You have been involved as a co-curator in the festival Gamerz at Aix en Provence. Can you tell me some about the festival, its concept and your part in it?
The festival Gamerz is organised by a collective of gameartists : M2F creations. I met them when i came back in the south of France because they wanted to show me their art related to game culture. We immediatly decided to work together because we have the same idea of what gameart is and we also have some commun roots and interests : parties and graffiti. I think that it is important to say that because we are not interested by the idea or the attempt to legitimate the video and computer game matter in front of the contemporary art world. We don’t have an elitist conception of what is art and what is not art. What we want to do is the encounter of many different artistic disciplines and practices related to game culture and reverse engineering.
Gamerz is a festival organised as a parcours in the city, based in different art galleries. We show performances of dance or 8bit music, interactive artworks, photographs, installations, videos, machinimas. We do not want to focus only on interactive artworks but we want to show a large diversity of ludic artworks talking about aesthetics, playfullness, social or political matters. We are players and we play with art, ideas and concepts. We don’t want to have a tight and close idea of what gameart is.
We also try to show artworks of young or emerging artists. What is interesting for me as a curator is that M2F Creations has a huge network of artists which are not the traditional “names” of gameart. We have a strong collaboration with artschools and artists from the East.
My part in Gamerz is to select international artists, but the main problem is that my part depends a lot on the budgets we have to organize the festival (in order to be able to invite and pay the artists, which is a very important point for us). In 2009, i curated the work of Alex Stockburger, a video about goldfarmers and last year I curated two brazilian artist works: Tania Fraga with an interactive sound game Danca Maluca and a very funny and beautiful video of Rick Castro Super Rick. This year, we want to invite Blast Theory but we are waiting for some institutional funding… I also curate each year a Machinima program.
How do you experience the Game Art scene in France? Are there many artists working with Game Art, and are museums, galleries interested in showing this kind of art, and are art critics and journalist writing about videogames as art and culture and not merely as entertainment?
In 2002, I curated an exhibition untiltled Playtime for a digital art festival at la Villette, between that event and Gamerz, I only curated gameart exhibitions in other countries : Australia, Germany, Italy, Norway… Before Playtime, Laurence Dreyfus Hanout curated a gameart exhibit for the contemporary art biennial in Lyon. Then, Margarita Balzerani curated shows about virtual worlds and machinima (The Atopic Festival).
Except that, I could hardly talk about a big interest for gameculture in France during the ten last years. But, our new french cultural Minister decided to put a new interest on games, so we can hope that the situation is going to change. First there is a new interest for a nostalgic part of gameculture and some events are organized around retrogaming in Paris (right now, there is an exhibition untitled Musegames at Les Arts et Métiers) I am also preparing a new exhibition untiltled Gameheroes that will be held in Marseille in march 2011. Philippe Dubois who is a collector I worked with in 2002 for Playtime is also working hard to create a game Museum in France.
The artworld is quite sceptical about gameart and the artists who were involved with gameart some years ago and who are now in the contemporary art scene tend to let the gameart for some more “bankable” artworks. I am thinking about the collective Kolkoz who did some very good artworks related to games (Kolkoz.org a game that simulated art collectors flats in which you could destroy everything and especially the art collection) and also to Martin Le Chevallier who did an excellent video about the artificial life in video games Society or a surveillance game : Vigilance. Now they are involved in a very different type of research, not related any more to games. But a new scene is emerging, more I visit artschools, more I meet students interested in games. I am really happy about that. Also some gameschools like Isarts or Enjmin are producing some artistic games. The frontiers are blurring and we can hope that it will change the perception of immaterial and interactive works in the contemporary art scene.
The new names in gameart are all the artists involved in Eniarof, Gaspard Valerian, M2F Creations, Antonin Fourneau, Benjamin Nuel…
About critics and journalists… Margherita Balzerani wrote an article realted to political games and I am also writing about gameart in magazines like Amusement directed by Abdel Bounane. It is a very good and beautiful review about interactivity, digital art and universes, very elegant with texts written by gamle specialists like all the searchers of OMNSH (Observatory of virtual universes and games) they are anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, psychoanalysts (Serge Tisseron, Michael Stora). A very interesting group of intellectual writers.
You have also been working as curator for exhibitions with machinima and you have also written a lot about machinima. Do you see any trends? What kind of machinima are artist doing today and what games are popular to use?
I am right now working on a new machinima show for the next edition of Gamerz (December 2010). Besides the games and the virtual universes traditionnally used to create machinimas – The Sims, The Movies, Second Life, Half Life, Halo and GTA, I would add in 2010 the following games : Left 4 Dead, Assasin’s creed and Call of Duty.
There is also an important use of dedicated tools like Moviestorm. I really like the work of a swedish artist Willima Fink who only produces Machinimas with Moviestorm. http://www.moviestorm.co.uk/community/?u=William87 his movie Phantasmagoria is a very short but intense one.
I also enjoy a lot the work of Phil Rice also known as Overman who works a lot with Moviestorm. http://z-studios.com for exemple his movie What I like in xmas… very good and funny.
Lately, the main change in the Machinima world appeared with Second Life, apparently for many artists, it seemed to be the easiest tool to create Machinima. Last year, I curated a machinima programm where most of the artistic machinima were created in Second Life : Seeing spot, beeing dots, Evo Szuyuan (Brigit Lichtenegger) NL, Orchestral investigations #9 , Gumnosophistai Nurmi (Leif Inge) and Evo Szuyuan (Brigit Lichtenegger) NL Arthole presents : ORIENTATION by Arahan Claveau & Nebulosus Severine, Chantal Harvey, NL, The Body is obsolete, Chantal Harvey, NL, Virtual Gantanamo, Bernhard Drax, US, Maseno Project, Serenity Mercier, CA, Tristeza e Esperança, Carla Broek, BE, My Life as An Avatar”, Annie Ok, US.
These works are politically or socially orientated, or they purpose aesthetic and poetic visions. We are far away of the humoristic works of the beginning of machinimas. They also offer a critic of these virtual worlds, like in I Mirror of China Tracy, which talks about Second Life as a world where everything is to sold and also questions the virtual identity inside this kind of world and the meaning of encounters in SL.
But I wouldn’t speak about a new trend concerning the use of Second Life but more about some technical neccssity and facility.
What is interesting is that there is a certain kind of democratization of this movement, not only reserved to hard core gamers and the little community of special effects or game developers, but it is now open to artists, women and youngsters.
You have written an article in a forthcoming book with the title “”Cheats or glitch ? Voice as a game modification in Machinima”? Can you tell me some about what part the voice has in machinima?
I am really happy to be part of this publication directed by Norie Neumark, she was really patient with me and my english! We begann this collaboration in 2006 and the book is just out now. It is a book about voice in digital creation. My point is that voice is the only human being part in machinima (besides the fact that caracters are moved by humans to create the action). It is voice that gives a certain granularity and “organic” side to digital images. In a movie like “Bill & John” by the french directors KBS Production, the scenes are created with the war simulation game Lock on Modern Combat. There are no caracters in this game, you never see any caracters moving or expressing themselves, but this movie is super funny and peole looking at it lough a lot. It comes only from the voice, which is quite powerfull.
The other point in this text is to speak about voice in machinima as a situationist detournement, because voice gives a totally different meaning to images, like situationists were doing, taking kungfu movies to speak about revolution. To give an exemple, when Alex Chan took the game The Movies to create The french Democracy in 2005, he used a game to express his point of view about the french riots and he gave an other voice to all the youngsters which were seen as the devil by the french medias.
What are your own relationships to videogame, why do they interest you?
I am a player, i play to games as i play with ideas. My background is political sciences and for me games are super powerfull. For many generations, it is the first way to learn and to be in the world, it is a way to educate, to have fun and to interact with life and other people. I also see games as a mass consumption object that can manipulate people’s mind. For me, games took the place of fairy tales to build young generation’s imaginary. So it is for me a very serious question and in all the exhibitions I curated i tried to promote alternative games or artworks which offer another point of view to this very dominant culture. I always tried to promote reverse engineering (Machinima, 8bit or chip music) all the possibilities offered by a detournement of the initial use of games.
Today I focus on machinima workshops that i develop towards younsters, i want to enlarge the capacity of using machinima as a new way of expression, besides hip hop, because it allows to learn how to write a story but also to better understand the power of images and how they are built and how they can manipulate our mind.
Games are for me a way to play with rules and in a way to play with the system, with exhibitions, machinima and 8bit music it is for me a way to give political messages and to give a critic about consumption and communication society, very powerfull because it uses a language that many people can understand…
interview of Isabelle Arvers by Mathias Jaansson, Gamescenes.org