, she produced a number of mods that were reproduced and sold under the moniker "FluxChess" through the Flux Mailorder Warehouse (Maciunas, short-lived concept for a decentralized art distribution mechanism). Each is an exquisite twist on both the aesthetics and play mechanic of the game.
Examples such as Grinder Chess, featuring red and blue grinder bits placed in an 8x8 grid of peg holes within a wooden box, and Jewel Chess, jewels in clear plastic boxes, are beautifully conceived design variations on the classic board game. But other Saito chess mods also introduced new play mechanics and tactile properties. Liquid Chess (aka "Smell Chess), consisted of viles of liquid to be identified by smell; Sound Chess or Weight Chess, featured in the collective work "Flux Cabinet," consisted of opaque white plastic boxes containing items to be identified by weight or sound when shaking. Spice Chess (aka "Smell Chess") appeared in several different iterations and featured corked tubes filled with spices in a rack. These provide a beautifully articulated sense of the aesthetics of play operating on a number of different levels.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
An exceptionally notable chess mod was Yoko Ono's White Chess Set (1971), in which the opponents' pieces, all white, sit on each side of an all-white board, making the warring factions indistinguishable from one another. This elegantly placed anti-war statement, particularly taken in the context of the Vietnam War, can be seen as culturally analogous to Velvet-Strike's post-9/11 "Give Online Peace a Chance" theme. Both pieces also draw attention to the deeply militaristic metaphors embedded in both analog and computer games by conscientiously objecting to their implicit narratives of combat and enmity.
In addition to its political content, White Chess can be grouped within the modding category of unplayable games. Of course, the master of the strategically unplayable mod is uberfluxgamer, George Maciunas himself. The Same Card Flux Deck (1966-1977), is a deck of cards composed of 52 examples of the same card, all 33 or all aces-one deck consisting of all jokers (essentially a deck of wild cards). This was more of a one-liner than an experiment in play aesthetics. Much more sophisticated and perhaps less glib were his series of modded (or in Flux parlance, "prepared") pairs of Ping Pong Rackets (1966-1973). Rather than rendering it unplayable, these added awkward, bizarre, almost slapstick obstacles into the game.
Maciunas' love of dysfunctional play mechanics is perhaps at its height with the Multicycle, which Maciunas described in the Fluxnewsletter, April 1973 as "16 bicycles connected into one unsteerable vehicle."10 While bicycles themselves are not games, configuring them in this fashion, thereby adding the challenge of manueverability, turns them into one. It also highlights a really interesting point about collaboration. Clearly collaboration was both Maciunas' passion and perhaps to some extent the bane of his existence. The beauty of this piece is that it simultaneously celebrates and satirizes the benefits and drawbacks of collectivism.
DIGITAL GAME ART COMES IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES, AND REMARKABLY (considering how much work it can often be to produce this type of work) "2ist Century" game artists are as prolific as their analog forbears. The diverse array of mod-based art games bears testimony to both the versatility of game tools and the cleverness of the artists.
Reality can be dispensed with just as easily as it can be reframed. Quilted Thought Organ by Delire (aka Julian Oliver) is a real time audiovisual performance environment that draws you into an abstract world, qthoth, as it is also called, bears more resemblance to immersive VR experiments from the 1980's than it does to Half-Life, the game from which it was modded, or any "real space" for that matter. The architectonic geometry creates a kind of meditative and abstract suspension of reality, recalling both Russian structuralism and William Gibson's description of an imagined cyberspace from his classic 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.
Lonnie Flickinger's delightfully creepy Pencil Whipped (2001), a Quake mod that has won accolades from the mainstream game industry and the game art world alike, takes the complete opposite tack. Rather than a computery, architectonic aesthetic, as we see with qthoth, the piece subverts the mainstream computer game aesthetic with child-like black and white pencil drawings, a bizarre keyboard layout and hokey, voice-generated sound effects. Although the game uses a more traditional FPS play mechanic, it transforms a usually high-tech experience into a hand-drawn simulation of a child's nightmare.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
THE NOTION OF A "SCORE," OR SET OF INSTRUCTIONS THAT IS OPEN TO A wide range of interpretations, has been a convention in music for centuries, but this sets the stage for a wider range of unconventional experimentations in which the score becomes a broader gesture.
Fluxus artists and their contemporaries, even those who were not composers per se, integrated the conceptual notion of score as a framework for performance and conceptual art. George Brecht, Ben Vautier and Yoko Ono are just a few Fluxus artists who took this as a strategy, using the score as a structure for improvisation, as a schema for implementation of an art work, and also for its intrinsic poetry and conceptual merits.
A musical or art score, like a game, can be appreciated "at rest," but its true power is manifest when it is activated by player(s) into a unique event. Here the word "player" has multiple connotations: a musical instrumentalist; a stage actor; a performer; a person engaged with a game; and perhaps, in the derogatory sense, one who manipulates social situations to his advantage. Play in all of these senses involves a certain measure of virtuosity. The "serious" game player, like Duchamp, is always striving to achieve a higher level of skill. This refutes the disdainful impression that play is a form of idleness, triviality or time wasting, as Breton construed in Duchamp's case. Yet clearly Duchamp's obsession with chess was in no way an indication of idleness or laziness, but rather the love of a process that was both playful and challenging.
Virtuosity is integral to the playing of both music and games, especially computer games. In digital game culture, there is less and less of a boundary between virtuosity as a player and virtuosity as a creator. In the dynamic of a play-based artistic domain, there is a fluidity, a continuum between play and creation, and in this way, the "player" of a game or score is also a co-creator or performer of the work. Within game culture itself, play and creation often fuse such that playing the game is a form of consensual performance. In multiplayer role-playing games, such as Ultima Online or EverQuest, the players are engaged in the ongoing construction of a massive collaborative fiction. In these contexts, it is not that great a leap for players who have achieved particularly high levels of game skill to graduate to being level-builders, skinners, modders, patchers, etc. John Cage describes this as "... wanting to turn each person into an artist..."11
Pieces for "prepared piano," by composer/artists such as Cage and David Tudor demonstrate a musical analog to the digital mod by creating modifications to a piano to constrain or alter its output. Augmenting conventional performance with unusual and inventive obstacles recapitulates earlier examples of Maciunas' modifications to sports and transportation vehicles. Nam Jun Paik's integrated game and music in his delightful Prepared Toy Pianos (1963) was a series of children's instruments outfitted with extraneous objects and electro-mechanical hacks that caused the keys to activate external devices such as radios and vacuum cleaners. In the collective FiuxLabynnth (1976), Paik's Piano-Activated Door presages puzzle-based computer games with a door that can only be opened by playing the right combination of keys. This echoed Duchamp's two-way door at 11 Rue Larrey (1927), a door hinged so that it could be shared by two different doorways. These types of modifications have the effect of "gamifying" a process through the integration of obstacles that alter an activity in a range of ways. Preparation, especially of the sort practiced by Cage and Tudor, call attention to the everyday, especially by using common objects or implements to alter an instrument. Paik's toy piano and door pieces swing these practices to the brink of game art, if not entirely into its camp, especially in the pleasure they derive from the vaudevillian sensibility of Fluxus.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
The Gameboyzz Orchestra Project has its own approach to toys and music. The Polish ensemble has toured the world playing Nintendo's Gameboy portable gaming machines as a musical instrument. Part of the group's aim is to celebrate the low tech, and also to reframe the toy as an instrument using special software, including Nanoloop.
Chance Operations: Digital Entropy as an Aesthetic Strategy
THE USE OF CHANCE AND RANDOMNESS AS A CREATIVE MEDIUM IS ANOTHER strategy shared by Fluxus, experimental music and digital game art. We begin to see chance emerge as a component in Duchamp's infamous "roulette experiment," as well as 3 Standard Stoppages (1913-1914), which involved the use of dropped string to create form for a work. In Erratum Musicale (1913), he cut a piece of sheet music into individual notes, placed them in a hat, then drew them out to form a new chance-determined musical composition. The lyrics were pulled from a randomly selected dictionary definition. In true Duchampian fashion, his response to the 1926 breaking of The Large Glass (1918) was to glue the broken pieces back together, integrating the resulting spider web pattern into the piece.12
A particularly elegant example of chance-based work with a decidedly "gamey"bent is George Brecht's Incidental Music-five Piano Pieces. In one piece, the performer is instructed to pile a stack of blocks on the piano strings, one by one, as high as possible, to form a tower. The piece is completed when the tower collapses (always at a variable point), scattering the blocks across the piano strings. What is interesting about the game's formulation is the inverted game mechanic: it is at the moment that you "lose" the game that the music itself is created. Thus the resulting work is the outcome of failure. This is philosophically aligned with Cage's notion of giving oneself up, as well as his ideas of un-intentionality. There is most certainly an aspect of Zen philosophy to this approach, wherein the act of creation is precisely the act of letting go.13
In computational game-based art works ideas around chance, failure and letting go of results often takes form through harnessing the inherent unpredictability of computers. While in theory, computers are devices that compute elegant mathematical procedures, in reality they are often unreliable, inconsistent and quickly obsolete, while software is often unstable, incomplete and riddled with "bugs." These inherent failures or glitches in computational media can often lead to unforeseen results that arise out of accidental or deliberate technological anomalies.
Max-Miptex, by Julian Oliver (aka Delire) and Chad Chatteron (2001), is described by the artists as "Part hack, part accident." A Kyro II [graphics] card is convinced it's possible to run a Quake II mod on the wrong GL drivers. Textures are split across the rendering, fanning out in an impossible art-nouveaucum-Kandinsky ovation. During the error, 'Max-Miptex' was returned by the screaming engine. Edited machinima documents the experiment." (Sehctparks. net) This type of play with the dysfunctional machine, especially when the machine is pushed past its limit, as this one apparently was, can often produce aesthetic results far more interesting than those originally intended.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
Aside from cultivating errors, artists can also take advantage of other forms of chance operation that computers are particularly good at. One is the phenomenon of "emergence," that is, unpredictable outcomes that occur as a result of the implementation of a rule-set. A-Life and artificial intelligence are common domains for experiments in emergence, and it is also a major factor in networked digital game environments. A number of digital artists have exploited emergence as a form of chance operation. Whether or not all of this work classifies as "game art" may be debatable, but it certainly has game-like qualities and informs on some of the ways in which computer art and games have merged. Rebecca Allen's installation Bush Soul(1998) draws a single player into an alien terrain populated by unusual and highly responsive creatures. The creatures, though not anthropomorphic, have distinct personalities that manifest as transformations, abstracted choreographies and sensual interactions with the landscape itself. The ensuing emergence and its resulting experience arises from the intersection of the creatures, landscape and player.
As we've seen, a common tactic of game artists is inversion. Entropy can be seen as emergence in reverse, a procedural approach to decay rather than regeneration. Procedural entropy can be used as a means of simulating or stimulating computational breakdown. An excellent example is Gameboy_ultraF_uk by Tom Corby and Gavin Bailey (2001), a Free Software GameBoy emulator whose rendering system has been, as Trigger curator Rebecca Alien puts it, "pathologically rewritten to degenerate over time." She also adds, with a nod to Fluxus and Dada practices: "The binary, source code, and documentation can be considered as component parts of the work. Rather than written from scratch, the code may be considered a 'readymade,' an artistic intervention has been made."
The New Collectivism
ALTHOUGH DIGITAL GAMES HAVE MANY PARALLELS WITH FLUXUS GAME art and music practices, they also represent what could be considered evolutionary steps to bring some of the tenets of Fluxus to fruition. The Internet provides a broader canvas, so to speak, for populist and collectivist strategies. One of the reasons Fluxus artists embraced games as an art medium is precisely because of their "commonness." Games, associated with popular culture, with (by implication, child's) play, as well as with ease of production and distribution provided a fantastic framework with which to question the preciousness of the art object. The Internet provides a means to supercharge this type of practice. As a rule, digital game art is created with consumer grade (e.g., low-brow) or Open Source game engines, and is downloadable for free via the Internet. Among digital artists, there is a certain amount of ideological discourse about the availability of tools and the perceived elitism of first- and second-generation virtual reality. In contrast to this, the younger generation of game artists use everyday digital tools and media, i.e., games. But game hacker culture has its own flavor of elitism. Access to and proficiency with technological tools are de rigeur for participation. "Nerds rule" is the new social order. But if Bill Gates is to the information age what Henry Ford was to industrial age, then "nerds rule" is as much the rule as it is the exception. We have already seen this David-and-Goliath drama played out on the battlefield of Napster, but any way you dice it, it is still the battle of the nerds
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
At the same time, game hacking can also be seen as a game in and of itself. If Marcel Duchamp saw art as the meta-game in which he was engaged, then game artists use the Internet and its various structures of engagement in the same way. Hacking culture can be codified in terms of the game parameters described earlier: the corporate culture of IP (intellectual property), copyright and control of the media is rendered impotent in the face of shrewd hacking tactics. But what is really interesting is that, unlike the music and film industries that have attempted to squelch rebellion by lawyering it to death, the game industry plays back. Embracing and designing for game modding and hacker culture turns out to be a smart business strategy, so the industry has harnessed gift economics as a means of expanding its profits. In a sense, mainstream game designers are also contributing to the design of this meta-game. As it turns out, most forms of game hacking are good for business, and with a few exceptions, they are not only tolerated but encouraged.
Digital Game Art Goes Mainstream
ANOTHER QUALITY THAT GAME ART SHARES WITH FLUXUS IS ITS ABILITY
and desire to remain outside the standards of measurement of the mainstream art world. Anne-Marie Schleiner's 1999's online exhibition Cracking the Maze certainly paved the way for web-based as well as exhibition-based distribution of digital game art, followed closely by SHIFT-CTRL in 2000 at the Beall Center for Art & Technology at the University of California Irvine. Curated by digital artists Antoinette LaFarge14 and Robert Nideffer, it was one of the first large-scale physical exhibitions devoted entirely to game art and embraced not only consumer game-based works, but significant installations by some of the influential VR artists cited earlier. The inclusion of their work was refreshing and vital in a culture that tends to suffer from historical amnesia.
Although isolated installation works have appeared in museums over the years, shows focusing on game art practice didn't really hit the mainstream until 2001. This makes perfect sense alongside the concurrent dubbing of computer games as "the medium of the list Century," not a particularly prescient revelation considering that computer games had already been well ensconced in popular culture for over 20 years.
The relationship between the gatekeepers of "Art with a capital A" and the sorts of artists we have been discussing has always been an uneasy one. From the moment Duchamp set down an inverted urinal in a museum, Dada to Fluxus to contemporary game artists have never been entirely at home in the hallowed halls of Art. The fact that the first major game art exhibition took place online highlights the perceived obsolescence of museums in the digital age - distribution at every level is no longer the sole domain of the gatekeepers-whether they be music publishers, game distributors or art institutions. We do not need curators to decide which art will be seen and which will not.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, Celia
MASSMOCA'S Game Show, curated by Laura Steward Heon, was the 2001 exhibition that most unabashedly (and comprehensively) embraced games in a museum context. In addition to contemporary game art, the exhibition was complemented by two concurrent shows, Öyvind Fahlström, organized by the Museu d'Art contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and Fluxus Games from the Gilbert and LiIa Silverman Fluxus collection, organized by Tara McDowell. Game Show successfully eschewed the unfortunate temptation to isolate digital game art as a trendy "new" phenomenon: instead situated it along a historical and contemporary continuum of related art practices.
These pieces are quite at home along side works such as Perry Hoberman's Cathartic User Interface, which invites participants to throw soft rubber "porcupine" balls at a wall of computer keyboards on which are projected annoying error messages, such as "The operation has failed. Would you like to try again? It will only fail again." with choices "Again," "& again," "& again," or "Click OK to agree to something you can't possibly understand." Hoberman is another artist with a long history of integrating game-style interactivity into his playful VR and interactive pieces: this piece is perhaps one of the most satisfying sendups of PC interface aesthetics and culture. Game Show also included a number of digital game pieces, such as Jodi's SOD, Lonnie Flickinger's Pencil Whipped, and Natalie Bookchin's The Intruder, to name a few.
A number of the works mentioned earlier also appeared in the 2002 exhibition Trigger, curated by Rebecca Cannon at GammaSPACE in Melbourne, Australia.15 Trigger produced an online archive/catalog which provides for downloading the works on exhibit. Cannon, incidentally, is also one of the instigators, along with Julian Oliver, Chad Chatterton and Andrea Blundell, of Selectparks, the most extensive ongoing archive of digital game art. Selectparks has been posting games since 2001 and continues to add new works to its archive on a continual basis. (The majority of PC-based digital game artworks mentioned in this article can be found there.)
The addition of a virtual "wing" or online galleries, pioneered by museums like Minneapolis' Walker Art Center' with Adaweb and the Whitney Museum of American Arts with the Whitney Artport, is now becoming a more commonplace feature of museums. Given this, we can anticipate the appearance of more game art within the traditional museum's purview.
Nonetheless, it is likely that, like Fluxus, digital game art will continue to have a certain amount of unease with the constraints of the museum context. This is because the essential mission of the museum is to collect, preserve and display "things"-this is at fundamental odds with the ethos of game art, which is play. Like an excitable child trapped within a starched-and-pressed Sunday suit, these art forms are not meant to sit still on a hard bench, but long to be released onto the streets to explore their potential in action. Digital artists have one great advantage over Fluxus artists, however, in that they have the infinite playground of the Internet as their social, collaborative and creative context.
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play
Visible Language, 2006 by Pearce, CeliaF1 Paraphrase from Pearce, Celia. 1997. The Interactive Book: A Guide to the interactive Revolution. Indianapolis, IN: Macmiilan, 420-425.
2 Heon, Laura Steward, editor. 2001. Game Show. (Exhibition Catalog). North Adams, MA: MASS MOCA Publications, 12.
3 Cabanne, Pierre. 1997. Duchamp & Co. Paris: Editions Pierre Terrail, 46.
4 Pearce, Celia. 2002. "Sims, Battlebots, Cellular Studies Journal, 22, July.
5 Herz.J.C.1997. Joystick Nation, How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds. New York: Little Brown and Company, 3-8.
6 Herz, J.C.Joystick Nation.
7 Armstrong, Elizabeth and John Rothfuss. 1993. In the Spirit of Fiuxus. (Exhibition Catalog). Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 33.
8 Schleiner, Anne-Marie. 1999. "Cracking the Maze: Game Plug-Ins and Patches as Hacker Art." Art & Games Issue. Switch Magazine. http://www.switch. sjsu.edu/CrackingtheMaze/
See also Huhtamo, Thomas. 1995. Fluxus. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Trippi. Laura. 1999. "Cracking the Maze: Deep Patch." Art & Game Issue. Switch Magazine. http://switch.sjsu.edu/CrackingtheMaze/
9 Nideffer, Robert. 2000. "SHIFT CTRL: Mediating the Process of Academic Exhibition." SHIFT CTRL. (Online Catalog for Game Art Exhibition). Irvine, CA: Beall Center for Art $ Technology. http://www.bealcenter.uci. edu/shift/
10 Hendricks, Jon. 1988. Fluxus Codex. New York: Harry Abrams. Inc., 367.
11 Kostelanetz, Richard, editor. John Cage, Documentary Monograph in Modern Art New York: Praeger Publishers, 29.
12 Lebel, Robert. 1959. Marcel Duchamp. Paris Trianon Press, 54.
12 Lebel, Marcel Duchamp, 27, 31.
14 LaFarge, Antoinette. 2000. "WINside Out." SHIFT CTRL. (Online Catalog for Game Art Exhibition). Irvine, CA: Beall Center for Art & Technology.
15 Cannon, Rebecca, zoos. Trigger Online Catalog, http:// www.gammaspace.com. au/trigger/
References Additional Online Resources
Select Parks Game Art Archive: www.selectparks.net
Author Note CELIA PEARCE IS A RESEARCHER, WRITER, ARTIST and award-winning game designer living in Venice, California. She is the author of The Interactive Book: A Guide to the Interactive Revolution (Macmillan, 1997), as well as numerous papers and articles on interactive media, art and computer games.
The author wishes to thank the following people for their assistance in obtaining images for this article: Janine Fron; Ellen Sandor and the Sandor Family Collection; Jon Hendricks and the Gilbert and LiIa Silverman FIuxus Collection; and all of artists whose images appear. I'd also like to thank Ken Friedman for supporting this article and trudging through the process of getting it edited and published, and especially Owen Smith, Sharon Poggenpohl and Mark Nystrom for their patience in taking it to press.
Copyright Visible Language 2006Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved
Bibliography for "Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play"
Pearce, Celia "Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Play". Visible Language. 2006. FindArticles.com. 02 Nov. 2007. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3982/is_200601/ai_n17183604
Continued from page 16. Previous - 16 - 17
Articles in 2006 issue of Visible Language
A Comparison of Maya and Oracle Bone Scriptsby Chiang, William
literAture OF fluxus, Theby Friedman, Ken
Typography: Behind the Arabetic Calligraphy Veilby Abulhab, Saad D
Games AS art: The Aesthetics of Playby Pearce, Celia
Analyzing Multimodal Interaction: within a Classroom Settingby Moura, Heloisa
artist's StaTemeNtsby Bowman, Alan
Teaching Design: Analysis from Three Different Analytical Perspectivesby Swanson, Eric
Children's Responses to Line Spacing in Early Reading Books or 'Holes to tell which line you're on'by Reynolds, Linda
WHAT HAS fluxus CREATED?by Klefstad, Ann
Advancing Icon Design for Global Non Verbal Communication: Or What Does the Word Bow Mean?by Zender, Mike
Dialectics of Legacy, Theby Friedman, Ken
Between Script and Pictures in Japanby Shelton, Barrie
System, Suspension, Seduction: Anne Bush's Critical Design Practiceby Zuern, John
Fluxus Games: Modifying Art
"Rules," as the popular saying has it, "are made to be broken."(1 ) They establish standards, guide behavior, and organize play, but in doing so, they expose the nature of the game. They prompt the player to think about the game and its rules and to ask, "Why is the game played this way?" The question is important to children and also to artists, and to others who may long to change the rules of the game. Children may change the rules of games to make their games easier to play, to gain some advantage, or perhaps to include or exclude certain individuals; they may change the rules to make a game more interesting or challenging or even more fair. The rules reveal and create a world, and players may want to imagine and experience an alternative. They see the game for what it is, and they want to change it. Artists do this when they modify games, and those who create art by modifying games do believe that the rules are made to be broken. The modification of analog and video games by artists reminds us that there is an art to modification and art in the modification.
Game modification by artists is not a recent phenomenon. Artist-players have customized and adapted the rules of game play since there have been games to play, but game modification is a significant part of certain art movements. Surrealist created their games of chance, Duchamp had role-games and fascinations with chess, and the 1970's happened upon Fluxus games. Games themselves became Fluxus essentials and served as modes of exploration and means of dissemination of Fluxus ideas about art. Fluxus artists pursued the game as a path of experience and experimentation that involved humor and participation—often physical participation—and used the game as a way to question and to undermine the seriousness of art.(2)
Fluxus games were often simple creations such as boxes containing rules and items for playing games. The boxes, for example, would contain altered decks of cards and manipulated chess and backgammon boards. During Fluxfests, artists would play modified multiplayer games, including soccer on stilts, ping-pong with holes in the paddles, and bike races to determine who could be the last person to cross the finish line. Fluxus artist modified a range of games from simple table games to more elaborate physical tournaments, yet they had this in common: they changed the rules of the game.
Today, patrons can visit museums to see exhibits of Fluxus games from the 60's and 70's, but, unfortunately, they generally only see the games displayed; they do not play the games, and Fluxus games were designed to be played. An aspect of the life of the art is lost. Celia Pearce writes,
There is deep and tragic irony in going to an exhibition of Fluxus artifacts…. Objects whose entire purpose was to elicit play exist now only as the corpses of their former selves, trapped in a "Mausoleum" within the object-centric commodity-based world of Art with a capital A.(3)
Fluxus games are to be played, and mere display deadens the art. As Pearce points out, those who play the game are "co-creators" of the art,(4) so without play the art is incomplete. Moreover, Fluxus games, which in a museum display are contextualized as objects of art are subverted by the context, for Fluxus games challenged the role and value of art as object. Video game modifications of recent times pose the same kind of challenge as Fluxus games: they are designed for play, not display. However, they have a feature that may well keep them from becoming "object-centric" and "commodity-based " art; they are not objects to begin with; games live in an electronic environment. To be observed, they must be active. Only the medium in which they are displayed—a computer—becomes the object. Most people already have the object on which video games are played, and they do need not visit a gallery space to experience a video game modification. It is possible for many to download and to play an artist's game modification from the Internet. Video game modifications today, in contrast to early Fluxus games, have the advantage of greater playability and availability.
Through the Looking Glass, the first video game created for the Apple Macintosh computer, is a video game modification.(5) It earns a certain place in the history of Apple and did require skillful coding, but its basic design is little more than a game of chess modified to include Alice from Lewis Carroll's book, "Alice in Wonderland." Simply changing the pieces or characters in a game is not unique in the gaming world; many board-game manufactures have changed the pieces to put a new face on an old game and sell more boards. However, this was also the first game that allowed players, not programmers, to design and create their own distinctive game pieces. Granted this was done to show off the computer's graphic ability, but it opened a new door of interest and imaginative possibilities in video game modification. It set a precedent in gaming that has continued with games such as SimCity,DOOM,Unreal Tournament,Halo, and many other games that have included game editors. Video games that ship with game editors allow artists to apply Fluxus ideals, and they may actually create new artists who are drawn into explorations and experiments a new form of gaming. Those who experiment with game editors and modify games, knowingly or unknowingly, continue the work of Fluxus, because their changes at times hinder play, subvert rules, and introduce the ridiculous. The games editors, at least in some ways, make it possible to change the rules of the game.
Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans, "the Dadaists of Internet art" who collaborate as Jodi,(6) also modify games. One of their works, SOD, shown in the exhibit GAMESHOW, June 2001 to May 2002 at Mass MoCA, is a modification built using the Castle Wolfenstein gaming engine.7 In the modification, the artists have removed all of the recognizable elements of the game and have replaced them with black and white geometric shapes that create a new architecture and a new gaming environment that challenge the player's orientation as well as hinder navigation.
The dysfunctional elements of Jodi's game effectively expose and undermine Wolfenstein's paradigms of navigation and construction of space. SOD also exposes and demolishes the balance between the user's and the system's control which is an essential element of any action game.(8)
By making the game more difficult to play, the members of Jody have exposed the elemental structure of the game's environment and have also created abstract art.
Feng Membo has focused on modifying the video game DOOM, these mods include Taking Mt Doom by Strategy, Q4U and AH_Q. The modifications reflect a variety of approaches: transforming the look of the characters in the game, changing how players interact with the game, and finally taking a studio approach by making large paintings that have been inspired by screenshots of the modified game. In Ah_Q, a modification of the first person shooter game DOOM, shown in the 2004 Ars Electronica exhibition in Linz, Austria, Membo has put his very own likeness into the game.(9) Users play the game as a shirtless Feng Membo holding a big gun in one hand and a mini DV camera in the other. To add to the confusion of play, all of the typical monsters in DOOM have also been replaced with Membo's likeness. The gore and shock of the game has also modified and increased by adding mirrors to the environment so that players will be able to watch themselves, or rather to watch the many likeness of Feng Membo, die. Membo has also replaced the keyboard and mouse with a Dance Dance Revolution controller: to kill, the player must "dance" so to speak. With these mods and through the use of "digital" clones, Membo is able to explore and question the concepts of online identity within the context of role-playing in a commercial environment amongst the violence of the game.(10)
By changing the controller, Membo transformed player into a performer. Video games themselves can be made into performance. More recently, video games have been coming out of the computer and out of the consol and have been moved into movies; some games are becoming contemporary performance art works. Roomba Frogger preformed by Make Magazine's Phillip Torrone and Eyebeam's Limor Fried was a live action game based on the 1981 video arcade game Frogger. During the performance, Torrone and Fried took a Roomba, an autonomous robot vacuum cleaner, which they had dressed in a green t-shirt to make it look like a frog, and reprogrammed the vacuum cleaner so that it could be controlled using a Bluetooth enabled laptop. They then let the Roomba loose on a busy street. The object of the game was for players to get the Roomba robot across the street safely, just as players would do in the original Frogger.(11) The game becomes a performance.
Another example of game as performance is found in the project series GAMEOVER. In the performance, the 1972 Atari game, Pong, and the 1978 game, Space Invaders, designed by Toshihiro Nishikado, are reenacted by a group of performers (see photographs in APPENDIX). In the seats of an auditorium, the performers act as or represent a single pixel of the game's graphics. They act as pixels and act out the game. In the 2005 performance of Pong in Turn-of-Peliz (Switzerland), six people, three for each side, acted as the paddles, and a seventh person served as the ball. Performers moved from seat to seat in the auditorium, which became a theatrical pixel grid, and played out or acted out a game. The performance took two hours and was documented in photographs that were later assembled to create a two-minute video. By transforming the Pong game into a performance, there is a return to an element of Fluxus practice, for people are playing the game; but the element is lost when the game is reduced to photographs and video, which serve to preserve the moment of the art. The art flows from action to observation to object.
The rules of the game can be changed. There is an art to modification and art in the modification. Fluxus emphasized art as act, and the modification of a video game that plays and will be played expresses this perspective. Art, in the Fluxus tradition, "is found in the action rather than the object, for if the action does not occur (the game is not played), what and where is the art?"(12) Game mods seem to answer the question. The modification is the art, which begs to be played, and in being played, the game is reaffirmed as art.
(1) The saying is relatively recent and has been traced to Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 Expedition to Earth (Wolfgang Mieder, ed., A Dictionary of American Proverbs, [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992], 518).
(2)"Fluxus Games Exhibition Mixes Hijinks and High Art," Indepth Arts News; available from http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2001/06/16/28719.html; accessed December 1, 2006.
(3)Celia Pearce, "Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Play," Visible Language 40, no. 1 (2006): 70.
(5) The game was originally created by Steve Capps for the Lisa computer, but was ported to the Macintosh when brought to the attention of Steve Jobs (Andy Hertzfeld, "Alice," Folklore [June 1982]; available from http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story=Alice.txt; accessed December 3, 2006).
(6) Margaret Sundell, "Jodi - New York - Internet Art of Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans," ArtForum (September 2003); available from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_1_42/ai_108691821; accessed December 5, 2006.
(7) "Gameshow: Past Exhibition, Building 4 & 5, June 2001-May 2002," Visual Arts; available from http://www.massmoca.org/visual_arts/past_exhibitions/visual_arts_past_2001.html; accessed December 6, 2006.
(8) Christiane Paul, Digital Art, World of Art (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003).
(9) Maia Engeli, "Ars Electronica 2004--The Exhibitions: Linz, Austria, September 2-7, 2004," Leonard on-line; available from http://timesup.org/reviewed/ldr.pdf; accessed December 5, 2006.
(10)Christiane Paul, Digital Art, World of Art (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003).
(11) Daniel Terdiman, "Roomba Takes Frogger," C/Net News.com (March 15, 2006); available from http://news.com.com/Roomba+takes+Frogger+to+the+asphalt+jungle/2100-1043_3-6049922.html; accessed November 30, 2006.
(12) "Gameshow: Past Exhibition, Building 4 & 5, June 2001-May 2002," Visual Arts available from http://www.massmoca.org/visual_arts/past_exhibitions/visual_arts_past_2001.html; accessed December 6, 2006.
Engeli, Maia. "Ars Electronica 2004--the Exhibitions: Linz, Austria, September 2-7, 2004." Leonard on-line. Available from http://timesup.org/reviewed/ldr.pdf. Accessed December 5, 2006.
"Fluxus Games Exhibition Mixes Hijinks and High Art." Indepth Arts News. Available from http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2001/06/16/28719.html. Accessed December 1, 2006.
"Gameshow: Past Exhibition, Building 4 & 5, June 2001-May 2002." Visual Arts. Available from http://www.massmoca.org/visual_arts/past_exhibitions/visual_arts_past_2001.html. Accessed December 6, 2006.
Hertzfeld, Andy. "Alice." Folklore (1982). Available from http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story=Alice.txt. Accessed December 3, 2006.
Wolfgang Mieder, ed. A Dictionary of American Proverbs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. World of Art, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003.
Pearce, Celia. "Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Play." Visible Language 40, no. 1 (2006): 66-89.
Margaret Sundell, "Jodi - New York - Internet Art of Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans," ArtForum (September 2003). Available from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_1_42/ai_108691821. Accessed December 5, 2006.
Terdiman, Daniel. "Roomba Takes Frogger." C/Net News.com (2006). Available from http://news.com.com/Roomba+takes+Frogger+to+the+asphalt+jungle/2100-1043_3-6049922.html. Accessed November 30, 2006.
GAMEOVER 2005 performance of Pong
GAMEOVER 2006 performance of Space Invaders
Andrew Y Ames is a new media artist and designer. A graduate of the University of Denver's BFA program in Electronic Media Art and Design, he is currently pursuing the MFA in Digital+Media at the Rhode Island School of Design. His designs, prints, and game modifications invite critical reflection on consumerism, politics, and media. Examples appear in the 2007 Web Biennial International Contemporary Art Exhibition of the Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum and are available at arbitrarynature.com.
Source: FYLKINGEN'S NET JOURNAL- © 2007 all rights reserved -
An Neworked Music Review (NMR) -Interview:Bill Fontana
of DADA and FLUXUS
Source:Networked_Music_Review (NMR) : a research blog that focuses on emerging networked musical explorations.
Interview: Bill Fontana
networked installation live nature interview sonification found sound sculpture
Bill Fontana has been creating musical networks and making “sound sculptures” since the early 1970s. His works are usually large in scale and often involve the transmission of sounds from one ‘listening’ location with a network of microphones and/or sensors to another location where the sounds are overlayed onto the local sonic environment. Fontana’s work focuses strongly on the idea of listening as a compositional act - that is, it is driven by the idea that music surrounds us constantly and that the patterns of music are audible if we just take the time to listen. Examples and excerpts of many of Fontana’s works can be heard and seen at his website, resoundings.org.
Bill Fontana will be answering reader’s questions in the comments section below until December 6, 2007.
Peter Traub: Could you tell us about your early compositional experience and what brought you to make your first “sound sculptures”?
Bill Fontana: My early experience was experimenting with very minimal compositions, such as “Phantom Clarinets”, a microtonal duet for clarinets breathing together while sustaining sub-audible sine tones that created the illusion that the beat frequencies were louder than the sounds of the instruments. I performed this with Daniel Goode in New York in the early 70’s. I also began to investigate ambient noise and found sound beginning in the late 60’s when I studied with Philip Corner in NY and came to know John Cage.
Besides recording sounds, I began to stick microphones inside of objects to hear their resonances and experimented with manipulating simple domestic objects as sound makers while applying tape manipulation to create textures from manually moving tape, etc. I also realized a collaborative project with the Fluxus artist Alison Knowles, called “Gentle Surprises”, in which she selected a large number of small found objects, that I wrote individual sounding scores for. I did not begin to call my work sound sculpture until the early 70’s when I started to realize my first live installations at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation in New York in 1973 and later in Sydney’s Institute for Contemporary Art (1974) in which I created a simple work called “Sound Sculpture with Resonators“. In this, a few objects with resonant properties were placed on the roof of the building with microphones inside that explored how the objects (large bottles, cylinders) resonated in response to ambient noise. Signals from these microphones were directed to loudspeakers in the gallery space below. A pure sound sculpture that was listening in a musical way. This thinking evolved over more than 30 years to what I am doing today
Peter: Do you see/hear your work in terms of coming from a particular tradition or lineage? Your approach to sound suggests associations with Cage, Lucier, Tudor, and their contemporaries, but in terming your pieces ’sound sculptures’ you also suggest an association with the visual, of which there is usually a significant component, namely the space in which your sculpture resides and resonates in. Do you see your work within a historical context of a visual artistic practice?
Bill: I see my work as a bridge between visual art and music. I was influenced by Cage, Tudor and Lucier but also by Marcel Duchamp and the idea of the found object. Maybe my work is a kind of synthesis of these influences. Cage, Tudor and Lucier inspired me with the possibilities of sound as a musical language, but Duchamp inspired with the sculptural implications of this in his famous quote
“musical sculpturesounds lasting and leaving..forming and soundinga sculpture…that lasts”
Peter: Natural sound is central to many of your pieces, especially the use of natural sound transplanted or displaced (or “trans-placed” as Anthony Moore termed it) into urban or man-made settings, such as your 1987 piece, “Sound Sculptures through the Golden Gate”. The displacement and recontextualization of these sounds within new spaces is part of what makes your work effective. In the process of displacing the natural sounds, how do you treat them? That is, do you do any sort of processing on the sounds to transform them, do you prefer that they speak for themselves?
“Sound Sculptures through the Golden Gate” (1987
Bill: There is no processing applied to the sounds except the artistic choice of putting a microphone near it or to map it. All my editing takes place before the recording or transmission is made. The transformation occurs in the re-contextualization of the sound. “Sound Sculptures through the Golden Gate”, with its combination of vivid sea bird sounds and the deep musical tones of the Golden Gate Bridge Fog Horns has a musical quality that is almost Wagnerian. Many compositional details, such as how the placement of 8 microphones on different parts and dimensions of the Bridge would reveal natural acoustic delays was a type of acoustic processing that was deliberately chosen. I made many test recordings, studies of possible microphone positions and created acoustic models of what the real time mix would sound like. I wanted the final product to seem compositionally complete, not as a random set of live sounds. Often people hearing it would be amazed to discover that it was live. They always assumed it was a recording, that it was almost unimaginable that the live sounds of the moment could be anything other than random. I began to think of the live sounds of particular environments as being cyclical systems, almost like orbits …. a finite set of repeating possibilities over time …. a musical system. I started to coin the expression “musical information networks”.
Peter: Why do you think displacement or trans-placement of sounds is so effective perceptually? Have you found particular situations in which the sound/listening location combination is more effective than others?
Bill: The idea of treating sound as a living found object has fascinated me for years. In our culture people learn not to listen to the sounds around them. The juxtapositions of relocated sounds to places works best when there is an interesting conceptual, historical connection to be made. In fact all of my sound sculptures are involved with not making random relocations but are carefully considered juxtapositions. For example, the Cologne Main Station was acoustically relocated to Berlin’s former Anhalter Bahnhof, the Millennium Bridge in London to the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, the sound of the sea from Normandy sent to the facade of the Arc de Triomphe during the 50th anniversary of D-Day. If one goes through the whole list of projects over the years, all the relocations have a conceptual link to the site. I am interested not only in the acoustic impact that a site has on the relocated sound, but also on the conceptual and psychological effects ever time. Sound sculptures are works of long duration, even permanent duration, so it allows for issues of memory, not only historical regarding the site, but also in the memory of the visitor returning to the site. Since many of these relocations occur in outdoor spaces with living soundscapes, the presence of the sound sculpture is never intended to obliterate this soundscape, but to harmonize with it as a semi-transparent overlay, eventually for the returning listener, becoming a bridge to this soundscape. Sculpture has historically involved the embodiment of some aspect of the human condition. My sound sculptures, since they are permanently listening, hope to activate listening to one’s surroundings as a permanent condition. Perhaps this is a way of realizing Cage’s remarkable idea that “music is continuous but listening is intermittent” (I am paraphrasing this, as I do not have the exact text with me).
Peter: Networks in some form or another have been important in your work, especially with respect to relocating sounds in realtime from their original sites to listening locations. One of the best examples of this is “Sound Island” (1994) in which you took realtime audio of the ocean at Normandy and played it through network of speakers surrounding the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. More recently, your 2006 piece “Harmonic Bridge”, uses a sensor network to relay vibrational information from the London Millenium Foot Bridge to speaker systems in Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern and the Main Concourse of Southwark Station. In your early works that transferred sounds into new spaces, you worked over phone or ISDN lines, is that correct? Could you tell us how you dealt with transmitting audio in one of your early pieces versus how you have approached it in a more recent work? Have the changes in technology affected the structure of your pieces and how you approach composition? Have the changes and improvements in networking technologies been beneficial to you as an artist?
Harmonic Bridge” (2006)
Bill: The basic aesthetic practice of transmitting sound has evolved since 1978 when I first began to use it with analog telephone lines and wireless microphones to various digital and streaming servers.
Although the sound quality and ease of doing this has improved enormously in 30 years, my basic aesthetic with this has grown but still comes from the same basic set of assumptions, that music is a process going on constantly in the natural and built environment and that my sound sculptures devise ways of mapping a living sonic matrix to an architectural site. I had used live radio as a broad social transmission network. “The Cologne San Francisco Sound Bridge” (1987) was a live duet between the Golden Gate Farallon project in San Francisco, and an installation at the Museum Ludwig called “Metropolis Cologne”, which was a live sound portrait of Cologne. Through WDR (Westdeuthcher Rundfunk) I made a live radio concert mixing the sounds from these two projects which was broadcast simultaneously to about 200 radio stations in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The idea of this kind of simultaneous displacement of sound through radio intrigued me, because I would imagine all of the different contexts that the sounds were heard in. I repeated this process again in 1993, to do another radio sound bridge between Cologne and Kyoto.
Right now, what I would like to achieve in terms of utilizing the capabilities of contemporary transmission networks would be to use streaming servers to realize simultaneous versions of sound sculptures in different locations, maybe even to build of permanent body of live work that could be sent anywhere…
One other thought about the live transmission sound. One way that I conceptualize the world is to imagine all of the sounds happening simultaneously. I am interested in creating work that creates a sense of this. That the real, passing, ephemeral moment is the ultimate acoustic reality, and I wish to find ways of connecting with this.
Peter: What do you see as the role of electronics and processing in your work? In listening to an excerpt of your recent work, “Pigeon Soundings” (2007), I wasn’t sure if the sound was processed or just layered and presented untouched, and found myself very curious as to the compositional process behind the piece, especially since it is an ongoing installation. Likewise, with your new piece “Panoramic Echoes” (2007), to what degree do you compose musical structure with the sounds and recordings that are played into Madison Square Park in NY? Where, for you, does the bulk of the compositional process happen in the creation of a piece?
“Pigeon Soundings” (2007)
Bill: Both of these works represent some new directions in my work. “Pigeon Soundings” was based on actual recordings I made of pigeons in the bombed out ruin of Saint Kolumba in Cologne. When the museum was built on the site 15 years later I created a sound collage of edited fragments of the original recordings which were 8 channel sound maps, and fed these through a 24 channel matrix mixer and composed trajectories and orbits for these sounds to move in. In the Madison Square Park project I created a transparent time structure on a Matrix Mixer so that whenever the reactivated Met Life Tower bells rang, their sound passed through a matrix of 4 delays that moved from the rooftops of 4 buildings surrounding the park. I also created a composition of edited bird recordings to sometimes project into this park from the rooftops. The speakers used here were very unusual, parabolic ones that were so high up that no one could see them and the perceived origins of the sounds was mysterious
Both of these works as well as “Speeds of Time” (2004), which was a live musical deconstruction of Big Ben where every tick and stroke of the bell happened 8 times instead of once, involved creating very deliberate compositional structures. The Big Ben project and the Madison Park treatment of the Met Life Bells involved creating composition that was a transparent time structure that created live responses to incoming sounds. “Pigeon Soundings” was based on 8 channel recordings of pigeons that had inhabited the ruin of a bombed out church. My treatment of these recordings was to create a spatial composition where segments of the source material moved through a 24 channel loudspeaker matrix. In all of these the character of the original sounds was never altered, but its spatial and compositional relationships were defined.
Peter: “Pigeon Soundings” also has this wonderful historical gesture, in which you take recordings of the pigeons that used to live in the ruins of the St. Kolumba Cathedral in Cologne and play them back within the space of the new Kolumba Museum which sits atop the exposed ruins of the old cathedral. This sort of historical displacement (do you have a different term for it?) seems analogous in some ways to your displacement of sounds from one space to another. You do something similar in your 1984 piece, “Distant Trains”, but this time the gesture is inverted in a way, taking a current recording of a train station and playing it within the ruins of the Anhalter Banhof in Berlin. Could you talk about this thread as it runs through your work?
Bill: I am interested in acoustic memory. The Berlin project created the illusion that this bombed out ruin had come back to life, especially when one heard it from a distance. It would have been strange to try and recreate the original sound of this station because of its dark history at the end of the War, it was more optimistic to connect to the busiest living German Station in Cologne. “Pigeon Soundings” is taking sounds from the recent and displaced inhabitants of the ruin of a bombed out church, which became an amazing archaeological site. The pigeon, the dove are rich symbols in Christian culture and it was quite interesting to return these sounds to a site in which one could view 2500 years of Cologne’s history.
Sound and sound recording and the very act of listening is a process that deeply involves acoustic memory. Pattern recognition in music and speech requires remembering what one has heard and correlating it with the passing sounds that soon become the past and anticipate the future.
In historical spaces like in Cologne or Berlin, I also in a strange way believe that the sounds and the memory of all the sounds that happened in these spaces is still palpable, and I wish to bring this sense to the surface in my work. I believe that music and sound art deals with creating different sensations about the passage of time, the most interesting temporal sensation for me is timelessness, like in the Zen meditations, that if you listen well to the sound of a decaying bell, its sound never stops.
Peter: Another significant thread that runs through your work is the sonification of the inaudible. “Harmonic Bridge” is a good example of that, as well as your 1983 piece, “Oscillating Steel Grids along the Brooklyn Bridge“. These structures in a sense act as both microphones in picking up external vibrations, and processors by responding to those vibrations within a frequency range dictated by their physical makeup. How do you treat these sounds compositionally? Do you take a different approach to them as you would natural recordings?
Bill: I regard these hidden sounds as being as natural as any other sound that comes to my ear. In order to find them, I use technology that extends my ability to listen.
The sonification of the inaudible, that is sounds passing through the air as picked up by vibration sensors that enter the acoustic worlds of our physical surroundings fascinates me. One can view the entire physical world as alive with vibrations that we hear in the air or can discover. Once, when teaching in Cologne, I made recordings of the Rhine with an acoustic microphone, an accelerometer on a floating structure and a hydrophone. Sound moving at different speeds from the same energy.
Besides the physical differences between sound in the air and vibrations in solids and underwater, most people find their everyday acoustic worlds hidden by lack of attention, and iTunes. I wish to bring these hidden aspects to the foreground.
Peter: When creating a sound sculpture, how much does the nature of the playback space influence your notion of the audience in creating that piece? Do you think of your sculptures as being in dialog with the spaces they inhabit, or in dialog with their audience, or some combination of both?
Bill: They are certainly in dialog with the spaces they inhabit. All sound is a description of the space it is sounding in. The playback space is half of the equation. Its history, its acoustics, its architecture are very much a part of the story. In the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, people thought that the live sounds of the Millennium Bridge echoing in that space was actually being made by this building, which was still a partially active power station. In Cologne, in “Pigeon Soundings”, the background ambient sounds of bells that rang 14 years ago sound like they are ringing today and people wonder what is real.
Peter: I’ve always felt that sound installation or sound sculpture is underrepresented in the music world, and yet it seems to get (at least recently) greater attention in visual art circles. Part of the issue, for me, is that sound installations are a lot harder to experience than a recording on a CD or a photo of a painting or sculpture - you actually have to go to the location of the piece to experience it. As a result, it is harder to write about or critique pieces when you haven’t actually experienced them in place. Do you agree with this assessment, and why or why not? How do you gain or build an audience as an artist when your works are site-specific and only accessible to people in the vicinity or willing to travel to experience them?
Bill: It is certainly true that it is under represented in the music world, but also in the art world. Part of it is the difficulty in reproducing the experience on a CD and the other is a lack of a visual element.
In spite of these limitations, my work as slowly developed an ever widening audience. My web site has been a useful vehicle for distributing documentation about my work. I recently purchased a Sound Field Microphone and will experiment with using it to document how the spaces of my installations sound, which may enable me to release DVD’s or DTS audio discs with surround recordings.
I also believe that the future is very bright for this medium and the possibilities and understanding of it are opening. I have worked for about 30 years, and will need another 30 years to realize everything I imagine. The barrier for me is that museums expect to see something, they want objects making sound. I am trying to change their thinking so that the visual qualities of a space, the view of a landscape and one’s imagination while hearing visual sounds is enough.
Following the initial interview, I asked Fontana a few follow-up questions regarding some of his responses. — Peter
Peter: Due to the nature of your installations being unbounded in time, what are your compositional concerns in terms of time-scale? For example, if there is no beginning or end to a piece like “Panoramic Echoes”, how do you think about time within the piece and the length and relationships of cycles within the system? You mentioned that you “think of the live sounds of particular environments as being cyclical systems, almost like orbits”, and I’m wondering how this concept is tied into the compositional structures of your pieces.
Bill: Whenever I create a sound sculpture I do a lot of field research to study repeating cycles of sound. On the Millennium Bridge in London for example, the cycles had to do with times of day and which determined the density of footsteps on the bridge, the weather conditions, rain and wind velocity; and of course time of day. These conditions and the variations within those parameters are repeating cycles with predictable outcomes. These may never be exactly the same, but are generally the same. This same kind of cyclical nature of sound environments holds true for every situation, except for totally random events that may occasionally occur. This cyclical acoustic quality that places have makes it possible for me to precisely
determine microphone/sensor positions when I am transmitting sound.
The sound sculptures are unbounded in time and that sense of timeless listening or consciousness is important for me to convey in my work. It comes from my early to present days of making field recordings, which is one of my great passions. Approaching a soundscape or sounding situation with microphones, I could listen through headphones in absolute physical stillness to every sonic detail of the moment, amplified by this microphone. These thousands of repeated experiences over 35 years has contributed to the excitement I feel when perceiving patterns of sound. In my sound sculptures that are perpetually listening to somewhere, I wish to share this excitement with other listeners by delineating with the microphone/sensor placement the precise musical potential of a real moment in a real place.
Peter: With respect to the following quotes from your responses: “One other thought about the live transmission sound. One way that I conceptualize the world is to imagine all of the sounds happening simultaneously. I am interested in creating work that creates a sense of this. That the real, passing, ephemeral moment is the ultimate acoustic reality, and I wish to find ways of connecting with this.” A bit later you say the following: “Sound and sound recording and the very act of listening is a process that deeply involves acoustic memory. Pattern recognition in music and speech requires remembering what one has heard and correlating it with the passing sounds that soon become the past and anticipate the future.”
How does the idea of the “ephemeral moment” fit with the act of listening as a deeply involved function of acoustic memory? Do you see these things as contradictory in any way, or complementary, and why?
Bill: For me sound is a continuum, like a passing river. This continuum is an endless series of these ephemeral moments that become a continuum by the act of listening. Listening connects the dots. Listening from dot to dot is held together by acoustic memory. That is why in the old Zen meditation about listening to the sound of the decaying bell, if one’s focus does not waver, the sound of the bell never stops. Once in Kyoto, when working on “Acoustical Views of Kyoto” and the Cologne - Kyoto Soundbridge, I visited a famous Buddhist temple called Chion-in, that has a very large temple bell that only rings on New Years Eve or very special occasions. I visited the temple with the purpose of getting permission to place a microphone or sensor on the temple grounds to transmit sound from. A monk took me around and we came to this famous, mostly silent bell. I asked for permission to transmit from the bell. The monk was very surprised and wondered why transmit from a silent bell. I placed a microphone in the bell and accelerometer on the bell, and put headphones on the monk and much to his astonishment he discovered for the first time in physical reality that this bell was never silent….
Peter: What do you consider ‘traits’ of a work that connects with the acoustic reality of the ephemeral moment? In your compositional world, are there certain types of musical structures that more effectively connect you to this idea?
Bill: It is hard to make generalizations about this. In my work the connection to the acoustic reality of the ephemeral moment is to create the illusion of constancy. Many of the sound processes I work with are continuous sound processes, such as the sea, the oscillations of a bridge, the clockwork and bells of Big Ben. In fact whenever a group of microphones are permanently installed somewhere, the very continuousness of the transmission generates a coherent musical structure that becomes apparent the longer one listens. In a sense I am finding these hidden structures in sound environments and creating the possibility for someone else to discover them. Works such as “Speeds of Time”, “Panoramic Echoes” and “Objective Sound” (2007) bring composed transparent time structures to the continuous flow of incoming sounds. “Objective Sound” also returns me to a starting point in my work, by using a collection of found objects as resonant listening devices.