What do you find interesting about games from the art perspective?
The primary cultural product of the “age of simulation” is the video game. Video games led us into an inevitable screen-based reality which has continued to engulf our senses through more advanced digital and communication technologies. It’s possible to view the euphoric fun of these early games and the arcade phenomenon as a drug which created a blurring effect comparable to intoxication, and now we are seeing double. I’m interested in the time before this drug, as a point of reflection and nostalgia. We are very quickly ap-proaching a time where we won’t know what life was like before these technologies existed. What happens then? Will it ever be pos-sible to understand what it was like when we were still technologi-cally sober?
What is BOLT and what is your role in it?
In 1997, I founded BOLT — the Bureau of Low Technology as a retro-futuristic “lifestyle” based on the notion of looking backwards and not forwards — it’s banality over bandwidth. At the time of the dot-com boom, I wanted to respond to the absurdity that was going on at the time, related to the worship of technology and the promise of this new religion of the internet. The efforts of BOLT quickly gra-vitated towards a kind of dead-media enthusiasts society where low-tech culture was celebrated and preserved. The bit-mapped graphics of obsolete video games and the concept of the arcade were re-surrected and experienced as a moment of reflection on the loss of innocence. It was important to brand BOLT as a viable “downgrade” alternative to the need for consummate upgrades. Most of this was entirely satirical and ultimately also about having fun and sharing our passion for what we called “artificial stupidity”. Now the pheno-menon of retro-gaming has made its way back into the fashionable mainstream and in my mind evidences a more widespread sense of technostalgia and a backlash against technology’s tightening grip over daily life.
Can you describe some of the most important eventsrelated to the activity of BOLT?
During the 1998 Ars Electronica, BOLT created an arcade of game consoles amidst a projected landscape of slide and film collage which was rendered in low-tech 3-D (blue/red glasses). The idea was to take the visual iconography out of the game and look at the forms through the metaphor of the glasses. It was gratifying to see the event take on a life of its own and become a kind of “happening” with everyone participating. BOLT had two major exhibitions en-titled “A Low-tech Odyssey” which appropriated the arcade. Each time there was a collection of 30-40 upright coin-op arcade games which could all be played for free. These exhibitions were simple conceptual art statements and referenced works by San Francisco conceptual artists Tom Marioni and Alan Kaprow. The arcade is a phenomenon of sharing amidst a technological environment. It was the first successful attempt to connect the sociological aspects of this new interactive “mediated experience” of digital technology within an environment consisting only of machines. Another high-light for me was exhibiting at the SFMOMA for the opening of an exhibition entitled “010101 Art in Technological Times”. This was the first exhibition of technological art in a major American museum and I feel, in some ways, there could never have been a more per-fect setting for BOLT. That night, low-technology in all its simplistic 8-bit glory arose from the ashes, victorious in the battle of interac-tive art winning the hearts of many.
What kind of gaming culture exists in SF, what are thecenters of game culture today?
Gaming culture today almost exclusively exists at home. There are the occasional LAN parties where people get together for a marathon session of some strategy game, and there are a few places which have a LAN setup with computers where you can rent a machine, but there is no culture there unless there is a LAN event. Truly the culture of gaming is all about your individual screen, your artifice. Online games are extremely popular and this is where the culture exists. It’s now within the games themselves and, like everything online, it’s no longer a regional phenomenon. One of my favorite philosophers, Paul Virilio, once said that “the future lies in an unimaginable solitude - of which play is one element.”
Could you refer to some other artists using videogames/games in general in their work?
Yucef Merhi and Cory Arcangel are two examples of artists who are investigating the relationship of technology and language. I also en-joyed the work of John Haddock who rendered historic events like the LA Riots in the isometric perspective of video games. I relate to the way these artists use the media of gaming, similar to the way some video artists appropriate Hollywood. I’m using the medium of games to engage people in order to invoke a point of reflection about what is really going on and kind of tap into what’s behind the screen and what constitutes our relationship to the screen. I’m also intrigued by the minimalist aesthetics which formed the first icono-graphic vocabulary of simulated interactivity. The idea that people could imagine a game of tennis with a few lines and moving pixels is entirely fascinating to me. From a minimalist point of view, a game like PONG can be universally communicated.
What do you think about the phenomenon of outsourcing gaming in China, where companies hire gamers to develop and sell their avatars into the Western market?
I have not yet heard of this, but it sounds like a means to further the concept of exploration through role-playing. Due to the increas-ing complexity of the games, the avatar-building aspect has become an art form in itself and the commodification of that art form pro-vides a short-cut into experiencing the game with someone else’s build. As games offer so much character personalization, it’s only natural that selling avatars becomes part of the economy of sharing experiences. It’s about identity, strategy and style.
How are peer-to-peer economies related to computer games and gaming communities?
The gaming community is all about sharing — sharing of experi-ence in these imaginary worlds. It’s interesting to note that PONG, “the game that started it all”, was initially conceived and marketed as a “date game”. If you look at the boxes, you will often see the console with a male and female hand on the controls. This could be viewed as a precursor to social networking. Video games were also among the very first cracked softwares for computers and this phe-nomenon of hacking created a subculture of sharing and distribu-tion. Today gamers share not only skills, strategy and technique, but also their avatars and even their own worlds. The entire virtual experience has created a cult-like phenomenon of shared experience. Games connect people in the same way music does but the difference is that the experience is completely mediated in a virtual space.
What are you presenting in Zagreb?
I will create an installation of obsolete home video games in the form of an arcade to try to provoke and sustain a sense of technostalgia. The content of these games will be mixed and remixed with other sources to provide a kind of audio/visual datastream of the acti-vities within the room.
The project is part of “Final Exhibition”, Part 1 — Peer to Peer Economies. Organisers: Kontejner, Multimedia Institute mi2, WHW,